Yank, Jeff Hall, races in the Cowes-Torquay Offshore race in England in a Bertram boat older than he.
This is an account of one of the participants in the recent Cowes-Torquay-Cowes offshore powerboat race in the south of England. The C-T-C, as it is known over there, is the oldest continuously contested offshore race on the planet. It is historically very rough, and a considerable portion of the entry is comprised of well-known, very old boats, such as the 1963 Bertram in this story. I raced against it in 1965, when Bill Wishnick and I were chasing the World Offshore Championship, just before most of you were born. Some of these boats have raced nearly every year since. The Brits tend to love their old boats, and spend long hours caring for them, just for this race. It is also an excellent excuse to get out of the house and drink beer.
It was really rough out there, they say it was as bad as or worse than it’s ever been. The Bertram was a star. As soon as we made it the the Needles it got really bad. I knew we could throw the weather briefing out the window. Two boats gave up right there. We then headed in to Poole bay for our marks at Boscome and Bournmouth piers. Before we got there, we came upon poor Dry Martini at a slow cruise. She had some glass damage on the side. Pool bay was horrendous until we got closer to shore. I told Robin that if we were going to keep this going he must keep the shock loads on the drivetrain to a minimum. He had new V drive gears made and you just never know. They weren’t Casales. When we got to Anvil point we saw Martini Rosso, another casualty. We got to Portland Bill and saw a life boat but didn’t know anything happened. We thought they were out there patrolling. After Portland Bill we cut in toward land a bit where we figured it would be smoother. The Benefit was negligible because our boat wasn’t that fast and the extra distance would consume more of our precious fuel. We finally made it to Torquay. I didn’t notice right away but there were only three other boats there. Where is every one? Did they already re start the race to Cowes? Did these boats quit? Nope that’s it, nobody else made it!
I went up to sign in while Robin checked the boat over. He eventually made his way up to the pier. We slammed down some sandwiches used the toilet then had the weather briefing and we were back in the boat. I quickly switched out the navigation notes and we were re starting the race. The following seas across Lyme Bay were a welcomed break! Wait a minute another boat dead in the water, who is it? As we got closer we could see that it was the Buzzi RIB Berettta Due, another one down. We were now running third.
The Bertram took everything it encountered with confidence. We never stuffed it or took anything over the bow just the spray. It split everything even the massive rollers at the Needles on the return leg. I have never seen anything like that before. We were looking up at them. Robin just nestled the bow into them and it climbed and split them perfectly. Couldn’t believe it! We were always a bit concerned about fuel capacity so we didn’t go as fast as possible.
Our transfer pump for the front tank was giving us trouble. The inlet filter to the pump kept getting clogged. By our return to Poole Bay, we were out of fuel in the rear tank. We could keep the Stbd engine going so we kept the boat moving while Robin re worked the Port fuel line to pull direct off of the front tank. He also cored out the front filter and now the pump would move enough fuel to the rear tank to keep the Stbd engine going. We were back on our way at speed headed for Needles Fairway buoy.
After we got over the rollers it was smooth sailing up the Solent. We were cautious though; we probably had enough fuel to make it back but had to run a bit slower. Off of Yarmouth we noticed a vibration building on the Stbd side. Robin throttled down and I opened the floor over the V drive, not good! Full of water, the shafts were still okay so I went to the engine cover, not good water up to the balancer. I couldn’t see where it was coming from. The engine was cool so I didn’t think a hose came off. Robin put it gear again but you could see water pumping out of the side of the engine box, it was definitely much worse with the Stbd engine in gear. We could not find the leak. We tried to carry on with just the Port engine but the boat kept tracking toward shore so that was it. We were done about seven miles from the finish. One of the Classic club boats towed us to Yarmouth. We got on the radio with coast guard and harbor master. The harbor master tied up to us and brought us to the dock and the coast guard chaps were running down with a pump to pump us out. The marina workers brought a pump down as well and aided the coast guard. It took quite a while to get the boat pumped out. Our bilge pumps quit working. I ran the manual one for a few minutes then, it gave up. They worked really hard and saved the boat. The harbor master then pulled the boat over to the marina lift and once it was on the slings there was great relief. As it turns out we must have hit something. The prop shaft was bent as well as the strut. The prop put a hole in the boat. The trim tab was missing as well.
The next morning they towed it up the river and put it on a truck and brought up to Cowes to the boat shed to assess the damage. It looks like the engines are okay. Cadillac may have a strut for it. The glass can be fixed there as well as the prop and prop shaft. It was looking pretty grim for a while, I thought we were going to lose the old girl. Robin did a great job driving the boat. This was only his second attempt at Offshore Racing. We ran the boat last year but only made to Poole Bay before a V-Drive failed. Another thing to note, another fellow Minnesotan raced in this same boat in the same race with Tommy Sopwith in 1963. I was lucky enough to become friends with him over the last few years. Unfortunately he passed away last December. His name is Walt Walters.
One more thing, Bertam 31 = Seaworthy.