The story of a man who drove his car into the Cape Cod Canal grabbed headlines this week. They say it was a suicide attempt, and they’re probably correct. However, what if it were a little bit more than a suicide attempt?
I may be 100% wrong, but I can’t shake the feeling that the man in the Ford Focus may have been trying to jump the Cape Cod Canal. I’m thinking of an effort akin to Evel Knievil’s attempt to jump a rocket over Idaho’s Snake River Canyon in 1974.
While suicide is a rotten option to choose, one must admire the man who tries to do it with Style. I’d bet that 100 people have jumped to their deaths into the Canal, but perhaps only one (I’m being told someone may have tried it in the 1940s) guy tried to kill himself while jumping over it.
There’s an All Or Nothing, Death or Glory sort of hardcore appeal to this act. If you’re going to push all of your chips onto the table and ask for the Eternal Answer, you may as well do so while crossing the most dangerous item off of your bucket list. When the one thing that you’re normally afraid of losing when pondering ridiculous stunts has no worth, stunt-planning moves along much more quickly.
The Canal is incidental to this story. If this guy lived in Buffalo, I’d imagine that he’d probably have gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If he lived in Rwanda, he’d have slapped a silverback in the face. If he lived in Pripyat, he’d run have around nude and drank from the streams.
The plan was flawed for many reasons, some of which were apparent immediately. Other flaws reveal themselves to the expert (or the guy who spent a morning researching Stunt Jumping) upon deeper examination.
For starters…. if you try to kill yourself and live, your plan had flaws. You become the Polish kamikaze pilot from the 1970s joke book.
If you assign the man a higher motivation than suicide, you must also point out more specific flaws. His jump across the Canal ended 40 feet away- an impressive jump, but not one that you’d need to clear the 450 foot wide Cape Cod Canal.
I was undersexed as a kid, and therefore spent most of my Physics classes staring at legs… but I did stay on-task long enough to pick up some vocabulary that will come in handy here. The plan had fatal flaws (fatal flaws in a suicide attempt produce a Bizzaro-style polar opposite effect where the jumper lives) in the areas of Speed, Mass, Acceleration, Incline, Resistance and Drag.
There was also a pine tree-sized hole in his Exit Strategy plan, but we’ll get to that later.
If you open Google Maps and look at the area at the end of Perry Avenue, it will help with comprehension. You’ll notice that Perry Avenue is a straight drag, and you’ll see an odd structure at the end of it. That’s Three Mile Look, which serves as a Canal observation point 99.99999% of the time and as a ramp .000001% of the time. It is the smaller of the two numbers that concerns us today.
Three Mile Look isn’t what a stunt man is looking for in a ramp. Other attempts to jump larger rivers involved an almost vertical climb. The other jumps also didn’t involve the driver smashing through wooden railings before takeoff.
Three Mile Look also is about 2 stories above the Canal, maybe 3. An object falls 9.8 meters a second for every second that it is in the air. the Canal is 450 feet wide, about 1.5 football fields.
There’s other math, but it confuses me. You could use Real Math, which means solving the s=ut+½at² equation.Good luck with that.
I prefer to use Vin Diesel Math, which is where I find an article written in a science journal about a similar jump performed in one of those Fastest And Furiousest movies. I hope this math works for you, because we may also get into Burt Reynolds Math and Keannu Reeves Math if we tangent off into the Smokey And The Bandit or Speed franchises.
Vin is in Dubai, way the hell up in the Etihad Tower Complex. The limey guy from The Transporter movie is chasing him with a rocket launcher. Even though he’s on the 45th floor of a skyscraper, there happens to be a $3 million Lykan HyperSport supercar all fueled up and ready to aid in Vin’s escape.
Vin gets it up to 100 mph in an apartment living room (the Lykan, of which only 7 were made, can reach that speed in 2.8 seconds)`and then jumps the car out of one building into one nearby, dropping a few stories in the process.
The buildings are 100 yards apart, a bit more narrow of a distance than the Canal, but my Math flaws will erase those distances.
The Lykan HyperSport has a top speed of 240 mph, considerably higher than even the best Ford Focus out there. They both weigh 3000 pounds or so. The guy jumping the Canal has one advantage over Diesel (two, if you count “isn’t that worried about dying”) in that he has all of Perry Avenue to use to build up what isn’t that difficult of a speed to obtain. Perry Avenue is about 50 feet longer than the distance he’d have to jump. He might need to be going 150 MPH, but we’ll worry about that later.
If you’re keeping score at home, he has a shot at going fast enough, but he doesn’t have enough ramp to get the necessary height with which he could drift a bit.
That height is important, because it will take him 3 seconds to get across the Canal at 100 mph, and he’ll be losing speed as he flies. Every second that he is falling, he loses about 30 feet of height. Granted, he’ll be going up for part of the flight, but 30 foot drops every second of descent aren’t what you’re looking for when your launch ramp is 30 feet high.
Acceleration at the point of launch is also important, as it is what keeps your nose from landing first. Speaking of landings, the Canal guy would have been in for a painful one had he gotten across the Canal. The only flat surface is the bike path, which is 30 feet across or so. It is bordered on either side by boulders and forest.
Ironically, he would have landed on Perry Avenue if he made the jump. I just noticed this now, but it appears that Perry Avenue was split in half by the construction of the Canal. He’d need a stout East wind, as the Cape side of Perry Avenue is to the west of where the mainland Perry Avenue ends. Fortunately, or perhaps after years of planning and waiting, the attempt to leap the Canal was performed during a Tropical Storm where Bourne was suffering stiff east winds.
It sounds so crazy, it has to be true. Cape Cod has a FTW-style Evel Knievil. He’s just not that swift. “A” for effort, though… maybe an “A+” for imagination.
How would a professional handle the same leap?
For starters, some trees would have to come down. Three Mile Look, for all of her flaws as a launching ramp, is better than the Three Hundred Trees any jumper would land into on the other side of the Canal. Three Mile Look would have to be rebuilt with greater incline. A lot of trees would have to come down on the Cape side.
He’d probably need a car that is much more modified than the Ford Focus. The speed needed to jump would be easy enough to attain with a modified vehicle. However, this is where I should point out that, for all of his broken bones, Evel Knievil was never injured during his jumps. He was injured by his landings. I don’t know how they modify cars to do stunt jumps, but they’d have to find out and do that.
Evel was jumping a river three times as wide as our Canal. He was also using a steam rocket. Vin Diesel did his jump in a car that can outrun a F-16 until takeoff. Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields only had to jump a stream.
Reynolds’ jump over a dismantled bridge was more in the range of what the Canal guy should have tried. That jump was made with a rocket similar to what Evel Knievil used for his Snake River jump, as a 1977 Trans-Am wasn’t powerful enough for the leap. It covered about the same 40 foot distance that the Canal jumper managed, and took off from a similar height. It was driven by a stuntman.
It also destroyed the car, which tells you all that you need to know about the feasibility of jumping a regular-person car across the Cape Cod Canal.