Posts Tagged ‘Spirit of Cardiff’

The unsuspecting blogger

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

When I went around the world on Spirit of Cardiff in 2002 with Alan Priddy and Steve Lloyd, I used a tiny Psion Series 5mx palmtop computer linked to an Iridium satphone handset to transmit daily updates about our progress. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was probably one of the first adventure travel bloggers!

Now I’ve released on Amazon Kindle the full collection of web updates (or blogs) covering the entire voyage. Unlike my subsequent book “Confronting Poseidon”, there’s an immediacy in the writing – this is adventure as it was happening, and of course, no benefit of hindsight!

And while some parts of the web updates did find their way into “Confronting Poseidon”, a testament to the quality of the writing, there’s a lot which didn’t. It comes with an introduction from me explaining the challenges of producing daily journals while bouncing around in angry seas, and a foreword from ocean adventurer and Spirit of Cardiff skipper Alan Priddy.

Back in 2002, both “Confronting Poseidon” and the web updates were hailed by leading boating magazines as an important contribution to marine journalism. Now at last both are available in the easily accessible Kindle format.



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.

Picture this

Friday, August 17th, 2012

This week I succumbed to the inevitable, something I’ve been staving off as long as possible. Someone still needs to explain to me how a timeline of two columns with entries staggered on either side is more logical or easier to navigate than a single column with consecutive entries falling one after the other, or why Facebook should impose a layout on its users when surely they could have provided a choice. But then maybe that “we know best” attitude has contributed to the dramatic plunge in their stock value. Anyway, I digress.

Faced with a choice of thousands of photographs I could have used as my cover image – which spans the width of the page at the top – I opted for a picture that shows me in what was arguably one of the happiest and most memorable days of my life, and coincidentally, it was something that happened nine years ago this month. I’m standing on the aft deck of Spirit of Cardiff, renamed Jolly Sailor for her recently completed transatlantic. We’d already set the official New York to Lizard Point record in 2001, but this one from St John’s to Cape Wrath gave us 2,102 nautical miles with an at sea time of under 120 hours, which remains the fastest crossing for a RIB. More to the point, it was Spirit of Cardiff coming home after circumnavigating the world, and a winter in Newfoundland.

With me in the picture are Alan Priddy and Jan Falkowski, with numerous RIBs and other powerboats following behind, our flotilla of honour escorting us into Portsmouth Harbour. I seem to remember some of them slightly bemused when they saw the entire crew out on the aft deck (Newfoundlander Eg Walters took the photo), but not only was Spirit on autopilot, Alan had a remote control in his hand that could steer the boat from anywhere on board.

It was the hottest day of 2003, the temperature up to 34 degrees. As we approached Gunwharf Quays, packed with hundreds of people, the world-famous Portsmouth Field Gun Crew fired a six-gun salute. After the champagne and speeches, we took the boat around to the historic Camber Dock of Old Portsmouth, where she was craned out of the water, lifted on to a trailer, and then manhandled through the streets of Portsmouth by those burly tough guys of the Field Gun Crew.

Looking ahead, I can see it might take more than a single field gun crew to pull Accomplish More along on a trailer, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something equally eye-catching when we have something to celebrate. Meantime, there’s still a lot of hard work to put in before we even get the boat to the start line, but we’re getting there!

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Spirit of Cardiff – mid-Atlantic drama

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Followers of the Company85 Global Challenge Facebook page will note that over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking the occasional look back as we pass various 10th anniversary milestones of the epic voyage that Alan Priddy and I undertook in 2002 in the 33ft RIB Spirit of Cardiff. This time 10 years ago we’d set off from St John’s in Newfoundland, with just a stop in the Azores and five days to our welcome return to Gibraltar. After 100 days, and numerous beatings at the hands of the weather, not to mention a catalogue of other trials and tribulations, Alan, Steve Lloyd and I were physically and mentally exhausted, with weeks of sleep deprivation having taken a serious toll.

