In Memory of Bill Shakespeare 03.05.30 – 23.10.71
This month we remember Bill Shakespeare, boat builder and racer, who was tragically killed while practising for the Windermere Grand Prix on 23 October, 1971.
Bill, who became known as the ‘Tewksebury Terror’, started his career as an apprentice for Bathursts in Tewkesbury. He started building his own boats in the 1950s and in 1960 began to develop his glass fibre race boats. In 196l he exhibited his first production craft at the London Boat Show - the 26ft. wooden "Star" cruiser. Later that year saw the birth of the Avon runabout, a 13ft. 6in. hard chine timber built craft that was followed within 12 months by the famous 15ft. 4in. Avon Special that was soon taking prizes at all the major European races.
In 1963 his was the first ever British boat to win the gruelling Paris 6 hour race on the Seine. In 1964 he became the youngest ever president of the British Motor Boat Racing Drivers’ Club and, in 1968 he published his book, 'Powerboat Racing'.
By 1967 International demand for the deluxe version of the Avon Special, which was by now also successfully competing in Class III offshore, reached such a height that Bill, together with the help of Jeremy James, converted the complete range to grp in order to speed production and reduce labour costs. The Boat Show following this saw an outstanding display of grp runabouts on the Shakespeare stand. Although Bill Shakespeare's main task centred on domestic runabout design and production, by the end of 1968 he had built his first series of racing catamarans. It was while driving one of these craft that his business colleague and racing companion Jeremy James was killed when practising for the Liege 6-Hour race in 1969.
In 1970 he set a new World Record for ON class outboards of 104 mph on Lake Windermere, in one of his own designed and built fibreglass catamarans.
Bill was killed during the final few minutes of practice for the 1971 Windermere 3 hour Grand Prix. He was travelling at around 100 mph when his craft suddenly flipped and disappeared under the surface. Although several patrol boats rushed to the rescue no trace of either the driver or his boat was found.
Known as "Shakey Bill" to his close racing friends, for almost 10 years he was synonymous with circuit racing in Britain and Europe. At 40, he was one of the top British drivers, having won nearly all the major circuit trophies presented in this country at least once, and to a lesser degree, his fair share of honours abroad. But it was not only in racing that he was known. Many every-day runabout and water skiing enthusiasts owed much to Bill for it was as a boat builder using his racing knowledge to improve the breed that he will also be remembered.
Many thanks to Steve Pinson for the following piece.
The Shakespeare team at Windermere in 1970 were Bill Shakespeare, Robert Glen from E P Barrus, Steve Pinson and 2 mechanics. The record boat was very lightweight and I saw one man carry the deck folded under his arm at the boatyard. It was made using a fibreglass and foam sandwich construction, which was a new concept at that time. Bill had only driven this boat on the River Severn very briefly. The engine was running a 1-1 sports gearcase and propeller sent from the OMC factory, not normally used on circuit cats, for top speed only. He had a few top speed runs, which were very fast but too many revs meant the engine blew up. Bill rang the Shakespeare boatyard and had the engine taken off the boat that had finished the Paris 6 hour race the week before . Six hours later it was at Windermere, fitted and running, and took the record at an average 104mph.
For the 1971 Windermere 3 hour Grand Prix Bill’s boat was a stepped cat. The only thing the boat didn’t like was cornering. We ran a stock gearcase at Chasewater but for Windermere he wanted to run the same gearcase as his record boat, which was 10 to 12 mph faster. This was a very safe boat which I had driven with Bill at the Chasewater 500 mile race. We had followed Molinari round both days and finished half a lap down and got 2nd place overall. Rumour had it that Molinari was to race with a new engine. OMC even sent over Jack Leek, Head of Racing, to watch as they expected a good result.
In practise for the 3 hour race Bill had a portable workshop style rev counter, which was on the floor of the boat between his legs. I had used this myself and the scale was hard to read. To check the RPM would take a good 10 seconds; long enough for him to fly the boat. The first boat on the scene of the accident was John Hill. He could just see Bill's boat disappearing underwater. The only thing still floating was the works rev counter. I was the last person to speak to him and lost a good friend that day.