All the action, thrills & spills of the 2023 Cowes–Torquay–Cowes powerboat race.
The annual powerboat event at Cowes once again hit the water over the August Bank Holiday weekend with some 35 boats taking to the water. Amid glorious sunshine, one half of the fleet assembled had their bows firmly aimed in the direction of Torquay, Devon, ready for their marathon 211-mile race west, while the remainder were lining up their horses for a race to Poole 15 minutes behind them. As you can imagine, the frantic pre-race muster points out in the blue waters of the Solent were quite a sight to behold.
After a short but frustrating delay due to flotsam having to be cleared from the start chute, the boats got underway, thundering down past the Royal Yacht Squadron upon the cannon firing to announce the start of the race. The earlier weather briefing, which had raised expectations of light to moderate winds and settled seas, promised a fast and relatively comfortable ride. Nevertheless, reality hit when an unexpected easterly set in, causing a nasty wind-against-tide chop that quickly set about hammering the hulls of the mixed marathon fleet as they streamed out into open water for the first time. The conditions even reduced the formidable 120mph, 1400hp Outerlimits race boat Silverline, crewed by Drew Langdon and Miles Jennings, to a 67.72mph saunter!
Langdon and Jennings later described this year’s race as ‘a race of tactics, coupled to unusually testing seas that made the business of balancing the boat a testing affair’. Langdon added: ‘The course proved a lot harder than in previous years. For example, when we broke the Cowes–Torquay–Cowes record in 2021, averaging 94mph and completing the course in just 2 hours, 21 minutes and 5 seconds, the going was in our favour. This year’s race was far more complex, though, as it involved having to adjust our fuel payload fore and aft in order to keep the boat level and performing at its optimum speed in the head-throwing seas. Normally, the forward tank would be used first for increased bow lift, but this just wasn’t an option in the confused seas we were having to negotiate this year.’
Regardless of her trials, Silverline roared home to victory in 3 hours 7 minutes, taking the Beaverbrook Trophy for the fourth time in a row in what’s regarded as the world’s most famous marathon powerboat race.
In second place, Team 25 Dragon, with Rob Lockyer and Scott Younger at the controls, romped home unhindered. Then following them came the iconic race boat Dry Martini, with its team comprising Nigel Hopcroft, Mike Bontoft and Michael Peet. New team owner/driver Nigel Hopcroft took up the challenge after many years successfully racing motor cars. ‘Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to do so, I’ve really enjoyed offshore racing,’ Hopcroft told PBR. ‘I did a short run of it back in the 1980s, and though most of my time has been spent on the track, I confess that I’m delighted to be back out on the water competing again.’
Dry Martini’s throttleman, Mike Bontoft, added: ‘It’s great to be racing with Nigel. With Michael in the frame too, the three of us make a strong team. But I confess, it’s been quite a busy year for me, not only looking after Dry Martini, but also rebuilding the engines for our fellow challenger, Uno Embassy, crewed by my friends Phil Morris and Gordon McGrath.’
Uno Embassy, one of the most famous and historic boats in the fleet, finished in fourth place, Bontoff and the Uno Embassy team’s hard work having evidently paid off as she ran without a hitch in the demanding conditions to clear the line a mere length or so behind her old rival, Dry Martini.
Bad fortune can strike anyone at any time in the world of offshore racing, and the Italian team, Tommy One, whom many had tipped to win this year’s historic race, sadly broke down and had to limp back to Southampton for repairs. But with 2000hp on her tail and at over 6.5 tonnes in weight, she’s quite a beast, and when not dogged by an unfortunate mechanical issue, this boat is known for delivering one of the most level and consistent rides of all the race craft on the circuit.
In Class 3, the smaller boats, which raced to Poole and back, likewise had a battle on their hands. Isle of Wight islanders Colin Gibson and Richard Jackson in Top Banana, much to the delight of their local supporters, came storming home in first place, having averaged a very respectable 56.91mph. Taking second position were Andy Foster and Charles Morris in their own Renegade 2. Then, in a fine display of vintage flare, who should come rumbling over the line but Hugo Peel, Adrian de Ferranti and Richard Jessel aboard their classic powerboat Thunderstreak. And what a sight to see she was too, playing her valuable part among this diverse and historic display of high-octane craft.
The organising team, headed by Martin and Laura Levi, worked tirelessly to ensure the event ran smoothly. Martin Raby served as OOD, overseeing the event, with Dale Williams supporting him as safety officer, who in turn was ably assisted by Orry Crews. Race control was run by Shirley Nelthorpe, a position held last year by Sarah Donohue, who this year moved into the role of media and communication officer. The all-important job of scrutineering was headed up by former racer and 4-litre champion Geoff Purves.
