Offshore Powerboat Racing … as it used to be.

As a child I had the privilege of growing up in a waterfront property. From a very early age I was allowed to play in boats and, by the age of 16 I was racing my father’s powerboat every Saturday afternoon.

At about the age of 17, I had an experience that changed my life.

I accompanied a friend who drove and ocean racing powerboat from Sydney Harbour to the Port Hacking, in very rough conditions. I will never forget the excitement of surviving those leaps from wave-tops and the pounding of the landings. But my lasting impression was the relief, at dusk, of eventually entering calm waters, at high speed, surrounded by a cacophony of noise and spray.

As a result, I became, and remain, fascinated by those machines and the images of the men and women who battled the ocean in them.

An Interest from my Teenage Years

The boats that particularly interest me are the deep V hulls of the American powerboats that were raced offshore in the 1970’s in 1980’s.

The  link shows a history of the development of those boats:

The first  boat, KAAMA, driven by American grandmother Betty Cook, epitomized the struggle that men and women waged against the unpredictable sea.

Because the races were conducted far off-shore, the only way to bring the images to the public, was from helicopter footage.

The link  provides access to a video set in the early days of the American offshore racing, and some of the risks involved: The very fist and last scenes on this clip illustrate the speed of the boats and the amount of time they were airborne.

Most of the boats were of a V bottom design and carried two 454 cubic inch Chevrolet engines. The engines drove either MerCruiser or Kiekhaefer out-drive systems, which allowed the boats to be trimmed by raising or lowering the angle of the out-drives. The boats also had adjustable trim tabs that allowed quick trimming of the attitude of the boat, and many had forward water ballast tanks that could be filled instantly to lower the nose of the boat in heavy seas.


The crews usually consisted of a pilot, who steered, a navigator and a throttle man, who set the speed, and retarded the throttles whenever the propellers left the water. Because of the pounding, the crew stood in bolsters to allow their legs to absorb the impact of the landings.

The ever-present danger was that if the nose rose too high a boat left a wave, the stern could strike the next, jamming the nose through the following wave. This could be very dangerous for the unprotected crew in the cockpit, and, caused a number of accidents.

Theis link shows the general layout of babes and the incredible noise generated by those engines:

In the 1990’s the boats were transformed into catamaran hulls, and the races moved in-shore, where the public could get close. In my view, there changes ended real “offshore” racing, forever.

Leon Davis