Port Manager Mr
George Edney said the Port Authority would welcome an early closure of the city
docks, because of the losses being made.
They are due to be closed to commercial traffic in 1980.
Daily Press January 25 1972)
Can you imagine how
Charlie felt? A ‘naturalised’ Bristolian who saw the city’s maritime heritage
slowly deteriorating and becoming an eyesore.
He wanted to draw people’s attention to the great asset Bristol
had. However, some others saw the
monetary gain for selling the acreage of city covered by the docks.
He quickly realised
that unless something was done quickly then the docks would be lost. He was very involved with powerboat racing
and the idea quickly took hold.
A massive powerboat event, which would draw crowds to the docks area!
He set about making
enquiries of how, who, what and when. He already knew 'Where' the event would
be. His first approach was to WD and HO
Wills – an obvious choice as the fortunes of Wills had been closely linked to
Bristol and the bonded warehouses at the far end of the docks were still owned
WD and HO Wills were
initially cautious and then persuaded by the enthusiasm and drive of
Charlie. By then he had also managed to
persuade his own Club, the Cotswold Motor Boat Racing Club which was based at
Fairford in Glos, to embark on organising this potentially huge event.
In December 1971,
Charlie received a letter from the Town Clerk’s department stating that “the
Corporation had no objection to a race being held in the Floating Harbour
Mr James Lavery
Crook, Public Relations Officer for Bristol City and Town Council, contacted
Charlie in early January 1972 and said that the Town Clerk had “omitted to
point out specifically in a letter to Mr Sheppard dated December 22 that formal
approval could only be given by the Docks Committee.”
By January 1972
things were beginning to seriously get going. The Sponsors and the organising club were
lined up, however the approval of the Docks Committee was still needed before
any event took place. The Harbour Master at that time was Captain Hobart, a man
in his sixties like Charlie. He had previously seen his role as overseeing a
winding-down of the docks activities. Instead of watching less and less docks
activity from his office in Underfall Yard, Captain Hobart saw the potential to
revitalise the docks. The two men became
firm friends even though they often crossed swords.
By February 1972 the
Docks committee had deliberated and decided to ask the Organisers headed up by
Charlie to stage a trial event. This would enable them to determine at least
some of the issues regarding the possibility of the ‘wash undermining the quay
Then 4 days before
the Trial Race was due to take place the Docks Committee decided that there had
to be adequate insurance cover for the crowds likely to be drawn to the trial.
Once more the whole
event was in jeopardy and once more Charlie’s resolve to have powerboat racing
in the Docks was tested to the limit. Mr John Tomlinson, deputy Town Clerk, had
tried to get insurance to cover spectators but had found it impossible.
organising club’s insurers came up trumps and in a letter dated just 3 days
before the Trial the insurance had been “extended to indemnify the Lord
Mayor, Alderman and Burgesses of the City of Bristol in connection with the motor boat trial..”
jostle for position in Bristol’s floating harbour as the city gets its first
taste of international high-speed boat racing. Fifteen boats yesterday staged a
70mph trial before members of the Docks committee and hundreds of spectators.
Docks committee members insisted on the trial before giving the go-ahead for an
international race planned for July 8 and 9.
They were worried
about noise from the boats, collisions and damage to the harbour wall by the
But after the trial,
a spokesman for the Docks committee said members were favourably impressed. The
committee will make a final decision on March 13.”
(Western Daily Press, Monday March 6 1972)
This was probably the
first time many Bristolians had heard that powerboat racing in the floating
harbour had been proposed.
One week after the
trial race the Docks committee approved the race to be held in the summer. Now
another snag - the Royal Yachting Association were insisting that ALL ships be
removed from the area of any race.
By May the Bristol
Evening Post were the first to report that “Everything is GO for the
International Power Boat Race schedule for Bristol City Docks.”
The first event in
1972 was a tremendous success with local businesses able to reap the rewards
from the massive crowds attending the event.
Local hotels were full and so many people enjoyed a wonderful free and
What some people did
not know was that all the profits* from that first race which was indeed held
on July 8 and 9, were donated to the SS Great Britain project.
(* From sales of programmes
and other memorabilia. No charge was made at that time for admission or seating
to watch the races.)
1973 was the year of
Bristol’s “600”Celebrations (600 years of being a Chartered City and County)
and by then opinion in official circles had changed so much that Charlie was
ASKED to organise a special powerboat event in August that year
another 19 annual Powerboat events in Bristol City’s Floating Harbour and all
of the top International Drivers of their time were proud to race in
Bristol. It was a challenging
course and there were some dreadful events involving the loss of drivers’
As Charlie always
maintained it was not dangerous because there could be no such thing as an
‘accident’ – it was always avoidable. He always listened to constructive
criticism and acted upon it.
Bristol was the first
powerboat venue to employ doctors so that treatment was immediate for any
injuries. It was also the first venue to have every rescue boat equipped with
floating stretchers to enable casualties to be lifted from the water without
risk of further injury. It was the first venue to have the rescue boats in
direct communication with each other and the Chief Rescue officer who was based
at Race Control.
The design of
full-face helmets, neck support helmets, back braces, air-bag technology were
all influenced by the constant pursuit of safety initiated by Charlie and his
team at Bristol.
It is a fitting
tribute that racing was never stopped at Bristol due to any fatalities or
incidents. It stopped when the costs of
mounting an event of such magnitude became so great that a sponsor could not be
found in credit-squeezed Britain of the early 1990’s. By then the Docks had been saved from the
bulldozers and there is now a peaceful but busy oasis which properly reflects
the maritime history of Bristol and still allows it to be enjoyed by all.
(Please see the
copies of documents, newspaper clips and photographs.)
Evening Post Jan 22,
Western Daily Press,
February 29, 1972
Bristol Evenin Post March 1 1972
Indemnification, 2 March 1972
Evening Post, March
Western Daily Press,
March 6 1972
Boating Weekly, March 9 1972
Proposed Course for
Race, July 8 and 9 1972
Celebrations to include ‘Boat Race’
Many thanks to Penny
Fisher (Charlie's daughter) for permission to use this article.
The Charlie Sheppard Archive: To view a full list of the contents of the
please click here.