October 12th, 2016

As Ron Howard’s movie of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel “Inferno” comes out this week, I’m reminded of a couple of years ago, when the original thriller was republished as a hefty illustrated coffee table version. It was a surprise to me, as it included a couple of my photographs of the Vasari Corridor in Florence.

I confess I have yet to read this fourth mystery thriller featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, but I’m rather more likely to see the movie, which stars Tom Hanks. And I shall be fascinated to see how the Vasari Corridor is woven into the plot.

One kilometre long, the Vasari Corridor is an aerial passageway built in 1565 by artist and architect Giorgio Vasari for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I. It linked the Tuscan Government offices (hence Uffizi, the name of the art gallery) in the Palazzo Vecchio, then a public building, and the Palazzo Pitti, the Medicis’ home. Apart from allowing them to walk to work and back without having to mix with the hoi polloi, and thus obviating the need for any special security measures, it was also a potent symbol of Medici power. They were, quite literally “up there,” with the masses down below.

Even now it’s still quite elite. It’s the longest single passageway of paintings and portraits in the world, and to see it, you have to book up months in advance, not least because the short-staffed Uffizi Gallery has to send escorts along with each party that goes through.

Around the world in 2017

October 3rd, 2016

You’ll probably have gathered from previous blog posts that things were getting tight with the construction of Team Britannia’s round the world superboat, but we were still moving heaven and earth to get the boat finished in time for our planned departure from Gibraltar on 23rd October. We’d already eaten into a lot of our contingency time when we discovered last week that a couple of hull plates needed re-cutting. As we’ve found previously, the place in Southampton that does this is extremely busy, and there’s now no chance of getting the new plates for several weeks.

So Alan Priddy made the only logical decision to postpone the trip. The most favourable times to attempt a circumnavigation of the world are spring or autumn, and after our meteorologist in Gibraltar analysed 10 years-worth of weather data, our revised departure date is Sunday 12th March 2017.

In the meantime, we expect the boat to be in the water by the end of November, which means we’ll have the time we always wanted to complete full sea trials, which now may include a record run around Britain. There’s a good chance, too, that we will be able to display the boat at the London Boat Show in January. Yes, it’s a disappointment to have another delay, but bearing in mind that by the time we do the trip, this project will have been on the go for eight years, it’s not too desperate a burden. At least this time we actually have a boat!

Team Britannia – nearly there!

September 20th, 2016

Followers of Team Britannia will doubtless have noticed that while we were booked for the round the world superboat Excalibur to make her first public appearance at the Southampton Boat Show, we didn’t quite get there. We moved heaven and earth to get the boat finished in time, but an accumulation of delays during her construction got in the way. But in a sense, they were all a good thing.

The fact that the boat is intended to take passengers throughout its life means it has to be built to a commercial coding, which means every major stage of the construction had to be signed off by an independent surveyor, along with any changes in design. They included welding 1,560 additional small reinforcing plates not in the original design, one at every point where a stringer crossed a frame. Agreed between project boss Alan Priddy, the boatbuilders and surveyor, it was a time-consuming job, but proved that there’s no cutting corners when it comes to safety.

We also ended up having the aluminium for the wheelhouse cut and preliminary welding done in the Netherlands to save time, with the parts shipped in a giant kit form to ABC Marine on Hayling Island to assemble in a shed next to the one containing the hull. Since the beginning of this month, the boatyard has been operating pretty much 24 hours a day. So we may have missed the Southampton Boat Show, we’ll most likely miss the Monaco Yacht Show at the end of September, but we will be OK to set off from Gibraltar around the world on 23rd October. If it all sounds a bit last minute, bear in mind that in 1998, Cable and Wireless Adventurer set off on her record-setting circumnavigation of the world pretty much straight from the boatyard.

There’s an awful lot more still to do to prepare for this momentous voyage, but once we get the boat to Gibraltar in mid-October, we’ll have plenty of time for any fine-tuning. But for now, with just over a month to go, I’m starting to feel the weight of the hand of destiny on my shoulder!


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Team Britannia update

August 21st, 2016

Last week saw me pay another lightning visit to the Team Britannia boatyard on Hayling Island, where the round the world powerboat is progressing well with its construction. Speaking to several of the men working on her, I was struck with the care and pride which they take in what they’re doing.

