Cowes Classic Powerboat Festival

Riviera Guy

Junior Member
Sep 6, 2011

The Cowes-Torquay-Cowes powerboat race was held on Sunday 27th August – the 57th running of arguably the most famous race in the world - and it again provided lots of drama.

Fortunately, the teams in this grueling 200 mile race were greeted with perfect conditions and some record breaking was on the cards as the sun glistened off the near flat water for the start at Cowes at 9.30am. This was in stark contrast to last year’s race which, because of the rough conditions, saw only 3 boats complete the race.

The race is split into two categories – the smaller boats race from Cowes to Poole and back non-stop – a distance of 48 miles. There were 6 boats taking part.

The main race from Cowes to Torquay is for the large engined offshore powerboats that compete in World Championship racing. The boats are divided into categories based on engine size. The race is completed in 2 legs – the return leg, Torquay to Cowes commences at 2pm. The teams are able to fettle and repair the boats once they are on the quayside at Torquay. There were 10 boats entered for the event.

From the start, Silverline raced by the Devon based crew of Drew Langdon and Miles Jennings – both very experienced and successful racers in World Championship racing – built up a healthy lead. Silverline had to be completely rebuilt over the winter – it was one of the many retirements in last year’s race when it sank off Portland Bill. It is a foam and carbon fibre Outerlimits hull with 2 x1000 hp engines.

Silverline was in line to set a new record speed - The course record speed was set in 2015 by Peter Dredge, Simon Powell, Mal Crease and David Gandy (yes, the model) driving Vector Martini Rosso at an average speed of 94.55 mph. Silverline was reaching speeds of 112mph – however, that would not last when, going across Lyme Bay, the power steering pump overheated and seized throwing the drive belt. They were stationery for a while whilst the crew made some temporary repairs, and eventually were able to limp to Torquay on one of the two engines.

This left last year’s winner, Cougar, owned and raced by Richard Carr with eight times UIM Class 1 World Champion Steve Curtis alongside him assisted by Paul Sinclair / Mark Pascoe -to streak into the lead unchallenged all the way to Torquay. This boat was first raced in America as “Maxon” in 1986. The boat is a Cougar 46 and of aluminium construction. The boat was bought by Richard Carr in 2016 and it was subject to a full rebuild including 2 new Mercury Racing 1350 engines.

Steve Curtis, 52, runs the family business Cougar Marine in Warsash, and has won more world titles than any other powerboat racer. He first won the title in 1985 and added further crowns in 1987, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The second boat in to Torquay was Halcyon Connect raced by Miles Dobson and James Sheppard. A Dragon 39 powered by 2 x 625hp Ilmor V10’s. The boat was previously owned by Chris and Nick Dodge and known as “Smokin Aces” – previously to that it was Arpro raced by Jackie Hunt and Mike Shelton in 2006. The boat changed hands earlier this year and renamed “Halcyon Connect”. It had also been raced in America in 2007 and 2008.

Unfortunately, their navigation was out and they missed the finishing gate. The crew realising their mistake, quickly turned the boat around just off Torre Abbey Sands and took the finish line. However, Hendricks 55 were so close behind, that they were through the finish line before them grabbing second place......Halcyon Connect took third!

Hendricks 55 crewed by owner Markus Hendricks with Gareth Williams / Neil Jackson / Ole Finholt on board. A Rod Ross Smith / Supermarine Lymington 55’ hull running 2 x Mercury Racing engines developing 2800hp.

There was then a flurry of boats all quite close together. Blastoff crewed by Dorian Griffith / Shelley Jory-Leigh / Will Stephens came in fourth. A Fountain hull powered by 2 x Yanmar engines developing 1000hp. Shelley is probably Britain’s most well known and successful female powerboat racer. She has been racing Powerboats for over 18 years forging her way through the male dominated sport. In 2016 Shelley returned to racing full time after a five year break following an almost career ending huge accident. In last year’s Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race as part of the Blastoff crew, the boat won its class and finished second overall making Shelley the highest ranked British female finisher ever.

