Hovercraft Club Of America's
National Cruise And Hover-In
August 18th,19th & 20th
It’s Friday morning. Gary Jensen and I have each taken a day off of work so that we can attend the the first day of the Hovercraft Club Of America's "NATIONAL CRUISE AND HOVER-IN".
Gary lives southwest of Chicago, and I’m about 35 miles west. We decided to meet on I-88 at the DeKalb Oasis. We were attempting to leave our respective homes by 6:00am.
It’s 5:45 am and I’m frantically trying to pack the rest of my gear into my Jeep. I open the garage, and back the Jeep up to where my Scat 12HP Hovercraft and trailer are waiting in half of the 2-car garage. Piece of cake…..... hook up the trailer- like dozens of times before- and drive out of the garage. Right? OF COURSE NOT!!!
It took me a good 10 minutes of of backing up and pulling forward a million times before I finally had the Hovercraft out of the garage and past the "Classic" Sports car sitting in the other half of the garage- lord knows I couldn’t go and move the car!. I was finally ready to leave. Why didn’t I get gas and money the night before? Arghhhh! A quick trip to the local "Shell" covers both problems… at least my debit card is working OK this time.
I finally hit the road and manage to arrive at the Oasis at about 7:00 am. I have a quick bite to eat at the McDonalds and then do another check of my tie down straps. Gary arrived with his Hovercraft Concepts AeroCruiser SA 1100 just as I finished retying the last strap. I tossed Gary a "Talkabout" 2 way radio to use for "intercar" communications. We managed to make pretty good time and had some humorous conversations while driving. Time seemed to go by very quickly. We finally arrived in Spring Green, Wisconsin at about 11:00 am and stopped for gas. We tanked up both tow vehicles and then filled up the Hovercrafts and our spare fuel cans. I bought 22 gallons of fuel for just the Hovercraft! We stopped for a quick bite to eat and had a chance to glance through the local newspaper. The paper described a tragic event that had occurred on Wednesday. Apparently a Mother and her 3 children had drowned while wading in the Wisconsin River while the husband was out of town on business. We finished eating and then drove the remaining few miles to the campground/ launch site in Muscoda.
We drove through the campground and pulled up near the top of the launch ramp. The first thing I noticed was how high the water was. The promised "Hovercraft Heaven" seemed to be completely washed out. The next thing I noticed was a woman coming towards me saying my name…… Linda Weber who happily greeted me remembered my description of a "Yellow Jeep pulling a Red Scat 12HP". Gary and I unloaded our Hovercrafts, and parked our trailers near the top of the ramp. I headed to the campground. Gary had a Motel room so he acted as "observer" while I reacquainted myself with my tent, and managed to get it assembled. Nobody else was really flying, and the afternoon cruise wasn’t scheduled to start for a while so Gary and I decided to go for a "short" cruise.
My Scat is an EXTREMELY wet ride! I need to use a wet suit at all times. The weather was pretty warm so I wore my "short" wet suit. We loaded our gear and were finally on our way! We cruised west for about 8 miles, and then turned around and headed back towards the launch ramp. The water was very high, and the current was fast. We continued past the launch ramp, and after a few miles finally came across our first sandbars. We just cruised, had fun and took it easy. I looked down at my dashboard and all my engine instruments had mysteriously quit working! We had gone about 10 miles east of the ramp, and decided to head back to the ramp. On the horizon we could see a zillion "Weber Starcruisers" coming towards us being followed by an UH-10. Once they were all past us we did a 180 and fell in behind them. We followed them to a big sandbar that we had played on earlier, and everyone stopped for a while.
People walked around the sandbar and checked out all the other Hovercrafts for a while. We finally all continued on the "Cruise". I didn’t bring any spare fuel with me (DUH!!), and I was down to a little less than half a tank (12-gallon tank) so I figured I could safely go another 10 miles before having to turn back for the boat ramp. Sometimes I just don’t know what possesses me. I know better! I really do!
