Competing in The Round Britain Powerboat Race 2008 – We, in Zeebrugge, first heard about the Round Britain Race in 2007 during the organisation of the third Belgian Offshore Challenge with the Belgian Powerboat Race of the Seas P1. We were interested but did not really know how to manage this thing.
At first it looked as if it was nothing for us, with some experience of offshore racing in Italy and in the Red Sea, Egypt. Soon we discovered that it was something you have to do if you love offshore racing and that we had to be there. Our boat was up to it but it needed some working on. Contact with the British teams Hot Lemon, Seahound IV and Mystic dragon helped a lot. Fabio Buzzi gave the next push and so we started to prepare. Friends with the Buro were keen to join and proposed to make a Belgian team with two boats and so we did. They were not doing it for winning but just to be there and meet the challenge. That was the spirit.
The most difficult thing was to find somebody to join us with a Mobil home and do the extremely difficult task to drive around Great Britain and keep up with us. Eddy was the man and it should be said, what he did was tremendous, we often forget the guys on shore but they are the most important assets to do an endurance race of this type, without them you are not able to do it I think. And so the weeks and months passed by. Spending every free minute on the boat, preparing the navigation, studying the seas around Britain that are unknown to us.
Finally the day of departure was there, June 18th, Wednesday and we started in the morning. The Burro got off at 6 o’clock to Portsmouth, we had to wait until 10 o’clock because a spare engine bought in Canada arrived at 9 o’clock and we had to check it, deciding to take it with us or not. Previously we decided to go to the race the old fashioned way, by boat from home to the start line. The sea was not good and bad weather was announced but there was no way back. The first 45 miles were ok but then the sea got worse with high waves and a bad wind, against the tide. In the channel between Calais and Dover the sea was a mess and suddenly we lost steering because a hydraulic tube broke loose, touched the engine and split open so that all the hydraulic oil was flushed out. With great difficulty we managed to enter Dover harbour steering on the engines against high waves.
Since help was not available there we had to stay overnight and wait till the day after. We slept on board in the rain and bad weather. The day after we managed to fix the problem by noon and since the weather was not improving we found a truck driver with a lorry that brought us to Portsmouth. Arriving there we were too late for everything, the drivers meeting, the reception with Princess Anne, etc. The race still had to begin for us and we already had two difficult days behind us.
Leg 1: Portsmouth – Plymouth
Anyway we were glad to be in the Solent ready for the first start and yes we were excited and went for it. A start with over 45 powerboats is something you have to live through to know what it is. The adrenaline running through the veins is tremendous when your boat is thrown from one side to the other by the wake of the boats in front of your. Anyway everything went well and we were with the first four leaving the Solent, that was great and we forgot all the trouble of the days before. Once in open sea the wind and waves became our enemies, the sudden changes of the sea state made it difficult to go fast but we managed and saw other boats choosing for shelter near the coast, we went straight forward and got the full treatment. Finally we arrived something like the thirteenth in Plymouth after a hard ride. We were glad and enthusiastic in Plymouth but worrying about the weather forecast for the following day. The things we heard about other competitors, one boat that went down, others with mechanical problems.
Leg 2: Plymouth – Milford Haven
Confusion all around, not knowing what to do, was the feeling early in the morning with bad weather, difficult sea states, large waves and so on. The organisation cancelled the leg but we had to be in Milford Haven the day after. We were lucky and solidarity between the teams was building up. Everybody helped and a real mobilisation was orchestrated by the British, great! We did not know what to do, at first transportation was promised for the BURO but then cancelled. It took us some time to make arrangements with our friends. They would wait and go by sea in the morning with the tide. We found transporters but only late in the afternoon. At last we were on the road worrying about our friends who had to face the worst going by sea. Everything went well, we arrived in Milford after midnight, got the boat in the water had a short sleep and early in the morning found our Belgian friends who just arrived with the BURO after a hell of a ride. Everybody was ready for the next leg.
