The following article and photos were kindly sent by Philip Sharratt, who was a member of the Chasewater Club from late 1950s to 1973.
Outboards - And Things
Boating all started for me when I was nine years old, but I don't know where the boating-idea originated. Anyway, I believe one idea was to have a small boat and use it on the canals, but we ended up at a company called J R Woodissee & Co. Ltd who were originally invalid carriage makers but had diversified!! We bought (by “bought” I mean Dad and Mom bought) a Cee-Craft, with red deck and white hull, of about fourteen feet in length, made of fibre-glass. This boat was not new and had been used in some sort of an endurance venture when it had crossed the English Channel powered by a British Anzani outboard engine. On the foredeck, there was a swage which culminated in the windscreen cowling, where there had been a large Castrol Oil decal which had left the colour slightly darker than the rest. The outboard engine that we had, which was new, was a Johnson 18hp. I think that it was Woodissee's who pointed us in the direction of Chasewater, where they were also members (P47, I think) and in the summer of 1958 or '59, we as a family became members and acquired the boat number of P77 (P for 'power').
Chasewater is in Cannock, Staffordshire; part of Norton Canes. It came about from being a marl-hole. 'Marl' is small stones that were quarried for road-building, the marl-hole eventually filled up with water because the hole was non-porous and it left a space big enough to host both The Chase Sailing Club and the South Staffordshire Hydroplane and Speedboat Club (SSHSC). The pool was split equally from north to south. On the south-western side, there is also an adjacent small pool called Geoffrey's Swag which is not for boating but kept as a bird sanctuary. At the northern end is a huge dam with a sluice where water is siphoned off to feed the canal system in times of water shortage.
When we joined Chasewater, the wooden clubhouse was just being completed. I believe that before then, there had been some sort of caravan-effort, but this now was a club-house proper. The toilet facilities, still, were primitive to say the least. I cannot vouch for the ladies', but the gents had a large hole dug behind a corrugated enclosure (open to the weather) and also a 'thunder-box'. These were to be the first improvements when the clubhouse was completed. Very soon there was a kitchen added (The Galley) and the all-important bar. These were both run by volunteer club-members for a good many years. In the pool, the club had secured some ex-Army (or Navy?) landing stages which were wooden and so floated, fastening so many end-on-end to meet our requirements. One or two affluent members had made their own landing stages, in a U-shape, where the owner had the luxury of the inner mooring berth and other members could tie-up on the outer moorings. As time went on, the ex-Army staging became battered from constant use and were replaced by more robust and static moorings.
There was a foreshore, where the boats were brought on road-trailers behind cars, and they were prepared for launching having been divested of their strappings that held the boat to the trailer on the road, and also the trailer-light set that was required by law. Also the fitting and setting-up of fuel tanks (still two-stroke engines then) and generally readying the boat for use. There was a slipway constructed of concrete where boat-owners would then reverse the trailer down to the water's edge without having to bother about becoming stuck in a mud-hole. If the water was high, then the slipway could be used by two people man-handling the trailer into the water, releasing the boat at the landing-stage and then parking the trailer in the suitable trailer-park out of everyone's way. If the water was low (perhaps in times of drought), the trailer was better reversed down the slipway behind the car and then the car could drag the trailer away afterwards. Someone had constructed what was called a Long Tom, which extended the space between the car and the trailer so that the trailer-and-boat could go deeper into the water without the car having to go into the water (and maybe flooding!).
Every boat that was allowed on the water was obliged to display a 'P' number, written in black lettering (or a contrasting single colour from the hull), a minimum of eight inches high and one inch in thickness and on both sides of the boat. The alternative was that the number could be shown on a board as part of the boat and again painted in black numbers on a white background. As a ten-year-old, I could memorise so many of the owners, boats and engines that occasionally club officers would find to ask, instead of digging through the Club records!!
