The 'SPIRIT' of true 'Offshore' Powerboat Racing
Offshore Powerboat Racing history in pictures!
The start of the second British Cowes-Torquay International Powerboat race in 1962
Start of an early British national offshore powerboat race
1970's and pure raceboats have evolved
1980's and the 'cats' are on the prowl!
1989, the UK cruiser class tries to retain affordability, competition and relevance to the industry, public and boating market
The start of a modern, multi lap inshore 'cat' race at Key West Florida. A challenging course that has seen far too many tragedies!
The enduring - hitherto but now only ostensibly - 'Classic' Cowes-Torquay-Cowes, a true offshore powerboat race but a bizarre, 'out of touch' class structure and a concurrent amateur club 'bash', negates any prospect of it being taken too seriously or gaining a truly professioal motorsport 'image'.
Perhaps it mirrors current societal trends - but if the sport is to ever gain serious attention, it needs to understand the more informed public and corporate expectations. It needs to look to the well financed (European) role models - Formula 1 and the World Endurance Cars (WEC) for inspiration.
It will not be easy but the C-T-C was recognised as the world's premier event. It can continue sliding toward an amateur shambles, or it can stand up and show the leadership its status could command. The sport demands 'World Class' leadership, to 'engineer' a set of rules that fit the economics, technology and environmental responsibilities expected in today's real world.
Understanding the 'Spirit'!
Offshore powerboat racing's heart was forged by the compelling urge for men and women to take motorsport to the ocean. Its soul was forged in 'distance’ races – the Miami-Nassau (USA), Cowes-Torquay-Cowes (UK) and Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio (Italy). Collectively this created its Spirit.
Sadly, the beautiful and authentic sport of 'offshore' powerboat racing had its spirit hijacked. It became a confusing contrast of forms and formats and a place where ego's ran rampant.
True sporting spirit is passion, aspiration, preparation, determination and achievement - authenticated within a structure that is disciplined, fair and comprehendible to both the competitor and fan! It is an unparalleled force that captures attention and admiration. Sporting spirit is recognised in commerce and media as a massive force and is leveraged to touch hearts and evoke credibility and loyalty.
True ‘Offshore Powerboat Spirit’ is currently dormant and awaits rekindling. But a culture change is upon us - believe it or not - and change means opportunity - immense and unique opportunity! There is no existing bandwagon, no ‘me too’, this is a squeaky clean sheet with massive potential! Just as is happening in 'professional' motorsports, our beautiful sport and the revolution in renewable fuels are the catalyst for a marketing dream! Catalysts create a reaction. A new-era ‘offshore spirit’ is ready to be a catalyst across a spectrum of initiatives – one compelling step at a time!
A Brief History of a Beautiful Sport:
The modern era of offshore powerboat racing evolved in late 1950’s USA. Motor boating was becoming popular and it was inevitable that the idea of racing would emerge. Offshore powerboat racing presented a compelling opportunity for some gutsy 'boat people' to put motorsport on the ocean. It presented the unique challenge of, not just serious competition but navigation, seamanship and an endurance test of both machine and crew. The ‘spirit’ of offshore powerboat racing descended!
An era of ‘accessible’ powerboat racing was born! The first races included a motley collection of ‘affordable’ motor boats of the era but the seed was planted and within a few years the sport was thriving, not only in the US but Europe and Australia. Huge advances in design and construction, along with mechanical innovation, saw the sport become a serious segment of the marine industry and production powerboat development. The ‘spirit’ was in fine form!
Ultimately a three tier international rule structure was created and national and ‘World Championships’ were established. The sport almost appeared ‘professional’!
What could possibly go wrong!
Fast forward to the 1970’s and 80’s: What was initially a ‘sportscruiser’ paradigm, morphed into the pure performance ‘sportsboat’ breed – this ultimately embraced fully enclosed cockpit, multihull technology. At that point, racing an ‘affordable’ sportscruiser diminished and the pinnacle of the sport became confused. 'Offshore' became 'inshore', as the safety needs of the cats demanded multiple inshore laps. The US inevitably demanded the ‘biggest gun’ and the Brits succumbed to costs that soared beyond even the wealthier aspirant. The Class 3 – 6ltr, 4ltr and even 2ltr divisions, even if somewhat affordable, ultimately became equally inshore ‘enclosed cat’ specialized. The ‘spirit’ had serious issues!
The UK and several other countries, introduced national ‘cruiser’ classes, logically filling the economic and ‘relevance to the industry and regular boating’ void that had appeared. They also retained the longer format races. UK Cruiser classes strictly mandated ‘production’ hulls and engines as a baseline – even if fully rigged and prepared for racing. Now, you (me even!) could actually afford to go racing in a legitimate class, where winning or taking the class speed record actually meant something. Australia similarly introduced cruiser classes – but unfortunately didn’t mandate ‘production’ hulls and engines. The ‘spirit’ was barely hanging in!
Trying to keep all the people happy all the time – and human nature being what it is - it just couldn’t last!
Fast forward again to the 21st century and we see a somewhat shambolic state of the sport. The US is essentially another planet, remaining true to the ‘biggest is best’ formula with various ‘Super’ multihull classes. They have a steadily diminishing satellite of support in the Middle East Gulf States - and a limited Australian/New Zealand following.
The sport in the UK faded with the exception of the one traditional ‘offshore’ race, the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes. This retained its status as a European ‘Marathon’ class affair for monohull boats. However, the UIM Marathon top level, permits an obscenely bizarre 27ltr total engine displacement, again clinging to the totally destructive, ‘biggest gun wins’ paradigm.
Put simply, two 9ltr supercharged petrol or four 6+ltr diesels engines are clearly obscene in an era where Formula 1, the biggest TV sport in the world, announced it was reducing engine capacity from 2.4ltr – which was down from 3ltr previously – to 1.6ltr-turbocharged. The announcement stated the reason: “In order to make Formula 1 more environmentally aware and to attract more commercial partners”. This is a world view, not a USA view and it says everything I would want to say about the decline and current paradigm in offshore powerboat racing!
Meanwhile in the real world:
Mercifully, some in the marine engine sector of the industry acknowledge that the ‘world’ is not confined to the USA and smaller engines are the responsible global trend. Two manufacturers of petrol/gasoline marine engines – ironically based on US auto engines – have stopped ‘big-block’ (8ltr+) production, choosing to go with progressive auto engine technology developed in harmony with the inevitable transition to biofuels. Diesel engines now compete on level terms in the market and are the obvious choice at higher power levels.
The future and Superior fuels:
Fuel systems have always been a speciality of my business and alcohol-based fuels have long been familiar in auto-motorsports. This clearly reveals, when fully understood, that the so called ‘issues’ scripted by ‘big oil’ and keenly disseminated in the marine industry, are in fact, pure propaganda – much of which transcends, through Fox News, barbeques and pubs, to the auto sector. The fact is, much of the technology to handle these fuels was applied in your car 20 years ago and now simply needs to be understood and applied in the marine environment, rather than feared. It’s called progress!
These advances can be demonstrated and the superior performance of biofuel evidenced in modest, newsworthy, powerboating achievements. In marketing terms, any such result is ‘long tailed’, providing iconic focus for ongoing promotion, marketing and PR.
Promoting biofuels through the marine sector stacks up on every level – from the modest budget, to marketing and PR value, corporate ethics and ultimately, the ‘Pub Test’!
We can make a difference - it just takes SPIRIT!