A lot more metalwork has been added since my last visit, with all the stringers in place, and the keel fully built up. Hull plating is imminent, and the boat will be turned over by the end of the month. The wheelhouse is being built separately, and will then be added along with the decking.

At that point, activity ramps up somewhat, with 24 hour working to get the boat fitted out. The enormous fuel tanks have been delivered – all six tanks have a combined capacity to equal your average road fuel tanker – and the engines and jets are ready and waiting. The next few weeks will be hectic, without a doubt, but we’re getting there.

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Spreading the word

July 31st, 2016

Team Britannia has been getting some amazing stats from press coverage recently – the stories have been going out fairly regularly concerning different partnership deals, including the latest with GAC Superyacht Services, who will be providing all of our logistical support at every refuelling stop around the world.

But it’s nice too. to get the message out on a more personal basis. So it was a great pleasure for me to do a short presentation to the Round Table Lunch Club Norwich last week in the wonderful surroundings of the Library Restaurant, a historic building formerly home to the UK’s first public subscription library.

After a drink and some lunch, I gave the 50 or so attendees a lightning history of the world record attempts of Spirit of Cardiff, and then introduced Team Britannia, along with our programme for wounded ex-military crew members, and the enormous advantages of Clean Fuel which the circumnavigation world record run will showcase. It was short and sweet, but I’m pleased to say my audience was extremely attentive, and many came up to me afterwards with questions and good wishes.

Boatyard Bulletin

July 15th, 2016

I’ve been posting photos of the Team Britannia round the world powerboat on Facebook and Twitter ever since construction began at the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company, but I’ve only very recently clapped eyes on her myself for the first time. And despite seeing pictures including people to provide a sense of scale, nothing quite prepares you for the imposing size. Obviously some of that may go when she’s right side up and in the water, but of course there isn’t a wheelhouse on top of it all yet. You also get a much better sense for the intricate detail in which the different parts are shaped, complete with printed markings and numbers which correspond to what’s on the engineering drawings. It’s a bit like a giant Airfix kit!

With all the frames in place ready for stringers and hull plates to be added, I’d noticed the spot welds holding things together. “Everything is just tacked together for the moment,” explained ABC’s Colin Johnson. “When all the metalwork is in place, we run the continuous welding. That’s what makes the boat watertight, and also gives it tremendous strength.”

The way the continuous welding is performed is also meticulously planned. It generates a lot of heat – enough to cause the aluminium to warp. They know which way any likely movement is going to go, and so they’ll work it to weld one section, then follow up in the spot most likely to produce the opposite movement to cancel it out. We’re talking small here, by the way, so don’t expect to see ripples down the boat! ABC have already said they aim to make this their best boat ever, so for them, nothing short of perfection will do.

Lots going on at the sharp end!

July 1st, 2016

Lots going on at the sharp endAs construction of Team Britannia‘s round the world superboat continues at an amazing pace, news comes that the boat’s naming ceremony will be conducted on Press Day at the Southampton Boat Show in the middle of September. The guest of honour doing the naming cannot be revealed, but is being described as a “VVIP”. Needless to say it’s all very exciting!

Before then, the boat will already have some miles under her belt. The moment she’s finished we’ll fill her up with diesel (a full load is equivalent to your average road tanker), and drive her round Britain. Apart from testing the boat, its systems and the crew, it’s also about setting a baseline of fuel calculations which will be assessed by leading mathematician Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites.

The boat will then transfer to Gibraltar and on to Monaco for the Monaco Yacht Show. The run back from Monaco to Gibraltar will be our first world record attempt, and for Alan Priddy and me, it will be a small case of déjà vu. In October 2000, we took the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff from Gibraltar to Monaco in an attempt to break the fastest port-to-port record set in 1998 by Cable & Wireless Adventurer, the first leg of their circumnavigation. The idea was to prove we had the faster boat even before going around the world in 2002, and we knocked an hour and 19 minutes off their record!

Team Britannia – getting busier!

