Five days of parties – just a normal long weekend on the Isle of Wight. Not sure why anyone makes a fuss about Ibiza. If you want an island where people party with serious stamina try the izzle of wizzle, but more specifically head for Cowes.
Last week saw the 50th anniversary of the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes International Powerboat Race. Created in 1961 by the legendary fighter pilot, playboy and Daily Express newspaper proprietor Sir Max Aitken, the race is the most prestigious of its type in the world. And this year, befitting its status as the 50th anniversary it certainly lived up to expectations with some of the roughest seas ever raced and some of the most glamorous parties.
There are probably two people who should be the most thanked for making the 2010 C-T-C such a success and they are Tim Powell, Chairman of the BPRC, (British Powerboat Racing Club) -just because – and everyone knows why- and Laura Levi (daughter of the late Sir Max Aitken), Director and Secretary, who knitted and knotted everything together so amazingly- and everyone knows why too.
For me, whose father Gordon Procter raced a Class One Powerboat, Passing Cloud which was powered by Rolls Royce helicopter engines, back in the 70’s and is credited with achieving the first 100 miles an hour on the water way back when; it was a glorious and gigantic blast from the past. Everywhere I looked there was evidence of my teenage years. From Tim, himself, or rather TP, who owned and raced such notable boats as Tramontana, to Maxwell Beaverbrook, aka Lord Beaverbrook, son of Sir Max who raced with Sir Bill Shand-Kydd on Cigarillo to Keith Dallas, who raced on the cats Wiggins Teape and Penthouse and who at the age of 75 was back racing on Gee. Keith bought Gee back in the 80’s from Edward Greenall, renamed it Melodrama and used it as a family cruiser. Ros Nott the former Editor of Powerboat magazine who is now married to Shaun, the Earl of Normanton, one of powerboat racing’s more distinguished former drivers was there too and as happy as can be to be attending. Ros has the accolade of holding the record as the fastest woman on water and was wearing a star shaped pin to acknowledge it. Sadly neither the Earl nor the Countess were in good enough health to take to the water and watched the racing from the comfort of The Squadron balcony. The only man missing was Lord Lucan, who raced in 1964.
In many ways the real stars were the classic powerboats. The seventies superstars designed by Don Shed, Don Aronow of Cigarette, Sonny Levi et al were all represented and many of the most exciting classics were still sporting their seventies livery. Uno Embassy the gas turbine powered boat piloted by Harry Hyams and Ronnie Hoare in the seventies and now driven by Rob Gray and Aldwin Drummond and navigated by Mike Mantle finished in the silver. The gorgeous Cinzano with former CTC champion, Markus Hendricks in the driving seat took a well deserved third place. And then there was Dry Martini – how evocative does it get? If you’re are over about 22 and a half – add a decade or three and you only have to look at a cigarette boat in Dry Martini livery and you hear the song “it’s the right one, it’s Martini” playing in your ears and you drift off to some glorious bar in St Moritz with para-skiers gliding in or to the aft deck of a huge motor yacht moored off the Costa Smeralda – such was the power of advertising back in those just-post Mad Men days…..
The boat was brought over from Castle Rock, USA by Mike Bontoft in honour of his father, Alf, who raced and tragically died, the first fatality in the race’s history, in the 1976 race. Mike completed the2010 race, despite suffering two broken ribs and came in a creditable 12th place.
Anyway, the parties were great – especially Wednesday night’s hosted by Laura Levi at the Sir Max Airken Museum which is housed at her family home, The Prospect. Not even torrential rain could stop play and a welcome for the overseas contestants was a splendid way to ease in to the festivities. The dinner at The Royal Yacht Squadron on Friday was charming and Ray Bulman, former columnist with The Telegraph and Motorboat and Yachting did a great cabaret turn with a two-handed interview with former world champion the Italian, Dr Carlo Bonomi and world-famous boat designer, Sonny Levi.
It was an awesome weekend and curiously one of the bits I loved most was escaping the thrills and spills of the engines and all the high octane stuff and roaring across the island to Bembridge to join a friend who needed a bit of ballast in his Redwing. The Redwing class is made up of highly-strung, classic, wooden yachts that have rather too many bits of rope to pull on for my taste. Luckily for Tom, my husband, and me, we were racing with a master of the genre and we had a glorious afternoon tacking, beating, jibing etc etc in the wind, sun and salt air. Then it was back for another party. At the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club this time, where winning rib-racer John Caulcutt and his old Harrow school friend, Baz and their band played some much needed live sixties music. The dance floor was packed with 9 to 90 year olds thanks to both Johnnie and the sponsors of that evening’s event, the Clayton brothers, the new owners of Gee.
Sunday was the most important of the three days of racing and the weather was foul; lumpy as hell out off the Needles. All the small, or rather the clever boats mimicked Tommy Sopwith’s 1968 win with the tiny Telstar, who, spotting bad weather ahead, abandoned the fastest route straight across Lyme bay and hugged the coast and came home to take the laurels hours before the big boys arrived back bruised and battered. Even though this proved to be a smart tactic in 2010, first over the line was the inimitable Fabio Buzzi in Red FPT a big man with a bigger boat – 46 foot to be precise. I think we need one…….
After that it was prize giving back at The Squadron where Tim Powell did a superb job dispensing the huge array of silverware to be photographed with and the specially re-introduced newsboys to keep. (Richard Desmond, please note, thank you). He was ably assisted by the stalwart and still beautiful 84 year old Lady Aitken who as a pioneer, with Lady Arran, of the sport, is a veteran of many a CTC and was a contestant in the notorious 1973 Round-Britain-Race. She told me that she was rather mystified by the new drink-drive race laws. “Lord, “she exclaimed “in my day, you needed a quarter of a bottle of brandy just to get one into the thing!”