Getting wider

December 9th, 2019

Friday 6th and Saturday 7th December saw another landmark moment in the Team Britannia round the world powerboat Excalibur’s construction – she gained an extra two metres in width! Fitting the inflatable tubes (also known as collars or sponsons) was backbreaking work carried out in horrendous weather. Why not wait until a sunny day? It had been planned some time in advance to take advantage of the tide times – depending on which side of the boat is being worked on dictates which side of the dock she has to be moored, and once floated over, we then have to wait for the tide to go out and for the boat to settle in the mud before the heavy work begins.

With the coated material sponsored by Orca, the tubes were assembled for us by Henshaw Inflatables Ltd (Wing). Each one is 19 metres long, weighing 250 kilos, so just manhandling them was a major effort! There are 116 fixing bolts per tube, all of which had to be drilled, tapped and special inserts fitted into the hull to accommodate the bolts. After floating the boat over to the opposite pontoon, Alan Priddy, Elliott Berry and John Garner braved the pouring rain and howling gale to fit the starboard tube. “To say it was a struggle is an understatement,” says Alan. Meanwhile, we also had a working party inside the boat – Steve Mason and Alan Goodwin completed the two two-berth cabins at the rear of the wheelhouse before moving on to the stairwell and front cabin.

After a night spent on board, which included sampling some of Team Britannia’s excellent freeze-dried meals, the boat was floated back over to the other side of the dock for the port tube to be fitted. With Elliott Berry’s place taken on Saturday by Andy Reid, they managed to get finished late afternoon just before a storm came in and the light went. We also had a steady stream of visitors, including Dave Stanway, one of our competition prize winners. We should add that corporate sponsorship opportunities for Team Britannia and Excalibur’s round the world record attempt are still available, so if you or anyone you know might be interested, please do get in touch.

Launching Excalibur

October 7th, 2019

Getting Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur into the water after over three years in a shed in a boatyard on Hayling Island was a painstaking affair. The following video, about four and a half minutes, provides a flavour of the afternoon.

Excalibur hits the water!

October 3rd, 2019

It’s tempting to describe the launch of Excalibur on October 2nd in Churchillian terms – “not the end, not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.” The operation to move Team Britannia‘s superboat out of her shed and into the water was a slow, careful and painstaking operation which took the entire afternoon. If you’ve ever watched the filming of a movie or TV production, it was a bit like that – long periods of waiting around (for the watchers, not the crane crew) interspersed with short bursts of activity.

The stern support blocks were replaced by a trolley assembly, and then with a single sling from the crane taking the weight of the bow, the remaining support blocks were removed. At this point, one of our crew was busy with a paint roller applying antifoul to the small sections of hull previously obscured by the blocks.

Then, slowly, very slowly, Excalibur was inched forward until her bow was suspended over the edge of the quayside. At this point she was lowered onto blocks once again while the crane crew changed their lifting gear to fit two large strops around the boat. And then she was up in the air, and very gently swung round over the quayside into the water, and mooring lines made fast. Somebody wondered why we didn’t crack a bottle of champagne over her, but that’s something we’ll save for when we have a proper naming ceremony. It certainly felt a bit strange simply stepping across onto the boat’s aft deck instead of having to climb a ladder. All credit to our fantastic welders – as Slava helpfully pointed out yesterday after checking inside the engine room: “She’s not leaking yet!”

The boat was moored at the quayside outside the boatyard on her first night in her new environment, then moved to a mooring at the adjacent Hayling Yacht Company for the remainder of the work to be carried out. There’s still a lot to do before she’s ready to commence sea trials, but having got to this point is an accomplishment in itself, and it certainly spurs us on to the next stage of the project.

The Big Red Boat

September 19th, 2019

With a week to go until her scheduled launching, things have been moving swiftly at the boatyard where Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur is being finished off. The last couple of weeks or so have seen fairly painstaking work, filling and fairing the hull – filling in any minor dips and smoothing out any lumps. This week the lower section of hull has had its first coat of antifoul, while the upper part has been wrapped.

In a process often used with powerboats, the hull has been encased in sheets of what Blue Peter might describe as “sticky back plastic.” It makes for a superb durable finish, and achieved in a fraction of the time it would take to paint.

The wheelhouse and superstructure will receive its wrap early next month, once we’ve taken delivery of the special glass being used to make Excalibur’s windows. At that point, the boat will be in the water. In the meantime, the end of this week sees the massive Castoldi jet drives installed again for the last time. There’s still a lot to do to get the boat ready for its first sea trials, but we’re definitely getting there.