June 16th, 2016

The first half of June has seen things move very rapidly for Team Britannia on the boat-building front. From the start of cutting the 12.5 kilometres of aluminium framing, it was just a week later when the first sections were assembled into the jig on which the boat is being constructed. The media turned out to see what was going on, including That’s Solent TV.

Team Britannia at the House of CommonsTuesday 14th June saw Team Britannia gather for the evening in the House of Commons with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, hosted by Jack Lopresti MP. It gave Alan Priddy the opportunity to brief MPs and other guests on the round the world challenge, the importance of Clean Fuel and our tie up with the Royal Foundation Endeavour Fund – not forgetting the crucial role played by Gibraltar. It was a great opportunity, too, to present newest crew member Daisy Coleman with her team shirt.

Oak-panelled splendour and historic works of art in the Jubilee Room provided a wonderful setting for the event. The photo shows the guests, with me having just enjoyed a chat with Colonel Bob Stewart DSO MP.

D-Day for Team Britannia’s record-breaking eco boat

June 6th, 2016

Today is a momentous one in the history of Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat. Although we agreed we were in a position to start building the boat some weeks ago, a lot of preparatory work had to take place first. And while the 6th of June is of course the anniversary of D Day, it’s also our own D Day, as the actual building starts in earnest.

The last couple of weeks have seen some fine tuning to the engineering drawings for the boat, and today the first sheets of aluminium will be cut at Aalco in Southampton, home to Europe’s largest computer-controlled laser cutting facility. They will be producing the 12.5 kilometres of framing which will make up the internal structure of the boat, along with the wheelhouse and hull cladding. The cutting process should take less than two weeks, and the metal will be transported to the Aluminium Boatbuilding Company on Hayling Island later this month, where the boat will be assembled upside down in a special jig. The six 5,833 litre fuel tanks will be slid into place and the 30 frames fixed together.

The wheelhouse is being built separately at the same time, so when the boat is ready, the whole jig will be rotated 180 degrees and the completed wheelhouse fixed on top. Even so, we intend to tantalise everyone to the last. We may release one or two images during the construction process, but the first time anyone will see photos of the complete boat won’t be until she’s in the water. And that will come soon enough.

Round the world powerboat record now has its own trophy

June 2nd, 2016

Choosing to have a nautically themed event in Portsmouth on the day they marked the centenary of the Battle of Jutland (the Royal Navy’s bloodiest encounter of the First World War) might have been something of an oversight, but for Team Britannia, the 31st May proved to be a spectacular success. It was all about rededicating the Dupree Cup, one of the world’s oldest powerboating trophies, as the Dupree International Challenge Trophy. Which means that now the record for the fastest powerboat circumnavigation of the world has a magnificent silver trophy as a worthy prize.

The ceremony at the Royal Naval Club and Royal Albert Yacht Club revealed the fascinating history of the Dupree Cup. It was believed to have been donated to the club in the 1920s by the local brewing magnate Sir William Dupree. It was awarded to winners of the Portsmouth and Southsea Powerboat Race, but on the outbreak of World War Two, the club secretary, fearing a Nazi invasion, took it upon himself to hide the cup along with some other valuables. Unfortunately, he died before the end of the war without revealing where they were. Fast forward to the 1980s – builders renovating the Queens Hotel in Southsea discover the cup and other items hidden in a chimney breast.

Despite having sustained some damage, the cup went on display back at the club, when Team Britannia came along and paid for a proper restoration and rededication. It’s believed that the Dupree Cup is now the second oldest powerboating trophy still in use – the oldest being the International Harmsworth Trophy, first presented in 1903 by Sir Alfred Harmsworth, former proprietor of the Daily Mail. In fact, while the inscription on the Dupree Cup bears the date 1931, deciphering its silver hallmark reveals that it could actually date back to 1913!

“This is a great honour,” said Team Britannia skipper Alan Priddy. “Sir William Dupree and his family were true pioneers of the sport, and this trophy, one of the oldest powerboating cups in the world, is a fitting testament of their role and contribution to the sport. It is a double honour as Sir William made his home in Portsmouth, was a former Mayor (three times) and Alderman of the City. He owned Portsmouth United Brewery, gave generously to charity and served his country with distinction. I am sure that if Sir William had been around today, he would have been vying for a place on our boat, or even offering to race us.”