MBY takes a look back on the boating 2008

Well, 2008 is almost over and what a year it was. Apart from the US elections, the collapse of the global economy and John Sergeant walking off Strictly Come Dancing, there were one or two important developments in the motorboat world too.

Here Motor Boat & Yachting looks back on the some of the biggest moments in the boater’s 2008:

1. Goodbye to low-duty diesel.

After several years of campaigning and an awful lot of aft deck debate, low-duty diesel was phased out on 1 November for all leisure boaters.

It was the end of an initiative introduced by Winston Churchill in 1935 to benefit fishermen – leisure boaters just got bundled into the same bracket back then when our hobby was in its infancy.

When MBY and our sister magazine MBM began campaigning seriously against the European Commission’s plans in 2003, red diesel cost just 33p per litre (ppl) in many UK marinas.

By the time low-duty diesel was phased out in November, that 33ppl had risen to more like 80ppl and there were real fears for a time that once the new full duty was introduced, waterside diesel could cost well over £1 per litre.

In the end a last-minute decision by the Government not to apply full VAT on a proportion of the fuel meant the end cost barely changed. In some marinas it even went down.

Overall, most boaters agreed, it may not have been a great development, but the outcome was a lot better than it could have been.

2. The Round Britain Offshore Powerboat Race

The powerboating world was electrified in 2007 by the news that enthusiast Mike Lloyd from Hampshire was attempting to run a third edition of the legendary Round Britain Offshore Powerboat Race.

After years in the doldrums, this was exactly what powerboating needed and racers old and new began appearing from the woodwork and buying boats for the event even before Mike had announced the full details.

Among them were the very top racers in the sport, many professionals from P1 and other series, and all the holders of the important records. That alone made it a mouth-watering prospect, but making it even more intriguing was that scattered in among them were a collection of hardy amateurs in production boats.

Watching this motley fleet roar into life off Portsmouth on a grey morning in June was one of the highlights of many a boating year, not just 2008. And classic race yarns came thick and fast as the fleet made their way around the coast. The first leg alone saw a sinking and the retirement of the favourite Fabio Buzzi. The second leg was cancelled due to monstrous seas off Land’s End, but here two of the production boats showed their mettle by battling round regardless of the weather, as the rest of the fleet went by road. It was just one of the great stories the race produced, all sure to be retold time and again.

3. Dag Pike

Grandfather Dag Pike wasn’t planning to take part in the Round Britain Offshore Powerboat Race. After all, he’d done the first Round Britain in 1969 and won the second edition in 1984. Now aged 75 with a lifetime of powerboating and motorboating achievements behind him, Dag was looking forward to watching the race from the comfort of his armchair.

That was before he got talking to long-time friend and legendary racer Fabio Buzzi. Buzzi suggested Dag join a Greek crew that was taking one of Buzzi’s own designs around in the race.

The team looked good, the boat looked good and there was strong backing in the shape of Fiat Powertrain Technologies. Dag couldn’t resist.

In a masterful display, Blue FPT not only won its class, it won the race outright by more than an hour, cementing Dag’s reputation around the world as one of the sport’s finest navigators. A headline in his local Bristol paper summed it up: “The Fastest Grandad in the World!”

Dag is now waiting to find out if he will be voted YJA/Raymarine Yachtsman of the Year in January.

4. Earthrace

The moment most people heard about Earthrace was when the spaceship-like craft collided with a Guatemalan fishing skiff, killing one man, during its first Round the World Record attempt in 2007.

It was a terrible accident that even the Guatemalans admit was not Earthrace’s fault.

The second record attempt was launched in spring 2008 and skipper Pete Bethune, a charismatic New Zealander, had more than unfinished business.

While working as an oil exploration engineer in the North Sea, Bethune had seen for himself the limited fossil fuel reserves and became a committed proponent of alternative fuels.

Earthrace was powered by biodiesel and the Round the World Record was a means of publicising the potential of this environmentally friendlier fuel.

After the catalogue of set-backs that hit the first attempt, the second was relatively easy, but even Bethune thought they were scuppered when a drive shaft broke in a collision with an underwater object in the Pacific. Bethune, who remortgaged his home several times to fund the record attempts, was stretched to the limit as against the odds he worked to have another shaft made in time in Singapore – and set off again to smash the record by a full two weeks.

5. Coastguard strikes

Years of disgruntlement among the ranks of UK coastguard officers came to a head in the spring when the first ever coastguard strike took place.

Workers wanted wage parity with other emergency services employees doing similar roles.

The Government held out, despite a petition signed by thousands of boaters and despite warnings from the RNLI and others that an emergency on the day in question could spell disaster if cover was not provided. A skeleton staff fielded calls while colleagues manned the picket lines to ensure no Mayday went unnoticed.

It turned out to be the first of several coastguard strikes over the season and 2009 does not look like bringing joy for the officers protesting.

6. Zeus

Volvo’s IPS may have taken the marine world by storm when it was launched four years ago, but the idea was not new. Several companies had been working on a similar concept for years – Cummins MerCruiser Diesel included.

To the layman, the difference with Zeus, CMD’s version of the pod drive which was launched finally in 2008, was that the propellers face backwards instead of forwards.

But the effect is much the same, giving the helmsman fingertip control of the entire boat at the touch of a joystick.

One of the highlights is an ingenious GPS-linked function which will keep the boat in place while you do the fenders, or make a cuppa, but greater fuel efficiency and speed is also promised.

MBY’s Dave Marsh was one of the first to test Zeus and was more than impressed.

For the boater who can get over having to give up all the skills he or she learned controlling a boat with two throttles and a bow-thruster, the entry into the pod drive world of another major manufacturer is good news.

7. Seb Green

A heart-warming story to finish. Teenager Seb Green (pictured) took a RIB four years ago in a thoughtless act of bravado, but ended up having to be rescued by the emergency services at vast cost from a mudbank in the middle of the night.

Mortified at the major rescue he had sparked off, he became determined to repay the cost and do something to help his local Dorset community.

So Seb set off on a sponsored walk around the British coast. He and his dog Flash left Weymouth in February and braved freezing nights in just a tent as they inched their way up the East Coast. A knee injury was testament to their daily mileages, while the loneliness of the daily toil was also felt.

Seb and Flash walked on and reached Weymouth on December 14 amid cheering crowds and emotional scenes from what has became a veritable army of supporters. He has also raised £20,000, the full cost of his rescue.

You can read his full story and others in the February issue of MBY, published early January.

Here’s to a great festive break – and happy boating in 2009.