Mission Control

July 19th, 2017

The latest acquisition for my DVD library is a British-made documentary called “Mission Control.” Made by the same people that produced “The Last Man on the Moon,” it tells the story of the unsung heroes of America’s Apollo moon landing programme – the engineers, scientists and backroom boffins who made it all work, using archive footage cut with present day interviews. If you’ve seen the 1995 hit movie “Apollo 13,” you’ll recognise some of the names of the men remembering their roles, including Flight Director Gene Kranz, John Aaron and Sy Liebergot. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke and Gene Cernan also take part, while British audiences will be delighted to see several clips featuring James Burke, presenting the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings.

It has a special resonance for me, as my interest in spaceflight goes all the way back to 1957, when at the tender age of four I was taken into our back garden one night by my physicist father so we could see the bright light of Russia’s Sputnik 2 – the dawn of the space age – tracking across the night sky. I followed Apollo throughout my school years, and in 1972, my first solo trip abroad was to the USA to see the launch of Apollo 17, the last flight to the moon, remembered in this blog from eight years ago. The trip also included a visit to Houston in Texas, where I got to see Mission Control for real, and sit in the viewing room at the back of the nerve centre.

“Mission Control” covers the history of the space race, the tragedy of the Apollo 1 launchpad fire which defined the way the whole programme was subsequently run, the historic first landing on the moon, and the nerve-shredding moments and sheer hard work and tenacity that saved the crew of Apollo 13. Excellent viewing for space geeks. Available in Blu-ray or DVD.

Telly Tully

June 3rd, 2017

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was equipment editor of two walking magazines, and regular outdoors contributor to the Daily Telegraph, I went through a period of guesting on a number of TV shows – a lot of them daytime TV, but one or two prime time jobs as well. It always struck me as somewhat ironic, as a TV producer putting together an outdoors series for Channel 4 had previously told me more or less that I had a great face for radio! The clips from these shows have been languishing for years on VHS cassettes, and I finally got around to digitising them. At some point I’ll put them on their own page on my website, but in the meantime, here’s a small selection in all their glory – and yes, these were the days when I still had hair!

 

It’s not everyone who gets to be called a girl guide by TV star Nick Knowles! This was something I did on a travel programme called “The Great Escape” on BBC1. The studio part of the programme was live, while the outdoor segment with the tents was recorded earlier, but it was recorded “as live” – so no rehearsals, and no retakes. Considering I had no advance warning that I was expected to do what they call in the trade a PTC (piece to camera), and I’d never done one before, I thought I did pretty well. But the “as live” filming proved to be a slight problem when I came to putting up my previously reliable fast-pitch tent, when one of the pole joints pulled apart.

 

This one was for the BBC2 programme “Tracks,” with a nice dash of Jean-Michel Jarre in the soundtrack. It was shot on a roasting hot summer’s day, and one sequence which didn’t make the final edit was the cameraman’s bright idea of simulating night-time in the tent by draping a large blanket over it to black it out. We spent about half an hour inside doing things like sleeping bags and lanterns, but it was like a sauna! Something else that didn’t make the final cut was my closing quip as Nick Fisher and I walk off. He wishes survival guru Ray Mears was here, and I ask why. “He’d know what to do,” replies Nick. My parting “Nah” was edited out.

 

A BBC researcher rang me up asking me to do a telly spot on BBC2’s “The Leisure Hour” talking about camping. My speciality is lightweight camping rather than the family stuff, and yet still they wanted me! Former Eurovision winner Cheryl Baker did a brilliant job whizzing us around the studio, and at the end of it all, there was a post-shoot meal where I got to dine with Cheryl and her co-presenter, former “Tomorrow’s World” man Howard Stableford.

Trending theme

May 14th, 2017

Over the last few months, Team Britannia has been putting out press releases every so often for individual members of the crew, targeting them at publications in their own locality, as well as in Portsmouth, the home of the project. It’s a great way of keeping the publicity ticking over, even when there isn’t much else to report.