From before the start of my time there, everyone allowed in a boat must wear a regulation life-jacket at all times, and this was strictly adhered to. As the boating fraternity became more established, so unfortunately more rules had to be generated, and soon there had to be scrutineering at the start of each season (and every race - meeting for those participants) to be sure that all craft were fit for purpose. The only exception was the use of wet-suits for water skiers. Wet suits were considered to be bouyant enough not to need life-jackets, and they also made skiing cumbersome. Drivers of all boats had to be sixteen years or older and any younger drivers (and I became one of them) had to pass a scrutineer's test. Outboard engines not only had to be clamped onto the boat (using the standard system) but they had to have bolts through the transom, as just transom-clamps of bigger-size engines had become insubstantial. Painters (the rope at the bow used to tie up at mooring) had to be no longer than the length of the boat and should not be capable of fouling the propeller. Petrol tanks had to be suitably strapped down so as not to move about within the boat. There was also a cut-out plug that was fitted to racing boats so if the driver was ejected, the engine would cut out. I know that after my time at the Club, this measure became standard even for general boaters and skiers.
Top photo: Our original Cee-Craft, with the Johnson 18hp outboard stowed inside ready for the road.
Above: The Cee-Craft on the water at Chasewater's replacement landing stages, with me holding the painter.
Also it was decreed that there must be a minimum of two boats at the pool for boating to continue. This was after one boater was there on his own and he came into difficulties (I believe that he might have capsized his boat) and as there was no-one there to assist, he was drowned.
Speedboat racing was the main activity, apart from the General Boater who came purely to ride for pleasure in his boat, but many of those people became inveigled into racing. To start with, there were no race programmes; there was just a list of all the Club members, the boat-names, boat manufacturer and engine - but very often Club members changed and they changed their boats or engines, so that idea was soon discontinued. The pool was limited to around thirty-five boats allowed at any one time, and on a number of occasions when the weather was ideal, some boaters had to wait for others to leave before they could join the fray. In those days also, Chasewater was a haven for week-end day-trippers and many times the venue was inundated.
There was also a small contingent of hydroplane racers, and the only one or two that I can still remember were Sid Seymour, who was very slightly built and physically was the ideal build for hydroplanes. The other was Derek Winters, his wife Winnie and their son Max. Derek didn't stay long with hydroplanes and later bought a speedboat for racing. Chasewater was a huge expanse of water and mostly the wind forces made the water too rough for hydroplanes. Most of them decamped to Bodymoor Heath in Birmingham, which was much better suited, I am told.
Some names from the early list of Club-members I can still remember. P1 was designated to Len Chatterley- but in all my considerable time at Chasewater, I never, ever, saw P1: not the boat or the owner. P2 belonged to Stan Pearson, a one-time Commodore, who made his pile with a company that made pots and pans and he was always very generous when raffle prizes were required!! John Merryfield had P3 - he was a boat chandler and dealer from Henley-in-Arden where he sold Mercury (and probably other) outboards. He had designed the 11ft 6in Meadcraft which was a very popular racing boat when we first became interested. These boats were powered from 22hp to 50hp engines and rumour had it that no-one had ever capsized a Meadcraft!! John Merryfield later designed the Merrycraft (which was built by Brooklands Aviation), which was 13ft long. My parents bought one which was powered by a 50hp (719cc) Mercury two-stroke outboard, which my brother later raced. We were also later interested in buying the original prototype Merrycraft which had been named Mr Kiekhaefer (after the originator of Mercury outboards). This deal took a long time to materialise but eventually it was found in a Brooklands Aviation warehouse; and again my brother John raced it with moderate but enjoyable success.
P8 was owned by Reg Trevellick who had a two-seater Albatross inboard boat powered by a marinised Ford 100E engine, and he was an avid racer. He had come from car-racing but had become fed-up with it and had decided to switch to water. Reg became one of Chasewater's chief scrutineers for both racing and general boating and when he died at 91 years old he had become a major force during all that time.
P13, I remember, was raced by Bill Udy and his son in our early days and several other people later carried that number so they were obviously not superstitious!! P14 was used by Eric Platt who was the Chairman of The South Staffordshire Hydroplane and Speedboat Club when we first joined. He owned a coal yard and transport business just a stone's-throw away from Chasewater. His wife also ran a successful transport café on the same premises and they were both very pleasant people. Eric owned a Meadcraft when we first saw him. He later owned other boats and even co-designed a boat, but it was not a commercial success. Eric had designed this boat with chandler David Barton who had a dealership in Meriden where he sold Scott outboards. Eric's Meadcraft was called Red Fin, and there were a number of owners who also used “Fin” in their boat names. There was Dol-fin (P45 owned by Cliff Platt, Eric's brother and the treasurer of SSHSC); Nuf-fin (P125 owned by Mike Atkinson); La-fin-Buoy (P23) owned by Dennis Grogan,who had to change the boat's name to La-fin Buoy when his wife gave birth to twin sons!!
