Anxious wait for repairs after race retirement

MBY correspondent Derek Wynans was on board Ocean Pirate for the start of the Round Britain Powerboat Race this morning – and has told of the terrible moment the crew thought their race was over.

As the fleet scorched into the distance seconds after the first start at 9.45am off Portsmouth, Ocean Pirate could be seen lagging behind at some 15 knots.

Things were clearly not right for the craft, which has been lovingly and painstakingly restored for the race by enthusiastic owner Mike Barlow.

Ocean Pirate (pictured on her way to the start this morning) is a 40ft hull built in 1968 by Brooke Marine in Lowestoft.

She took part in the first Round Britain Powerboat Race in 1969.

MBY’s Derek Wynans, 35, of Oban, has joined the boat for several legs of the race and was as keyed up as any of Ocean Pirate’s many supporters as the minutes ticked down to the start this morning.

After years of planning and a catalogue of problems overcome in order to get the boat ready on time, it was also an emotional and proud moment for owner Mike Barlow.

But as the fleet milled off Southsea Castle, disaster struck.

Derek takes up the tale: “During the muster we found out that we were actually all sitting on top of some concrete blocks used as an anti-submarine barrage in the war.

“Us and some other guys were warned by some of the local boats. As we went to manoeuvre off into deeper water one of the engines stalled.

“It started again okay, but then five minutes later when we started powering up for the race this vibration grew and grew. We realised it was serious and headed back into Port Solent [Marina, in Portsmouth Harbour].

“It was horrible. There was a shocked silence. No one could believe it and coming into Port Solent poor Mike was absolutely distraught.”

Port Solent Marina was able to haul the boat out on its slings at short notice, and it became clear the port propeller had been bent sharply round in the collision with the underwater barrage.

The engineers removed it and Mike himself drove off to St Neots to have it bashed back into shape.

At the time of publishing, 7.30pm, he was on his way back and the crew were confident the boat would be back in the water by 9pm.

A tricky and lengthy night passage along a coast strewn with fishing pots lies ahead of them if they are to make the start of the second leg in Plymouth tomorrow morning.

Driver’s briefing is at 7.30am.

Derek says: “Mike will be absolutely frazzled.

“The good news is we’re confident there is no damage to the shaft. It is turning freely and there are no tight spots. There’s no play in it.

“We were very lucky and Port Solent have been absolutely brilliant. They have a guy staying late so he can see us back in the water tonight.

“We’re looking at Plymouth 3am. Just time to get to the pub before the start!” Derek joked.

Ocean Pirate is in good company: race favourite and winner of the last race in 1984 Fabio Buzzi was also caught out by the underwater barrage when he kicked his rudder on one of the concrete blocks.

Buzzi had a man in the water inspecting the damage just minutes after the race’s second start this morning.

The legendary Italian’s boat, extensively overhauled for the race, was surrounded by spectator vessels as Buzzi and his crew realised their dream of retaining the overall title was already over.

MBY will have more as the drama unfolds.

www.oceanpirate.co.uk