Round-Britain powerboat race 1969
During the first moon landing in the summer of 1969, I was 13 years old. At the same time, a big event in the UK was the Daily Telegraph/BP Round-Britain powerboat race. It consisted of several one-day stages, the whole event lasting about two weeks.
Navigation at sea — only two-dimensional — might be thought of as a tried and tested science by the space age, but it was still prone to error and dependent on human judgement. And the sea was still dangerous.
UFO, a Thunderbird with inboard engines, was built in Miami, Florida. The apparent scratches on the side are where a circular BP badge has torn away.
A high-speed collision with driftwood cracked the hull of UFO, but it was repaired and able to carry on. Another boat was put out of the race by a similar collision.
The curiously named Avenger Too was powered by three outboard engines and driven by car rally driver Timo Makinen. During the stage from Douglas, Isle of Man, to Oban, Scotland, it struck a fishing net that sheared off one of its three propellers and stopped the craft so suddenly that co-driver Pascoe Watson was catapulted through the windscreen.
At Oban, UFO was leading the race overall, Maltese Magnum Twin was in second place, followed by Avenger Too.
Avenger Too followed another competitor equipped with radar on the fog-bound stage from Inverness, Scotland, to Dundee. When the finish line was in sight, driver Timo Makinen could have surged ahead, but he let the radar-equipped boat cross the Dundee finish line ahead of Avenger Too.
Gee, powered by diesel engines, was driven by E.G. Greenall (I think that is Edward Gilbert Greenall, 3rd Baron Daresbury) and was sponsored by Grunhalle Lager. Gee was a contender for the lead until, during the stage from Inverness to Dundee, both engines stopped. They could not be restarted, so Gee retired from the event.
See under External links later on this page for the Gee web site.
Maltese Magnum Twin, like UFO, was built in Miami, Florida. The fastest boat in the race (on calm water) its twin engines drove a single propeller that drove water so fiercely it cut through the rudder, necessitating frequent repair and replacement throughout the event. Some photos I have seen indicate that its hull was a very dark green, although it appears black in the images here.
In thick fog at the start of the Inverness to Dundee stage, two boats collided and three ran aground. Among the latter were the two boats in the lead; UFO and Maltese Magnum Twin. With the aid of an excavator and volunteers ashore, UFO — damaged but still running — was re-floated five hours later and stayed in the race. Maltese Magnum Twin was also damaged. While it likely could have been repaired at Inverness quickly enough to complete the stage within the maximum time allowed, John Kennerly did not want to risk his boat in the fog, so he retired from the race.
Avenger Too won the event overall and UFO finished in second place. UFO would have won the event had it not run aground in fog at Inverness, Scotland.
While HMS Brave Borderer and HMS Brave Swordsman accompanied the race on at least some of its stages, the nearest boat in this photo appears to be the then newest patrol boat out of the Vosper Thorneycroft yard at Portchester, Portsmouth. It was handed over to the British navy the following year to become HMS Scimitar.
Coincidentally, I worked on computer-based training related to mine hunters at the Vosper yard at Portchester during the first gulf war just over 20 years later.
Powerboat racing at that time was the province of those with private wealth, which was shortly to be abolished (supposedly) when, presumably, anyone who wanted to would be able to participate. An exception was the RIB Psychedelic Surfer, built by college students. A large proportion of participants were titled folk, including Fiona Gore, countess of Arran (whose boat sank) and Lady Violet Aitken. The race was sponsored in part by the right-wing propaganda broadsheet The Daily Telegraph, which specialized in misreporting and ‘fake news’ (what other kind is there?) long before the advent of ‘social media.’
As a 13 year old, I cut out photos of the event from the newspaper and stuck them to my bedroom wall. My favorite boat was (and still is) UFO. Its shape, clean white and sky blue color scheme with contrasting splashes of red here and there, are likely the reason.
About three years later I took part in a sailboat race in a large old boat in a strong wind on a huge flooded gravel pit in Wiltshire. We crossed the finish line first, but we came second (I think) on ‘handicap.’ I figured that sailing was equally exciting as powerboat racing. However, despite the wind, the lake was flat. I subsequently discovered that my tolerance for cold, wet, and motion sickness ruled out my participation in water sports, but by then news of the new sport of hang gliding had crossed from the USA and my future was set…
While I liked UFO, Ed, my 12 year old brother, preferred Maltese Magnum Twin. Unknown to me when I created this page on Monday February 22nd, 2021, Ed had died the previous day. See Ed in About the author.
T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal, my review of First Man, Universal Pictures, 2018, about the first moon landing, in summer 1969, which was the same time as the round-Britain powerboat race
Atlantic College students’ RIB sea safety revolution on BBC web site: Psychedelic Surfer, a Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat (RIB) was built by two students in three weeks and it completed the course.
Ride The White Horses (Part 1 of 3) digitized film of the race by the Ford film unit (Ford engines powered some of the boats) with high quality sound effects (on YouTube)
The Daily Telegraph-BP Round-Britain Powerboat Race by Crab Searl, published by Robert Hale and Co., London, 1970