After a difficult year that has seen events cancelled and low turnouts, Dave Ormiston reports on a successful Cowes–Torquay–Cowes event that he hopes will be the start of a resurgence in offshore powerboat racing.
The Cowes–Torquay–Cowes race is one of the most challenging offshore racing events in the world, and once again this year it started in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron, with a visit to Cowes Marina before the race began giving the spectators a chance to view the teams and race boats beforehand. The 55th running of the Cowes–Torquay–Cowes Classic this year also included the Cowes–Poole–Cowes race, last run in 2012.
The entry list for the Cowes–Torquay–Cowes race was again very strong, with 14 teams, including a new boat from Vector Marine in the famous Martini Rosso livery, the Tommy Racing Team from Italy and Birretta Due from Belgium. And it was quite a challenge for ThunderStreak, a 31ft Bertram, which was built in 1963 and last raced in 1970, and had undergone a major refit, including new engines.
This year, for the first time, the course was changed to allow the public to experience racing up close as the boats passed the shores of Christchurch Bay, and Boscombe and Bournemouth piers, on the outward and return leg, giving a total race distance of 193.9nm.
With the national series in 2015 being a bit of a disaster with races cancelled at Allhallows and Ramsgate and only five boats turning up for the Torbay Classic in May, the organisers were taking a big risk in reinstating the Cowes-Poole-Cowes event, which was last run in 2012. But happily they had no need to worry, as by race day there were 19 boats signed up and raring to go.
It was disappointing that only two boats among the competitors were eligible for national points – the V24s of Brian Peedell and Dan Priestly – indicating that there is still a big problem with national racing in the UK. The rest were made up of Club Classes 1, 2, 3 and Club Unlimited, which read like a who’s who of past world, European and national champions, and there were some classic boats among them.
Neil Holmes and John Evans were in John’s boat Fun Unlimited, a three-engine 1500hp 40ft Baja. Apparently this boat had once sunk on its mooring in Spain before being rescued and brought back to life.
The well-respected Adam Younger was racing with his brother Scott in a twin-outboard RIB designed by Adam.
Richard Carlton was in Bubbles, ex-Popeye, a 40ft 1300hp Cigarette built for the famous American racer Don Aronow over 30 years ago.
Alan Goodwin, the oldest competitor at 78 years old, along with Tony Hamilton was racing in Alan’s 34ft Velocity, named Mr Noisy. The last time this boat raced was in 2009 and it has now been fitted with bigger engines. Only a week before the race, Mr Noisy blew a gearbox while out testing, so there was a frantic effort to get the boat ready, which luckily they succeeded in doing.
Brian and Thomas Pelham competed in The Beaver Returns, ex-Tangle Foot, a 25ft 600hp Revenger.
Lawrence Philp and Stewart Eyre were in Warlord, a 1981 31ft Phantom, which, I was informed by Lawrence, was first run at 12pm on the Saturday before the race, and this was quite possibly the first time since 1986.
In Club Class 2 were Rob Lister and Nick Crouch in a 30-year-old 21ft Forgecraft found in an open barn, where it had been lying for years.
Leg One: Cowes to Torquay
With hundreds of spectators on land and sea and in perfect weather, the 14 race boats set off at speed down the Solent towards the Needles on the first part of the Cowes Classic to Torquay. Within the first few miles it was evident that the racing would be strategic, as engines were pushed to – and in some cases beyond – their limits in an attempt to be at the head of the fleet. Vector Martini led off the mark, chased closely by Tommy Offshore Racing and Silverline.
Despite the ideal conditions, several boats ran into difficulties over the course of the race. Past winner Microlink lost a water pipe off Swanage, broke a throttle cable and then had the ignition pack up. On arrival at Torquay, driver Vee Ganjavian said: ‘This is marathon racing; some days it’s good and some days it’s bad.’
After having gained the lead in Leg One, the Italian team, Tommy Offshore Racing, were passed by Vector Martini, who reported seeing a cloud of black smoke coming from the now stationary boat. Tommy Offshore Racing not only had a small fire in the engine bay but also a substantial fuel leak. ThunderStreak had a broken vee drive and HTS Perkins hit something that destroyed their propeller, forcing their retirement during the first leg, leaving a field of 11 in the race.
Dry Martini had to circle round the bay at Torquay before they crossed the finish line so as not to break the 50-knot rule set by the UIM for historical class boats. Hopefully next year this will be changed.
Vector Martini, driven by Peter Dredge and Simon Powell with their crew of Malcolm Crease and David Gandy, won Leg One from Cowes to Torquay in 01:09:39 ahead of Silverline, driven by Drew and Ali Langdon (01:19:59). Smokin’ Aces, driven by Chris and Nicholas Dodge, took third place (01:24:54).
David Gandy, better known for his modelling and fashion career, was a guest crewmember on the winning boat. ‘It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,’ he said, ‘but I’m not sure if all my body’s organs are in the same place as when I started! It’s not every day you get to do 115 miles per hour on water.’
Leg Two: Torquay to Cowes
Interviewed after winning Leg One in Torquay, Peter Dredge said: ‘We’re going to open it up on the way home.’ Sure enough, Vector Martini wasted no time in once again establishing their dominance over the fleet as they raced out of Torquay Bay ahead of Microlink, Silverline and the rest of the fleet, which was already one competitor lighter with the withdrawal of Flying Falcon with low oil pressure in one engine due to a leaking intercooler. Also having problems was Dorian Griffith in Blastoff, who broke a steering belt on Leg One but managed to get into Torquay; however, on the return to Cowes he hit something and damaged a propeller, forcing him to reduce speed and limp back to Cowes.
