Round-Britain powerboat race 1969


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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.

Offshore powerboat UFO driven by Tim Powell

Offshore powerboat UFO driven by Tim Powell

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.


Cockpit of offshore powerboat UFO

Cockpit and crew of UFO (screenshot from film taken from a helicopter, no larger image available)

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.


Avenger Too, driven by Timo Makinen

Avenger Too

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.

UFO leads Maltese Magnum Twin

UFO leads Maltese Magnum Twin. (Screenshot from digitized film. No larger image available.)

At Oban, UFO was leading the race overall, Maltese Magnum Twin was in second place, followed by Avenger Too.


Lady Aitken and crew guide Seaspray through the Caledonian canal

Lady Aitken (farthest from camera) and crew guide Seaspray through the Caledonian canal

Round-Britain is not strictly correct in that they cut across Scotland via the Caledonian Canal, a series of lochs and locks.

Seaspray, like the other boats of the Ford team, was made by Fairey Marine. (Another boat in that team was driven by former Fairey Aviation test pilot Peter Twiss.)


Avenger Too leaps into the air

Avenger Too leaps into the air (no larger image available)

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

Gee

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.


Offshore powerboat Maltese Magnum Twin

Maltese Magnum Twin (040)

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.


John Kennerly examines the rudder of Maltese Magnum Twin.

John Kennerly examines the rudder of Maltese Magnum Twin. Daily Telegraph photo.

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.


Start of the race

Race start

While HMS Brave Borderer and HMS Brave Swordsman accompanied the race (see Paul Botterill’s comment later on) 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. (Again, see see Paul Botterill’s comment later on for a correction.)

Fast patrol boat HMS Brave Borderer accompanying the 1969 round-Britain powerboat race

Fast patrol boat HMS Brave Borderer accompanying the 1969 round-Britain powerboat race. Daily Telegraph photo.

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 in 1969 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.’

Personal notes

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 my page about Ed.

Related

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

External links

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.

Gee 185 – Offshore Powerboat Racing since 1967

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)

Ride The White Horses (Part 2 of 3)

Ride The White Horses (Part 3 of 3)

Reference

The Daily Telegraph-BP Round-Britain Powerboat Race by Crab Searl, published by Robert Hale and Co., London, 1970

4 Responses to Round-Britain powerboat race 1969

  1. Paul Botterill says:

    Lovely to see such interest in that event but a couple of comments and corrections. I was First Lieutenant of HMS Brave Borderer at the time and together with Brave Swordsman, we did the rolling starts of every leg of the race and then one of us would race ahead to count the fleet in at the end. We were at that time considerably faster than any of the competitors. The Vosper hull in the photograph is not the prototype of HMS Scimitar. Scimitar was launched at Porchester in late 1969; I was there. Also she was painted dark grey not the regular “pusser’s” light grey colour still in use. Only really minor details and they don’t detract from your wonderful article which revived many happy memories.
    The Officers Mess at Gt George’s barracks Inverness had arranged a champagne breakfast to watch the start from Inverness. They later told us they saw nothing but heard a series of engines close by followed by a succession of thuds and silence as various competitors hut the putty. I think they were Sappers and were the ones able to provide the digger for UFO!

  2. I was part of the Volvo engineering back up team during the race. We followed the boats by road, attending to any mechanical problems after the boats had arrived at their target destinations. I remember very well watching the race boats, moored astern of the royal navy vessels for the night, dive for cover as the gas turbines started in the morning, black smoke billowing from the brave class exhausts. The exhaust gasses soon cleared to a blue haze once the turbines were put under power and the vessels moved off to commence the next leg of the race. The Ford team appeared to use a helicopter as a navigational target and this caused a deal of grumbling from other competitors at the time. WE couldn’t get the team motorhome onto the IOM ferry because of the height so we borrowed a local builder’s van, cleared it out and transferred the tooling into it. We reversed the process on return from the IOM. We all had a great time!!!!

    • Paul Botterill says:

      Mike. Rather naughtily we sometimes used to deliberately misfire one of the Proteus engines because it would leave a trail of unignited Avgas in the jet pipe. On the second start you could get a flame. If the troops didn’t like the nearest boat moored astern they would get a flame start. One boat was the favoured target – no names though. My, did we have fun!

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