Keeping alive the true spirit of powerboat racing … PBR relates the success story that is Nigel Hook …
Sixty years ago, in May 1969, Don Aronow ‒ a millionaire New Yorker who built the first Cigarette boat under the name Cary ‒ won the APBA-sanctioned race ‘The Gateway Marathon International 200’ in his 32ft powerboat, finishing the round trip from West Palm Beach in Florida to Freeport, Grand Bahama, with an average speed of 43.6mph. Of the 21 starters, only 10 finished the 200-mile journey, and all faced horrible offshore conditions with waves of up to 12ft. The Gateway Marathon was a classic offshore race held between 1964 and 1969, and like many historic races has fallen by the wayside. It was a time when the tough men of ocean racing would often return bloodied and beaten, and sometimes with broken arms or legs from the pounding.
In June this year, another familiar name to powerboat world records became the new ‒ and seventh ‒ record holder of The Gateway Marathon. In his 48ft craft, #77 Lucas Oil SilverHook, with twin Mercury Racing 1350/1550s, Nigel Hook beat Aronow’s APBA record with an average round trip speed of 93.5mph. Piloting the course with driver Michael Silfverberg, the veteran offshore racers faced challenging offshore conditions and set three world records. ‘The boat raced absolutely perfectly across the 200 miles, plus the three exhibition laps we did for the thousands of Bahamians lining the beaches of Freeport celebrating their national holiday,’ said Nigel. ‘It’s rarely straightforward crossing an open ocean, but this was a fantastic run. It was a lot rougher than expected, so the boat took a real pounding – you get adventure all the way when the Gulf Stream is at full steam! I believe we’ve laid the foundation to turn this into a Grand Race next year.’
Swedish co-pilot Michael Silfverberg added: ‘Although there were some tough challenges with rough, quartering seas from the bow and constantly changing conditions, the boat ran superbly. I am so impressed by our team and with what we have achieved in setting new records. It was a fantastic event that I hope will become an annual one. The rough-water conditions made it extremely difficult to drive under the circumstances. Every time we got airborne, we blew about 15 to 20 degrees off course. We did what we could to lessen the effects of it, but we gradually lost speed.’
International race promoter Powerboat P1 revived the historic race, making it the fourth ‘Ocean Cup – Over the Horizon’ event. Powerboat P1 CEO, Azam Rangoonwala, commented: ‘It’s tremendous working with Nigel and his outstanding team, who keep alive the true spirit of powerboat racing and add real value to the sport. The Ocean Cup concept revives historic races and record attempts, and Nigel is awakening interest in these special achievements and creating new history.’
First recognised as a sport in 1904, offshore powerboat racing began as point-to-point endurance races frequently spanning hundreds of miles of open ocean. In the mid-1990s, offshore became nearshore racing in a track-style format ‒ a circuit loop around which boats raced for a number of predetermined laps. This improved the viewing for the spectators. Over the years, the nearshore course has become smaller and shorter. Today a racecourse is normally no more than a 5-mile oval as close to the beach as possible. Since the beach often drops off quickly, the boats usually run within 150ft of the surf. Even the outside leg can be clearly seen from the shoreline.
Hook established the Ocean Cup ‒ Over the Horizon concept in 2013, embracing the spirit of classic offshore powerboat racing. The events are for ‘seaworthy, offshore craft capable of undertaking independent, extended offshore passages in unprotected water’. Going ‘over the horizon’ presents challenges with fan engagement, and so for the last five years Hook’s data company has been on the leading edge of technology, bringing the sport to living rooms by streaming the on-board data through the Internet, providing worldwide access. Race fans at home can jump on board #77 Lucas Oil to monitor speed and data from both engines (RPMs, temperatures and pressures), and also view heartbeats utilising YachtBot tracking technology as used by the America’s Cup.
Satcom Direct, provider of global connectivity solutions, rejoined the Lucas Oil team to fully integrate satellite equipment with the telemetry system supporting the live broadcast of data and audio from the command centre. They put satellite radios on the boat, on all the support boats and the helicopter involved in the run. Fans around the world watched the speeds, GPS position, engine data and heart rates, and listened to the shore-to-cockpit conversations of #77 Lucas Oil SilverHook.
Hook explained: ‘It’s my goal to have this technology on all the race boats so that fans can truly be immersed in the race while listening to live stream coverage. Formula One and Indy Car are also doing similar broadcasting, but doing this on the ocean is an entirely different order of magnitude as we push the limits of technology. My own data analytics company, DataSkill, has been bringing the sport to living rooms by streaming the on-board data through the Internet (IOT), providing worldwide access.’
Determined to get back down to old-school endurance-style offshore events, Hook established the first Ocean Cup, referred to as the ‘Golden Gate to Queen Mary’. The 2013 Ocean Cup was a 435-mile run from San Francisco to Long Beach. Pilots Nigel Hook, Dan MacNamara, Lance Ware and Andy Hindley were up to the challenge. However, fuel-water separator issues forced the team to stop the 48ft Apisa Scarab, fitted out with twin Cummins QSB 6.7 550 diesel engines, several times. The time they recorded was just under 10 hours.
The second event was the 2017 Ocean Cup from Florida to Cuba, where Nigel Hook and co-pilot Jay Johnson smashed the existing world record by 15 minutes and set a Guinness World Record for the fastest journey from Key West to Havana by powered boat in 1 hour 18 minutes 03 seconds. After spending a couple of hours in Havana for a press conference and passport control, the round trip was completed in 5 hours 41 minutes 59 seconds, setting a UIM world record.
The 2018 Ocean Cup involved a race from Trinidad to Tobago. It was incorporated into the 50th-anniversary running of The Great Race, and of the 43 entries, SilverHook was the only USA team to enter the race in the last 29 years. Nigel and Jay finished second in the top A Class won by Team Motul Monster, establishing a UIM world record at a blazing fast 47 minutes 43 seconds.
‘I’m so pleased that Powerboat P1 has decided to bring back a true “over the horizon” event in the shape of the 2019 Ocean Cup,’ Hook commented. ‘Historically, the Bahamas have been a reach point for many endurance competitions, and this could well be the catalyst for kicking off future events to the islands. Our SilverHookteam is currently mulling over which speed record to break next. In the meantime, we are competing in the new APBA Offshore Championship, co-promoted by Powerboat P1 and OPA Racing.’
Designed by the Mannerfelt Design Team, the SilverHook 48GP hit the race scene in the turbulent waters of Malta during the first race of the 2011 European series, competing against the best of the UIM Evolution class. ‘I was very excited and proud to race it. This is a purpose-built race boat that started from a clean sheet of paper taking into account all the hulls I’ve raced. And when I say a clean sheet of paper, the SilverHook was conceived 100% using state-of-the-art software,’ says Hook,
who knows a thing or two about race boats as he’s owned and/or raced every brand that has won a championship in the last three decades.
So today, Nigel Hook is racing his own brand, a 48GP SilverHook, and he is planning to build more SilverHooks, both race and pleasure versions, and will be reinvesting in the development of ocean racing following the path trodden by Ferrari, and particularly Bugatti.Both iconic brands were fashioned first by success on the race track and then by funnelling their commercial success back into racing.
Open ocean racing is made possible by its sponsors and is also one of Lucas Oil’s few ventures outside of the traditional American road racing series. Hook has Lucas Oil to thank for much of his recent success. In the 17 years that Lucas has been sponsoring Hook’s team, they’ve raced 11 different boats with top team-mates from all over the world. The constant research and development adds big-dollar signs to the budget at the end of the year. For Hook and his team, it’s all made possible by Lucas Oil.