There was also P15 owned by Vic Labrum, his wife Elsie and daughter Denise who had an Albatross four-seater inboard boat with the bigger 1600cc Ford engine. Vic was the Commodore of SSHSC when we joined and he also had come from car-racing but had become disillusioned with it. He was also a member of the Chasewater Kart Club and often had his Albatross on a road-trailer with the kart on a cradle above.
Two early members of the Club who just concentrated on water-skiing were and Mike Brown and Phil Conn, who had an Albatross inboard boat, which was ideal for skiing. A little later on the Club had as a skier Phil Hawley, one of the Hawley bakery family. He bought a Dowty Turbocraft, which was driven not by a propeller, but by water induction. Phil Hawley delighted in spinning this boat as it travelled, making it potentially dangerous for on-coming boaters and it always completely soaked the passengers in the rear of the boat. Eventually he was reprimanded and he subsequently left the Club.
Above: Our 45hp Mercury pictured in our shed before we had chance to use it.
Right: John's photo of me on the foreshore with our Merrycraft and the Mercury.
Another early Chasewater member was Trevor Fox (P16) who owned TW Fox Engineering in Oldbury, West Midlands. Trevor originally had a Simmonds inboard boat but later became an outboard racing enthusiast using a Shakespeare boat and he competed internationally with his boats Kay-Oss and later Kay-O-Tic (both named after his wife!!)
Then there was Les Good - P26 - who I came to know quite well as he became a good friend of my parents. Les originally had a heavy clinker-built wooden boat with a Johnson 35hp outboard, when I first saw him. He later changed the engine for a 50hp Mercury and then changed the boat for a Blu-fin 13R (more of which later), which I crewed in races. He then sold that outfit to Archie Rolls and he bought a Shakespeare Avon hull powered by a 100hp Mercury.
I became very friendly with Archie Rolls (P52). Archie's real first name was Arthur, named after his father, but he had always been known as Archie as a child to avoid confusion. It was only his wife Pam who ever called him Arthur. He had worked at BMC Longbridge, but he now had a motor-repair business near home. When he first joined the Club, he had a Miami fibre-glass boat and the hull-shape was known as round-bilge. This meant that the hull was U-shaped and when racing it could negotiate turn-buoys with unerring accuracy. His boat was named Wendy Wou, which I believe was the pet-name for his daughter Wendy. Archie's wife Pam usually accompanied him, as did his children. Apart from Wendy, he had an older son Adrian and a younger son Marc, who later went on to race much larger boats in the 1980's (notably at Bristol and other international events). When Archie bought the Blu-fin from Les Good, Archie needed a crew and so I carried on my duties from Les.
For one weekend, Archie decided to race at The Cotswold Motorboat Racing Club at Fairford in Gloucestershire, so a large contingent of Archie, Pam, three children, a crew-member (me!) and all the boating gear (and some camping gear) were crammed into an Austin A55 van-with-windows and then the boat and trailer behind. The Rollses were seasoned campers - but I wasn't - so whilst they enjoyed their tents overnight, I slept in the car!! We raced and we enjoyed the weekend (I think) but the car struggled on the way home. With Archie, I also raced at the Lancashire Speedboat Club at Carr Mill and that was an interesting experience. One of my last races with him before two-up racing gave way to single-seaters (and I was also having problems with my back) was at Chasewater in 1965, whilst negotiating a right-hand turn-buoy in the chicane, I fell out of the boat in rough water and amid the following boats. Archie saw me going and turned the boat around quickly to shield me from the melée. I still remember that it was the only time that I ever opened my eyes under water (it happened too quickly for me to shut them) and I remembered how green the water looked!! Archie unceremoniously dragged me back into the boat and as I knew that we only had one more lap to complete, I insisted that we finish the race. I later learned that had we finished the race without my ducking, we would have exceeded our handicap and therefore been disqualified from the race. In the closed season, the Club each year held an Annual Dinner and Dance, part of which was to re-present major trophies and also to Club members an award was made for having been 'ducked' during a race - so I had one. I still have my china duck, complete with SSHSC badge, in our glass cabinet and it will always be a prized possession.
