Li'l Ricky Roostertail sez: Hey! Wanna be the most popular kid on your block this Seafair? Do what my dad did, and his dad did before that...
Li’l Ricky Roostertail sez:
Hey! Wanna be the most popular kid on your block this Seafair? Do what my dad did, and his dad did before that: Make an awesome wooden hydroplane to drag behind your bike. Then get your friends to do the same and have races against each other. It’s fun!
The hydros are easy to build, although you’ll need the help of an adult. First, get a piece of plywood at least an inch thick. (Balsa wood is for LOSERS!) Then draw an outline of, like, an 18-inch-long hydroplane on the wood. It can be a pickle-fork designor one of those round-nose vintage hydros that old people get all emotional over.
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Have an adult with a band saw cut the wood according to your outline. Do not saw the hydro yourself! My dad’s best friend growing up, Stinky, did that and his name has been “No-Pinkie Stinky” ever since.
You want a hydro that won’t go airborne! If your boat flips during a race, you are disqualified. I suggest sanding the bottom of the bow so the nose doesn’t dig in the road surface that you’re racing on. Or get really fancy and attach wooden sponsons to the bottom of the hull to make it even more stable.
Weight distribution is also important. Attach a wooden engine block or cowling, just like the real boats have, near the front of the boat to weigh it down. Add a tail and a fin to the back so the hydro looks more real. But don’t make those too heavy as that could make the boat lift and go flying.
Now comes the funnest part: Painting your hydro! Use an enamel to paint the boat in the colors of your favorite unlimited hydroplane — the Ellstrom Elam Plus, Beacon Plumbing, Oh Boy! Oberto or whatever. Or personalize it and call it, like, the Miss Ricky Roostertail, although that sounds kind of dumb because, well, I’m a boy.
Anyway, you need 6 to 8 feet of string between the boat and the back of your bike. Pound a nail, screw or metal staple into the nose of your boat and tie the string to that. Make sure the string is strong and secured really good because, under the official rules of racing, if your string snaps or otherwise comes loose from the boat or your bike, your boat is dead in the water.
The big challenge is how to tie the hydro to the back of your bike. My dad says that back in his day, bikes had metal bars behind the seats and the seats were shaped like a banana or something. He says the coolest boys had bikes with “sissy bars.”
Isn’t that crazy?! (Well, at least it made dragging the hydro behind your bike easier.)
Bikes just aren’t made like that anymore so you have to be creative to figure out how to tie the string to the back of your bike. The last thing you want is for the string to get caught up in the spokes of your back tire!
The easiest way, I think, is to tie the string to a back fender if your bike has one, or add a fender strut if it doesn’t. You also can get some thick-gauge wire (like a metal hanger), bend it into a hoop and sandwich it between the bolts that secure the rear-wheel axle to the bicycle frame. If you do this, BE CAREFUL that your back wheel remains tightly bolted to the frame so the wheel doesn’t come off in the middle of a heat. Ouch!
OK, so now the racing can begin! There are lots of variations to racing wooden hydros. Create your own!
When my dad was a boy, he and his friends raced in preliminary heats to qualify for the winner-take-all final heat. Each heat was five laps and they set up cones or whatever as buoys. Hit or miss a buoy with your boat, and get penalized an extra lap. JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE!
You really can get into it and race the entire unlimited hydroplane circuit! Set up different courses for the various races: Detroit can be your school playground, Tri-Cities a grass field and Seattle a nearby hill that does not send your racing into a street where cars zip past.
Make racing even more fun by creating a demolition course! With practice, you’ll get it so that when you make a sharp turn on your bike, your hydro will swing out really wide. If you make that turn by a curb, the hydro crashes against it, which is totally rad!
My dad used to race his hydro over a wooden bicycle jump like some guy named “Evel Knievel.” (I don’t know who he is either, but he sure has a great name!)
Before I tell you the most funnest thing of all, the newspaper’s lawyers require me to include something called a legal disclaimer: “The Seattle Times neither recommends nor endorses this variation on racing as it is potentially dangerous.”
OK, so — hammer nails through the hull so the boat will shoot a roostertail of sparks when it drags against the concrete.
Oh, and wear a bicycle helmet and stuff when racing.
So there you have it. Racing a wooden hydro behind your bike is just like cheering the computer-generated hydro races on the Safeco Field scoreboard between innings, only better ‘cuz YOU’RE CONTROLLING THE ACTION!
Now if only I can figure out how to drag a hydro behind my Xbox … .
Stuart Eskenazi: firstname.lastname@example.org