There are no seats, no steering wheel and no harnesses: It’s just an inflatable twin hull and a 50 hp engine. Pilots navigate via a tiller system and rely on the shifting body weight of both themselves and their co-pilot to keep the vessel on course—especially when taking on Mother Nature’s mighty swells. Jumping waves and leaping up to six feet in the air is all part of the fun, though, which is why the choppy waters of the North Sea are perfect for experiencing Zapcatting in all its rough-and-ready glory.
“A white-knuckle ride is a good description,” says Guy McKenzie, Zapcat pilot and co-founder of St. Andrews, Scotland-based adventure outfit Blown Away. “It’s high adrenaline. In terms of car speeds, the Zapcats travel at 40 mph or more, which on water is pretty quick. You can even keep that speed going into 90- and 180-degree turns. They’re amazing pieces of gear.”
With turns that fast, Zapcat riders will experience a G-force of 3G—just below that of an F1 car. And newbies don’t get much adjustment time. “We have one co-pilot per driver to make it faster and more exciting,” McKenzie says. “But they’re not just sitting there holding on for dear life—they’re responsible for helping balance and maneuver the boat around the turns. If you have one person in a Zapcat, it’ll almost do a wheelie with the amount of power if you accelerate hard. You need the second person to keep the weight down at the front to allow it to travel forward, not up in the air.”
Racing at high speeds in a lightweight vessel means there’s a risk of wipeouts—search YouTube for “Bad Day at the Zapcat Office!” However, McKenzie says they’re few and far between. “Yeah, our insurance company saw that YouTube clip, too,” he laughs. “That’s the fully prepared racing guys who are out in a championship-style event. We’re looking to get the same feeling, but we’re not trying to kill people! It’s full on, though, definitely a ‘hold on tight’ experience.”
“You have to be relatively fit,” says McKenzie. “You’ll be using your leg and arm muscles to hold yourself in the boat, and you have to be agile and ninja-like to help maneuver it. Hold on and get low to go faster.”
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