Posts Tagged ‘Confronting Poseidon’

Introduction to a boating career

Thursday, 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.

Going to the movies

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Last weekend saw me celebrate a birthday which some might regard as “significant.” Having survived quite a few close shaves over the years, I’m inclined to think that every birthday is significant!

But it has led me to think about one or two changes, including starting a long overdue project – making a movie about my first attempt to break the record for circumnavigating the world by powerboat, which took place in 2002. It produced at the time a highly acclaimed book, “Confronting Poseidon,” and I shot a lot of video which was turned into short TV documentaries as well as news output. But TV producers have different priorities when they’re making a programme, and I wasn’t really happy with any of them.

So the plan, once I’ve transferred about 20 hours of video from MiniDV tapes on to a new computer, is to turn them into a full-length feature documentary. I recently bought the DVD of a British-made production called “Mission Control” (reviewed below), all about the back-room boys of the Apollo moon landing programme. It intersperses lots of archive footage with present day interviews with surviving flight controllers and astronauts. “Confronting Poseidon – the movie” will have a similar kind of construction. Mine is even going to go one better – as a musician, I’m intending to compose my own soundtrack. I’ve already come up with a lot of ideas, and doubtless more will surface as I put the film together.

With the new record attempt with Team Britannia (which I will also be documenting in words, pictures and video) likely to eat more into my time as this year wears on, I’m not really sure about the timescale, but I don’t feel the need to rush it – I want to get it right. But in the meantime, if anyone wants a flavour of what to expect, they can of course download the book.

Cover Story

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

I’ve recently been using social media not just to market my various Kindle books, but to showcase some of my photography. It all started by some innocent playing about with the “Vanishing Point” tool in Photoshop, and it’s been fun seeing just where I can make my book covers part of a picture.

This is the boat that played the part of the Andrea Gail in the 2000 hit movie “The Perfect Storm,” tracked down a year later in her home port of Gloucester, Massachusetts. You can see where her movie name has been painted out and the original restored. The rest of the boat received a digital colouring job in the movie – cheaper than painting the whole thing. Note the oil drum on the foredeck bearing the initials “AG”. Discovered on a tour of the eastern seaboard of the USA in the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff prior to setting the New York to Lizard Point transatlantic world record. All this and much more in “Confronting Poseidon.”

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! View from the flight deck of an RAF C130 Hercules coming in to land at Lydd Airport. I’d watched the RAF Falcons parachute display team departing (rather quickly) the aircraft midflight, and taken part in a low-level flypast at Eastbourne Airshow. Not actually featured in One of our Balloons is Missing, but it does rather reflect the book’s spirit of my 30 years of adventures.

How’s this for a tasteful wall decoration in the cabin of a beautifully restored traditional Broads cruiser? It was taken on a day when HRH The Princess Royal visited one of the big Broads hire cruiser companies! The Broads – A unique National Park

Auction for Nepal

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

The next few weeks will see an Ebay “Auction for Nepal”, for which I hope my donation may raise a little money. It may be just a jacket, but it’s a jacket with “history”. I’ve joined the ranks of famous people from the outdoors world by donating something special to a charity auction to raise money to help the people of Nepal in the wake of the recent devastating earthquakes.

Spirit of Cardiff off the Welsh coast, 2001My special item is the Sprayway Impulse 226 waterproof jacket which I wore on board the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff in 2001 on its world record transatlantic from New York to Lizard Point, a record which has stood unchallenged ever since.

Famous outdoors personalities donating items to the auction include mountaineers Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott CBE, Kenton Cool, Alan Hinkes OBE and Rebecca Stephens MBE. Organised by the British Mountaineering Council, the auction will be held on Ebay, raising money for UK charity Community Action Nepal. Founded by Doug Scott, who made the first British ascent of Everest in 1975, CAN has worked in Nepal for many years building schools and health centres, and installing clean water supplies in many of the areas hardest hit by the earthquakes.

The jacket itself is in good condition, and in fact I still use it now and then as I really like it (it’s the bright yellow that does it…) It’ll be a wrench to part with it, but if it can serve a better purpose, it’ll be worth it.

The lucky winner of the charity auction for my transatlantic jacket will also receive a signed copy of my book “Confronting Poseidon”, which tells the story of the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff and its epic voyage around the world in 2002.

Update 29/06/15: The auction went live on Ebay yesterday, running to 5th July. View the auction and bid for a little piece of transatlantic history here!

Captain Phillips

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The last time I went to the cinema before this week was back in May, when I watched “A Hijacking”, a Danish movie about a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean hijacked by Somali pirates. This week it was “Captain Phillips”, a similar kind of story, this time based on a real-life hijacking in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Green Zone), it stars Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, both of whom turn in spellbinding performances. Even if you know how it ends, it’s a real nerve-shredder getting there. Highly recommended.

It was an interesting moment of reflection, too, for me. When I went around the world in 2002 on the 33ft powerboat Spirit of Cardiff, amongst various pirate encounters, we did have a relatively close call with Somali pirates. Back then the piracy problem was in its infancy, and we knew the southern end of the Red Sea would be a hot spot, as previous piracy attempts had basically used the natural choke point of the 17 mile wide strait of Bab-el-Mendeb as an easy place to board large ships. We’d been told that anywhere within 100 miles of the North Somali coast had to be considered unsafe, but even taking a route closer to Yemen, we still came within 80 miles.

