Jeremy Atiyah jumps into a turbo-charged rubber ring and crashes through the cold North Sea for the funniest five minutes of his life
RICHARD BARRETT gestures at the blue skies, still seas and balmy autumnal sun shining over Lowestoft. "Terrible weather," he grumbles. Terrible, that is, if your favourite hobby requires the presence of mountainous waves. I was in Norfolk for a ride in a Rigid Inflatable Boat (or RIB).

"We like it extreme," adds Richard, the director of North Sea Training Services, a company which trains about 1,000 people a year in sea-rescue, operating in stormy weather off Britain's oil rigs. A sideline of the business is taking tourists out for wild North Sea rides on his training boats. And the higher the waves the better the ride.

The beauty of an RIB is that it is virtually indestructible. Unlike conventional fibre-glass powerboats, which operate only in calm conditions, an RIB can put forth in winds of up to 100mph. Its secret is simple buoyancy. If an 80ft wave crashes over your RIB, you will not fill up with water. This thing is so buoyant it can afford to be open at the back. Excess water simply drains away.

Which is not only reassuring news for those people who have fallen off oil rigs in storms. It also spells joy for people who like the idea of bouncing safely at high speed through towering waves. Richard Barrett, the local equivalent to Richard Branson, is one such person, as is his chief instructor, a character known as Dog. "Dog's mad," Richard tells me. "He'll stand there in a full storm eating fried egg and bacon sandwiches. But I did the Round-Scotland Race last year with him in a boat called Braveheart. A beast of a boat. We came first in our class."

Braveheart, it turns out, is currently being upgraded to a monster vessel which can travel at up to 80mph - the ultimate executive toy. And rugged Richard with his voluptuous girlfriend look just the pair to take Britain's oceans by storm.

"There's a swell from the north," reports a group of incoming trainees in dry suits, just as we are going out. "Mackerel sky. Waves breaking on the bank." That sounds more promising then. After a quick safety briefing, explaining what I should do in an emergency - how to contact the safety boat by radio, how to take control of the boat - we are ready to go. The boat I am testing today is a little one that does only 40mph, though that is fast enough when progress is as smooth as a bouncing bomb.

Richard gives a demonstration in the art of chasing waves. The boat skims right over the top of them, before slamming down wham-ergh! into the water. There is a suggestion that there may be seals on the sand bank, though (wham-ergh!) luckily it is not seals that I am here for today.

Next it is my turn. And happily, learning to drive an RIB is a whole lot easier than learning to drive a plane. There is a steering wheel and a throttle, and that is about it. Nothing to crash into. Beyond the harbour entrance, no rules of the road. Well, none that I have to worry about. What's more, the driver's seat is the most comfortable on the boat. I feel like I have got the whole machine between my legs.

When the new Braveheart is ready, Richard tells me, all the passengers will get to sit in comfortable seats and nobody will feel they are about to fly out of the boat. Not that I am scared of flying into the water, even from this relatively small RIB. I am in a wet-suit, a dry-suit and a life-jacket. In fact, I am so warm that the North Sea in late October looks quite tempting.

Which is lucky, because, RIBs are perfect for water sports. If you thought

water-skiing in the Mediterranean was fun, try being dragged through the North Sea in stormy seas.

North Sea Training Services has got various water toys, including the fantastic turbo ring (otherwise known as the ringo, donut or biscuit) which is a tiny, one-man rubber dinghy attached to the boat by a long rope. I swing, bounce, flail and fly at high speed over the waves as Richard spins the boat this way and that, apparently trying to shake me off. After the most hilarious five minutes of my life I finally take off out of my donut, and land on my head several miles away. Or that is how it feels.

As the RIB spins round to pick me up again, it is almost a disappointment to be rescued. Lying on my back in the North Sea in a stiffening northerly breeze has never been so much fun.

Jeremy Atiyah's adventure was arranged by Anglian Activities (tel: 01603 700770). Packages include: Wet Dream Day (steer, practise boat handling exercises at speed, offshore survival techniques, man overboard and ringos. Minimum group size is six, price pounds 140 per person); RIB Excursion (half- day trip on the North Sea, details as above. Minimum group size is six, price pounds 74 per person). RIBs Water-Skiing & Wakeboarding (trip out on the RIBs with water-skiing, wakeboarding or ringos. Minimum two people. Trip lasts about one hour, price pounds 105 per group of two to four people). Anglian Activity Breaks can also organise hotel accommodation.

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