BananaShark’s John Cooke on the thrill of powerboat racing
BananaShark’s latest project is the state of the art 10 metre marathon race powerboat. The new eye-catching BananaShark Stirling 34 is strong, light and fast, capable of speeds greater than 70 mph.
John Cooke founder and skipper of Team BananaShark has his sights on the 2012 world events and a shot at the Coniston Powerboat Records Week.
You have your Yachtmasters, you’ve been a film stuntman, how did you get into powerboat racing?
I think it’s more how did I end up building powerboats! I’ve always been a speed freak and I used to race karts at international level. But when I moved to Devon nearly 20 years ago a friend got me involved with Offshore Circuit Racing in 18’ 200hp boats capable of over 75mph. I then got involved with building Class 3 Racing RIBs and everything just escalated from there. We’re now race boat manufacturers and along with my three other crew we’re competing in the Marathon Class E.
Has BananaShark raced competitively in 2011?
Our first ever proper race for the BananaShark Stirling 34 was the World Cup Cowes- Torquay-Cowes this summer, which attracts international competitors. Although for mechanical reasons we weren’t able to complete the race, it confirmed to us we really do have a great boat. We reached speeds of almost 70mph and we were overtaking lots of boats in higher classes.
What does your 2012 schedule look like?
It will definitely include the prestigious Cowes-Torquay World Cup. The other big event next season is the Round Britain 2012 (RB12.com), a marathon event starting on 21 June 2012. For the first time 50 cars, 50 boats and 50 aircraft will compete, against those in their own discipline, simultaneously around Britain. We are hoping to form a team comprising ourselves plus a car and a plane.
By sea, it’s a tough, endurance offshore powerboat race. There are 10 gruelling legs, to be raced over a total of 10-12 days. The start and finish is the Olympic Sailing Venue, Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy. So close to the Olympics, we’re hoping the world’s media will be in attendance.
The sea route for the powerboat race will differ from previous events in that it will go all the way round the north of Scotland, rather than through the Caledonian Canal - therefore being a complete circumnavigation of Britain.
We need to get a number of finishes at world level in order to qualify for a world record at Coniston water - and we definitely want to be back at Coniston in November 2012.
What sort of prep do you have to do for a race?
We’re not expecting a failure but everything is set up to cope with a freak failure, we can even run the entire boat off one engine.
For RB12 we’ll be looking at the length of legs and ensuring we have the right amount of fuel capacity for the long days. It’s all about reliability, and our boat is designed with endurance racing in mind - from the steering motors on both engines to the double redundant fuel filters. Our Raymarine kit enables us to integrate the entire boat and monitor everything, it can alert us on screen about any issues.
Are you looking beyond 2012 yet?
Yes, we’re very excited about the Cowes to Monte-Carlo Grand Prix which is being resurrected for 2013. It last ran in 1972, then it was London to Monte-Carlo and HRH Princess Margaret dropped the start flag from Tower Bridge on the River Thames. It’ll be 2,400 nautical miles and is described as one of the longest and toughest powerboat races in the world
Throughout a race how do you stay safe and keep on course?
The BananaShark Stirling 34 features an integrated navigation system kitted out with two Raymarine E140 wide multifunction displays, an AIS unit and three ST70+ instruments, and a Raymarine VHF for communications. It gives us the accuracy we need when racing at high speeds and helps give us the competitive edge.
Obviously on a lake, like Coniston for the World Record, we can’t get lost. But the Raymarine kit is still vital - it shows us all our engine data and allows us to compare our RPMs and speeds along a run so we can get the very best out of the boat.
The boat has twin 260hp Yanmar diesel engines and the Raymarine multifunctional displays allow us to ensure we’re making the best use of the motors and the fuel. The massive display screens make it really ease to read the data in the extreme conditions of racing. With all of that data we can keep an eye on the fuel consumption in real time. Next season, the team, including the support vehicles, is carbon neutral.
Can avid powerboat enthusiasts see you in action?
The RB12 is a great place to get involved. The fleet will be stopping overnight at each leg around the UK. That’s Weymouth, Falmouth, Swansea, Liverpool, Campbeltown, Kyle of Lochalsh, Thurso, Edinburgh, Hull and Ramsgate before heading back to Weymouth. There are all sorts of activities taking place at each stop-over, it should be a real festival of celebrations.
What about a chance for a ride onboard?
Yes there are definitely opportunities. We’re often at boat shows and also we do quite a lot of fundraising for charity so there are chances to bid in an auction and win a ride out on the BananaShark race boat.
Can you describe the thrill of powerboat racing?
It’s addictive. Satisfying doesn’t begin to describe what it feels like to drive a boat at high speed over choppy waters - and winning is a bonus! It’s very different to driving a leisure boat quickly.