Mark Nayler straps himself to a Jetlev, a jet pack with more than a touch of the James Bond about it
The Spear’s Research Unit, of which I am a proud member, has done well on the adrenaline-fuelled activities front lately. Freddy has gone wing-walking (i.e. had himself strapped to the wing of a plane), thrown himself off Broadgate Tower (with a rope: things aren’t quite that bad at Spear’s. Yet.), and I’ve been fire walking under the guidance of a man with a limp.
I am therefore pleased to report on the most recent addition to this catalogue of sheer bravery – or utter foolishness — namely, flying above Lake Como strapped to a jet pack.
If you think that sounds more like something out of a James Bond film than an experience one is ever likely to enjoy in reality, then you’re exactly right. Inventor Raymond Li was inspired by a scene at the beginning of Thunderball, where Sean Connery’s Bond extracts himself from another fraught situation by strapping himself into a metal frame flanked by boosters and simply taking off.
The result of this inspiration is JetLev, the latest craze in watersports. On a recent press trip to Lake Como, where an outlet has recently opened, I was asked by my generous host whether I’d rather have a go with a jet pack or go and look at a famous historic villa. I didn’t need to deliberate for very long.
When my host and I arrived at the boatyard, someone was hovering effortlessly about 15 feet above the water. Clearly experienced, he made it look very easy, but I must admit to feeling rather apprehensive as, after donning an ill-fitting dry suit, I was strapped into something that felt very like an ingenious torture chair. My nerves weren’t helped by the fact that a small audience had gathered on the shore.
The JetLev felt like an ingenious torture chair, but Mark Nayler powered on
Things didn’t get off to a great start. My dry suit singularly failed to live up to its name and, within seconds of jumping into the lake, I was soaked to the skin in fairly cold water.
At this point I should explain exactly what the jet pack to which you are strapped consists of. The actual pack is very similar to Bond’s: heavy, with a sort of saddle in the middle that you perch on, it consists of a right and left booster at shoulder height, and an arm on either side with which you control direction and thrust. It is attached, by means of a thick hosepipe, to what looks like a miniature speed boat.
But this miniature speed boat possesses 260 horse power. It sucks up water from the lake, propels it through the hosepipe, into the jetpack and out of the boosters at tremendous force, lifting you off the surface of the water. The whole package will set you back 100,000 Euros or, if you’re feeling thrifty, 50,000 Euros for a 220 horse power model.
All of this is, frankly, a bloody pain to swim around with, so I was feeling the burn by the time I was far out enough to get flying. As this was my first time, an instructor was controlling the thrust, leaving me to concentrate on direction.
It was the most bizarre sensation when I was first lifted above the water, and my first instinct – as is common apparently – was to grip the control arms for dear life and make very jittery movements. I buzzed around for a bit, not far from the surface, before plunging back into the lake.
It was during my second time in the air that I really started to enjoy it. I relaxed my grip on the controls, realising that they needed only gentle force to be effective. You steer thus: to go right, you lower the right bar, to go left, you lower the left bar. To go forward, you lower both simultaneously.
Mark lifts off over Lake Como
And once you’ve realised it’s that simple, and overcome the weirdness of the sensation of flying, it is fantastic fun. I’ve had many wonderful experiences at Spear’s but flying around over the tranquil surface of Lake Como on a beautiful early spring day, surrounded by the sublime scenery, is going to be hard to beat.
I was pretty exhausted by the time I’d swam back into shore attached to the cumbersome jet pack, but I didn’t mind the soaking clothes beneath my so called dry suit any more. I handed the pack over to my instructor, who strapped himself in and announced he was flying a couple of kilometres down the lake to meet some friends. As he flew off, I was left in no doubt that this really is the ultimate luxury toy for watersports addicts.