No sea time

Will the teams have had enough offshore practice to take on this gruelling feat?

Originally set for Saturday November 3, the final briefing for next year’s Cowes to Monte Carlo offshore powerboat marathon – the Venture Cup – has now been altered to Saturday November 24.

This is in order to cater for those competitors attending the World Powerboat Championships (it is an all-American affair) in Key West, Florida. It seems strange to me that a trip to the States to watch a collection of over-powered outfits running around in circles is preferential to gathering sea-going experience ahead of the great challenge they will be facing in seven months time.

I’m told by race chairman Mike Lloyd that numbers have slipped down from 50 to around 40, although he is confident there could still be a few late-comers out there.

This year’s Cowes to Torquay Classic in August only attracted 16 entries. Due to health and safety in the Solent the event had to be started off the Needles. Seas were far from smooth but nowhere near what the Venture Cup fleet is likely to face on a daily basis. A proportion of these starters were entries in the great race but eight pulled out before Poole just a few miles after the start.

This event would have provided the last opportunity to drive at racing speeds in genuine offshore conditions but it seems most turned their backs. On this showing there seems little chance a high percentage of the initial Venture Cup fleet will finish the first leg to Brest, let alone get to Monte Carlo.

I hear the Royal Motor Yacht Club in Poole, Britain’s oldest and premier motor boating club, offered to organise a genuine race early next year specifically for Venture Cup competitors to gain offshore experience. Less than a handful responded and the RMYC has now altered the event to a simple all-comers club race long after the Venture Cup will have taken place.

There’s not many of us around who experienced the first London to Monte Carlo race 40 years ago. I was its RYA observer and flew the entire course by helicopter alongside its organiser, John Chitty. I can honestly say that most legs had fair weather apart from a couple, particularity across the Golfe Du Lion, that were seriously challenging but fair weather in those days would now be considered hair-raising by current competitors with little or no experience in deep waters.

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The opening leg of the Venture Cup is a 231-mile open sea crossing to Brest. Most taking part have never experienced open sea or at the very least never raced out of sight of land. Even in the 2008 Round Britain crews had land over their right shoulder changing to left shoulder when crossing to Northern Ireland.

The sight of land gives a tremendous boost when the going gets tough even though it can provide its own dangers. This is why I feel, based on the outcome of this year’s Cowes Classic, that less than flat calm seas could see several heading back to the Solent.

One cynical offshore enthusiast reminded me that an entrant can still be listed as an official finisher despite missing one or more legs through breakdown or some other misfortune. On this basis he comically suggested that if he was taking part he would leave his boat on its trailer and take the ferry to France and on to Brest by road.

I passed this idea on to Venture Cup organiser Mike Lloyd who went ballistic at the suggestion but the lack of appearance at recent offshore events or even practicing around the coast doesn’t look good for Channel crossing to Brest. The sheer fatigue of such a punishing race will also require crew members to get themselves highly fit in the coming months ahead of the race.

With more than 50 per cent of the line-up having no previous offshore racing experience I wish them every success and that they all reach Monte Carlo hence proving my fears unfounded.

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