Geoff Tobert, pioneer of British boat racing, dies

Man who sold the moulds to the very first Sunseeker passes away aged 83

Geoff Tobert, who bet the late Clive Curtis he could cover the course from Putney in London to Calais and back in the fastest time, has died at 83 after a long battle with leukaemia.

The two-boat contest was to attract a further 28 outboard-powered runabouts before taking place in 1962. Although Geoff never won the contest, finishing that first 240-mile crossing less than a minute astern of Curtis, his idea created a new offshore powerboating sport later given the title of Class III.

Tobert, heading a small band of similar marine traders, also founded the United Kingdom Outboard Boating Association (UKOBA). It catered strictly for outboard-powered runabouts, and aimed to publicise the growing efficiency of this form of marine power and its ability to make genuine open-sea passages.

Later, as the sport grew, events began to attract the larger racing classes and the loyalty to the outboard slowly diminished, with ‘outboard’ in the title being changed to ‘offshore’.

Always keen to create publicity for his runabouts – he was European marketing manager for the American Owens range of runabouts and cruisers – Geoff undertook several long and arduous open-sea passages, two over a 1000 miles in length.

Recommended videos for you

Driving a small 12ft (3.6m) Yarecraft runabout in the late 1950s with a 25hp Gale outboard, he crossed the English Channel to visit four countries in two days.

The following year, this time in a 14-footer with only slightly more power, he again crossed the Channel heading for his German birthplace via the European waterways only to be turned back by armed East German border guards.

Later still, accompanied by the Clive Curtis, the pair crossed to Belgium, entered the canal system and headed for the Baltic and Denmark before returning home.

1964 saw Geoff testing a prototype 18ft (5.4m) Owens sterndrive-powered runabout by driving from London to Sweden.

This time the entire trip was in the open sea via the Dutch and German Friesian Islands and through the Kiel Canal. Unfortunately it ended with the boat exploding while refuelling in Denmark on the way home.

It was in the late 1960s, when Brunswick decided to withdraw from the marine trade and dispose of Owens, that Geoff persuaded one of his smaller dealers to have a crack at building their own boats.

He had a set of moulds on offer – the recently introduced 17ft (5.1m) Owens Sovereign – which they readily accepted. It was to become the first ever Sunseeker.

Three years ago, at the age of 80, Geoff commemorated his proud involvement with the launch of Sunseeker by driving a 40-year-old restored Sunseeker Sovereign over the old Putney to Calais course (video below).

With the boat only capable of around 20mph, the 240-mile round trip took some 16 hours but it marked the best possible finale to a lifetime’s involvement in passagemaking in small runabouts.

Subscribe to the print version of MBY
Subscribe to the digital version of MBY


Latest videos