Jet-Powered Kayak

A British kayaker says he has the tool to safely launch Niagara-size waterfalls: horsepower.

    Photo: Illustrations by Peter Bollinger

1. A throttle on the paddle lets Baker control the kayak's speed—25 or 30 mph as it approaches the lip of the falls.

2. The shell of the kayak is an eight-foot production-model Liquidlogic Jefe Grande.

3. A 50-horsepower motorcycle engine between the kayaker's legs powers a Yamaha jet ski's pump and impeller. With so little space in the boat, venting the exhaust is a critical safety issue. "The early version boiled the flesh on the back of my legs," says Baker.

4. When the kayak makes impact and its air intakes are submerged, compressed-air canisters inside will maintain thrust by supplying the engine with oxygen.

An airfoil will stabilize the craft as it flies. Baker isn't sure yet whether the kayak will have wings or the kayaker will wear a winged suit.

The biggest danger in kayaking over huge cataracts is the churning at the bottom: endless, powerful recirculation that can suck you under, permanently. But Englishman Shaun Baker, 45, has a high-tech fix for the problem. His new jet-powered waterfall kayak will allow him to fly over the backwash or, if he fails to get clear, speed through it. Baker has notched more than 20 first descents of major falls using gravity alone—one in the Alps now bears his name—but in 2003, a friend reminded him that Evel Knievel got a rocket boost for his failed attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon. Baker Spent the next three years building the Jet Kayak Mk1, which can tackle moderate whitewater at up to 45 miles per hour. "The Mk2 jet kayak will have the ability to glide through the air and land 150 feet downstream of the falls," he says. "And the capability to run underwater, after landing from a drop." Baker thinks this is the sort of craft you'd need to run Niagara's 173-foot Horseshoe Falls, but he may first try Thjofafoss, Iceland's 45-foot, 14,000-cubic-feet-per-second Waterfall of Thieves, so named for the criminals who were flung into it back in the day. He's still at least one year and $300,000 away from finishing the boat.

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