By Luke Voogt
A crash as a superboat co-pilot, ironically, was the final motivation for Portarlington’s Mark Swain to take the rudder as pilot and buy his own vessel.
He speaks to Luke Voogt about jumping over waves at more than 100km/h and Geelong Offshore Superboats returning for the first time since 2012.
Nothing compares to the rush of smashing through waves at more than 100km/h for Mark Swain.
The 41-year-old Portarlington construction supervisor remembers his first time bouncing around as co-pilot for childhood mate Andrew Pike a few years ago.
“A lot of people can’t handle it because you’re jumping around a lot and you’re doing some pretty high speeds,” he said.
“I came back in and I had a grin from ear to ear. It was rush.”
Mark and Andrew have been close friends since primary school growing up together in Portarlington.
“Summer time you couldn’t get us out of the water,” Mark said.
“I’ve always liked boats.”
Andrew had raced for more than a decade when he invited Mark to be co-pilot.
“He’s been in the game for well over 15 years now – he’s won a lot of trophies,” Mark said.
“We sat down one night over a few Jammos [Jameson whiskeys] and I decided to do it.”
In their 65-mile class co-pilots keep an eye on the condition of their boat, upcoming turns and other vessels, and communicate with race control, while pilots speed anti-clockwise around the course.
Because of his beard Mark quickly became known as ‘Captain Risky’ – after the character from Budget Direct TV commercials – by fellow racers and even commentators .
A fortnight ago, at Wyndham Harbour, Mark competed as a pilot for the first time, switching roles after a crash while co-piloting for another mate in 2019.
“That was when I thought, ‘I want to drive myself rather than waiting for the unexpected as co-pilot’,” he said.
He proudly displays a photo in his home bar of his only superboat crash.
“And hopefully the only one I will have,” he said.
They were on the back straight with a lap to go when the boat hit a wave and rocked to one side, then the other, before flipping.
“We went in excess of 60 miles upside down – it was a bit of an eye-opener,” Mark said.
“They call it a duff when you go in nose-first – we upped the ante a bit and did a duff upside down.
“I just remember the water coming up pretty quick. There was a bit of shock and concussion. We walked away from it but it could have been worse.
“At the end of the day you’re racing and there will be accidents. But you’re well protected with all the safety gear.”
He thanked onsite emergency crews, who helped straightaway.
“There were a lot of guys getting in the water to get what was left of the boat back to the ramp too,” he said.
After the crash he purchased a Spectre 6000 with a Mercury Pro Max 225X outboard motor, made by Australian Power Boat Association Hall-of-Famer Tony Low.
Fittingly, he dubbed the boat Risky.
“The boat’s got a lot of history,” he said.
“It’s my weekend boat as well.”
Andrew has yet to return the favour as co-pilot which, like Mark, is how Andrew originally got into the sport.
“I did say, ‘you owe me a couple’,” Mark laughed.
“I think that his exact words were he knows what it’s like to be a co-pilot.”
So Mark instead convinced workmate Josh Bossong to be his “ballast” over a few beers, and they competed together for the first time in Wyndham Harbour last fortnight.
“He didn’t tell me to stop or slow down, which was really good, so he got the gig,” Mark said.
“I just couldn’t wait for the chequered flag – it was pretty rough and the boat got battered around a bit.
“You do tend to come out of it a bit sore – two days after I’ll be feeling it.”
They are thrilled to race in Corio Bay this weekend, with the Geelong Offshore Superboats returning for the first time since 2012.
Mark said his two daughters in the UK would likely tune in online.
“Both of them think I’m stupid. They’re good though – every time I race they watch the livestream to look out for me,” he said.
His co-pilot’s partner is a little more approving of the sport.
“My missus doesn’t mind it,” Josh said.
“She’s a bit of a revhead herself.”
Josh, a 33-year-old drift car racer, described his first superboat event last month as “unreal”.
“It’s a completely different ball game [to car racing] and I enjoyed every moment it,” he said.
Andrew will marshall instead of racing, after damaging his boat on a practice run, and he looked forward to watching Mark in action.
“Now he’s bought his own boat and taken his life into his own hands,” Andrew said.
Offshore Superboat Championships president Antony de Fina was also thrilled for this weekend’s event.
He dealt with four different government departments in a “big logistical exercise” to bring the event back to Geelong, he said.
“Corio Bay is a great bit of water and a natural amphitheatre – you can have spectators set up for three to four kilometres with a great view,” he said.
“It really is the best venue for us to come and race at.”
Preliminary events begin today with races running 1pm to 2.50pm on Saturday and 11.45am to 1.45pm on Sunday.