Forerunner of Sunseeker brand to relive Channel crossing
For most octogenarians, sitting back and enjoying retirement is an expected achievement but Geoff Tobert (80) is far from satisfied. While he and his wife Jennifer indeed live comfortably in Chichester and often enjoy cruising the world aboard luxurious vessels, he is planning one last epic voyage with a difference in June.
Geoff spent his commercial career in pleasure boating starting when it was little more than a cottage trade, a far cry from the multi-million pound industry it is today. Motor boats were his speciality. He represented several outboard engine manufacturers before controlling the production and European sales distribution of a large range of fast pleasure boats under the flag of the American Brunswick Corporation. Here is the twist.
It was over 40 years ago when this international conglomerate decided to withdraw from the pleasure boat building that Geoff was given the task of disposing of its hull moulds. One of his distributors had been a small marine retailer in Christchurch who showed interest in building their own craft. Its two partners decided to take the mould of a 17ft (5.1m) hull Geoff was offering, a model known as the Sovereign, and begin production
Little did anyone guess the deal was to become the embryo of Sunseeker, now one of Europe’s leading builders of luxury pleasure cruisers!
With over 2,000 staff Sunseeker is a major employer in Dorset and has production facilities stretching from Poole to Portland. It was about five years ago that company discovered one of the boats that gave birth to their brand: a little Sovereign. A specialist team has since brought it back to the pristine condition it held when sold in the late 1960s for £1,400 complete with engine.
It has now been used as centrepiece on Sunseeker stands at international boat shows around the world. More recently in London’s Harrods store in Knightsbridge following its appearance in the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, where it carried actor Daniel Craig on yet another 007 adventure.
It was while watching this cameo role that Geoff Tobert reacquainted himself with the boat with which he unknowingly launched a world-wide British brand all those years ago. He immediately contacted Sunseeker, and as it will not be his first experience of long open sea passages in small powerboats, they immediately agreed to loan him the craft
Geoff crossed the English Channel on several occasions in the 1950s and visited four countries in four days in 1959 using a little 12ft (3.6m) outboard powered hull. He drove 1000 miles to Sweden in an 18ft (5.4m) open runabout in 1964 and recreated the Putney-Calais crossing when in his seventies ten years ago alongside the original 1962 race team using modern Honda powered racing boats.
His plan in June is to repeat an earlier seagoing challenge by driving the Sovereign over the old London-Calais race course and back, a total distance of 220 miles. It is a trip which, including refuelling, will take some ten hours of hard driving. But why would anyone want to face the elements of an open sea passage in their 80th year?
Geoff is not deterred.
“I want to show that given good health, adventure is still out there for us oldies. It’s certainly better than sitting back watching the box!”
Geoff Tobert will be crewed in the forthcoming crossing by Motor Boat & Yachting columnist, Ray Bulman (79), who has accompanied him on all his previous Channel crossings since the late 1950s.