Microlink, determined to make up for their troubled run on the first leg, made a direct course for Portland Bill, and, while not reaching the speeds of Vector Martini, managed to keep the pressure on all the way across the bay. By Swanage there was still very little between the two boats and it remained to be seen whether the crews and engines could keep up the effort to the end of the race. Meanwhile, a running battle was being fought behind the leaders between Silverline and Smokin’ Aces, with both looking to take third place in the second leg. In reality, Microlink was the only boat with a lot to lose as their difficulties in Leg One had put paid to their chances of an overall podium place on elapsed time. Neither Vee nor Gareth Williams would be likely, however, to let their problems in Leg One get in the way of a victory in Leg Two.
Today, however, luck was not on their side, and despite a valiant attempt, Microlink once more succumbed to mechanical problems on their way out of Christchurch Bay to the Needles Fairway Buoy, leaving Vector Martini with a clear run to the finish. Winning in a time of 01:11:57, Vector Martini, with an average speed of 94.55mph, which was the highest average in the event’s history, finished 9 minutes ahead of second-placed Silverline, who finished in 01:20:59. Smokin’ Aces secured third place in 01:24:20.
Full Results Cowes-Torquay-Cowes
Seventeen boats crossed the start line in near perfect conditions with calm seas and beautiful sunshine, all classes attempting the same 47.4nm course. Two boats failed to make the start line: Frankie Rose’s 1050hp Buzzi Mono had fuel problems and Kerry Bobin’s Revenger’s engine refused to start.
The Unlimited Class was going to be between the two biggest boats, U-54 Fun Unlimited and U-49 Bubbles, and at Hurst Castle they were separated literally by seconds with U-54 in the lead. Third in class was U-98 PPG Print. Not far behind and going well – and living up to its name – was U-33 Mr Noisy. Unfortunately, all the hard work that Alan Goodwin and Tony Hamilton and their team had put in came to an abrupt end on the return leg from Bournemouth with fuel starvation, and with both engines dead they had to be towed back to Cowes.
Also falling foul of engine problems in the Unlimited Class were Brian and Thomas Pelham in U-10 The Beaver Returns, who, like Mr Noisy, had to be towed back to Cowes. Also, Lawrence Philp and Stewart Eyre in U-31 Warlord, when nearing Bournemouth Pier, hit the sea hard after coming off a large wave; there was a loud bang and the boat filled with smoke and stopped. Sadly their race was over.
At the Needles on the return leg, it was still neck and neck between U-54 and U-49. Unfortunately, on the run up to the Solent to the finish, U54 Fun Unlimited lost one of its three engines and was pipped at the post by U-4 Bubbles, with U-98 PPG Print coming in third. The only other boat to finish in the class was U-24 Tally Ho.
Results of Club Unlimited
These two boats were the only boats that were eligible for national points in this race, which rather highlights the state of the national series. Both teams had mixed fortunes before and during the race.
The eventual winners in this class were V13 Brian Peedell and Neil Jackson, despite being given a 15-minute penalty for missing the Boscombe Pier mark.
V17 Dan Priestly with Mark Brewster‘s race went from bad to worse. First they were given a 1hr 36min penalty for arriving late for signing in on the Saturday. They suffered loss of power at the start of the race and then ran through lobster pots and had to stop and remove rope from around the prop. They were placed last.
Club Class 1
Only two boats in this class too, but it was a great effort from Stuart Cureton and John Donnelly in boat 1-71 Hendy Marine, who not only finished first in class but ended up fourth overall in the race in a time of 00:50:24 and with an average speed of 64.95mph.
Second in class and 10th overall were Neil White and Dan Higgins in boat 1-53 Kickin Ass, with an average speed of 56.19mph and a time of 00:58:15.
Club Class 2
First in class and sixth overall in boat 2-25 Motorvated Slayer were Paul Etasse and Chris Stonebrige, who had both made the journey over from Guernsey and were using a boat they had borrowed from Kerry Bobin, in a time of 00:53:58 and with an average speed of 60.65mph.
Second and eighth overall in boat 2-46 Hyper10sion were Barry Culver and Will Nurse, with an average speed of 56.76mph and a time of 00:57:40.
Third and ninth overall were Rob Lister and Nick Crouch in 2-51 Jupiter in a time of 00:58:03 and with an average speed of 56.38mph. Not bad for a 25-year-old outboard!
Fourth and 12th overall was boat 2-66 White Fusion with Malcolm Dopson and Edward Ralph, with an average speed of 46.34mph and a time of 01:10:38.
Club Class 3
First in class and fifth overall in the race was no mean feat for Jack Bobin and Jamie White in A26 Motorvated Racing. The boat is only an 18ft Phantom, and with just a 115hp outboard it had to be the drive of the day, with an average speed of 61.37mph and a time of 00:53:20.
Second and, unlucky for some, 13th overall were Team Hyperactive with Andy Hiscox and Sean Homer. They had navigational problems that resulted in a 60-minute penalty. For a 16ft boat they did a great job getting round at an average speed of 35.94mph.
It was a marvellous effort by all the teams involved. A special mention goes to the racers and officials from Guernsey Powerboat Club who came over to help make the 2015 Cowes Classic race a memorable event.
Could this be the start of the resurgence in offshore powerboat racing the UK needs? Only time will tell …