Excalibur: the clock is ticking

September 10th, 2019

Since the completion of all major welding on Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur, attention has turned to getting her ready for launching, and at the time of writing, that’s scheduled to take place at the end of September. While the below waterline antifouling is now going to be paint, the rest of the hull and wheelhouse will be wrapped in a bright red vinyl. Even so, preparation remains the same, with every square inch of hull being faired and filled in order to remove high spots and fill shallow areas to even up the surface. It’s all about providing the least resistance to movement through water, and of course to present the best finish aesthetically. The last few days have seen Alan Priddy, Wayne Priddy and Steve Mason hard at work, helped by willing volunteers.

“Using a grinding machine is a physically demanding job,” says Alan. “It’s important that the visible sections of the boat are as close to perfection without grinding down the thickness of the metal.” With the top part of the hull finished, Steve Mason set about painting the more intricate parts which can’t be covered by the bright red wrap.

Further work on the boat will be needed after launching before she’s ready to commence sea trials, but at least people will see her in all her glory, and realise that when we say we’re going to do something, we do it! It might even persuade one or two potential sponsors to jump off the fence and commit to supporting us.

Coming soon to an ocean near you

July 22nd, 2019

I’m rather mindful of the fact that recent progress updates on Team Britannia’s round the world powerboat project have been largely the same: “By the time you read this, Excalibur will be afloat.” And then of course it isn’t. And while completion of the boat has not been without its delays due simply to the fact that we’re building a one-off which departs from the norm in both design and construction, the bottom line has been – as you might expect – money. Fortunately we have a lot of supporters who’ve maintained faith in the project, and while lean times have forced us to suspend building operations every so often, it has only ever been temporary.

A summer resumption of activity in the boatyard has seen the hull and wheelhouse finished off, with just the transom to fit to make the boat watertight. Then comes the exciting part where the boat is wrapped – bright red for her topsides, and black below the waterline using a special hydrophobic antifoul material. We’ve also hosted a number of open days this year to which members of the public, supporters and partners were invited, and they’ve been well attended – even when the weather hasn’t been up to much. But the reaction from everyone that sees Excalibur for the first time is pretty much the same: “Wow, it’s big!” And visitors with boating or engineering backgrounds all remark upon the quality of the construction and attention to detail.

We’ve also made it easier for people to become involved by launching a competition on our website, with two crew places per round the world record leg as main prizes, and short trips out in the boat for runners-up. And even if the idea of a trip on the boat seems less than appealing, each entry is rewarded with 25 shares in Clean Fuel Ltd. Their pollution-busting technology forms a cornerstone of the entire project, and has the potential to clean up internal combustion engines without any mechanical modifications, so everyone’s a winner. Once Excalibur is in the water and operating from her base in Gibraltar, with a projected attempt in 2020, that round the world record may finally be on its way back to Britain.

Afloat on the Broads

May 27th, 2019

Earlier this month saw me taking my first paddle on the Broads in a long time. It was something of a trial run to see how I would cope with reflected glare after my third bout of eye surgery the previous week. The staithe at Barton Turf is an easy launching point, and a short paddle along a channel brings you out into the northern end of Barton Broad, one of my favourite paddling locations. Nelson’s sister lived in nearby Barton Hall, and he used to sail on the broad whenever he came to visit. Legend has it he lost a chain and locket in the water here.

The plan was to paddle south down the broad, and then continue along the River Ant until I felt it was time to turn round and start back. I was amazingly lucky to see not just one but two grand old ladies of the Broads. Under sail on Barton Broad was the historic trading wherry Albion (built in 1898), which I’ve been fortunate enough to sail on twice. Down the river at How Hill I found the pleasure wherry Hathor (built in 1905 for the Colman mustard family). I didn’t tie up here, but I’ve been on board before, and the Egyptian-themed interiors are quite remarkable.

How Hill was as far as I got, and by the time I emerged onto the southern end of Barton Broad for the final leg of the return journey, the breeze had got up. While inflatable kayaks are great for their portability, and stability afloat, the fact that they’re on average half the weight and twice the surface area of a comparable hard-shell does make them more susceptible to wind. I was being blown off-course so much, it was actually easier to retrace the track on my GPS watch rather than navigate by line of sight. Even so, a most enjoyable round trip of just under six miles.