Of course, by now we’d overshot the Cable and Wireless Adventurer round the world record by more than three weeks, but provided we made it back to Gibraltar, we would still establish a world record circumnavigation for a powerboat under 50ft. I remember vividly the bright light on the horizon lingering seemingly endlessly throughout my first watch that first night out of St John’s. It was the Hibernia oil platform, and little was I to know at the time just how crucial a role it would play in subsequent events.

The following morning Steve Lloyd complained of feeling unwell, and before we knew it, he was gripped with terrible pains in his chest, and numbness creeping down his left arm. Alan and I realised we had a serious problem on our hands, not least because by now we were 320 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. And only when we got on the satphone to the Canadian Coastguard did we realise how big a problem that would be.

The nearest Search and Rescue helicopter was a CH-113 Labrador based in Gander. It had a limited range, so it would have to fly from Gander to St John’s, refuel, on to the Hibernia oil platform to refuel again, and then come on to us. But we were a good hundred miles beyond the limit of their range, so we would have to turn back to meet them.

That nine hour journey will remain ingrained in my memory for the rest of my life. In most situations, when someone suffers a heart attack or stroke, medical attention is likely to arrive in minutes. How quickly we closed that gap might determine whether Steve lived or died, and if he lived, what quality of life he might enjoy afterwards. We were in a hurry in a nasty following sea, and Alan drove that boat like a man possessed. There were times when I wondered whether Steve would die, or whether we all would.

The first inkling we had of the huge rescue effort on our behalf was a voice in our radio from a Royal Canadian Air Force C130 Hercules, scrambled from its base in Halifax to act as spotter in order to avoid the helicopter wasting fuel searching for us. Ironically, by now the sea had calmed down, there was a beautiful sunset, and Steve was almost back to his usual chirpy self.

After removing all our aerials and flag pole, and turning the boat into the wind, we could see the Labrador approach us from behind, the downdraught from its twin rotors flattening the sea in a blizzard of spray. Two men were lowered down to us, one of them a paramedic. He confirmed Steve needed immediate hospitalisation, and before we knew it, they were winched up into the helicopter, and Alan and I watched the Labrador depart along with the Hercules, which had been circling overhead.

By now there was no question of Alan and me turning back on track towards the Azores – we wouldn’t have had the fuel, and of course we were more concerned about Steve, so we started on what would be an overnight return to St John’s. The guys in the Hercules called us up to invite us for a drink (they were going to spend the night in St John’s before heading back to Halifax, but we wouldn’t get back in time for that), and to tell us they’d shot some spectacular video of the rescue. Sadly we never got to see that, but my own video is – though I say so myself – also pretty spectacular, even if it was an ending we couldn’t possibly have imagined. You can see the full documentary here.

The postscript to it all is that Steve had indeed suffered a heart attack, and after surgery he was fine. Despite exhortations from many, Alan and I decided it wouldn’t be prudent to continue Spirit’s journey. A crew of two for a major ocean crossing wouldn’t be particularly sensible, and besides, neither of us was really up to it anyway.

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Making waves

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Ten years ago, Alan Priddy and I were well into our first attempt at the round the world powerboat record in the 33ft RIB Spirit of Cardiff. We’d survived all manner of adventures around the North Pacific, then come all the way down the west coast of Canada and the USA, in the process trashing our third outdrive and gearbox. After stops in Mexico and Guatemala, we’d arrived in Panama, where we were feted like superstars before transiting the Panama Canal, with the British Ambassador on board.

From Colon, the port at the northern end of the canal, to Port Antonio in Jamaica, it should in theory have been a short hop across the Caribbean – a passage of around one and a half days. It proved to be anything but, courtesy of a depression which had started in Newfoundland and come all the way down to the Caribbean. And so we set off for Jamaica in 50 knots of wind – in other words, a storm force 10!

