Sunday, March 13, 2011

Unseaworthy Vessel of the Week: Snowmobiles

This picture is not photoshopped: File:SnowmobileSkippingCloseupAugust2009WatercrossAtUnion.jpg

The water is many feet deep, and the snowmobile pictured is not being towed and has not been modified in any significant way.

What you're looking at is "Snowmobile Skipping," also known as "Watercross."  This is a sport where riders drive snowmobiles on water, counting on their wide tracks to give them enough speed to drive them across the water before they can sink.

Invented during the drug-fueled haze of the 1970s, the First Annual World Championship Snowmobile Watercross was held in July 1977 in Grantsburg, Wisconsin (where there's clearly not much else going on) and sounds more like a drunken dare between some snowmobilers wondering if they could hit the water of Memory Lake fast enough to make it the 300 feet to the island in the middle.

Since that fateful day, the event has grown by leaps and bounds.  Now, some 33 years later, tens of riders compete in the various classes ranging from the beginners' Stock Drags to the top Pro-Open Ovals Class. 

I'd love to try cutting an oval on the water in a snowmobile.  Then figure eights.

Riders are required to wear helmets and lifejackets and the snowmobiles are fitted with tethered buoys so they can be located in the likely event of a sinking.  Otherwise, they tend to strip as much gear as they can from their vehicles in order to save weight.  This usually includes removing the seat:

If you've got a snowmobile lying around that you don't like, it turns out there's a formula to the madness.  For the typical snowmobile you need to hit the water with a speed of 5mph for every 150 pounds of vehicle-rider-silliness and keep the throttle wide open for as long as you intend to avoid swimming.

Don't blame me when you drown.


1 comment:

  1. It's not just snowmobiles, in Iceland (and Scandinavia) they drive 4wd "buggies" on water.