Click here for my Kindle guide to the Broads: “The Broads – A unique National Park

Introduction to a boating career

May 2nd, 2019

It was 20 years ago this month that I first met Alan Priddy. Little did I know at the time that I would end up circumnavigating the world with him in his powerboat Spirit of Cardiff, or more recently help him found Team Britannia – another British attempt on the UIM round the world powerboat record. The catalyst was actually the previous summer, in 1998. I’d badly sprained an ankle on a three week trek in Kazakhstan, to the point that I was unable to do any serious walking for the next year.

Fearing I was about to lose a large proportion of my income, I started writing about more sedate things, but with watery pursuits as my little outdoor action fix. So I did a day learning to sail with the RYA on Hayling Island, a feature written for the Sunday Express. Apart from discovering the difference between a tack and a gybe, I also spotted Olympic hopefuls Iain Percy and Shirley Robertson training with the British sailing team. They both went on to win gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Somehow amidst all of the watersports activities I was introduced to the PR for Yamaha Motors UK, who had just supplied an engine and outdrive to Portsmouth-based expedition powerboater Alan Priddy to drive his newly built Rigid Inflatable powerboat Spirit of Portsmouth, purpose built to attempt the round the world record.

“Alan’s looking for a journalist to go out on the boat to do a story,” I was told. When I phoned him up, the initial idea was that I would join him for a short trip in the boat – just enough to get a flavour of it. My mistake was to ask if I could spend a night on board – I thought that way I’d get a better appreciation of what it would feel like when they attempted the big trip.

“If you can spare a few nights,” Alan told me, “you can join us when we attempt to set the first ever record for powerboating around the British Isles.” It was a bit like a cash register going off in my head. I’d gone from a short trip which would probably make an interesting story for an inflight magazine to something which would get me national newspaper and radio commissions.

Having agreed to take part in a world record attempt, I thought it would be a good idea to meet Alan before the trip itself, and so it was that I joined him in Portsmouth Guildhall for Spirit of Portsmouth’s official naming ceremony, a lavish affair with the mayor and other local diginitaries, along with people from the marine world. The boat made an impressive entrance, too, towed on her trailer in front of the Guildhall by a brewery dray horse.

My first trip out on Spirit took place the following month, and we made headline news when not much more than 12 hours into the trip we collided with an unseen obstacle off Lizard Point which disabled the boat, ending up with us being towed into Falmouth by RNLI lifeboat. You could say it was a baptism of fire, and I passed the test. A lot more followed, not least the boat’s name being changed to Spirit of Cardiff, all of which you can read about in Confronting Poseidon. Click here or on the ad opposite to download your copy.

Win with Team Britannia

April 2nd, 2019

My last visit to Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur at her boatyard was back in January, when the weather was somewhat icy. The latest open day at the end of March saw rather more pleasant conditions, and a great turnout of visitors. It’s always interesting to get people’s impressions, particularly from those who have followed the project closely, but only previously seen photographs. Everyone remarks on the size of the boat, something which photographs of her in the cramped boat shed really can’t convey.

Apart from giving visitors a guided tour around the boat, we also used the open day to launch a new facet to the project, something which has consumed a fair amount of time over the last few weeks. We now have a prize competition, with a £25 ticket potentially winning a place in the crew for one of the legs around the world, with a hundred other prizes of short trips out in the boat after the circumnavigation.

And while you might think the odds of winning such a special prize are slim, the truth is that everyone is a winner, as each entry also gets 25 shares in Clean Fuel Ltd, whose pollution-busting fuel will power Excalibur around the world. In fact, if you’re interested in combating the Nitrous Oxides and Particulate Matter which form the awful traffic-generated pollution in our towns and cities, your support for Team Britannia and Clean Fuel will make a big difference.

100 walks later

March 19th, 2019

While I’ve been Camping magazine’s lightweight camping equipment expert for the last 20 years, since 2010, I’ve also devised a weekend backpacking walk for every issue, which has always made a very nice double page spread. As the editor told me recently – knowledgeable yet accessible. But increasing demands on my time have led me to decide to call it a day on the monthly walk.

The June issue (on sale May) will be the last to feature one of my weekend walks, and while it is purely a coincidence, that last walk will be number 100! I’d originally planned this in order to free up some time to spend on the Spirit of Cardiff documentary which I’m making, but some very exciting developments with Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat project are also about to happen, and they have already soaked up some of my spare time.

I’ll still be reviewing lightweight tents and outdoors clothing and equipment in Camping, but the walks won’t be forgotten. With 100 weekend walks spread across the country, I’m already thinking that at some point they’ll enjoy a second lease of life either in a print or electronic book. In the meantime, there’s a big red boat to get into the water, and the time is coming close!