Byline: Shane Scott
SAN FRANCISCO — On Oct. 12, businessman and boat racer Nigel Hook and crewmates Dan MacNamara, Andy Hindley and Lance Ware set a new world record in the Lucas Oil Ocean Cup — making an offshore powerboat run from San Francisco to Long Beach in 9 hours, 50 minute and 51 seconds.
The crew made the run in a 48-foot Apisa racing boat, equipped with twin diesel engines.
Those familiar with Hook’s previous record run — a 6 hour and 43 minute race from San Francisco to Marina del Rey, set in 2003 — might be wondering why this one was roughly three hours slower. The answer lies in the extreme difference in weather and water conditions that the crew faced this time around.
“The weather forecast was off,” Hook said. “Instead of 4 to 6 foot waves, it was double that,”
Hook recalled that his previous record was set in flat, calm waters and what he considered “uneventful” conditions.
Hook wasn’t afraid of rough water. Since he has been making offshore speed runs since 1974, he has more high-speed monohull racing wins and experience on open water than just about anyone else in the world.
But he said he was afraid of flooding his engines.
“We were taking so much water on the bow that the salt water was actually starting to flood the engines — and the compression of these engines cannot compress water,” he said.
However, Hook’s boat was equipped with two of the latest Cummins QSB 6.7 550 diesel engines, which not only fulfilled Hook’s goal to reinforce his company Silverhook’s commitment to run with alternative fuels, but also came with flood filtration technology — making it able to filter salt water out before it flooded the engines.
An installed safety feature would cut the engines anytime the salt water filters were full, ensuring that the motors would not suffer and Hook’s crew would finish the 450 mile stretch. But it also left them stopping to empty their engines’ filters at least a dozen times.
“We lost about two and a half to three hours because of the stops,” Hook said. “What you do is you lose your momentum, plus you have to take your gear off.”
When traveling at speeds up to 80-plus mph, gear can be the difference between life and death, Hook said. Hook and his crewmen wore helmets, gloves (although their hands would get numb anyway) and float jacket survival suits.
“Just the wind in your face at that speed can put some wear on you,” Hook said.
While he might not have enjoyed the 20 mph headwinds or 14 foot waves, Hook noted that the cold weather was actually a good match for all the gear they wore. “Lots of times we’ll race in full gear and we’ll be sweating like pigs.”
Gear could only protect the crew so much, however. Something that they could never completely prepare for was whatever else was floating in the water.
“You can’t really sweep the ocean because it’s so big, so you just have to keep your eyes peeled and be in constant communication with your crew,” Hook said.
At one point, the crew had to veer out of the way of a 14- by 10-foot foot patch of wood floating nearby.
Between Santa Cruz and Monterey, they saw a man floating on an 18-foot outboard boat seemingly in the middle of nowhere, bobbing up and down amid 6-foot waves. They slowed and made their way over to him, to see if he was OK.
“At first, he looked at us like, “Get out of my way, I’m fishing,” but then had a double-take like, “What in the hell are you doing out here?”
As far offshore as they were, Hook would typically go even farther out during the speed run. “Our plan was to go straight out for a while, to make sure we didn’t hit any kelp beds,” he said. “Because the water was so rough, we decided to take a little bit of a risk and start the run a bit more shallow than we did 10 years ago.”
Other things that Hook had to keep in mind were his speed and his engine revolutions per minute (r.p.m.).
“When you’re in rough water you want to watch your speed, to not bang up your boat too much,” Hook said. “And you watch your r.p.m., to keep track of how much fuel you’re burning.”
For this run, the Apisa stayed at around 3,000 r.p.m.
Although Hook’s hometown is in England, his 88-year-old mother was able to watch him race from her computer in Staffordshire, utilizing a satellite tracker that showed the team’s location, at nigelhook.com. The satellite also allowed Hook to sends texts and had an SOS button, designed to connect to emergency services, if needed.
The boat came screaming through the water off Queen Mary of Long Beach at sundown — “just in time for cocktail hour,” Hook said. The roughly 450-mile run was clocked at 9 hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds, at the finish.
Now that he’s got a new record under his belt, Hook hopes move on to a challenge on the East Coast — attempting to race from New York to Bermuda (the Bermuda Challenge) in less than 15 hours and 48 minutes.