Powering a watery revolution

What do 1980s Miami and Dubai have in common? Beyond the sunshine it seems both have a fascination with speedboats.

Dubai has some of the trappings of 80s Miami. It’s darn hot, there are people with far too much money making even more cash and there’s an almost city-wide fixation with opulence. It’s a land of extravagance that, just like 80s Miami, also has an obsession with big, fast boats.

Wander down to the Marina on any given day and witness the heaving mass of boats that struggle for space in the water – it makes jostling with the 4x4s on Sheikh Zayed Road look almost inviting.

Boats are becoming so popular in Dubai that Rod MacLean of Bluesail Yachts expects around 5,000 new berths will be created over the next two years. ‘Dubai is ideally situated for going out on the water. If you lived in a forest and had a 4x4 you’d want to go out rallying. It’s about making what’s right there in front of you all the more accessible,’ he asserts. But MacLean also believes that the appeal is there for a powerboat revolution.

For those new to the sport, powerboats tend to be lightweight and have a v-shaped hull that runs almost halfway under the boat, which makes for good planing (that’s skimming at speed across the waves, to you and me). They also fetch quite a price. ‘You’re looking at around Dhs150,000 for an entry-level, inboard engine powerboat,’ says MacLean. ‘But with that you can tow a waterski, go fishing and have some fun with it’. Fun indeed: an average 10m powerboat, sporting a 100-150 horsepower engine, can hit speeds of just over 35mph.

Getting you going? The provocatively titled Power One and Power Two certificates can be completed in Dubai as a single course over three days. ‘It’s a good entry-level course, enough to get you out on the water and feeling happy that you’re not going to do any damage to anyone’ says MacLean. Courses begin in the classroom, going over the different types of boats, the different hulls and what they actually do for the boats. Day two takes place in the Marina, picking up all the basics of how to dock the boat, while the last day gets suitably lively – high speed manoeuvres, S-turns, U-turns and the inevitable man overboard situation. Power One and Two certificates give you all the know-how to pilot a 10metre powerboat safely.

Ironically, it’s not compulsory to have a certificate in the UAE and, if you’ve ever seen these boats tearing across the water, that’s quite a worrying thought. ‘There are safety marks out in the water, completely unmistakable yellow buoys placed by the coastguard that you’re supposed to go around the outside of,’ MacLean explains. ‘We were around the top of the Palm in Jumeirah recently and happened to see two boats going past them on the inside. These markers are big crates, just below the waterline, held in place by anchors. It was quite alarming to see. It’s not that these people aren’t paying attention – they just don’t know what the markers are for.’

Powerboating has ‘luxury sport’ written all over it, but for anyone who wants to get out on the water, learn the basics of boat handling and get the grounding for a day skipper course or Yachtsman power programme (a step up after Power One and Two) then it’s all there for the taking. Time to dig out that suit with the big lapels…

Is it any good?

Never ones to eschew a jaunt on the water, Time Out got behind the wheel of a 7.5m-long powerboat to bring you the truth about whether we feel it’s worth the money (and the bother). The answer is, yes – if you’ve got some spare cash, then this is exactly the sort of thing you should be throwing it at.

We stowed away on a training day with some new recruits and set off from Dubai Marina while the sun was at its least lethal. The instructor got us quickly out on to open water, bashing over the waves and even throwing in the odd water-bound equivalent of a handbrake turn. Before long he turned the wheel over to us, offering calm instruction that had us weaving and s-turning through the water.

At the higher speeds, the effect of the boat’s streamlined shape is immediately apparent. Skimming across the water, the vehicle’s lightness and v-shaped hull gives the effect of handling a very agile and resilient jetski. It also feels very buoyant and at no point was there any sense that the speed would catch up with you. Obviously, it’s about being careful with one of these things, but the overall sturdiness of the boat allows some leeway for play without feeling out of control.

Time Out even managed to get in on something of a rescue op. A billow of black smoke greeted us on our way back into the Marina as we found a party stranded on a boat that, despite the protests of the crew, was clearly well on its way to being on fire. Told to ‘get in close’, with aptly heroic timing we got the sleepy looking passengers on board, and back to the Marina as our instructor grumbled that ‘this was the sort of safety issues’ he’d been talking about.

It’s impossible to imagine driving one of these things without a grounding in some basic guidance. Lessons really are a must. Did we feel a bit Miami Vice? Hell yeah…

Blue Banana (04 369 7378) can arrange three-day powerboating courses in Dubai, authorised by the Royal Yacht Association. www.bluebanana.ae

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