Coaster Kingdom

Storm Force 10 (Drayton Manor)

It seems that no ride, however small, can be built these days without a cult following of fanatics scrutinising every sod of earth removed, and every bit of cement poured in it’s place. Parks really milk this for all it’s worth by throwing flashy words like ‘world first’ at us, and giving their construction sites code names like SW4 and Project 2000 yet withholding any information that could pass as actually being constructive.

Very little was known about the ride that was to replace the aging Log Flume at Drayton Manor Park in Staffordshire. What was known was that it was going to be a world first, and during its conception most people had decided that it was to be a looping log flume.

The ride soon opened, and although it was subject to coherent approbation, the world first aspect was rather, well, absent. The aforementioned claim wasn’t referring so much about the ride as it was to the ‘sponsorship’ deal between Drayton Manor and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, which meant free advertising for the RNLI and investment from Drayton Manor.

The ride was opened by cheesy pop-stars, Steps, and was soon deluged by visitors ‘riding it out’ through the elements that Bear Rides’ first major installation could throw at them.

Although like any prototype Storm Force was subject to the usual teething problems, it wasn’t long before the final touches had been made and the ride had been perfected.

As you pass through the quaint Cornish village you could be forgiven for neglecting the reasons for you visiting. Such a calm village lulls you bogusly into thinking all is well with neatly painted buildings with lobster cages piled up haphazardly in front and nets draped from the gable ends.

Ensuring all is well, the red and white striped lighthouse overlooks the village, and behind that, the fishermen’s bastion – the lifeboat station. It is from here that your adventure will begin, but not after a rather lengthy walk.

The walk begins with a quick saunter through a fisherman’s workshop. A state of organised chaos is present, like in any workshop, with dirty cans of paint stacked not so neatly on the paint-stained shelves, oars and other seafaring tidbits lay strewn as mugs of coffee go lukewarm in the absence of the fisherman. The radio broadcasts stormy waters ahead on the shipping forecast, something we can only worry about, as it really is too late to head back to safer grounds.

From here you pass a sympathetically created animatronic of a lifeboat-man who served in the service long before we ever graced this earth telling his tales of adventures on the high seas. Onto the deck of a ship, through the portholes you can learn whilst you queue. Each teaches you about the RNLI, it’s role and it’s vessels.

The tidemarks on the wall are waist high and covered in algae, droppings and barnacles. The riveted metal walls corrode around the seams and the white paintwork is stained with the rust that eats away at the surface.

After climbing some stairs, you enter the lighthouse that looks out on the village before spiralling up this most homely beacon. Pictures hang on the wall, books on shelves before you go outside, over a bridge crossing the final lift into the station giving you an opportunity to gauge just how wet the ride will be. It is indeed a harrowing view that will haunt you for the remainder of the queue that goes behind the station for a great view of two of the rides’ three drops.

If you can’t bear to look, avert your eyes to the walls of the lifeboat station walls that will entertain you with more facts about the RNLI both past and present.

You enter the large station. The theming here remains consistent and of a fantastic quality. The trail of lukewarm coffee mugs continues here, as a cat lays asleep on the warm and recently used waterproofs donned by a hardy lifeboat-man. RNLI issued posters serve to teach the lifeboats-men the dangers of the sea, including the hammerhead shark and its particularly infamous cousin, the spannerhead shark – gasp.

Boats pass down the centre of the station. Each is themed fantastically as an inshore inflatable lifeboat, bright orange adorned in the RNLI’s name. The boats are a large affair for a so-called log flume. Each boat seats eight in four rows of two. If you have a choice, sit in the second from front, failing that, the front itself. If they offer you the back seat, refuse, point blank – unless you happen to be amphibious. More on that later, however.

Two boats are dispatched at a time. Behind the prevailing boat, an orange screen drops to hide the surprise that lurks from the following boat. The screen rolls up out of the way to now show the boat has gone.

You roll forwards before the screen drops behind you. A seaman with a rather unsympathetic expression warns you to buckle up before he pulls on a lever. The back of the boat lifts to show riders what awaits, a steep drop into a valley of waterfalls before the boat is launched into this sharp plunge in a hair-raising variation of what the professional RNLI service-men go through almost daily.

If you’re in the front, keep your legs in and you will stay dry before the boat turns to the left and heads between two walls of water. The boat now meanders tightly around the base of the ride on the edge of the lake before a tight turn heads onto a lift which takes you up into the Jet oil rig. Once inside, you stop before the track onto which you have just rolled turns 30 degrees. It dawns that there is only one-way to go before you are pushed, backwards, down the sharp plummet.

Your head is pushed forward as you are thrown down this element before the boat hits the water, stopping in a matter of feet, pushing you into your seat as a huge wall of water submerges about three-quarters of the boat and completely drenches the back row riders and probably the rows in front of that.

It is a very grim feature of the ride, and although fun for people in the front that will escape the worst of the water, the back riders will probably be left shivering and sodden. The drop itself is fabulous, but the back of the boat is hardly designed to allow riders a chance.

As the boat slows at the bottom, it is turned forwards again before your journey continues under the barnacle-covered station. Another turn takes you back into the open and onto the lift that will take you into the final drop. It is a huge lift and to your right will give fantastic views of the merriments just encountered, and will give you plenty of opportunity to have you hissing with hatred at drop number two.

Once at the top, the boat begins a 180-degree curve around to the drop. Unfortunately due to the way the ride is designed, the boats are kept moving by tyres pushing from underneath. It is incredibly annoying and uncomfortable, but this is made up by the view across the lake to Apocalypse and the rest of Aerial Park.

On a final bash from the tyres, the boat sharply dips into the first part of the dramatic final drop before bouncing over a dip in the middle before speeding up on the shallower bottom half, hitting the water, skimming the surface before you slow and a dense spray of water flies out the front of the boat giving front seat riders a face full of deep green water.

From this fantastic finish, a return curve takes you onto the final lift that takes you under the queue into the station. You leave to the right and down a flight of stairs before passing the photo booth.

I have no hesitation in saying that this is by far the finest flume in the country. Not only is the ride itself motivating and pied, the boats are comfortable and the theme just feels so right.

The queue is fantastic, and really entertains and educates even an hours worth of queuing. The boats are good with a lot of room for squirming out of the way of the many torrents of water you can expect to encounter, however, due to the type of people the park attracts, you may find yourself sharing the boat with a neanderthal who doesn’t realise the budding consequences from spending the majority of the ride standing.

A special mention has to go to Farmer Studios. This British firm were responsible for theming the attraction, and have really made it into an adventure as opposed to a boat ride with drops.  

The backwards drop was presumably an underestimation of quite how wet people would get. Even on warm days, it really is too wet, and if you jumped in a bath, fully clothed, you probably wouldn’t get any wetter, no exaggeration. If you are sitting towards the front, however, you really will enjoy this ride, it is great to see a park planning such an attraction with such care.

4/5 Marcus Sheen