The middle of May finally saw my turn. and it’s been interesting following it up to see who decided to run with the story. Not surprisingly, my local newspapers the Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News ran it, along with Teamlocals and The News in Portsmouth.

It also featured in the marine press, including All About Shipping, and sporting publication The Sport Feed. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all was to find that the phrase “Clive’s skills and experience” had popped up as a trending theme on Team Britannia’s word cloud, which highlights the most often used words or phrases in our current media coverage.

Bear visits boat

April 28th, 2017

It would be nice to say it was a pleasant surprise, but it had actually been on the cards for some time. Even so, when renowned TV adventurer Bear Grylls paid a visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world record-attempting powerboat, under construction at ABC Marine on Hayling Island, it was still a nice boost for the project, making a story in the Portsmouth News. It was quite a coup, too, for Team Britannia’s PR director’s young son Edward. He managed to land a Cubs’ communication badge when he interviewed the Chief Scout on a wide variety of topics.

Team Britannia skipper Alan Priddy had remained in touch with Bear ever since 2003, when Alan, Jan Falkowski and I made a northern crossing of the Atlantic in the round the world RIB Spirit of Cardiff, just ahead of Bear’s own attempt via a similar route in an open RIB. Our crossing was quite a bit quicker (we set the unofficial record for a fastest transatlantic by RIB), but to be fair, we had a cabin and Bear didn’t, and that does make a big difference. And of course it wasn’t us that went on to make TV survival programmes which included the US President!

Needless to say we were delighted to welcome Bear to the boatyard, where apart from seeing the boat, he got to meet some of the injured veterans who will form part of the crew. He was also extremely interested in all of the project’s environmental angles, which include the fuel-saving hull design, the pollution-busting Clean Fuel, and our plan to monitor suspended plastic content in the sea throughout the circumnavigation.

Having an ice time

April 15th, 2017

July 2003: Round the world powerboat Spirit of Cardiff south of Cape Farewell, Greenland. We’re hove to, deciding on our best course of action – the wind is blowing Force 11, and we’ve seen growlers in the water. These chunks of clear ice, some of them the size of cars, are very difficult to spot until you’re virtually on top of them. Having one come through the windscreen would definitely have spoiled our day. While we’re sloshing about in the swell, I nip outside with the camera and narrowly avoid taking a swim. In the end we retreat to our refuelling point at Nanortalik and wait two days for the storm to pass. Even so, we still set an unofficial record for the fastest transatlantic in a RIB.

Read all about it in Memoirs of a Record-Breaker: Ocean adventures on the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff 1999 – 2003.

Panto season

April 13th, 2017

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few comments on my spectacles, mostly making some comparison with John Lennon. Throughout the 1980s I went for efficiency, with aviator-style glasses providing maximum coverage. But since then, I’ve been wearing Savile Row Panto, indeed, a model once worn by John Lennon.

In fact, there’s a long list of famous people who’ve had their faces graced by Savile Row Pantos – Johnny Depp in “The Ninth Gate,” Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the Indiana Jones movies, not to mention Captain Mainwaring in “Dad’s Army,” the original TV series and recent movie. The classic round Panto design dates back to the early 1930s, and the frames are all hand-made to order from 18 karat rolled gold.

I’ve never been a slave to fashion, and while my Savile Rows have a timeless charm, I look upon them as an investment. Your average mass-produced frames don’t take much before they fall apart. I have two pairs of Pantos, both around 20 years old, and still going strong. I’m sure they’ll outlast me!

Hog roast in action

January 21st, 2017

When Team Britannia‘s round the world superboat was turned right side up – once described to me as “like a giant hog roast” – at the beginning of December, we had no shortage of still photographs showing the hull at different angles through its 180 degree turn until she was resting on blocks looking much more like a boat. But this recently released video conveys something more of the drama and tension of the day – a day with one or two moments where it looked as though things could have gone horribly wrong. But the professionalism of the skilled workers at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company shone throughout.

