They say speed on water feels twice as fast as speed on land. It’s to do with the way all the usual visual cues – colours, whitecaps, reflected sunlight – are reduced by velocity to a flat, grey blur. Also with how the sea itself, in even the balmiest weather, takes on the characteristics of granite. The hull slams, structures creak – yours and the boat’s – and on a choppy day the impacts can be so loud and incessant that if you close your eyes you won’t know whether you’re blasting through the sound barrier with Chuck Yeager or hurtling down a mountain in a tin bath.
I personally think speed on water feels three times as fast as on land, and at least three times as much fun. Now the Vector Martini Racing offshore team is opening up powerboat experiences to mere mortals through personal hire and corporate sponsorship. The Vector 40R is an awesome beast of a boat that packs two 1,100hp engines. Designed by Ocke Mannerfelt and built in Canada, it has set speed records on Coniston Water of over 100mph. Last summer the team covered the 194 nautical miles of the Cowes Classic at over 94mph – the highest average for the race ever recorded. They won, obviously.
With its distinctive headline sponsor’s livery recalling Martini’s legendary involvement in motorsports, which included powerboat racing in the 1970s and 80s, Vector Martini Racing likes to hark back to the glory days of offshore, when lords, ladies, gentleman amateurs, test pilots, cads and bounders competed for silverware in plywood prototypes before donning dinner jackets for a rowdy piss-up at the Royal Yacht Squadron. The only chance any of them had of reaching 94mph was in a Jag on the Winchester Bypass.
Vector Martini Racing is, however, a thoroughly modern powerboat racing team for whom the actual races are as much about branding as the thrill of the competition. “Winning helps sponsors’ credibility,” explains Malcolm Crease, the team’s CEO and co-founder. “We’re not a powerboat company. We’re a media platform with half a million ‘likes’ on Facebook.”
Some events are organised to coincide with Formula 1 races at Monza, Monaco and Barcelona. Over the four days of a typical sponsor event, such as the one on Lake Como last year during the Monza F1 weekend, one of the Vector raceboats – there are two, inevitably named Rosso and Bianco – might take up to 120 of the sponsor’s clients on a high-speed “experience”, two at a time. Other events are tagged onto major powerboat races, such as the Cowes Classic and Venture Cup in Ireland.
There is nothing new about putting selected individuals in the back seats of fast boats at their own risk and taking them out for joy‑rides. What is new about the Vector Martini Racing proposition – and claimed to be unique – is that they’re insured to do so in a state-of-the‑art, current race‑winning design as part of a private event or corporate sponsorship with passengers experiencing speeds of up to 100mph on the water. As such jollies go, it’s certain to be a memorable one. “You have to peel the smiles off people’s faces when they come back,” says Crease. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
One reason speed is exciting, of course, is its attendant element of danger. In powerboating it’s not the imagined danger of an XBox game, but real. You don’t have to look long to find footage of powerboats “getting out of shape”, as their drivers like to describe it, with studied understatement. Vector Martini Racing’s co-founder Peter Dredge, a professional powerboat racer of vast experience, was involved in a well-documented accident last year during testing, which nearly cost the life of his 17-year-old son.
Crease is at pains to emphasise how seriously the team takes safety. Guests are briefed, zipped into racing suits and given intercom headsets. Everyone on board is strapped in with a five‑point harness, and with four seats both guests are placed alongside a crew member. Every seat is served by a bottled air supply, in case the boat turns upside down – and in such an eventuality the hardtop over the cockpit is constructed to withstand the impact.
But Crease is confident it would never come to that with clients on board. “How fast we go is determined entirely by the conditions,” he asserts. “When we’re not racing, it’s all about safety.” Besides, he adds: “If you’ve never done it before, even 75mph in a boat is unbelievable.” At Monaco last summer, Dredge took out one of his heroes, David Coulthard. It was too choppy for seriously high speeds but, he remembers, the Formula 1 ace said afterwards: “That was the most exciting, interesting and adrenaline-fuelled thing I’ve ever done.” Coulthard explained that while a professional racing driver gets to know a racetrack like the back of his hand, he could tell by watching Dredge drive that his “track” was changing by the second. The sea is never still.
For those harbouring serious ambitions to do the ton – and hitting the magic 100mph mark on water is an exercise in sensory overload – the team is happy to oblige when conditions permit. And because Vector Martini is a thoroughly modern racing team, the experience will be recorded and packaged, ready for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – so the sponsors’ marketing managers will be happy too. “We control and own all content – unlike Formula 1,” says Crease. “It’s there for sponsors to use.”
There is something else that is unlike Formula 1, as Crease delights in pointing out: the boat. “It’s bigger, cooler and noisier than an F1 car – and you can put people in it!” he laughs. “What’s not to like?”