That amount of wind might be fabulous for sailing boats, but for a powerboat, it’s a nightmare. Contrary to what many might think, you can’t just power through it. At the very least you’ll burn so much fuel you might not make the next port, and at most, you’ll do injury to the crew and damage the boat. At times we were reduced to not much more than headway speed as we did battle with numerous 20ft breaking waves. These are the ones with white foamy crests, analysed and described in surgical detail in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “The Perfect Storm”. Heavy seas can be incredibly uncomfortable, but when the waves are breaking, it’s like surviving an endless succession of car crashes.

Spirit of Cardiff in Port Antonio harbour, Jamaica, drying out after a marathon crossing from Panama. In the background is Navy Island, once owned by Hollywood movie legend Errol Flynn. Both Alan Priddy and I met his widow, Pat.

This was all happening in brilliant sunshine – the wind had taken all the clouds away. Every so often we’d get a freak wave come past – one significantly higher than the average. Sitting low in the water, we could hear it coming before we saw it, the noise like a 747 on take-off.

The pounding certainly affected our morale, as we realised it would take a good five days to get to port. But the immediate concern was the boat. Spirit of Cardiff had three hatches – one on the roof of the forward cabin, and two on the wheelhouse roof. They were the most expensive hatches money could buy, and they leaked horribly. Everything inside the cabin was soaked, and every day we would have to stop to bail out the front lockers of the boat. The first time we took about an hour to remove around quarter of a ton of water.

We passed a recently wrecked sailing yacht, and Bertie, our home-based weather router later confided that this was the leg of our voyage where he was most concerned for our safety. And by the time we arrived in Port Antonio, five and a half days after leaving Panama, we were down to our last litre of drinking water!

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Background moves

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

I sometimes think that if I didn’t have a split personality before I started out on this powerboating lark, I certainly have to have one now. You might think the absence of an update over the last week or so would mean not much is happening, but the truth is there’s a lot going on behind the scenes – I just can’t tell you about it yet. At the moment, Company85 Global Challenge project leader Alan Priddy is out in India, visiting the school and health centre he’s been building for the last couple of years (and attending a royal wedding, as you do…) But we’ve been in daily contact as things progress on several fronts.

Going off at a slight tangent, I was reminded that Friday 16th March is the 100th anniversary of the death of Captain Lawrence Oates – he of the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole, who bravely walked out of his tent into a blizzard to give his fellow explorers a better chance of survival. Of course his last words “I am just going outside and may be some time” have since become the stuff of legend. Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, set sail for Antarctica from Cardiff, and it was from here, 10 years ago, that Alan Priddy and I departed on our first circumnavigation of the world in Spirit of Cardiff.

We actually set off from Cardiff Bay for Gibraltar on Easter Sunday, March 31st 2002. The preceding few weeks had been pretty manic – getting the boat ready, sorting out provisions, including some supplies which had to be freighted out to stops ahead of us. And we were still checking details with various refuelling stops, and keeping a keen eye on what the weather was doing. It hadn’t helped that circumstances had forced Jan Falkowski to pull out from the crew at the beginning of the month, but we forged ahead regardless.

Neither could we have known that our big day would nearly fizzle because of the death of the Queen Mother the day before. But in the end, the good people of Cardiff gave us a wonderful send-off, officiated at by Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Cardiff South MP Alun Michael and Welsh Assembly Member Lorraine Barrett. There’s still some way to go before we get to anything similar with Accomplish More, but we’re thinking about it, and everything else that’s going to happen in between.

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Great circles

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

When it comes to a voyage of over 20,000 miles around the world, the choice of route can be critical. With Spirit of Cardiff, we ended up with over 30 port stops because lack of sponsorship forced us to abandon plans to develop a special floating fuel drogue to give us the extra range to tackle the more direct ocean passages. That’s how we ended up going all the way around the North Pacific Rim, and indeed accounts for a few of my aches and pains even nine years later. To say it was rough might be an understatement – skipper Alan Priddy broke his collarbone!