In what was a very successful year for the team, Blastoff Racing with throttle man, Dorian Griffiths, then went on to take a World Record on Lake Coniston, where the year before Shelley received the coveted K7 Gold Star for 114mph on Lake Coniston in Vector Martini – she was also awarded the Lady of the Lake title.

When not racing and running the family bridal wear business, Shelley also presents for Sky Sports, CBS America and has her own Radio show on BBC Radio Solent – the H2o Show which she co-hosts with Sir Robin Knox Johnston.

Finishing fifth was the All Black Racing Team / Hibernia crewed by John Ryan / Philip Fitzgibbon / Denis Dillon / Glenn Chidzoy.The Team from Ireland racing a Wayne Kruse aluminium hull powered by 2 diesel FTP’s developing 1120 hp.

Sixth across the line was Sunus Ocean Racing of Thomas Montgomery-Swan / Michal Galczewski. A Spectre Boats International hull powered by 2 Mercury Racing Verado 400R’s. The second smallest boat in the fleet. The boat carried 1100 litres of fuel using 800 litres in the race. The hull can be bought for £100K and then bespoked to the purchasers requirements. It set a record on Lake Coniston last year at 96.10 mph. This boat also featured in the Jeremy Clarkson programme Grand Tour on Amazon earlier this year.

Seventh place went to Dry Martini crewed by Christian Toll / Michael Peet / Jeff Hall – a 35’ Cigarette hull powered by 2 Chevrolet engines developing 1300hp.

Without doubt, this is the most famous boat taking part in the race. Dry Martini is one of the famed Cigarette boats designed and built by the Godfather of offshore boats, Don Aronow who single-handedly changed powerboats forever with his new deep-V hull design enabling boats to be driven at vast speeds through big seas. Dry Martini is one of his 35-foot Cigarettes, which swept all before them for a period of nearly a decade from the mid 1960s right through the 1970s. The boats set a new benchmark that no other constructor could meet.

Dry Martini was built in 1972 in readiness for the 1973 Offshore World Championship. Raced by the Italian Carlo Bonomi he chalked up some notable successes, taking no fewer than seven outright wins. One of those was the Balareas Trophy on 27 May, 1973. They set off on the 215-mile race in the waters off Majorca, with Carlo Bonomi driving, Richie Powers at the throttles in his first World Championship race and Attilio Petroni doing the navigation. The two 600hp Aeromarine engines powered Dry Martini home to win at an incredible race average of 83.2mph, the first race in history to have been completed above the 80mph mark and the fastest race average ever set at an offshore race. This was also the first time Martini sponsorship had featured on the world stage – and it proved a fantastic opener.

The following year, still with Bonomi at the wheel and Powers on the throttles Dry Martini clocked up another seven World Championship wins including The Balareas Trophy, The Needles Trophy and the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race. A special boat and a great team behind her. With so much success Martini featured the boat in their television advertisements around the world.

Powerboat racing was very popular in those days and thousands turned out to watch races like the Cowes to Torquay. Powerboat racing was big news, it was sexy and this boat had won world championships back to back, as well as clocking up the most wins in the season.

After all the success as Dry Martini, the boat changed hands - Ken Cassir ran her as Yellowdrama and Lady Arran had her for a while in JPS colours. Then she went to the South of France and worked as a trip boat, giving speedboat rides round the bay. The boat was repossessed by a bank at one point and languishing on a quay in Southampton until Peter Garland acquired her in 1993 and restored her to her former glory over a period of years. Now owned and raced by Christian Toll.

The eighth boat across the line was Fugitive crewed by Stuart and Francis Whitley. Fugitive is a 31’ Shakespeare cruiser with a 630hp engine. The boat has competed in every Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race since 2008. Francis also takes the award for the oldest competitor in the race at 78. It is planned to fit a new engine over the winter so Francis and son Stuart will be back in 2018!

The final boat to finish in Torquay was Silverline. The repair carried out at sea held, and the boat came into the Bay shooting a big plume of water from its one functioning engine. It must have been a great relief to Drew Langdon and Miles Jennings to be able to tie up on Haldon Pier. There was frantic activity then as many hands set to work to try and repair the damaged power steering belt. I chatted to Miles on the quayside and he was hopeful that the damage could be repaired and that the boat would be able to compete in the second leg back to Cowes.

