Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Team Britannia open day

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

It might have been many degrees colder than the last time Team Britannia invited members of the public to visit Excalibur in her shed on Hayling Island, but even so, those that came to marvel at the big boat on January 19th included visitors from Dorset, Essex, Norfolk and North Yorkshire. And with our guests fortified with hot drinks and the most amazing homemade soup supplied by our MD and PR guru Alistair Thompson, our welcome was warm, even if the boat shed wasn’t.

As we anticipate picking up speed again in the boatyard in the next couple of weeks, things have been going on in the background, including a start on fitting out the crew quarters. We also have a couple of trial patches of the plastic wrap with which we hope to clad the boat. The red for the topsides looks stunning, but more interesting technically is the black antifoul material which will be used below the waterline.

Touch it when it’s dry, and it feels quite sticky, but the moment it’s in contact with water, the surface becomes incredibly slippery. So ideal for antifoul, and with the added bonus of improved fuel efficiency. The manufacturers claim an 8% improvement, so add that to the 30% extra afforded by the design of the boat’s hull, along with our use of Clean Fuel, and you start to see how Excalibur could possibly become the most fuel-efficient boat afloat!

There will be an open day every month from now on, so check out Team Britannia’s Facebook page for up to date details.

Click here to read the report about the open day in the Portsmouth News.

Britain by Boat

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Even before she has been launched, Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur is attracting celebrities. Last year it was TV adventure star and Chief Scout Bear Grylls.

This year – and we’ve had to keep it secret until the programme was about to air – it was telly icons John Sergeant and Michael Buerk. They visited the boatyard during the summer before the boat’s big turn round, spending a day filming with Team Britannia boss Alan Priddy. The series “Britain by Boat” will air on Channel 5 on Fridays at 8 pm, following Messrs Buerk and Sergeant as they sail around Britain in a 50 ft yacht, stopping off at places of interest along the way.

Their visit to the Solent didn’t feature just Excalibur, as they also visited the boatyard next door, where volunteers were busy restoring Sir Alec Rose’s historic round the world yacht Lively Lady. Since then, Lively Lady has gone back into the water, and the restoration team has been honoured by National Historic Ships UK with the Marsh Volunteer Award for Historic Vessel Conservation 2018.

Watch “Britain by Boat” episode two – the Team Britannia segment begins at 06:20.

Letters from the past

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

I’m still trying to get my head round the workings of my latest word processor. You can’t plug it in, there are no USB ports, and the only way to adjust the contrast on the screen is to fit a new ribbon. I found it in a local antiques shop, and it sort of spoke to me.

I suppose it harks back to my earliest days of writing – I was still at school, and I would write things out in my appalling almost illegible longhand, and my dear mum would type them out for me on her Hermes Baby typewriter. Years later, and my pre-computing attempts at writing were bashed out on an IBM golfball electric typewriter. Since then, I’ve gone through CP/M, PC-DOS, MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 7 and 10, and a variety of handheld devices including Agenda and Psion. But my 1941 vintage Imperial The Good Companion Model T isn’t burdened with disc formatting or conflicting software. Try to type too quickly and you may get a jam, and the backspace doesn’t magically delete what you’ve just typed.

And while the advertising of the time proclaims it to be portable, at 6.3 kilos complete with its sturdy baseboard and carrying case, it’s possibly not what might be deemed to be portable these days. Having said that, one of my early laptop computers from the 1980s wasn’t that far off weight-wise.

What makes the Imperial so attractive to me is that it is an amazing piece of mechanical engineering. While it works perfectly for a 77 year-old, I suspect its value to me will be more ornamental than practical. Bashing out the copy so physically may be OK for some, but I’m just not the type.

One good turn

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Wednesday 5th September was quite literally a turning point in the construction of Team Britannia’s round the world powerboat “Excalibur.” Having spent the last two years with her bow into the main boat shed, with a temporary structure (a glorified tent) over the stern, the decision was taken to pull the boat out, rotate her through 180 degrees and put her back into the boat shed stern first. The reason for this is that the remaining structural work is all on the wheelhouse and stern, where the temporary shelter didn’t offer enough space.

With the temporary part of the boat shed dismantled, all 17 tonnes of boat was lifted out by a giant crane over the quayside, and for a tantalising while, suspended almost over the water. Not that there would have been enough to float in, as the tide was out, and Excalibur still has yet to have her transom fitted before being watertight. And while everyone marvelled at the size of the boat as she sat in the lifting strops, we were reminded that there’s actually another two metres to fit to the stern – this will include a large dive platform which will sit over the jet drives.

Yes, it’s been a long time coming, and even since we resumed building the boat this spring we’ve had one or two delays, but that’s what you get with a one-off that’s pushing engineering excellence to the very limits. But all being well, the boat will be completed, fitted out and in the water well before the end of the year.

While it’s sometimes easy to become so focussed on what you’re doing that you forget that significant boating advances are happening elsewhere, I produced a feature which highlights the environmental aspects of record-breaking in boats, and got to speak to Peter Dredge, a powerboat racer with many world championships and records to his credit. This year he broke the record for the fastest electrically powered boat, so it made an interesting contrast to Team Britannia. Click here to read: The Clean Green Boating Machines.

