Pete Nolan guided his 32-foot Contender through Newport Harbor past the breakwater, close enough to the Bell Buoy to hear the sea lions barking and set up in the wake of a just-passed yacht.
In the late morning swirls and swell, the boat bobbed no more than a bathtub toy. Then the captain turned off the Seakeeper. The choppy water churned around the boat, rocking it side to side a hard 12 to 14 degrees.
This jarring motion is known as boat roll, and it’s what leads to seasickness.
Nolan, in town for the Newport Boat Show, will show guests what a bumpy ride feels like – although that’s something they probably already know – and then, how it can be with the Seakeeper.
The Seakeeper, a gyroscoping stabilizing mechanism, promises to make seasickness a thing of the past and present fair seas for the most sensitive or anxious about the unpleasant wooziness. It claims it can eliminate up to 95% of boat roll, which it does by fighting the physics of unsteadying waves with more physics.
Popular Science describes gyroscopic principles like this:
“A gyroscope is a spinning wheel, called the rotor, that rotates around an axis. The rotor is mounted between two rings, known as gimbals, that pivot around their own axes. This means that when pressure is exerted on the gimbals, the rotor is unaffected, making it a useful tool to measure compass headings and pitch, roll, or yaw angles.”
And the Seakeeper’s sales materials take it from there: “When the boat rolls, the gyro tilts fore and aft (precesses), producing a powerful gyroscopic torque to port and starboard that counteracts the boat roll.”
The device is housed inside a unit that resembles a chest freezer. Designed for powerboats, a range of models can give the sensation of steady seas on commercial and recreational boats from 30 feet and up. The smallest model, the Seakeeper3 – the one inside Nolan’s craft – weighs 550 pounds and starts at about $27,000, plus installation.
Company communications assistant Alison Anuzis said gyroscopes have long been used to stabilize boats, but only recently has the technology been made small enough to be consumer-friendly.
Only a handful of people own a Seakeeper3 as of yet — the Maryland-based company shipped out its first eight units two weeks ago, Anuzis said. The demo team debuted the device in November at a boat show in Florida.
Seakeeper representatives will give potential buyers demo cruises and show off the technology dockside throughout the boat show, which runs through Sunday at Lido Marina Village, 3424 Via Lido in Newport Beach. They are set up at G dock.
General show hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15 for adults and free for children 12 and younger. Guests with military ID get a $5 discount.