Since my last post about the project, team boss Alan Priddy has also confirmed that the round the world attempt will now take place in October 2017. A variety of technical problems have contributed to delays so far, and after the boat was turned, a couple more came to light which have since been rectified. But that, combined with the Christmas break has meant we would be pushed to be ready to go in the spring weather window. At the very least, if we went at the tail end of it, we would be looking at a bumpier and therefore slower circumnavigation – not what we want at all!

With the boat not far from completion, we’re still hopeful of getting her in the water by the end of March or early April, and sea trials including a couple of world record runs before basing her in Gibraltar.

Onboard video

December 14th, 2016

This rather handsome beastie supplied by Wex Photographic in Norwich is going to be my main camera on board Team Britannia‘s superboat when we circumnavigate the world next year. It has a number of features which make it my perfect choice, including enhanced focus and aperture control, dual-codec recording, fantastic low light performance, very good built-in image stabilisation, and abilty to transfer files direct to a USB drive without using a host computer.

Rather than filming a typical “point and shoot” adventure documentary, what I have in mind will be somewhat more cinematic in style, which I suppose may come down to the fact that I’ve been an avid movie-watcher my entire life!

One good turn

December 6th, 2016

Monday 5th December was quite literally a pivotal moment for Team Britannia. It was the day the hull of the round the world superboat was finally turned right side up. Since construction began in June at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company on Hayling Island, the internal framework and hull plates had all been assembled with the boat upside down, purely because it makes the job a lot easier, with gravity lending a helping hand as well. With all the continuous welding completed, the lower part of the hull was sanded down and given a coat of primer.

The actual process of turning the boat was painstaking, and took a whole day. The boat had already had parts welded on at bow and stern to support it during its rotation, held up at the bow by an “A” frame, and at the stern, suspended from a crane. But before the “giant hog roast” took place, the upside down hull had to be jacked up on wooden blocks before the crane took over. Team Britannia boss Alan Priddy admitted to one or two nervous flutters during the operation, but was delighted with the outcome.

With the boat finally the right way up, one gets a much better appreciation of its size, and that’s still without the wheelhouse, which has been assembled in the unit next door. Apart from craning the wheelhouse and fore and aft decks into place, the internal fit-out will be preceded by fitting the six massive fuel tanks, the engines and jet drives.

Gibraltar charity fundraiser

November 3rd, 2016

The end of last month should have seen Team Britannia set off from Gibraltar on our bid to break the 60 days 23 hours 49 minutes record for circumnavigating the world by powerboat. After a week of festivities in Gibraltar, we’d planned on holding a gala dinner on board the five-star Sunborn floating hotel the night before our departure. Of course, we could have just cancelled everything, but we decided to get something positive out of our delay.

So the two days of Thundercats powerboat racing went ahead, along with a music festival. Instead of the gala dinner, we held a champagne and canapés reception on board the Sunborn, and we turned the event into a charity fundraiser benefiting our chosen charity Blesma, and Gibraltar’s Calpe House Trust, which provides a home from home in London for any Gibraltarians who have to visit for medical treatment.

Earlier in the week, some of our team had met crew members from the Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond, in port in Gibraltar after two months in the Mediterranean. They were lucky enough to be invited aboard for a tour of the ship, which included looking at things team photographer Chris Davies wasn’t allowed to take pictures of! The courtesy was returned when Commander Marcus Hember and a sizeable proportion of his crew came to our reception, looking fantastic in their Number One dress uniforms and medals. The charity auction was pretty amazing, too, raising over £15,000 to be divided between the two charities.

My “day off” in Gibraltar saw me taking a little hike – first to the nature reserve on the Upper Rock, then to the top of the cable car station. It was here whilst photographing one of the famous Barbary macaques that another jumped up at me and scratched my arm. Had it bitten me, it would have entailed a trip to Gibraltar’s hospital, but I managed to escape that. And while the tourist areas such as St Michael’s Cave see queues of taxis and tour buses, I managed to avoid them on a delightful footpath taking me down to Jews’ Gate Cemetery, a recently renovated historic burial ground. Past the Pillars of Hercules and I had the wind in my sails, so I carried on south to Europa Point, whose Trinity House lighthouse will be Excalibur’s timing mark when we do eventually set off around the world next year.