Offshore powerboat racing is a type of racing by ocean-going powerboats, typically point-to-point racing.
In most of the world, offshore powerboat racing is led by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) regulated Class 1 and Powerboat GPS (formerly known as Powerboat P1). In the USA, offshore powerboat racing is led by the American Power Boat Association (APBA) /UIM. The sport is financed by a mixture of private funding and commercial sponsors.
In 1903, the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, and its offshoot, the Marine Motor Association, organised a race of auto-boats. The winner was awarded the Harmsworth Trophy. Offshore powerboat racing was first recognised as a sport when, in 1904, a race took place from the south-eastern coast of England to Calais, France. In the United States, the APBA was formed soon thereafter and the first U.S. recorded race was in 1911, in California.
The sport increased in popularity over the next few years in the United States, with 10 races being scheduled during the 1917 season. The sport's growth was disrupted in Europe during World War I and then again in World War II, but it began to grow again on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s.
The sport entered the modern era in the 1960s, with notable names like Jim Wynn, Don Aronow, and Dick Bertram competing in events such as the Bahamas 500-mile (800 km) race. During that time, the 'navigator' position in the raceboat was extremely important (unlike in today's small, track-like circuits), as finding small checkpoints over a hundred-mile open ocean run was a difficult endeavour.
The list of modern world champions extended into the 1980s, when the sport entered the catamaran, and then the 'superboat' era - the 1000 cubic inch total engine displacement restrictions were lifted for boats over 45 feet (14 m) in length, and soon three- and four-engine boats sporting F16 fighter canopies replaced the venerable 35-to-40-foot (11 to 12 m) deep-vee hulls that had been the sport's top category for twenty years.
Modern races are short, track style events with much improved viewing for the spectators, and the different categories of boats have multiplied far beyond the 4 classes that were common through much of the 60's, 70's, and 80's.
In recent years the biggest number of entries in Offshore races have been for the Cowes - Torquay - Cowes and Cowes - Poole - Cowes races held by the British Offshore Powerboat Race Club.
Famous offshore powerboat races
Cowes - Torquay - Cowes
The Cowes-Torquay race was launched by Sir Max Aitken as the first offshore powerboat racing sport in Britain in 1961. It is the longest-running offshore powerboat race in the world. Initially sponsored by the Daily Express newspaper, its success encouraged several countries in Europe and the Middle East to follow suit. Hence it can rightly claim to have introduced offshore powerboat racing to the rest of the world outside the United States where the modern sport was launched with the first Miami-Nassau Race in 1956.
In 1959, newspaper tycoon Sir Maxwell Aitken and fellow powerboat enthusiast John Coote had seen the exciting Miami-Nassau powerboat race and, fired with enthusiasm, Sir Max decided to participate in the following year’s event alongside his wife, Lady Violet. This event would prove to be the inspiration for offshore power boating in the UK.
At the Earls Court Boat Show in January 1961 Sir Max announced that a race similar to the Miami-Nassau would be staged in the south of England for August Bank Holiday. Sponsored by his paper, the Daily Express, the event would start at Cowes and finish in Torquay. Unfortunately, the day of the race saw fairly typical Bank Holiday conditions, with threatening weather, overcast skies, and the wind picking up. However, undaunted, some 27 craft lined up at the start by the Cowes Royal Yacht Squadron at 10am sharp. The Cowes-Torquay race was about to commence.
The line-up included some of the best of the world’s offshore fast powerboats: Faireys, Christinas, Bertrams, Port Hamble Hunt 34s and Pacemaker 19s. Among the drivers were holiday entrepreneur Billy Butlin, ex-motor racing driver Tommy Sopwith and boat designer Don Shead. But such was the novelty of the event that the start line also included a Shakespeare cabin cruiser, a 40ft (12.1m) Dorset Lake cruiser, and a Prout catamaran.
When the flag dropped, the powerboats roared off in a froth of foam and exhaust smoke toward Southsea, Butlin’s elegant Fairey Huntsman taking an early lead with Dick Bertram in Glass Moppie close behind followed by Bruce Campbell in Christina and Sopwith driving Thunderbolt. Italian designer, Soni Levi was in fifth position inA’Speranziella.
After rounding the Isle of Wight, the flotilla headed west, into a windy Bournemouth Bay. Here conditions were much rougher with a driving Force 5 on the bow. Throttles were eased back and Soni Levi took the lead, but as they pressed on conditions took their toll; a gashed hull caused the Prout to beach while Butlin’s Fairey threw a prop.
After 7 hours and 25 minutes of bruising conditions, Sopwith’s Thunderbolt roared into Torquay Bay, having averaged 25mph (40.3kmh) for the 159-mile trip. It had been a baptism of fi re setting the tone for UK powerboating for years to come.