Leg 3: Milford Haven – Bangor
This was looking good for us and after a tremendous start passing most of the boats we were on our way straight up north in a direct course to Bangor. The Birretta was doing well, 63-65 knots, jumping from wave to wave. After a few minutes we were alone in the open sea and going fast. After 50-60 miles suddenly the cockpit was filled with diesel, it seemed that one of the supplementary tanks was loosing all its fuel. We decided to slow down not knowing how much fuel we lost. We also changed course and crossed the Irish Sea to the coast of Ireland to be able to get fuel if needed. Our speed was 45 knots and we were moving comfortably without any trouble but a little sad because we were going to lose time. Anyway safety first, that is the most important thing. Some thirty miles from Bangor we saw that we would have enough fuel and speeded up. That was great and the closer we came to Bangor the more boats we saw and passed. That was really fun until we missed the finishing line. Then the fun was over, we slowed down too early and lost several minutes again. Endurance racing is something in which everything must be right otherwise you lose. You have to stay concentrated until the end. Again a day full of racing finished. In the beautiful marina a guy who had a boat there and owns a company of building generators offered spontaneously to fix the tank and we were grateful because being in a foreign country in the evening, having to start the following day early it is not so evident to find help and get things fixed. It helped us to prepare for the following leg. We had to sleep on board again in a not a comfortable situation but the necessary pints helped us through the night that was again a short one.
Leg 4: Bangor – Oban
Everything seemed ok; the tank was fitted to the boat. We did not have to take extra fuel since it was a short leg and the weather forecast was good. It seemed it would be our day and it was. It was a great leg. First a confusing sea with different parts, changing wave patterns, not easy to maintain high speed but then in the second part, between the islands it was great, almost flat sea, the Birretta really flying, stable, straight on. It was heaven, we did about 65 knots and the boat was cruising like a train, which is enjoying power boating in a relaxed way. The scenery was great with the islands and the structure of the water changing all the time due to the inflow of water between the islands. Most of the time we were alone except at the end where we saw other boats appearing behind us. This was really a great leg. In Oban there was some difficulty getting fuel and finding a place to sleep but we decided to continue to Fort Williams to prepare for the trip through the Caledonian Canal. Staying there at the entrance of the canal was marvellous, de scenery, the atmosphere, everything was great and gave us the opportunity to enjoy the environment.
Leg 5: Oban – Inverness
No racing today just a relaxed ride through the channels and a fast ride through the lochs. That is something you have to do once in a lifetime. With a fast powerboat in the middle of a loch on flat water cutting through the water with mountains on both sides is something special. Then going through the locks all of this was something you must have done. It took us a whole day but it was worth it.
At last in Inverness we had our lay day. It started with an evening of partying with the Scots an experience never to forget. The lay day was a day of getting the boat in shape again and preparing for the second half of the race.
We started to know and appreciate the other teams and the people behind this tremendous organisation. It must have been a hell of a job to get everything together and moving this fleet around Britain. And they did it. It is thanks to them that we are the lucky guys who could experience this fabulous experience.
Leg 6: Inverness – Edinborough
Early in the morning we got ready and then the waiting started, almost 3 hours, power boating needs a lot of patience, but that is the name of the game. At last after a long ride that was difficult because we could not get into the plane and that is a problem with a boat with steps and surface drives, this boat is not made for slow cruising, always pushing, burning fuel and with the nose up for almost one hour is really working. Anyway if we had to do it, it had to be done and you know the wide-open sea is waiting and there you can go full throttle. I was great to see that all the boats were following in a disciplined manner. The starting procedures were going well and you could see that most of us became experienced powerboat racers as the event went on. The start was again great and we were going very fast. The sea was not that bad and we went well, an average of 60 knots and that was good. But disaster struck. Suddenly Jean-Pierre gave me the order to get the throttles down and at the same time I smelled something burning. One engine was overheated, I stopped the engines and saw black smoke coming out of the engine bay and a second and a half later the automatic extinguisher exploded with a loud burst. We were convinced we had fire on board and started emergency procedures. Quickly put the firetraps, I started to prepare everything to abandon ship, the grab bags and the life raft ready to launch while Jean-Pierre was sending a PAN PAN PAN message, Fire on Board. He notified the race-security office of our situation. The coastguard immediately contacted us and made the necessary arrangements to send a rescue boat. We were waiting and trying to evaluate the situation. We didn’t want to open the engine bay because if the fire would start again when we gave it extra air we would lose the boat and that was not an option. After ten minutes we were sure everything was save and stopped the procedures for abandoning the boat, put the life raft back were it belonged together with the grab bags. This was a good exercise and we were glad that we were prepared for such a situation. In the mean time the RNLI guys arrived and started to tow us to the nearby port, Macduff. On the one hand we were glad that everything was safe, on the other hand we were disappointed because this could mean the end of the race and that was hard to live with. Anyway during the towing we were discussing the possibilities, going home, we had a spare engine, if the damage was not that important …. we had to wait and see.