The only retirement was the Belgium boat Biretta Due – Jean Pierre Neels / Thomas Vandamme / Marijke d’Hondt – they were forced to retire shortly after the start in The Solent, though they managed to return to Cowes.

Results – Leg 1 Cowes - Torquay

1st A69 COUGAR 97.68mph (Ave.)
2nd A55 HENDRICKS 55 85.65mph
3rd B74 HALCYON CONNECT 85.36mph
4th C100 BLASTOFF 76.13mph
5th C4 HIBERNIA 74.22mph
6th C237 SUNUS OCEAN RACING 73.83mph
7th H9 DRY MARTINI 68.29mph
8th G130 FUGITIVE 49.39mph
9th A47 SILVERLINE 43.33mph

For the restart, there was good news for Silverline. The boat was now operating on both engines! All 9 boats would take the start. As the boats left the quay and headed out for a parade lap past the crowds gathered on Haldon Pier, the conditions remained perfect for a fast sprint back to Cowes. It is a truly impressive sight to see the boats hit full throttle trailing massive flumes of water behind them as they headed out between a large gathering of other craft on the water.

Silverline streaked into the lead as the fleet headed out across Lyme Bay. This time there would be no repeat of the problems from leg one and Silverline was not challenged winning the return leg to Cowes......what could have been but for the mechanical gremlins. I am sure Drew Langdon is hoping that next year it will be third time lucky with Silverline and he achieves a well deserved and long overdue win! He has entered the CTC 17 times and finished in every position but first!

The boats that suffered on leg 2 were Hendricks 55 - the boat was running second behind Silverline on the way back to Cowes but they succumbed to mechanical problems 20 minutes out of Torquay and limped into Weymouth and retirement; and Cougar, another case of a broken power steering belt.

Results – Leg 2 Torquay - Cowes

1st A47 SILVERLINE 93.69mph (Ave.)
2nd B74 HALCYON CONNECT 82.70mph
3rd C237 SUNUS OCEAN RACING 78.56mph
4th C4 HIBERNIA 76.00mph
5th H9 DRY MARTINI 70.97mph
6th C100 BLASTOFF 56.15mph
7th G130 FUGITIVE 50.55mph

When all the calculations were completed, there was an interesting, and somewhat surprise result – the overall winner was announced as Halcyon Connect - Miles Dobson and James Sheppard at an average speed of 84.03 mph with an elapsed time of 2 hours 35 minutes and 58 seconds. Although only finishing the first leg in third and the second leg second, that consistency was enough to clinch the win and collect the Beaverbrook Trophy.

James Sheppard now adds another very special trophy to his long list of achievements in power boat racing. He started racing in the Honda Formula 4 Stroke series. He was Champion in 2001 and 2002 in the 130hp category. He then was Champion in the 225hp category in 2003 and 2004 – the boat was King of Shaves.

In 2006, James hit the headlines when he was involved in a massive crash – a barrel roll at 138mph - co-driving with Chris Parsonage in King of Shaves in the Class 1 World Championship race at Plymouth.

James then became P1 World Champion in 2007 with Craig Wilson in a boat also named King of Shaves. The team had 6 wins and clinched the Championship in their debut season.

In 2008 James retired from the sport to concentrate on his family, however, earlier this year he bought Smokin Aces to attempt the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race. As a Class B boat, he had no aspirations of trying to win the race…just to win the Class…..what a fantastic achievement to win the CTC at the first attempt!

James has been approached to partner Steve Curtis and race Miss Geico in the Super Boat International series in Key West in the Autumn – what a strong line up!

Miles Dobson has also had experience in the Honda Formula 4 Stroke series in the boats Accucard and Don’t Panic! In the early 2000’s

Sunus Ocean Racing, Tom Montgomery-Swan and Michal Galczewski from Poland took a notable second overall and were the first outboard powered hull home. The Team were awarded a trophy first presented in 1963 – for the first production craft home.