Having been overtaken by the container ship Kota Wajar, we were trying to tailgate her – following in the wash of a large ship does mitigate the effects of rough seas somewhat. We were only able to keep up with her for around 20 minutes, and it was during that time that we spotted a speedboat about a mile off our starboard beam. They were clearly having bigger problems than us in the heavy seas. As Captain Phillips reports the approach of pirates, he says “they’re not here to fish.” Likewise we knew there was no way a boat would be out for pleasure in the conditions we were facing. Clearly they were after the container ship, but I’ve no doubt they would have regarded us as a decent runner-up prize in the ransom stakes. Ironically, Kota Wajar was subsequently hijacked and held for 72 days in 2009, later in the same year as the events portrayed in “Captain Phillips”.

Read about my epic voyage around the world on Spirit of Cardiff in “Confronting Poseidon”. Click here to download your copy.

Confronting Poseidon – Around the world against the odds

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

It’s taken a while to get round to it, but Confronting Poseidon has finally been released on Amazon Kindle, and for less than the price of a pint! The original print book was published at the end of 2002, the same year as the extraordinary journey I took around the world on the Rigid Inflatable Boat Spirit of Cardiff.

This is a “lite” version – all the text, but no photographs apart from the cover. If you read it and fancy a hardback copy for your bookshelf or coffee table, there are details on how you can purchase at the end of the Kindle book. Click here to download your copy.

Yacht hostages freed by pirates

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Like everyone else, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the news that after 13 months, Somali pirates had released Paul and Rachel Chandler, snatched from their yacht in the Indian Ocean last year. I followed their story with interest, not least because during my circumnavigation of the world on Spirit of Cardiff in 2002 I had several brushes with pirates – the full story of which is related in my book Confronting Poseidon.

We knew before we set off that the hot spots would be the southern end of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Malacca Strait and South China Sea. In fact, at the time, the advice from the International Chamber of Commerce’s Maritime Bureau was anywhere within 100 miles of the north Somali coast was unsafe. This automatically put us at risk, because from the Bab el Mendeb – the strait at the southern end of the Red Sea – even sticking close to the Yemeni coast, we were within 80 miles.

As it was our first experience of pirates in a speedboat was in the Red Sea. “Around the corner” in the Gulf of Aden, it was more Yemeni fishermen out in their skiffs trying to pull a fast one. We’d been warned to take no notice if we saw them standing up in their boats waving their arms above their heads in the sign of the international distress signal. First time we saw it happen we wondered whether to head over and see what was up. We decided against it. As we continued on our way, we saw more and more of them doing the same thing.

In the South China Sea we actually had to outrun a pirate boat. I think here it was another case of opportunist fishermen looking for bigger fish. They were in a fairly ancient fishing boat, and when we heard some rather bizarre radio traffic as they bore down on us, we decided we’d better put a bit of a spurt on and opened up our throttle. They tried to chase us for a while but we saw them drop back when black smoke started belching out of their exhaust. I guess they thought it best not to blow up their engine trying to pursue us.

In the intervening years, piracy, particularly Somali piracy, has become big business, and no longer is it confined to coastal waters. With large mother ships, they now venture out deep into the Indian Ocean. It will be very much in our minds when Alan Priddy and I make our second attempt at the powerboat circumnavigation record next year.

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Somali Pirates

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

The news about the British couple being captured by Somali pirates has a particular poignancy for me. Firstly, I had several brushes with pirates, in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and South China Sea during my epic voyage around the world in 2002 onboard the record-breaking RIB Spirit of Cardiff, the story of which is related in my book Confronting Poseidon.

But more poignant than that, I have been within spitting distance of the container ship on which the couple are now being held. We were at the southern end of the Red Sea, and the sea conditions were impossibly bumpy. For a 33ft rigid inflatable, it meant having to reduce speed in order to avoid injury to the crew as well as not wasting fuel. When the Singapore registered ship Kota Wajar overtook us, we tried to nip behind into his wash. It’s a tactic we’d used previously to great success in heavy seas.

Spirit of Cardiff in the Red Sea - sheltering behind Kota Wajar

Spirit of Cardiff in the Red Sea - sheltering behind Kota Wajar

As we drew closer to his stern we could see a lot of activity on the bridge. But nothing on the radio – ships keep radio silence as a matter of course in pirate territory. Of course, we were a small speedboat, precisely the kind of thing they would have been warned about – so the chances are they actually thought we were pirates! And so we briefly pulled out from the shelter of Kota Wajar’s wash and drew level with their bridge so they could see us better. Spirit of Cardiff was bright yellow, and smothered with sponsors’ stickers rather like a Formula 1 racing car.

Before we knew it they’d called us up on the radio asking our intentions. As it happened, they were heading for Aden, our next stop, but while we hoped we could keep up with them, 19 knots even behind them was too much for us and we had to drop back.

Meanwhile, a mile off to our starboard beam, we could see an open speedboat, making heavy weather of the conditions. This was not the place or conditions for pleasure boaters, and we knew they had to be pirates. We had a couple of rifles with us, which thankfully only came out once to show we meant business – our real asset was the fact that in decent conditions, Spirit of Cardiff would leave most boats standing – indeed, when we tangled with pirates in the South China Sea it was our speed that gave us the edge.

Piracy was pretty widespread in 2002, and we were prepared for it. Now it has become a real menace, and I hope the current situation comes to a safe and happy conclusion.