I was cruising very fast, and decided to "tuck in" to decrease some of my drag. It worked! While tucked I sneaked a peak at the GPS and I was doing 47 mph……. Pretty darn fast for a Scat…… um…. Er…. Too darn fast for a Scat……. I was starting to slow down, backed off the throttle a little, sat up, and hit a weird curl of water- all at the same time!! I had absolutely no warning. The Scat plowed VIOLENTLY. I managed to stay in it, but I’m still wearing a 2" x 3" black & blue mark on my left arm a week and a half later. I had heard rumors of Scats plowing in violently, but had pretty much dismissed them. I have plowed in at slower speeds, and I would describe it as "Abrupt", but not "Violent". I looked at the GPS just before it plowed and I was still doing 36 mph. NOW I think 30 mph is a real NICE speed! Gary was behind and to the right of me when it happened. The weird "curl" had also caused him to plow momentarily. He said it was pretty weird to watch me. One second I was cruising and a split second later he was surprised that I was still in the hovercraft! He said the whole back end went up in the air like it was going to flip over! Where’s the cameras when you need them? With my pulse rate returning to normal, and a throbbing arm, I figured that we were near enough to our turn around point and that this was a good time to go back. We headed back to the ramp and parked our machines. I poured another 10 gallons of fuel into my tank, and reset my GPS- we had done 58 miles.
Gary grabbed a bite to eat and showed some spectators his craft while I tried to troubleshoot my instrument problem. No luck, and I really didn’t want to mess with it during the weekend anyhow so I just decided to forget about it. We decided to take another cruise going west. We just took it real easy and coasted along at about 25 mph. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the wind had decreased. This left the river with a mirror like surface with a reflection of the sky- perfect for our frame of mind. Gary mentioned how neat it was to look under the front of the Scat while flying along side. Since it is so badly trimmed (extremely tail heavy!) the front skirts were about 4" off of the water surface, and you could see the depression of the water from the hovercraft’s cushion. One of these days I’ll manage to find a good trim setting! We pulled onto a small sandbar for a few minutes and just relaxed and talked for a while. Gary mentioned that the farthest he had ever flown in a day was 85 miles. I checked my GPS and we had already gone another 12 miles- if we turned back then we would have had a total of 82 miles for the day. We cruised for another half-hour and then headed back- we didn’t want to get caught on the river after dark. It was the trip back that convinced me that my full wetsuit would be worn for the rest of the weekend! I froze on the way back and slowed down to stay warm. My GPS is really cool! Gary and I have the same units, and you can actually download all the local information into them and it’s shown on the screen… Imagine my surprise when Gary headed down a channel that lead to a dead end lake! I just hung around waiting for his inevitable return….Hehehehehehehehe. We finally made it back to the launch ramp, and I flew all the way up to where my trailer was parked, grabbed my gear and put the cover on my Scat. Gary did the same. We checked the GPS and we had done a one-day total of 108 miles. I guess we can now dispel the myths of 2-stroke Hovercraft just hanging around the launch ramps and making noise! We cruise too!
Mike Lynch and his 2 teenage children (John and Stephanie) had arrived in camp. Mike had damaged the cooling fan on his Rotax 277 and was waiting until the following morning to replace it with the fresh new "Air freighted" part. Mike and the kids set up the "camping condo from hell" complete with king size water beds, hot and cold running water, hot tub… actually it was the biggest tent I had ever seen!
Gary’s Motel was in Richland Center, and I followed him there to get something to eat. Pizza Hut was the menu of the evening, and I drove back to the campground and went to bed.
One awake fisherman- many sleeping Hovercraft
Saturday morning I awoke early and heard Linda and Verdon Weber discussing a request from the Sheriff’s Department to help look for the drowning victims. I told Linda I would be happy to help…. It wasn’t to be.
Mike Lynch had started to replace the broken cooling fan on his Scat. He discovered that the fan that had been air shipped to him had 4 mounting holes while the one on his motor had only 3… A BIG oops by the shipper! Heck they were only one part number off! Dave and Connie Adams had pulled in with their huge double trailer with Dave’s GPL AC3 and Connie’s Scat 2. Dave and Mike took time out to help the owner of a Scat 12 which had some fan blade pitch problems.
Mike was without a craft, and had 2 teenage children who had nothing to do. Gary and I discussed it, and decided that we would take them for a short cruise before going down river to join the search. John Lynch was with me, and Stephanie was with Gary who was following a comfortable distance away as we headed upstream. We were having a good time and had gone about 6 miles when I looked over my shoulder to where Gary had been just moments before and he was way back behind us. I continued for a short time and then did a 180 and headed back. As we came up to them I could see that they were off cushion. As we moved closer and I noticed that their motor was not running, and that Gary had a paddle in his hand! Gary said that as they had crossed a small sandbar the engine dropped to 500 rpm and wouldn’t go any faster. Gary pulled the spark plugs- the front plug was fine, but the rear plug showed the tell tale signs of major engine damage. We decided that the best thing to do was to take the Stephanie and John back to the launch ramp in my Scat, and then I would come back and do what I could to help Gary to get back.