Even so, our route, like that of Cable & Wireless Adventurer, whose 75 day record we were out to beat, confined us to the northern hemisphere. One of the rules laid down by the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique) stipulates that a powerboat world circumnavigation route must pass through the Suez and Panama canals. The idea is to force you to do more of a Great Circle route – in other words, around the “fat bit” – unlike today’s round the world yachtsmen, many of whom sail down the Atlantic, circumnavigate Antarctica and come back up again. They’re still doing around 24,000 miles, and they’re going around the world non-stop, but it’s certainly nothing like a Great Circle route.

While Project Goodheart started out as a straightforward attempt to break the existing UIM round the world powerboat record now held by Earthrace, it was only as we realised the potential of Goodheart’s design that we decided to go for some added value. The current fastest surface circumnavigation of the world was set last year by the French sailor Franck Cammas (currently racing round the world again in the Volvo Ocean Race) in Groupama 3. Although it was by a southern hemisphere route, if Goodheart goes around the world faster than his 48 days 7 hours 44 minutes, we become the fastest ever surface circumnavigation – something we feel may excite even more interest than merely trying to break the UIM powerboat record. There’s a Guinness World Record there up for grabs!

Our current route crosses the Tropic of Cancer twice, and Singapore is only 100 miles or so north of the Equator. But we thought it would be handy to be able to say that our route also crosses the Equator twice, and we’ve worked it so that it comes at the expense of 350 miles – less than a day’s passage. Given that an earlier rejigging of the route taking out Hong Kong and moving the stop back to Guam saved us considerably more than that, we feel it’s a worthy trade. So now, instead of coming through the Philippines and passing to the north of Borneo to Singapore, we’ll go south of Mindanao, through the Makassar Strait, and up between Sumatra and Borneo to Singapore.

It also takes us away from the South China Sea, where Alan and I had one or two interesting encounters with the natives last time, but we still end up taking the Malacca Strait (a prime piracy hotspot) into the Indian Ocean. This is where in 2002 Spirit of Cardiff’s propeller shed its blades, and we found ourselves sitting ducks in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. And then we were nearly mowed down by an Arab cargo ship with no one on its bridge. Next time, we hope, it’ll be a little less exciting!

Timeline to success

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

When Alan Priddy and I went around the world in 2002 on Spirit of Cardiff, we were given books to read by various people. One of them, donated by fellow circumnavigators on a boat called Nordhavn was a copy of Michael Crichton’s “Timeline”. I was reminded of a quote from it recently, thinking that it actually applied to us with Goodheart. “…if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree.”

The classic photograph of Turbinia by Alfred West. Nearly 105 feet long, but just 9 feet across the beam, and a 3 foot draught (very similar dimensions to Goodheart), Charles Parsons' "ocean greyhound" Turbinia was the fastest ship in the world.A great deal of our experience with Spirit of Cardiff has gone into Goodheart, both in the way the boat has been designed, and the way the circumnavigation attempt will be run. But in fact you have to delve a lot further back into history – 117 years, to be precise – to find the inspiration for Goodheart’s unusual hull shape. It was in 1894 that the experimental ship Turbinia was built. Charles Algernon Parsons had invented the steam turbine engine 10 years previously, and he wanted a vessel to prove the worth of the engines and land him a lucrative contract to supply the Royal Navy.

Goodheart's knife-edge bow. See the similarity?

Turbinia’s revolutionary turbines drove three shafts each with three propellers, and combined with an unusually narrow hull, she had a top speed of over 34 knots, making her easily the fastest ship in the world. And to really prove the point, Turbinia gatecrashed Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee naval review at Spithead in 1897, racing between larger ships with impunity. The stunt worked, and the navy was sold on the idea of steam turbines to power its ships, leading to 1906 and the world’s first turbine-powered battleship HMS Dreadnought.

