Thrills and spills at jet ski races

THERE were thrills and spills a-plenty at the Royal St Andrews Hotel Amanzi Festival jet ski races on East Beach on Saturday, March 31. 

LONG HAUL: John Johnson riding in the Royal St Andrews Hotel Amanzi Festival Jet Ski Barnacles Challenge from the Kowie River into the sea, around the buoy on West Beach and back into the river mouth on Sunday. Johnson also rode in the surf section on Saturday, March 31 to earn a combined score putting him in fifth place in the jet ski races Picture: LOUISE KNOWLES

Spectators were awed by a collision when local jet skier, Tim Fetherstonhaugh, fell into the water and fellow jet skier John Johnson on a blue jet ski, who was watching Fetherstonhaugh, did not notice Noel Greyling passing in front of him on a yellow ski. Johnson collided with Greyling, severely bruising his leg and cracking his jet ski’s hull.

The NSRI assisted Greyling from the beach and Gardmed medics attended to him after which he was able to return to the race.  However, the friendship was also bruised despite Johnson’s apology to Greyling who used some very strong language in reply.

At that stage Noel Greyling was tie first with Simon Thiessen to win the race.

“The bad language was in the heat of moment, with adrenalin rushing,” said Fetherstonhaugh who estimates the costs of repair at about R30 000 to R40 000.

Fetherstonhaugh, a former Formula 1 powerboat racer, enjoyed jet ski racing for the first time on Saturday. The waves were a challenge as he is used to riding powerboats on flat, inland waters.

“You have to keep the ski straight as you approach a wave.  If you are skew, you will fall off,” he said.

Fortunately, when he came off the jet ski on Saturday he was wearing regulation helmet and lifejacket with an impact vest.  “Swimming to get the jet ski was PT,” he said.

“We were doing 60-80km/h depending on the surf, and 110km/h in the river,” he said as compared to powerboating speeds of about 250km/h.

At the prize giving at the end of the day, Johnson came fifth, Greyling came fourth, Fetherstonhaugh came third, second place went to Simon Thiessen and Morgan Thiessen came first.

Fetherstonhaugh did not expect to come third in the race. “I was riding a stock 1.8, against supercharged 1.8 and rotex motor and having a wrist injury also didn’t help,” he said.

Fetherstonhaugh has not done any Formula 1 racing since 2012, overseas at the Nations Cup.

“I was doing quite well. I won the championship in 2010, in three different divisions, one division three times, and five or six times I was a Formula 1 Springbok.  But I don’t know I’ll if race again in SA,” he said.

“The sport was stopped in South Africa not because it is too dangerous, but because of the politics,” said Fetherstonhaugh, who comes from a watersport family and started powerboating when he was 10 years old.

“You are strapped in and the sport has the lowest death rate in the world of motorsports. More guys are killed in cars and bikes than in Formula 1 powerboating.”

He has raced in Ajman, Khorfokkan and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Dubai and Singapore.

Asked to compare inflatables with Formula 1 powerboats, Fetherstonhaugh shook his head.

“No comparison. I’m a speed freak.  I like Formula 1,” he said.

However, he had a serious accident in 2008 when his boat flipped. He was upside down in the water and the buckle of his harness jammed. He clinically drowned and doesn’t remember anything after the start and before waking up in hospital. After that he gave up racing for a year when his son was three years old. But the bug soon bit again.

Now the jet ski bug has bitten. “Next year as long as I can get a jet ski, I will definitely be in,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of finding the sponsors now.”

Most of the participants footed the bill themselves this weekend because the race is not a national leg and the national jet skiers were at the Splash festival in Port Elizabeth.

“I also need to find a coach and get fit. My father coached and guided me when I was small. When we rode Formula 1 overseas he was the radio man when you can’t see what is happening,” he said.

He would like to race overseas again, but his grandmother, Dot Fetherstonhaugh has cancer and he has made a serious commitment to stay at her side.

Those who would like to sponsor Fetherstonhaugh next year are welcome to e-mail timfetherstonhaugh@gmail.com.

MOTORHEADS: (From left) Tim Fetherstonhaugh third, Simon Thiessen first and Milton Thiessen who came second 2nd in the Royal St Andrews Hotel Amanzi Festival jet ski races on the Easter weekend Picture: LOUISE KNOWLES

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