Rule #1….. Do not turn off the motor on a "tail heavy" Scat 12 HP!
As Stephanie stepped from Gary’s craft to mine she stepped on the edge of the deck, and not into the cockpit. It was pretty exciting watching all that water come gushing over the side! Hehehehe… I wasted no time hitting the starter and grabbing a hand full of throttle to get things stabilized.
Reaching "hump" speed from a dead stop with 2 passengers, 12 gallons of fuel, and 30 gallons of river was a futile exercise of noise and spray! I found a small sandbar nearby to land on so I could pull the drain plug and remove the water from the cockpit. We used the sand bar to assist our takeoff and the Scat had us back at the launch ramp in about 15 minutes. There were a lot of surprised faces when I pulled up to drop off my 2 passengers!
While I was on the ramp I pulled 50’ of 1" nylon webbing and a locking carabiner out of my dry bag. I tied a loop on each end of the webbing so that I could easily attach it to the rear deck cleats on each side of the Scat. I found the center point of the webbing and tied another loop so that I could hook the carabiner through it. The carabiner would then be attached to a 50’ rope, which would be tied to the front of Gary’s craft. Great idea- on shore anyway. So how much does "Lincoln Towing" (aka… The Lincoln Park Pirates!) charge?
I had the presence of mind to set a waypoint on the GPS before I left Gary, and followed my "track" back up the river. I was pretty surprised at how easy it was to find him. I pulled up next to him, cut the motor, and explained my game plan. I knew he wouldn’t be easy to pull, but I figured I could at least keep him off the sandbars and out of the trees while we floated down the river towards the launch ramp.
Rule #2- Do not turn off the motor on a "tail heavy" Scat 12 HP!
Rule #3- Sinking is BAD!
OK… I admit it!….. I can be pretty dense at times! I had Gary attach the rope to the front of his craft and then to the carabiner. I then walked towards the back of my craft to attach the previously attached loops to the Scat’s rear cleats. BIG MISTAKE! Luckily I heard the "gurgling" as the water jetted up out of the air splitter in the duct! I was starting to sink!
Hehehehe… I wasted no time hitting the starter and grabbing a hand full of throttle to get things stabilized. (Déjà vu??) I think I might have finally learned my lesson- maybe anyway.
You know that rather portly individual that lives just down the street? You know! The one with the little "rat" dog that runs around pulling on the leash every which direction- trying to move the leviathan owner? Well that’s EXACTLY what it looked like from shore as I attempted to pull Gary’s craft out of harms way. Every time I would start to pull him my craft would turn and head the same direction as his craft was facing- no amount of rudder would change the direction of travel. I had plenty of time while floating for an hour and a half to figure out what was causing the problem and finally came up with the solution! Simple! Remove the center loop! This allowed the carabiner to freely slide from side to side, AND allowed the Hovercraft to turn and hold an angle of pull that the pilot decided on NOT the following craft! It really ended up working well and I started to pull Gary down river at about 6 mph. Makin noise and goin nowhere! What could be better?
Gary & Rotax 582......... Both taking a rest!
Having plenty of time for sight seeing I noticed somebody in a house was waving at us from their balcony. I waived back and we continued. In a few seconds there was a golf cart whipping down the hill from the house, and then the gentleman driving the golf cart jumped off of it. He kind of limped to the shoreline and started waving both arms like he was trying to flag us down. I stayed WAY forward and shut down my engine (See!!! I remembered Rule #3!) He shouted to us that we could use his property to remove Gary’s craft! COOL! It didn’t take much convincing for us to decide this was a REAL GOOD idea! Getting there was another story. The current, and trying to align Gary’s craft near the shore took a lot of maneuvering and quite a bit of time. We eventually got the dead craft partially on shore and tied to a tree. The Good Samaritan owner offered to take Gary back to the launch ramp to get his car, which Gary gladly accepted. The "Good Samaritan" turned out to be Bob Steinhauer who is a good friend of the Webers, and owns a Starcruiser- Unfortunatly Bob broke his ankle a while ago so he can't "Hover" for a while. I went back to the ramp, grabbed some lunch and then just "played" on the river with a couple of Jet Skiers for a while. Strange…. They couldn’t follow me over the sandbars- go figure?
