Once again the Solent will reverberate to the sound of high powered, high octane powerboats when the Cowes Classic Powerboat Race roars into town. The Cowes Classic 2014 Offshore Powerboat Race is set to take place on Sunday, August 31st this year. Just as the last cowes week sailors depart the shores of the Isle of Wight, and life seems set to resume to its usual pace on the slide into autumn, the power boaters will arrive to stir up the pace of life once again.
The contest has long been recognised as one of powerboating’s toughest challenges, and comparisons have been made with motorsport events such as Le Mans and the Indy 500. Around 20 boats are expected to be in the line-up, if the conditions are calm like last year, the winner could complete the course in under three hours. The Cowes – Torquay – Cowes course covers a distance of 182 nautical miles. The record of two hours, eighteen minutes and five seconds was set in 2008 by Fabio Buzzi, Simon Powell and Rafael Del Pino from Italy in the boat ‘Red FPT’ at an average speed of 91.1 mph.
Cowes is recognised as the birthplace of international powerboat racing. It is therefore fitting that every year some of the biggest, brightest, loudest and most powerful boats in the world assemble to re-enact the famous race from Cowes to Torquay then turn around and race back from Torquay to Cowes where the first race was hosted in 1961.
After the overwhelming success of a new race format in 2013, which saw the fleet stopping in Torquay, the organisers have agreed to run the race in two parts once again. They were inspired by the enthusiastic response of the race fans at the Torquay stopover last year and have decided to stay with this successful format.
An exciting change is planned for the start at Cowes this year with the race returning to its roots. In close consultation with the safety folk at the RYA the race organisers have worked hard to ensure the fans see an organised start closer to the shore. In recent years the race start has not been accessible to the general public, and was held past Hurst Castle where only the most hardy boaties or passengers on the start boat could actually watch the action. Thankfully this year the race start returns to its birthplace in the Solent off the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes.
It was all rather different when the race was first run 54 years ago this summer. The contest was the brainchild of the newspaper tycoon and second world war fighter pilot Sir Max Aitken, who had seen the Miami-Nassau Powerboat Race that began in 1956.
At the time, powerboat racing was a perfect fit with America’s affluent profile. It was spectacular, and offered upwardly mobile enthusiasts an opportunity to compete on level terms with their old-money counterparts. At the London Boat Show in January 1961, Sir Max proposed that a similar race should be staged in England between Cowes and Torbay.
The concept gripped the public’s imagination, and there was huge interest and television coverage when the contestants set off from the Royal Yacht Squadron at 10 am on August 27th. Among the 27 boats roaring up the Solent was Huntsman No. 8, owned by the holiday-camp entrepreneur Billy Butlin and skippered by the former test pilot Peter Twiss.
Seven hours and 17 minutes later,Thunderbolt, a Christina-hull craft driven by the former saloon-car racer Tommy Sopwith, crossed the line in first place, having travelled at an average 25mph throughout.
They were a racy crowd, the 1960s powerboating set. In 1962, Sir Max Aitken competed personally, and the following year the amateur steeplechase jockey Bill Shand-Kydd finished second. But the most intriguing of those early contestants was Shand-Kydd’s brother-in-law, Lord Lucan, who attempted to win the race three times.
The seventh Earl, who notoriously vanished in 1974 after apparently killing his children’s nanny, made his début in 1963 at the helm of a 25-footer calledWhite Migrant. Lucan was in the lead and still going well when White Migrant stopped suddenly and sank beneath him just south of the Needles. Lucan and his co-driver Bruce Campbell were both rescued unharmed. His Lordship tried again, but equally unsuccessfully, in 1964 and 1965.
“The race became the leading race in Europe, if not the world and internationals say you haven’t really achieved anything unless you’ve competed and finished the Cowes-Torquay” says power boat racing expert Ray Bulman.
On the day of the race dawn in Cowes will break to the sound of roaring engines and activity on the water will be evident from approximately 08:45 when the racing fleet will muster to the east of the Cowes Harbour entrance. Race boats will then pass at speed in a convoy between Snowden and Trinity House buoys before starting the actual race immediately to the north of Gurnard Cardinal Buoy at 09:00. The fastest race boats should be approaching Berry Head by 10am and will continue on northward to a mark at the Ore Stone before turning and heading into the finish off Haldon Pier at Torquay.
At Torquay the boats will form up and parade past Haldon Pier at 13.00 before lining up for the race start back to Cowes at 13.30pm. Depending on the conditions the fastest boats should appear back in the Solent at approximately two thirty for a finish off the Gurnard Cardinal Mark at Egypt Point.
For all those who find hurtling at up to 90mph across the sea a frightening feat YB tracking is providing a solution for you! Each powerboat will have a tracker securely attached during the race. It will transmit data every two minutes and almost instantaneously update the race viewer which means family, friends and international powerboat enthusiast can follow every twist and turn that this competition has to offer.
For more information and to a link to the race viewer, which will go live closer to the start, please visit the Cowes Classic 2014 website.