Double 2 Shirts restoration: How we transformed this 1970s relic from derelict to race-ready

Can this once derelict speedboat, which has been lovingly restored by a group of power racing enthusiasts, re-live her glory days? Phil Sampson finds out...

The first commandment of the high energy Celtic band The Vatersay Boys is “Get ready to project yourselves into insanity.” They could have written those words for the subjects of this article, Shaun and Dan Bentley, who, together with family and friends, are busy recreating the halcyon days of one of Britain’s most successful historic race boats.

After all, you’d have to be crazy to spend every spare penny restoring a derelict 50-year-old Class 1 powerboat you spotted languishing in a Southampton boatyard, wouldn’t you?

The vessel in question is the rather wackily named Double 2 Shirts, the moniker being that of a previous sponsor, whose name Shaun and Dan have emblazoned along both sides of their 1973 40-feet Planatec deep-vee hull in reverence to its heritage.

Although it sported a variety of other quirky names during its early years – Radio Rentals, Macho and Ballerina among them – before being dressed up as Double 2 Shirts. The latter was the name under which she competed in numerous events, including the legendary 1984 Round Britain Race.

Shared passion

Shaun and Dan share a long-held passion for powerboat racing. “Ever since we’ve had boats we used to watch powerboat racing – Dan was probably 12 years old then,” says Shaun.

“We always wanted to do it but never had the opportunities. When Dan set up his own business, Bentley Marine, things changed and we ended up buying Double 2 Shirts.” The pair found the boat abandoned in Drivers Dry Berthing in the Northam area of Southampton around three years ago.

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“She was in a very bad way,” recalls Shaun. “One of her twin Mercury Racing 600 SCI V8s had blown up. The other engine was complete but when we stripped it you could see that it didn’t have long to go before it would have blown up too – it was all very worn and there was marking on the bearing shells; it needed a total rebuild.

The hull wasn’t a pretty sight either; it was filthy dirty and full of oil and water. We had no option but to completely clean it out and fully restore everything. “The boat came with a box of bits from the blown up engine but quite a few of the bigger parts were missing, including the supercharger.

When we asked around, we discovered that an ex-racer called Bill Bonner had it in his repair shop in Hove. He’d serviced it about eight years ago and still had it sitting on his shelf awaiting payment. We paid the bill and retrieved the supercharger from him – that saved us a lot of money.


As she looked when Shaun and Dan Bentley found her languishing in Drivers Dry Berthing

The other bits we imported from Teague Custom Marine of California.” Shaun’s mention of money prompted us to ask the thorny question of cost, as rebuilding a 50-year-old powerboat is something which obviously doesn’t come cheap.

While not wishing to be drawn on budgets, we were assured that the project has not been prohibitive due to the boat being bought for a song and the fact that Dan is a fully trained marine engineer with his own business and premises.

By erecting a large cover-tent adjacent to his workshop, he now not only has a place to store Double 2 Shirts with no ongoing costs but also somewhere to work on her with all his tools close to hand. He also has his mate Paul Knights, another skilled engineer who just happens to love big V8s.


The new dashboard starts to come together in Bentley Marine’s workshop

Between them, and with help from Shaun and the team’s two other members, Dan’s cousin Tom Yaldren and close family friend Lee Ornsby, untold hours have been put in to bring Double 2 Shirts back to life – with all labour provided free of charge. “That’s what makes it possible,” says Dan.

“We also get much appreciated help from boatfolk, who sponsor us with launches, lift-outs and storage space at their Deacons Marina when needed. So, we’re really only paying for the parts and the fuel.”

Ah yes, the fuel… how much does that cost? “Well,” says Dan. “She runs on regular E10 petrol, which she burns at a rate of one gallon per minute per engine.”


The new helm is a picture of clarity so driver and throttle man can focus on the race itself

“But that’s US gallons, which are smaller than ours,” interjects Tom, spotting the look of consternation on my face and leaping in with a man-maths-worthy defence before any more awkward questions could be asked.

To put the boat’s fuel consumption into some kind of perspective, we caught up with Double 2 Shirts as the team were preparing her for the 2023 Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race, a daunting 182-mile marathon.

“We’ve had to increase the fuel capacity by 280 litres to give us the range and she now holds 1,600 litres”, explained Dan. That involved installing an additional two fuel tanks, taking the total number of tanks on board to eight, all of which live in the bow just ahead of the crew.


A tight-knit race and pit crew are vital to the team’s chances of success

Transfer pumps move the fuel from tank to tank to keep her trimming level as the load diminishes while ensuring the thirsty 8.2-litre lumps are fed. In order to pilot a powerboat, a race licence is required from the UK’s sanctioning body, UKOPRA, which all four members of the Double 2 Shirts team hold.