Like many motor sport events, Cowes–Torquay–Cowes relies on its volunteers, people who are passionate about the sport. They number about 150 folk in all and include many former racers and their families. But it’s primarily the job of the event directors to ensure nothing’s left to chance when it comes to the matter of safety. This means organising rescue divers and other trained personnel out on the water, ready to extract casualties from their canopies in the event of an accident. In fact, medics aboard a small fleet of marshalling boats are scattered all the way down the course, ready to render aid if so required.
At the conclusion of this year’s event, headline sponsor Richard Carr, himself a former championship racer, stated: ‘I have competed in this classic race many times over the years, but Cowes remains one of my very favourite race venues in all the world. It possesses such a special history, and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say how much we all appreciate the warm welcome afforded us by the island’s people. They make it a pleasure being here. From the standpoint of my company, Fortitudo, we count it an absolute honour to be involved – to give this great event the sponsorship support it so richly deserves.’
For further information visit www.cowestorquaycowes.co.uk.
Lambs To The Slaughter
Following a full restoration in 2021 of the historic Cougar-built racing catamaran Unipart Lambs, its owner Robin Ward, along with throttleman Jeff Hall and navigator Rose Lores, thrilled fans of the boat by entering two key races in the offshore race calendar.
In the 60th-anniversary Cowes–Torquay–Cowes (CTC) race, the boat finished sixth overall and was the fastest boat outside of Class 1 to complete the course. Later in the year, Unipart Lambs performed brilliantly again in the Round the Island (Isle of Wight) race, finishing fourth overall.
Having proved the boat in the 2021 CTC race, the Unipart Lambs team decided to enter the Cowes-Poole-Cowes race this year with sights set on the top step of the podium. But sadly, things really did not go well. Navigator Rose Lores takes up the story:
‘Race day dawned mild and dry, but with a slight wind and a fair chop out in the open waters of the Solent. After the mandatory weather briefing and final preparations, we left Cowes Yacht Haven to wait in the muster area for the start boat. After a short delay involving the clearing of some flotsam by the safety marshals, we were on the move behind the start boat, and then, upon the Green Flag being raised, we forged ahead to the very front of the pack. The boat was absolutely singing, but even so, the going was proving hard for everyone that morning.
‘Suddenly, just as we were getting into our stride and daring to feel confident, we tore to a stop within a few boat lengths, decelerating dramatically amid an absolute tsunami of water that enveloped the vessel’s entire cockpit canopy. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jeff, our throttleman, instinctively pulled back the throttles, thereby sparing us from further disaster as seawater rushed in with tremendous force through a gaping hole in the tunnel-constructed section of the boat’s hull. The water pressure was striking a bulkhead at the transom, whereupon it was being forced upwards to blow out of the top deck and over our heads. The deluge seemed to go on forever and continued until we had finally lost all forward momentum. Robin, Unipart Lambs’ driver and owner, immediately leapt out of his seat to see what had happened, only to be confronted by the awful sight of the boat’s broken deck and his precious engine bays filling with water. All hands were scrambled to rescue the stowed tools while I raised Race Control to alert them to our plight. To their credit, the latter had two safety boats standing by within minutes. Having grabbed essentials only, we stood on the front portion of the deck watching the rear end of the vessel slowly sink lower and lower into the water. It was clear we had no option but to “abandon ship”.
‘Amid the heaving seas, by the time we’d clambered over the high guard rail and onto the safety vessel, an entire fleet of safety boats had surrounded us, the Cowes RNLI Lifeboat among them! While glad to be safe, we watched in dismay as our beloved Unipart Lambs slowly sank deeper and deeper, until only the very tips of her catamaran prow were visible above the waterline. Robin’s great concern was to somehow achieve a recovery that would allow a saving of not only the boat itself but also its engines, whereupon the latter could be flushed through and filled with oil to save them.
‘The weight of the boat plus all the water she had taken on meant that none of the boats that had so nobly rushed to assist were powerful enough to either right her or even tow her to harbour. In fact, we had to wait some time before a suitable boat arrived, whereupon she could be towed back to Southampton to be craned out and set on her trailer. A very sad and frustrating day indeed. After two hours of being submerged, all the electrical equipment and wiring were ruined, but with rapid action the engines were miraculously saved and are now, at the time of writing, stripped down and cleaned ready for rebuilding.
‘In addition to the flotsam that delayed the race start, we later learned that a second piece of timber had been spotted in the water, which we think may have been the offending article responsible for running Unipart Lambs through.
‘As you can imagine, in addition to the engine rebuilds, the hull is in need of considerable repair, and, of course, all the electrics will require fully replacing too.
We fully intend to restore this wonderful boat and have her back racing again for the 2023 season. It will take a lot of time and private money, but any help via sponsorship, etc. would be truly appreciated – especially in terms of replacement electronics.
‘We will be documenting the restoration of our beloved Unipart Lambs and publishing the results right here in Powerboat & RIB magazine, likely this spring. So watch this space and wish us well.’
If you would like to get involved in this world-famous event in 2023, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at the British Powerboat Racing Club communications department for further details. She and the team would be delighted to hear from you.