By Donald Wittkowski
Get ready. The Gale Force is coming back.
Yes, the second nor’easter in a week is poised to strike the Jersey Shore on Wednesday with high winds, but in this case, the Gale Force is a roller-coaster, not a storm.
After a two-month delay, Playland’s Castaway Cove, one of the Ocean City Boardwalk’s iconic amusement parks, is getting ready to add a new track for the 125-foot-high roller-coaster to give passengers smoother rides.
The coaster’s original track proved a bit too bumpy, so the designer has agreed to replace it with all new steel at no cost to Playland. The distinctive blue track will be attached to the ride’s massive gray superstructure looming over the Boardwalk at 10th Street.
Brian Hartley, Playland’s vice president, said S&S Sansei Technologies of North Logan, Utah, is expected to begin the work on March 19 and take about two weeks to complete it. Routine safety tests and inspections will be done before the ride is ready for the public.
Playland, currently closed for the winter months, originally hoped to have the coaster operational in time for the amusement park’s spring opening on Palm Sunday weekend March 24-25. However, a two-month delay in getting all of the new track manufactured and delivered has pushed back the schedule.
Hartley said the coaster should be ready in time for the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the bustling summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.
Although the slightly bumpy rides were virtually imperceptible to passengers, Playland wanted the track to be completely smooth on a roller-coaster that zooms along at more than 60 mph, Hartley said.
“It was like riding over the rumble strips on the side of the road,” he explained in an interview Tuesday. “Now, we’re taking out that tiny bit of imperfection to make it smoother.”
Gale Force made its debut at Playland’s Castaway Cove last May, thrilling its riders with a series of twists, dips and loops on a serpentine-like track while traveling at a top speed of 64 mph.
The ride propels passengers through a series of breathtaking twists and turns while shooting 125 feet high and plunging earthward at about a 90-degree drop. Riders also flip upside down and travel backwards, adding to the thrills.
At times, the coaster gives riders the sensation of free-falling, as if plummeting off the side of a cliff. The ground below disappears as the coaster car contorts, zigzags and swerves along the undulating track.
After the 2017 summer season, it was discovered that the track’s steel rails were slightly misaligned, causing the bumpy rides. Hartley stressed that riders were never in danger.
“There was never a safety issue whatsoever,” he said. “If there was, the ride would have never been open in the first place.”
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the state agency that regulates amusement rides, said there was an “alignment issue” between the roller coaster’s car and the magnetic drive system that propels the vehicle. Echoing Hartley’s comments, the DCA said the safety of the roller-coaster “was never in question.”
Using a huge crane, work crews dismantled the old track last November. The new track will retain the ride’s eye-catching blue color scheme.
Gale Force’s grand opening last May came about a year later than originally scheduled. Hartley noted that the delays were caused by similar problems with the track’s alignment.
The roller-coaster is the centerpiece attraction at Playland. Hartley said the coaster cost millions of dollars, but declined to divulge the exact price.
Playland, which originally opened in 1959, is one of the Boardwalk’s oldest amusement parks. Visitors are greeted by Playland’s whimsical, giant pirate ship overlooking the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets.