by Paul Ruben
My first encounter with a Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) Dive Machine was a few years ago at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England, when I climbed aboard Oblivion. What a glorious idea, to ride a rollercoaster that dove 197 feet straight down into a black hole in the ground! We exited, of course, and returned immediately to the loading platform. Short and sweet, it was an inspired one-trick-pony of a coaster.
When SheiKra appeared in 2005 at Busch Gardens Africa, Tampa, Florida, I was elated. It was a bigger, longer and faster version of Oblivion closer to home. The only problem is that Busch Gardens couldn’t dive into a hole in the ground. Florida is flat and so close to sea level that the hole would have immediately become a swimming pool. Rather than a hole, Busch Gardens built a themed tower to encase part of the second drop, a thoughtful alternative.
The news that Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Virginia, was adding the 205ft-tall Griffon this season, a bigger, faster Dive Machine even closer to home was cause for a Dance of Joy. That it was to be the world’s first floorless version only added to the anticipation. I drove there soon after it opened, but only because, of course, it’s my job to report on such new attractions. You can read my report elsewhere on this site, in the meantime here I am strapped into Griffon, ready to roll.
Busch Gardens Europe is themed around different European countries including England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New France (or French Canada, which I’m still trying to locate on my map of Europe), Germany and Italy. Griffon is located in France, merci beaucoup, which reminds me of an incident during the war in France when someone threw a grenade onto a French kitchen floor. It resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.
Donnie Mills, Busch Gardens’ executive vice-president and general manager, recommended I ride in the front at the end of the 10-seat row, suspended away from the track with feet dangling. I did, and it felt like I was in free flight. I also rode in the middle row of the three-row train, and in the rear corner seat, where I discovered some surprising negative Gs. Front corner, as Donnie had suggested, was the prime location, although there really isn’t a bad seat on this monster.
In addition to introducing the floorless version of its Dive Machine, which has now also been adapted to SheiKra, B&M also made a tweak to its water brakes. The bent hollow tubes below the rear row of seats were replaced on Griffon by two tapered angled scoops that send up the same spectacular rooster tails of water to more thoroughly drench onlookers while effectively slowing the train.
The only thing missing was the enclosed tower or hole into which previous Dive Machines dove. Maybe the ground was too hard to dig, maybe the towers are too expensive, but I had grown to love this effect. Without it, Griffon somehow felt naked, but the ride itself delivered the best Dive Machine experience ever. I watched one lady disembark, shaken. She saw her first strands of grey hair and she thought she would dye.