Shaun is the driver while Dan operates the throttles alongside him and manages the trim and the fuel transfer. This means father and son get to occupy the front two seats, except they’re not actually seats at all; they are simply bolstered backrests to lean against as the boat thumps its way through the waves – Double 2 Shirts has standing room only for its crew.

In the back are Tom and Lee, jointly responsible for navigation and comms, which according to Shaun, usually amounts to something like: “You’re going the wrong way, you pillock – left a bit and mind that yacht over there”, although we suspect there’s a bit more to it than that!


The pre-race shakedown run revealed an issue with the cooling water pressure

Operating the boat takes the combined effort of all four crew members. The process begins by firing up the mighty V8s and allowing them to settle into their rhythm. “Once you’ve got her on tick-over and everyone’s happy, you slot her into gear,” explains Shaun.

“Then you give her throttle. Tabs down. And then, as you increase speed, bring the tabs up when she starts to come up onto the plane. This is why it’s a two-man job; you’ve got to have a throttle man and a driver because there’s so much going on. At that speed you can’t do it all, just driving is enough.

As well as navigating, the lads in the back are spotting all the time, so if there’s a boat coming up behind us, for example, they let me and Dan know.”

Drive to survive

As the speed rises towards the boat’s current maximum of 71 knots – a figure the team hopes to improve next year by uprating each engine to 750hp – so does the challenge faced by the crew. Without seats their knees take a merciless pounding and the faster the boat goes the more the ride becomes a relentless wave-thumping, teeth-chattering experience.

“It’s like racing on an ever-changing race course,” says Shaun. “So every corner, every straight that you come to, nothing’s ever the same. Every wave’s different. We’re always thinking ahead; the driver and throttle man have to be driving 20ft in front of the boat, whereas the navigators focus on the long distance scenario.”

Safety is high on the powerboater’s agenda: “All boats have to carry a life raft, flares, an EPIRB and a first aid kit,” says Shaun. “And the life jackets are solid with plates in them and a lift point on the back so you can be dragged out of the water.


At full bore Double 2 Shirts can now reach speeds of up to 71 knots

They’re also self-righting, so if you hit the water unconscious they’ll automatically turn you over and sit you upright so you can breathe. We also have full-face safety helmets with intercoms, and we have to wear flameproof overalls and race boots too.”

“And floral underpants,” adds Dan, with a wry grin towards his dad.

The day before this year’s Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race, the team were out on the Solent making last-minute pre-race tweaks. In the run up to the event, Double 2 Shirts had experienced its share of problems, which as Shaun and Dan noted is only to be expected following such a major renovation.

The born again race boat back in the water where she belongs

In particular there had been a recurring issue with the water pressure going through the coolers, which resulted in one of the exhausts overheating. “The exhaust kept turning blue,” explains Dan. “We’ve had to reduce the size of the water outlet in order to hold pressure back within the system. We think we’ve sorted it, but today we’ll find out.”

A number of high-speed passes later, the team was happy – the exhausts were behaving themselves. But then, a warning light popped up on the dash. “Engine map,” said Dan. “I’ve got another sensor back at the workshop, we can fit it overnight.”

Cowes Torquay 2023

At 10am on the morning of Sunday 26 August, Double 2 Shirts was ready, with her team preparing to propel themselves into insanity as they took their place alongside ten other Class 1 boats for the start of the 2023 Cowes-Torquay-Cowes, the 60th year the event has been staged.

Crew names emblazoned on the hull

The race features a rolling start with boats taken to a point between Cowes and Ryde from where they turn around and pick up speed before taking the starter’s flag at Egypt Point.

“We had a great start,” says Dan. “We held back a bit and powered up just before the start line to get the drop on some of our competitors. We were never going to win the race – there are some far more modern and more powerful boats than ours out there – but we wanted to put on a good show.”

And a good show it was, raising cheers from the many locals who had taken their boats out to East Lepe to watch the race rush past at close quarters. Shaun, Dan, Tom and Lee sped by in sixth place with Double 2 Shirts looking and sounding strong as she powered her way through the Solent.

Dan’s business helps keep the running costs manageable

However, things were soon to change as the boat’s starboard drive let go somewhere off Swanage. At the time of writing the exact cause isn’t known, but blue streaks on the drive’s skeg suggest a submerged fishing pot may have been involved.

“Several other competitors also suffered drive problems – but we’ll never know exactly what happened,” says Dan stoically. Far from being downhearted, the team put any disappointment behind them and started preparations for the 2024 season.

With engine upgrades on the cards and an entire winter to develop her performance, the future looks bright for Double 2 Shirts – expect to see her in her best bib and tucker when she once again takes up the challenge, beginning with next year’s UKOPRA Round the Island powerboat race.

First published in the December 2023 issue of MBY.

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