So while the rule book for building boats has been thrown away with Goodheart’s unique structure, she is also a testament to the fact that sometimes you have to look no further than the past to get your ideas for the future.

Note: Turbinia can be found in the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. Check out this video of Turbinia being moved to her current location in 1994. It will take a similar kind of “Tonka Toy” tractor and trailer to move Goodheart when she makes her journey from Dudley to Port Solent.

Eating away the miles

Friday, September 9th, 2011

When Alan Priddy and I went around the world in 2002 in Spirit of Cardiff, the size of the boat dictated the amount of storage we had for food, and it wasn’t a lot. So we restocked in nearly every port, and while we’d always try to get some fresh fruit, it was the non-perishable stuff that tended to be our mainstay. It’s amazing how many places you can get Spam!

This time round in Goodheart, space isn’t so much a consideration, although weight still is. So, take porridge for breakfast, noodles for lunch, maybe a fruit bar for an afternoon snack, and chili and rice for an evening meal. OK for a few days, perhaps? It doesn’t sound too bad, but getting enough variation in the food for 50 days or so presents more of a challenge.

Alan’s plan is to take all the “base” food for the entire trip, leaving things like fresh fruit and bread to be taken on at each refuelling stop. Even so, he’s calculated a day’s food at 800 grams, and, allowing for a few treats, 1 kg per person per day. Multiply that by eight for 50 days, and you get 400 kgs. That’s nearly half a ton of food!

On the plus side, we know from past experience how the boat will pick up speed as the weight of fuel burns off. So maybe best we eat quicker, too, and give ourselves a couple of extra knots!

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Voyage within a voyage

Friday, August 26th, 2011

I mentioned earlier this week that Circumnavigation Record 2011 has sorted both fuel and port agencies for all of the superboat Goodheart’s refuelling stops around the world. Even with our dedicated ground crews, having locally based agents will make a huge difference in processing all the paperwork which is part and parcel of an international vessel’s call in a port. We didn’t have local agents everywhere we went in 2002 with Spirit of Cardiff, not least because some of our stops were unplanned.

We were certainly fortunate in having an agent waiting for us when we arrived at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, in Russia’s far east. It was here that a weekend arrival saw us effectively placed under house arrest, prohibited from wandering on the quayside more than 20 metres from the boat. Our local contact was allowed in to see us, however, and she brought us some cooked food – an entire chicken each along with Uzbek bread and tomatoes! And we probably could have done with a little more discipline on the quadruplicate form-filling. The Russian officials were totally baffled at the way we’d bent all the standard paperwork for a visiting ship to fit a 33 foot powerboat. I expect I didn’t help when I had to complete a health form. One of the questions asked was “Have any crew members died?” which I answered with “Not yet!”

So it’s not a bad thing that this time round, Goodheart’s crew will be prevented from engaging in such bureaucratic levity, as we have appointed Inchcape Shipping Services as our agents for all of the boat’s refuelling stops around the world. Like our fuel supplier Clipper Oil, they have offices in every port we visit, and better still, they’re used to working with each other.

As it happens, ISS have a Corporate Social Responsibility scheme under way which we shall be delighted to participate in. The company takes its name from the Inchcape Rock in Scotland, upon which Robert Stevenson built the Bell Rock Lighthouse. When it was built – 200 hundred years ago this year – it was one of the most complex feats of engineering and human endurance ever. In celebration of this, ISS have organised the ISS Lighthouse Relay Voyage, where a baton containing a commemorative scroll will be taken on a tour of all the ports around the world where ISS operates. Local managers will be organising fundraising events for designated charities helping the sick, the underprivileged and disadvantaged, and ISS will be matching whatever funds each country raises.

As the baton is taken from one country to another by the ships of ISS customers, a ceremony will be held in each port to present the local charities with cheques for the moneys raised. Goodheart will become part of this by conveying the baton around the world on each leg of our voyage.

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