Posts Tagged ‘Spirit of Cardiff’

20 years on, and still a world record

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

In an age when records come and go almost at the blink of an eye, it might come as a surprise to know that the official world record for a powerboat transatlantic has stood unchallenged for 20 years. After all, isn’t this the same record that was challenged by the likes of Richard Branson’s “Virgin Atlantic Challenger II” in 1986, or the Aga Khan’s gas turbine-powered “Destriero” in 1992? Well, not quite. Both boats produced impressive times, but neither operated under the rules of the international governing body of powerboating – the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique).

At the time, the official route for a powerboat transatlantic was New York to Bishop’s Rock in the Scillies, which was indeed the route Branson’s boat took. Except he refuelled at sea, which is forbidden under UIM rules. And while “Destriero” produced impressively fast non-stop crossings in both directions, they weren’t registered with the UIM as record attempts (they were more interested in claiming the Blue Riband, and they failed to meet the rules for that, too.) It all became somewhat academic in 2000, when the UIM changed the finishing post for official powerboat transatlantics from Bishop’s Rock to Lizard Point, at the tip of the Cornish mainland.

It just so happened that “Spirit of Cardiff,” fresh from breaking the fastest port to port record set by the round the world record-holder “Cable & Wireless Adventurer” (Gibraltar to Monaco, October 2000), was being prepared to attack Adventurer’s final two port to port records from New York to the Azores, and Azores to Gibraltar in the spring of 2001. But with the newly changed finishing post for an official powerboat transatlantic, the board had been swept clean. By continuing from Gibraltar to Lizard Point, “Spirit of Cardiff” would be able to claim the official world record, albeit via a somewhat dogleg route.

Things didn’t go quite to plan, but “Spirit of Cardiff” did indeed complete the first official world record transatlantic under the new UIM rules in May 2001 with a time of 248 hours 47 minutes, and the record has stood unchallenged ever since. That transatlantic was the last big trip “Spirit of Cardiff” made before her attempt on the round the world record in 2002. In recognition of holding a major world record for 20 years, “Spirit of Cardiff” transatlantic record-holders Alan Priddy, Jan Falkowski, Steve Lloyd and Clive Tully will be appearing in a series of “On this day” posts on Team Britannia’s Facebook page, including many previously unpublished photos. The story is taken up as “Spirit of Cardiff” is established in New York prior to several weeks of promotion, touring ports along the eastern seaboard of the USA.

“On this day in 2001 – retracing Spirit of Cardiff’s record-setting transatlantic” will commence with its first post on 29th March 2021.

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.

Having an ice time

Saturday, 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.

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!

Cardiff – where’s that?

Friday, September 5th, 2014

With President Obama in Wales this week for the Nato conference, I wonder how it’s being reported back in the USA. Specifically, will the American press actually know where Cardiff and Wales are?

In 2001, I was a member of the crew of the 33ft Rigid Inflatable powerboat Spirit of Cardiff. We’d had the boat shipped over to the USA in order to attempt a record powerboat Transatlantic from New York to Lizard Point. Prior to the trip, we spent three weeks touring up and down the eastern seaboard of the US, promoting the boat, and the attempt which we would make on the global circumnavigation record the following year.

With Cardiff our home port, we’d also been charged by the Welsh Development Agency to gauge whether the Americans knew much about Wales and its capital city. Sadly, all too often, the response was “Wales – is that in England?” We duly reported back that Wales definitely had an awareness problem on the other side of the Atlantic. It was rather reinforced when First Minister Rhodri Morgan made an official visit six months later, and came back with the same message.

But even if the Americans weren’t sure where Cardiff was, the plus side for Alan Priddy, Jan Falkowski, Steve Lloyd and me was that we set a new official UIM world record for a powerboat Transatlantic, celebrated in grand style when we arrived back in Cardiff to be the first boat to pass through the newly opened Cardiff Bay Barrage. And 13 years on, our Transatlantic record has never been challenged!