First the Macduff experience. The men from the RNLI towed us in a very professional way, these guys know what they are doing, all our respect, splendid and thanks again. I had to climb the ladder and the first thing I saw when I came up the quay was the friendly face of a man in his sixties? I am the local journalist, what happened? Can you tell me your story? Who are you and what happened?? So I told him the facts, Round Britain Race, smoke, explosion, RNLI and Macduff. In the mean time the entire village surrounded us and offered help. First we opened the engine bay to measure up the damage and saw that it was not that bad at all. The engines started up but the starboard engine started to heat up again. We checked the cooling system and obviously something was wrong with the raw water-cooling. We could not fix it without the necessary equipment and the necessary spares. We started our quest for help, craning, transportation and so on. We informed our friends of the situation called home to explain things and reassure everybody that we were safe.
Everybody in the town helped us and by 8 o’clock that evening our boat was out of the water and blocked on a trailer ready for the trip to Edinborough. There we arrived at midnight. Then came the difficult decision, what will we do?, we were out of bed since the early morning 5 o’clock it was midnight, fixing the engine would take us through the night and we were not sure what was wrong? Next-door was the Superfast Ferry that could take us home. After 10 minutes we decided to go for it but that was not so easy. Luckily the craning people were prepared to help us during the night and we started. At around 3 in the morning we were able to lift the engine out of the boat, saw that an engine mount was broken and that the raw water pump was hit. We took the water pump from our spare engine and put it on the engine from the boat and started procedures to put the engine back in. In the morning at 6.30 the engine was in. Cleaning the boat a little bit, putting the gear back and we were ready at 7.30, just for the roll call. We did not know if it would work. After roll call we put the boat in the water and the engine started without any problem. WE WERE BACK IN THE RACE!!! Awake for 28 hours, ready for the next start, a little tired but happy.
Leg 7: Edinborough – Newcastle
We started slow and cautious because we wanted to finish the race and would go easy on the engines. Not looking for trouble, it was not necessary to go fast but you know, everything went well, the sea state was good and the further we came the faster we went without putting too much strain on the boat. It went well and we were happy to go for it. Especially the last 50 miles the sea was good and we did our 60 knots again. So we entered Newcastle without any trouble. The organisers awaited us with a BBQ and everything was ok again. That evening we had a little party with the Belgians and it seemed that we would finish. We slept well. Being without sleep for more than 42 hours helps for a good nights rest.
Leg 8: Newcastle – Lowestoft
Another leg to go and we were confident. The weather forecast was not good but you get used to that. The race went well and we were going on a good pace. We did not go for the full throttle but made a good 50 knots. After about 50 miles disaster struck, a burning smell again, other engine overheating and the same problems. Now we knew it was finished, we did not have enough spares nor enough time because we need to get out the starboard engine out to remove the port engine and that would take more than a night. So again help from the RNLI and towing into Hartlepool. For us it was finished, with pain in the heart we started everything to get the boat home and leaving the race. This was a difficult day but we are no magicians.
The Round Britain Powerboat Race 2008 was a unique and wonderful experience. For a power boater it is the ultimate race. It is long, it is in open sea, it is challenging and you have to go for it. Endurance racing is the ultimate test for the boat and the crew. Everything has to be good, the preparation of the boat, the navigation, and the people involved and then you need a little luck. If I could do it again I would, for the experience, for the people you meet and for the challenge.
Thanks to everybody of the Belgian team, thanks to the organisers who made it possible and thanks to the competitors who helped us, and the ones that supported us. Thanks to all our relatives who let us race and gave up some of our limited spare time for giving us the possibility to join this event.
Pictures by courtesy of Chris Davies