The overall results: Cowes – Torquay – Cowes 2017

1st B74 HALCYON CONNECT 84.03mph (Ave.)
2nd C237 SUNUS OCEAN RACING 76.09mph
3rd C4 HIBERNIA 75.09mph
4th H9 DRY MARTINI 69.59mph
5th C100 BLASTOFF 64.77mph
6th A47 SILVERLINE 58.96mph
7th G130 FUGITIVE 49.95mph

Cowes – Poole - Cowes

1st U-41 TEC CARE Adam Younger /Scott Younger 73.12mph
2nd U-4 T/T GEE Ali Langdon / Lucci Levi 70.33
3rd #U-69 VINTAGE TORQUE Frank Rose / Vahid Ganjavian 79.26
4th #2-121 TEAM HYPERACTIVE John Donnelly / Glynn Norvall 58.46
5th #U-10 THE BEAVER RETURNS Brian Pelham / Thomas Pelham 57.23
6th #U-49 BUBBLES Richard Carlton / Phil Payter 41.68

# incorrect rounding of Hengistbury Head buoy, passed North of buoy, ref point 23 Penalties within
Race Instructions.
Missed mark - 15min penalty

Check out my pics from the event on Flickr:

Check out my video’s on YouTube:
Thank you to all the team at BPRC for putting the race on and for the many many helpers who relentlessly turn out in their craft to help, which without them the race could not happen.

Our race was a mixed bag. Blastoff C100 had a great year last year with a second at Cowes in the roughest weather the race has allegedly been run in and then a world record on Coniston which would have been higher if we could have had the props we needed, to be redressed this year.

Our first leg from Cowes to Torquay was great with a terrific start and at the end of the solent we had left our competition standing and we were doing 92 mph with full tanks, we backed off at Portland when we lost sight of everybody behind us and we could see Hendricks and Halcyon ahead in the distance. We wanted to maintain our lead over the other C boats and save the engines for the way back. We were pleased and surprised we were 4th into Torquay not seeing that Drew had broken down.

Our return leg was a disaster, we had a close cal and got boxed at the start and took avoiding action and came off the plane leaving us plumb last, we got back on the plane and picked our way past the boats, Fugitive (going well), Dry Martini was flying and sounded glorious, and we caught John Ryan's Allblack boat which was also going well, and we were reeling in Michael and Tom in the Spectre. Michael said he could see us coming and there was nothing they could do. Our plan was to pass them past Portland and then gun it from the Needles.

At that precise moment a v belt decided that enough was enough and flew off so I took the engine out of gear and carried on at 40 knots on one while we looked for another belt. We came off the plane and Will Stevens our team mate and Barrus engineer managed to sort out the belt in a very hot engine bay, but that was not our main problem! We could not get back on the plane as I had pumped all our fuel to the main tanks and now we relied on our cavitation tubes to get us back on the plane. Unfortunately we had extended them with rubber as the boat sits lower in the water at the stern so they would not snag the transom but as it was such a hot day the exhausts had heated them up and as we built revs the bloody things sucked shut stopping us from getting up. It took some time to coax her back up but we had lost so much time we knew we would never catch the others. We were devastated, but pressed on at 90% throttle incase the other belt decided to stop the party. We caught Fugitive at St. Albans and then didn't see a soul until the finish line which I nearly missed because the buoy was obstructed and I was woken up by Shelley yelling at me!

We came into the Yacht Haven to be greeted by everyone which was great and we saw the results of the return leg and thought about what could have been. But racing is racing and we take it on the chin like big boys and girls and we will address our issues and be even quicker and hopefully reliable next time. The Blastoff team send congratulations to all the winners, and consolations to the losers and are just thankful we finished in one piece and in daylight!

The weather was great and made it so much better, and Sally and Rob were brilliant as always, and well done to Laura and Martin to keep it all going.

Our next target is to raise our World Record and reclaim our British record as we can swing much bigger props now and we have a lot more power and some tricks up our sleeve. We look forward to doing battle with Tom in his egg whisk powered boat, which I admit had the reliability over the farmers this time, well done!

See you at Coniston!

Dorian,Shelley,Will and the Blastoffracing team.

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