Wig- Complete with wings
Bob Windt was walking around his wingless WIG when I came in, and I asked him if he was going to put the wings on it. He said there wasn’t enough room on the ramp. I told him about the sandbar that I had been playing on nearby and a few minutes later Bob, his 2 kids(?), John Lynch, and myself were on the sandbar helping (I think we were helping anyway!) put the wings on the WIG. Doug Ihrig joined the party with his Neoteric Hovertrek (Reverse boots… Grrrrrrrrrrrr!).
Reverse Boots............ Grrrrrrrr!
Bob had the wings on and was ready to roll… er… fly in about 40 minutes. Doug took Bob’s kids with him and we all left together. We crossed underneath the bridge together and then Bob took off! Pretty darn cool to watch from that perspective!! Doug and I played for a while doing donuts and 180 degree slides…. Kind of a "Can you top this contest!" I lost… Doug was going backwards! (Reverse boots… Grrrrrrrrrrrr!). Bob gave a few rides and did some "fly- bys" for the audience.
Gary was back in camp with his craft, and went into full blown Photographer mode. We talked over dinner plans with Mike Lynch, and the Adams Family (Sorry… couldn’t resist!) and decided on… PIZZA HUT!!! I’m a "Pizza Junkie" and could probably eat it every night of the week. After dinner I went to bed early. This day’s total mileage was only 28 miles, AND 20 gallons of gas (Makin noise and goin nowhere! What could be better?........... Gas mileage!!)
5:45 AM....... Anyone else up yet??
I awakened a little before sunrise. I took a walk and had to run back to my tent to get my digital camera. The sunrise was amazing! Verdon Weber and I talked for a while down by the launch ramp- Linda called him for breakfast. I decided to take a drive to Richland Center so I could get something to eat at McDonalds and also to get some metric "Allen" wrenches from Wal-Mart. I stopped at the local Shell station for my daily supply of gas and then returned to camp. I changed my spark plugs, tightened a couple of exhaust manifold bolts, and filled the 12 gallon tank. Linda was starting the "Poker Run" and I scrambled to get ready. I ran into Mike Lynch and he had been offered the use of Connie Adam’s Scat 2. Connie was going to ride with her husband Dave in his GPL AC3. Eric Goldstein took John Lynch with him in his Weber Starcruiser, and I took Stephanie with me. I made sure she had her rain gear, but she still got soaked!! The poker run was a lot of fun. Stephanie was frozen and walking around the campground shivering under a towel.
I helped set up the "Slalom" course…… It was fun too, but I did pretty badly… There are some definite trim problems on my Scat…. Maybe I should just eat pizza EVERY night!!! More "ballast" up front is exactly what I need! I think maybe that some lead weights might be cheaper in the long run! After the slalom I hooked up with Dave and Connie for a short cruise up river. We cruised about 30 minutes and then they turned around. The Webers and a few other people cruised past so I fell in behind them for a while. The wind was awful and after another half hour I turned around and headed back down river towards the ramp. I stopped on a nice sandbar to just "Chill" for a while, and I heard a Hovercraft coming. Sure enough there was Eric Goldstein’s Starcruiser coming towards me….. But wait a second! That’s NOT Eric driving!? I finally realized that it was Stephanie Lynch behind the controls, Eric behind her, and John Lynch behind Eric. Nice job of flying!
Eric decided to continue upriver, and I continued towards the ramp. When I was coming up river with Connie and Dave we had come past Scott Jindra and family "Knee boarding" behind their aluminum UH-17T. Bob Windt and his WIG had been parked near them. On the return trip only Scott and his family were there. I stopped on "Jindra Island" to say hello, and as I was talking to Scott and his wife when I noticed that their kids were all checking out the Scat. I asked Scott and his wife if they had any objections to me asking the kids if they wanted a ride. They had no objections and I did multiple donuts and a lap around and across the sandbar with the each of the three Jindra boys. Scott has four children.. the youngest is a little girl who was standing near the Scat looking a little dejected as the last of her brothers got out. She was too young to go by herself. I felt sorry for her and called her over. I told her that I bet her Daddy would hold her on his lap for a ride if she asked him! She got a huge smile on her face and came back a few seconds later with Scott in tow…….. Hehehehe… the things parents do for their kids!!! She finally had her ride, and liked doing donuts the best!
I left "Jindra Island" and flew all the way back to my trailer. Mike Lynch gave me a hand getting the Scat back on it, and once I was packed up I followed Mike Lynch most of the way home (Hehehehe....... McDonalds instead of pizza!). This was one heck of a fun weekend!
Thanks to Linda Weber for the great event, and all of the effort she put into it!!
Here's more pictures..... No particular order-