Fortunately last week I found myself heading home from the final race of the 2016 F1 H2O World Championship with a victory in the Grand Prix of Sharjah—my first win racing for the Dubai-based Victory Team’s newly formed F1 H2O outfit. It was a great way to close out the season even though I finished runner-up in the overall standings to three-time defending champ Philippe Chiappe.
American Shaun Torrente of Victory Team won the Grand Prix of Sharjah, the final race of the 2016 F1 H2O world championship, and finished second overall to France’s Philippe Chiappe (read the story). Photo courtesy Vittorio Ubertone/Idea Marketing (click to enlarge).
Obviously I wanted the championship more than ever, but what matters most to me is something I’ve thought about my entire career, but especially more so this year—that it’s a blessing to be able to walk away from each race and go home to see my girls. Trust me I know the risk I take as a professional racer, which is the main reason I felt the need to voice my opinion in a speedonthewater.com commentary.
While there have been several unfortunate performance boat incidents this year—some fatal, some not—they’ve all made me sick to my stomach, enough so that I can’t sit back and bite my tongue.
Here’s the deal, watching the tragic accident video of Jim Melley and Garth Tagge flipping their boat at a top-speed shootout in Maryland made me sad (read the story). It also made me angry. It’s time that we as a community say enough is enough, we can’t keep losing good people.
Every time Torrente straps into the raceboat, he understands what’s at stake. Photo by Arek Rejs/F1 H2O
Here is what I’m proposing. With the holidays upon us, while you’re gathered with your loved ones have a serious talk with them about your intentions. Be honest with your mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, whoever it is about what you’re doing. The questions should be: If, or when, I wreck this boat, am I going to survive it? And what are the chances I’ll survive? I have a feeling when people have those conversations with their loved ones they will make more prudent decisions about what they’re doing in their boats.
I’ve had this conversation with my wife; I’ve had it with my dad when I was 17 years old. We were in Waterloo, Iowa, and I was racing SST 45, it’s a 75-mph boat, Formula Light they call it. I was on pole for the qualifying heat, a quick 10-lap qualifier, and at one point in the race I was lapping the fourth-place boat. The driver’s name was Andy Morgan—he was a rookie and he was progressing well. Anyway we were going down the straightway and I was passing him on the outside when all of a sudden his prop blew out and lost its bite and the boat took a hard right directly in front of me.
I never even had time to lift … I drove right through him. I stopped, unstrapped, stood up and looked down—not a scratch on me. Andy wasn’t so lucky. I hit him in the capsule and the impact broke every rib in his body, punctured both his lungs and he bled out that night, basically suffocating. My father wanted me to quit, he really wanted me to stop. I told him I can’t stop and that for some reason I’m still here. And I believed that reason was to race boats.
The next weekend I got in the boat and went about my business. I remember feeling more nervous than I’d ever been before when I strapped in that first time, but it all went away after a few laps and I was back to doing what I know.
So trust me, I understand that need to compete and try to do something that you haven’t done. I’ve been chasing my goal for 25 years to be a Formula 1 world champion. I’m so close and I’ve been so close that I can’t stop. I’m consumed by it but the one thing I will say is when I have the conversation with my wife and she asks if I am going to survive if I wreck, I can say yes. I tell her there’s a 95 percent chance I’ll be fine, there’s a 4 percent chance I could be injured and a 1 percent chance I could be killed.
During his rookie F1 H2O season in 2011, Torrente crashed his Team Sweden boat with Photo by Arek Rejs/F1 H2O. You can watch the YouTube video of the accident here.
I think about that when I hug my wife and my daughter—there’s a chance I might not ever see them again. The difference is I’m not running 150-plus mph in a non-capsule “pleasure boat” in a non-professional event like a shootout or a poker run, and stacking the odds against me. I’m not saying these boats can’t or shouldn’t be used in an event, but I do think some speed caps and safety standards need to be established or we’re going to keep losing good people.
Do you want to show up at a poker run or a shootout, look around during the driver’s meeting the night before and realize one or two of you won’t be there the next day? I know I don’t, which is why we need to police ourselves and do what we can to put safety at the forefront of what we do.
The safety systems exist to do these events; to build these boats and make a capsule where an accident like the one that killed Garth and Jim is survivable. I know this because I strap into one all the time. I’ve wrecked at 140 mph many times and I’ve walked away—my competitors have done the same.
We also need to stop worrying about horsepower and making boats lighter, and put the emphasis on safety. We all know that if a boat is safer you can drive it to a level you didn’t think it would get to because when you wreck it, not if but when, you can be fairly certain you’ll survive.
And as much as I respect the families involved, I think as many people as possible should watch the video of Garth and Jim’s accident. It’s brutal and it makes my stomach turn, but it makes you understand what you’re dealing with when you see an 8,000-pound boat fly through the air like a paper airplane. In my opinion if it saves one life then it’s worth it.
Last but not least, we need to wake up and police ourselves when it comes to alcohol at events. We are operating high-performance vehicles and need to have all of our wits about us to do it safely. Don’t just think about yourself and whoever is in your boat but think about everyone else around you.
The manufacturers have done a great job building safe high-speed boats. That being said, the boats need to be operated by a sober driver who is not impaired in any way shape or form. Once again that comes down to us looking at our friends when we’re at these events and telling them enough is enough. The easiest thing to do is designate a driver. If you want to drink and have a good time, do it, but make sure you have a designated driver. Or better yet wait until you’re done boating for the day.
Whether you’re racing or enjoying a day on the water with friends, the end goal is the same—to have a good time and return home safely to our loved ones.
Torrente Wins in Sharjah, Chiappe Earns Third-Straight F1 H2O World Title
Shootout Stars Taking Hard Look
Torrente Crashes Out Early in Grand Prix of China
Tagge and Melley Die in Potomac River Radar Run Accident
Prince and Dunphy Die in Lake of the Ozarks Accident
Four Dead Following Accident on Georgia’s Lake Lanier
VooDoo Luck: Surviving an Offshore Race Crash
Boat Flips During Buffalo Poker Run
Sequence of the Week: McCann’s Close Call on Lake of the Ozarks