It’s a measure of the quick rise in the fame of the race that in 1962, though only in its second year, the Cowes-Torquay attracted powerboats from US design giants such as Ray Hunt, Jim Wynne and Dick Bertram, as well as British designers Keith Nelson, Uffa Fox, Colin Mudie and Peter Du Cane. Du Cane was responsible for designing the eventual winner, Tramontana, for stockbroker Dick Wilkins. Built by Vosper & Co and powered by twin 1,150hp CRM engines, she was driven by Supermarine Spitfire test pilot, Jeffrey Quill who easily took the lead, finishing ahead of the field.
After sitting out the first race, Sir Max Aitken purchased Glass Moppie for 1962, and had the boat taken to Bruce Campbell’s yard where a sleek cabin was added. The boat was then painted in the yellow and white colours that were to become synonymous with Aitken and the craft he raced. Sir Max finished fifth overall in the race.
In 1967, the Union Internationale Motonautique, the world governing authority for powerboat racing, introduced the World Offshore Championship as a memorial to Sam Griffith, the American founder of modern offshore racing. In order to qualify as a championship heat, the race format was therefore changed and instead of finishing at Torquay, the fleet returned to Cowes, a pattern that remains to this day.
The Round Britain Powerboat Race
The Round Britain Powerboat has been run on 3 previous occasions.
Winner 1969: Timo Mäkinen – Avenger Too
Winner 1984: Fabio Buzzi – White Iveco
Winner 2008: Vassilis Pateras – Blue FPT
1969 Daily Telegraph - B.P. Round Britain Powerboat Race was 1459 miles, divided into 10 racing stages and one slow cruise; flat calm seas under blazing skies, a thick pea-souper fog, and a rough coastal run; 42 assorted boats ranging in power from 100 hp to 1,000 hp.
The most outstanding feature of this marathon race was undoubtedly the freak weather, as it was called by most participants, for the first 700 miles to Oban the conditions were as near perfect as they could be, and the fog on the Inverness-Dundee run, and the rough seas of the Dundee-Whitby leg were greeted almost with glee.
Avenger Too, crewed by Timo Mäkinen, Pascoe Watson and Brian Hendicott, the Round Britain race was a success story from start to finish. They won the first leg to Falmouth and the second leg to Milford Haven; on the run to Douglas they were third, but still retained their overall lead. Only once during the entire race were they pushed from that leading position, and they had such a handsome lead that they could afford to tuck in behind a slower radar-equipped boat on the foggy run to Dundee, and still emerge the leaders by two hours.
Their final victory, in a total time of just over 39 hours, represented an average speed, sustained over 1,381 nautical miles of racing, of 37.1 knots.
Super Boat International races host some of the fastest and largest offshore power boats in the world. The boats have maximum length requirements of 50 feet, and are equipped with F-16 jet canopies. Race teams consist of a two-person team – a driver who controls the boat’s steering and a throttleman responsible for operating up to four engines capable of producing more than 6,000 horsepower. Extreme speeds of up to 200 mph and rough waters make it impossible for a single person to steer and operate the throttles. The best race teams hone the partnership between driver and throttle man down to a science, and incorporate the most advanced technology into their machines to generate optimum speed.
Super Boat International races offer an array of classes including: Super Boat Unlimited, Super Boat Vee Unlimited, Super Boat, Super Cat, Super Boat Vee Extreme, Super Boat Vee Limited, Turbine, Super Boat Stock (S) and Manufacturer Production (P1, P2, P3, P4).
There are several types of boats competing in the Super Boat races, but a majority of super boats found at events fall into two categories: V-bottom and Catamaran boats.
A V-bottom is what comes to most people’s minds when they think of a go-fast boat. A catamaran has two hulls called “sponsons” separated by a “tunnel.” Combined with the sponsons, the tunnel creates air entrapment/compression as the boat moves forward, which in turn creates lift. For that reason, catamarans are generally faster than V-bottoms with the same amount of horsepower. That’s why they usually don’t race in the same class.
Catamaran or V-bottom, most offshore raceboats these days have protective canopies, meaning their cockpits are completely enclosed to protect their driver and throttleman in the event of collision, flip, or roll-over. Which raises another question: Why do offshore raceboats typically have one person driving (steering) and another person throttling (controlling the speed and trim/running attitude of the boat)? Simple. Decades ago, offshore racers realized that dividing those duties was more efficient. A few famous racers, most notably Reggie Fountain, who founded Fountain Powerboats, did it all themselves throughout their careers, but two-person operation is the standard today.
Confederation Marine Modellers