Contact. Sitting in the cockpit of his single-seat, three-point hydroplane, Dody Jost activates the fuel pump and runs the engine a few seconds using the starter without ignition. He also pumps the accelerator pedal a few times to prime the carburetors. Now, he sets the magneto to position number three, energizing the two rows of six cylinders. Pushing the starter button a second time instantly triggers an inferno inside the 4.5-liter Ferrari V12.
In a few jerking movements, the tachometer indicates 1,300 rpm. Jost keeps his foot on the accelerator, but the revs have already decreased by 100 rpm as the engine ticks over. The water in the coolant tank heats slowly as the oil pressure drops gradually from 99 to 42 psi. The sound is fantastic; listen closely and you can hear all the moving parts of the early 1950’s V12 running like clockwork. This engine would have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in ’53 if it hadn’t been for a stupid clutch problem.
Meanwhile, the water temperature has risen to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Jost shuts down the engine so that the heat, which continues to rise naturally, is distributed evenly. Three minutes later, he fires it up again. This time, he engages the propeller shaft, by means of a specially designed gimbal, and keeps his foot on the clutch pedal. He must now accelerate whilst slipping the clutch to drive the propeller without stalling the engine.
The metal-and-wood machine begins to trace a wake of white foam. Jost will soon attempt take-off, but lift speed is achieved at the point where most boats have already reached their limit.
Nearby, I’m piloting a jet-propelled Fabio Buzzi Rigid Inflatable Boat, designed for Navy special forces, with photographer Thibault standing at the bow as if ready for an assault. Our task is to keep pace with this red fireball as it streaks across the calm waters of Italy’s Lake Como. The party has just begun.