Confronting Poseidon

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Twelve years ago on the 7th April, I set off from Gibraltar with Alan Priddy into the Mediterranean on the 33ft powerboat Spirit of Cardiff. It was an attempt to break what was then the 75 day record for circumnavigating the world. It turned into an epic voyage over three months, with the first major problem hitting us (quite literally) at the end of the very first leg of the trip. We made a night approach into Valletta in Malta, and ran into an unlit and unmapped fish farm. From there, we experienced shocking corruption as we made our transit of the Suez Canal, and our first encounters with pirates at the southern end of the Red Sea, and again in the Gulf of Aden.

We had numerous mechanical problems. Apart from replacing a £30,000 gearbox and outdrive in Malta as a result of the tangle with the fish farm, we had to have a further two replacements as a result of burning out the clutches – a consequence of overheating through running 24 hours a day in tropical conditions with low grade fuel. And I’ll never forget our night arrival at Galle harbour in Sri Lanka, where my calling across to a guy on a nearby boat resulted in him unslinging his AK47 and aiming it directly at me. It’s a strange sensation looking down the barrel of a gun when you know the safety catch is off! Then there was the moment we arrived at a port in the far east of Russia to be placed under “house arrest” the moment we tied up.

Needless to say we didn’t break the record for circumnavigating the world, but we did have the most incredible adventure trying. It made for a pretty good TV documentary, and an even better book. “Confronting Poseidon” was released last year on Amazon Kindle – when it was published in print in 2002, it was hailed as a major contribution to marine journalism, and was nominated for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award 2003. I know quite a few people who found it so difficult to put down they had to read it in one long sitting – sometimes throughout the night. That’s quite a compliment for me, and quite a recommendation for anyone else looking to read about the first major maritime adventure of this century.

Alan Priddy and I will be making another attempt on the fastest ever circumnavigation of the world by sea in the not too distant future. Hopefully the trip won’t be as eventful as the one we did in 2002, but you never know! In the meantime, read about my epic voyage around the world on Spirit of Cardiff in “Confronting Poseidon”. Click here to download your copy.

All is Lost

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Recent visits to the cinema all seem be to see movies with which I find some kind of resonance. The latest was “All is Lost”, easily Robert Redford’s finest movie. It’s just him all the way through with virtually no dialogue, a powerful and intense performance. The plot centres round his lone fight for survival after his sailing yacht hits a shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. As he’s beset by each new catastrophe, you feel his pain and despair. He looks totally done in by the ordeal.

My first excursion out in Spirit of Cardiff in 1999 came to an abrupt end when we too collided with a shipping container 10 miles off Lizard Point. Unlike Redford’s, spewing trainers into the sea, ours was invisible, floating probably about a foot below the surface. Crashing into something you can’t see is quite an alarming experience. We hit it doing nearly 20 knots, and the impact was hard enough to rip the outdrive from its mountings, disabling the boat.

Had Spirit not been a RIB, there is a possibility she would have sunk. As it was, we had to be towed ashore by RNLI lifeboat – for me, the rookie powerboater, what you might call a baptism of fire. Click on the link for “Confronting Poseidon” to read about it, and the rest of Spirit of Cardiff’s remarkable story.

Moral of both tales? The sea has an awful lot of distinctly unfriendly stuff in it, mostly man-made…

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.

Memoirs of a Record-Breaker

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

My portfolio of Kindle publications has been added to with another book about the powerboat Spirit of Cardiff. And while my books “Confronting Poseidon” and “Blogging all over the world” might best be regarded as concentrating on the actual experience of round the world powerboating, “Memoirs of a Record-Breaker” reminds us that Spirit of Cardiff actually amassed more official UIM world records than any other boat in history.

Told through five full-length features originally written for newspapers and magazines, it traces the three attempts at the Round British Isles record, the 2001 New York to Lizard Point transatlantic (the record for which still stands, 12 years on), around the world in 2002, and the final transatlantic in 2003 which set an unofficial record for the fastest ever transatlantic in a RIB (which came after the events covered in “Confronting Poseidon”).

On sale in Amazon UK for a miserly 77p, “Memoirs of a Record-Breaker” makes perfect reading for anyone interested in boating, adventure, or indeed those who appreciate the philosophy of never giving up!