Meet the man behind the machines

He may not be in the jet-ski craft, but when the 2006 Digicel East End Surf Challenge roars to life on 23 January, mechanic Don Partick of Wes-Tec Performance will be in the driver’s seat in spirit and not very far away with the essentials that could mean the difference between victory or defeat.

Don Patrick

Mechanic Don Patrick, right, with a few friends.

He will be the man behind the machines of Craig Smith, Mark Bothwell, Jonathan Ebanks and Billy ‘The Kid’ Ebanks and after 15 years of turning nuts and bolts on these monsters of the waterways, when Don Partick talks about what spectators should be aware of, it’s wise to listen.

‘You start with the machine,’ he says. ‘Riders will have one that has been broken in with a proven reliability; you don’t want a craft that you haven’t handled until race day. It’s best to get one of the most popular brands, which can be modified and for which you can easily obtain a lot of parts on the market.

‘Spectators always have their favourites and they like to see speed so they will want to see who takes the turns tight and fast, and then accelerate of the straightaways. Then, it’s always exciting to see how the riders negotiate the big waves once they hit the deep water offshore,’ Patrick says.

As his team’s eyes and ears, Partick says that he knows his riders individual strengths and weaknesses and looks for a telltale hand signal indicating a problem. Slowing down almost always raises a red flag to him and that he is going to be needed.

‘You try to be prepared for everything. Prior to the race you have your tools, extra plugs, a sufficient supply of 110 octane (race fuel) and ensure that each riders has the essentials: helmets, goggles, life vest, boots and a stand on the beach where the craft can rest in between races.’

For those of you who plan to trek to East End in January, Patrick advises that your eyes should be peeled to the start.

‘It’s crucial. There’s a rolling start where the starter is in his own craft and will lead the riders to the start line, then there’s the stationary start where each craft is just that at the start line before getting away. Whatever type there is, riders will tell you that the key is to get away well, to get that ‘hole shot’ which means they are ouit in front first. I don’t have statistics but I believe it’s up to 80 perecent of the time the riders who is away first will come home the winner.

‘It’s very difficult to track down another rider once they have the advantage. You either have to ride a faster machine or have your opponent slow down in the turns, but more or less the true measure of speed comes at the start.’

While not naming names, Patrick says that spectators will be able to see clearly which riders opt for the safer approach as their counterparts choose a more cavalier approach.

‘These are the guys who take more chances, like a riverboat gambler. They tend to take turns close to and instead of hitting them half-throttle, they will gun it at three-quarters throttle. Some call it all or nothing, and that’s a fair assessment I guess.

He has kind words for the East End meet and its organizer Shane Edwards of Team2Frenzied.

‘From where I stand, the East End Surf Challenge has become the second national race for the Island along with Jet Around Cayman and it’s a spectators dream. For three-quarters of the race the riders are very visible; the only time they might be a bit out of view is when they’re in the farthest channel.

‘Also you get the spectators delight in that there are the three elements of jet-ski all wrapped in one. There is inshore racing, offshore racing and a series of buoys to negotiate which, combined, will test the riders skill, the craft’s ability to maneuver, to negotiate the rough water and the straight runs will be the opportunity to show you have speed to burn. It’s very, very exciting.’ Patrick is predictably enthusiastic about his sport. He has also climbed aboard the craft competitively in Jet Around Cayman, and believes that there needs to be a busier race calendar for the sport to grow.

‘There are a couple of other holidays which we could take advantage of and I believe that plans are in the works there,’ he reveals.

There may be so, but they will have to wait. Now the water and East End beckons, and Patrick and his team have heard the call.