A.P. Writer "All Shook Up" Over Hydroplaning [1959]

(Editor's Note: - Saul Pett, AP correspondent, took a spin on Seattle's Lake Washington in Miss Burien with driver Peter Woeck. Badly shaken, he wrote this vivid, teeth-rattling report which we interpret as a tribute to the courage, ability and stamina of hydroplane driven.)

Saul Pett
Saul Pett

You've got to have raw, unadulterated courage to speed 150 miles an hour in a boat. But I went along, anyway. What's it like racing 2½ miles a minute over water in a hydroplane? The water feels like concrete. It's like riding a wet earthquake. It's like riding a berserk firecracker in a big cocktail shaker. It's like crazy, the most, the end, man.

In a purely academic way, I inquired about the hazards. Pete said there wasn't much to worry about-except maybe floating debris in the water. At high speeds, he said, even a floating half-filled can could put a hole in the boat. A submerged log could convert a hydroplane into assorted canapes.

I crawled into the open cockpit with Pete. I said, "Don't we get strapped in?" Pete said, "Oh, no, in case anything happens the idea is to be thrown free."

We took off. At the very start we were going 40 miles an hour. We didn't work up to that; we started there. The hydroplane has no clutch. It just takes off. The speedometer needle climbed, the engine roar increased. My teeth shook, my liver cried, my back ached. Behind us, we were throwing up a spray 60 feet high and 100 yards long. (Editor's [Lowney] note: Hydroplanes don't make sprays, man, they make roostertails.) It was impossible to look at the water and even the distant shoreline seemed to be a shimmering, bouncing blur. I wondered how Pete would spot any floating debris.

Suddenly, we were doing 150 miles an hour and the lake seemed smaller than a goblet. Roar, vibration, bounce, galloping fear reached an insane pitch. At this speed we were incredibly high out of the water. The total surface the boat presented to the water now was about 16 square inches, half a man's handkerchief, Pete said later.

And suddenly it was over and we were back at the dock. My body felt black and blue all over and my psyche felt scrambled. On the dock, I did an uncontrollable Cha-Cha. Pete said, don't worry, everyone shakes after the first time. He said I wouldn't shake if I tried it a few more times.

I took the first plane out of town.

[Reprinted from This is Hydroplaning (Paul Lowney, 1959)]