Once upon a premiere

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Something reminded me recently that it was 20 years this year since I attended my one and only movie premiere – the IMAX movie “Everest” in 1998, screened in the IMAX theatre at the Trocadero Centre at Piccadilly Circus in London. It was the first ever IMAX movie about an expedition to climb Mount Everest, sponsored by fleece fabric manufacturers Polartec, and it subsequently went on to become the highest grossing IMAX documentary ever. As an outdoors writer specialising in reviews of clothing and equipment, I was well acquainted with Polartec, hence my invitation to the London premiere.

Filmed in Spring 1996, it tells the story of an attempt on Everest led by American climber Ed Viesturs. With him are Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of the legendary Sherpa Tenzing, who made the first ascent of Everest with Ed Hillary in 1953, and Araceli Segarra – who became the first Spanish woman to climb the mountain. There’s added human drama when climbers and film crew are involved in the rescue efforts as storms rage across the mountain, claiming eight lives. Technically, the film is absolutely stunning, with six-channel digital sound to add to the frightening reality. The film’s soundtrack includes suitably grand music for the big vistas, but for me, it was definitely enhanced with the inclusion of clips of a number of George Harrison tracks.

IMAX movies are incredible for their sheer size on-screen, but while some go into overkill with the stomach-churning effects, “Everest” keeps them in check. Even so, the sight of an advancing avalanche had me ducking off my seat, and some of the airborne shots have incredible depth, while the climbing scenes test your head for heights. You really do feel as though you’re there! 20 years on, it’s not quite the same viewing it as a DVD in your lounge, but it’s still pretty spectacular!

I ended up sitting through two premiere screenings of the 45 minute documentary, the first with the BBC’s Paul Gambaccini sitting directly in front of me, and there was a fascinating Q&A session with some of the people involved in the production. Filming high on Everest is challenging at any time, even more so with the specially-constructed IMAX large format camera, built to operate at temperatures as low as minus 40, but still not exactly lightweight at 25 pounds (the standard camera weighs 60).

For me, the whole experience was rounded off with the after-party, when I joined my Polartec PR chum with the movie’s director/producer David Breashears, Stephen Venables (first Brit to climb Everest without oxygen), and the movie’s two stars in a little visit to a nearby pub for a drink or two. I enjoyed a very pleasant chat with Jamling Norgay, and a cheeky dance with the charming Araceli Segarra!

Closer to launching

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

The last month has seen significant progress with Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat Excalibur. Not only are the engines in place, but we’ve had a trial fitting of one of the jets in order to get precise measurements for the way they fit to the transom. And the complex skeleton of aluminium framework, exposed for so long, is now hidden from view with all the deck plates having been welded into place. The 3/4 inch plywood floor has been fitted in the wheelhouse, which is also taking shape, so there is now no longer an uninterrupted view from bow to stern. The upper section incorporating roof and flybridge has already been fabricated, and will be lifted into place very soon.

What hasn’t been shown photographically is the system of pipes and pumps interconnecting the six huge fuel tanks. Apart from delivering fuel to the engine room ready to be mixed with the Clean Fuel emulsifier and water, there’s another purpose. The attitude of a powerboat in the water is generally controlled by trim tabs acting as trailing edge flaps on the underside of the hull at the stern. They work well, but in so doing, they introduce extra drag. Excalibur will be trimmed rather the way Concorde was in flight, by pumping fuel from one tank to another to distribute the weight.

We also hosted our first public open day on 30th June, when around 150 people visited the boatyard, some travelling from as far away as Scotland. They included partners and supporters, enjoying a close-up look at the boat and chatting to members of the crew, all in glorious sunshine, with the barbecue and bar kept pretty busy throughout. We were delighted to welcome Portsmouth North MP and Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt, and the media were there too, including Portsmouth News, Express FM and That’s Solent News.

Happy Birthday Today!

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

As BBC Radio 4’s flagship “Today” programme celebrates its 60th anniversary, I’m reminded of the time nearly 30 years ago when I got to interview its then star presenter – Brian Redhead. I had been commissioned to put together a lavishly produced 24 page brochure for an art exhibition called “Artists in National Parks,” staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum (otherwise known as the V&A) in London. The artists chosen to depict Britain’s National Parks included Anthony Eyton, Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, and apart from interviews with each (all telephone), I amassed a collection of quotes from celebs of the day, including “Last of the Summer Wine’s” Bill Owen, David Bellamy, “Treasure Hunt” presenter Anneka Rice, TV journalist Julian Pettifer and royal photographer Lord Lichfield.

But my main full-page interview was with the president of the Council for National Parks – Brian Redhead. As this was going to be a bit more in depth, he agreed to be interviewed in London. And so it was that we met in the foyer of Broadcasting House just after he finished the programme at 9 am, and we went into an adjacent hotel where he very kindly bought me breakfast. He was rubbing his hands together with glee because he’d just interviewed Norman Tebbit and “really stuck the knife in!”

I was nursing a broken wrist at the time, and he was most sympathetic, particularly as I had to tape the interview without making notes. It occurred to me then that while his stock in trade was interviewing people (and making politicians very uncomfortable), he probably didn’t actually get to be the subject of an interview himself that often. We enjoyed a very leisurely meal while he waxed lyrical about the National Parks, and how he hoped this high profile art exhibition might help raise their profile. He also had some deliciously waspish things to say about his co-presenters Sue MacGregor and John Humphrys, but that’s maybe something for my memoirs!

Mission Control

Wednesday, 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.

Bear visits boat

Friday, 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.

Panto season

Thursday, 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!