Another crew-member around my age was Adrian Scrimogeur whom I was often in competition with. Adrian suffered a bad accident during a race when a wayward boat bounced across his ride and the outboard's skeg caught his back and Adrian was waylaid for quite a while.
Many P numbers changed regularly, but amongst some I remember was Norman Fletcher who had P73 and who had joined the Club just before us. Norman originally was part of Falcon Marine with Edgar Fullard but Norman had left to go his own way. Norman went on to great success with his Fletcher speedboats for both general boating, water skiing and offshore racing, but his craft were rarely a success at inshore racing. He also made larger boats of 20' plus and even an outboard-powered 16' cruiser, and he himself was successful in racing offshore. To demonstrate his cruiser, he teamed up with West Midland company BRD who were then making their Bermuda outboards and a Fletcher cruiser powered by twin Bermudas was scheduled to run non-stop at Chasewater for a week.
Another Chasewater member was Les Clark (P74), who raced a number of boats including one in a Paris Six-Hours race when he was badly injured and he left the boating scene. Another notable was Jeremy James, a grandson of the James motor-cycle family - he had P102. He had a variety of boats, one of which briefly was Eric Platt's Meadcraft Red Fin which he had thought of buying. Jeremy became friends with Bill Shakespeare (more of him later) from the Cotswold club and Jeremy raced many Shakespeare boats in this country and abroad but unfortunately he died during a race practice run in France when his boat failed to negotiate a weir.
Also around this time were Dick Hardy(P119) and his wife Joy and their daughter Claire, after whom Dick instigated a trophy to be raced for by Club members each year. Dick had one of the earliest catamarans that was seen on Chasewater, another Merryfield design.
One of the Chasewater members who joined immediately before us was Al Wright and his buddy Austin Harper. Al had P76. Al was a publican by trade and he was an avid water skier, but he and his wife also went to view much of the racing, particularly to at least one Paris Six-Hour race.
One of the people who enjoyed inboard boats was Ted Manton and his son Ricky. Ted was a motor dealer in Birmingham and named all his boats “County” presumably after the dealership. Ted had a couple of Albatross boats and later bought a Levi inboard/outboard unit to race.
In the early 1960s, we had a small contingent of new members from the Burton Speedboat Club. They had used a stretch of water on the River Trent, but a weir had been taken out and they had lost the depth of water that they needed, so they decamped to Chasewater. I remember Ken Unwin with his wife and son, and Ken used to build boats for his own use, and very smart they were too. There was also Alan “Mitch” Mitchell and his sister Sadie who came for a season or two and also there was Wilf Parker with his wife and two daughters. Each boat that Wilf owned was called Bonny Blue C.
There was one notable member who built very successful racing boats. Ron Wolbold, who I believe lived until the mid 1990s. Ron was the designer of Blu-fin Boats. He built the 11R (11'6'' long), the 12R (12'6'' long) and the 13R (13'6'' long), which was the most popular. The 11R was designed to be raced with 22hp engine, the 12R with 35hp engine and the 13R with a 50hp engine.These were all two-up boats with an L-shaped deck with the driver sitting towards the rear of the boat on the right-hand-side with the crew member alternating from his seat alongside the driver and his crewing position kneeling on cushioned squabs further forward in order to keep the boat stable and race-worthy. Ron later made single-seater boats (once crews had become obsolete) with great success, and later still had a venture with Hemmings and Morris making sixteen-foot boats.
Some other Blu-fin pilots that I can remember - Les Dunacre and his wife Joyce. Les drove an 11R powered by a 25hp Mercury outboard. Similarly Jack Lees. But Jack had a slight modification made to the decking because he was a tall bloke and needed some extra space in which to fit his legs under the deck. Another was Jack Kemp who moved from two-up to a single-seater Blu-fin with either a 25hp or 35hp Mercury. There was also Alf Pearce, who was a builder and his son Colin who was a driving instructor and who initially crewed for him. Alf was one of the last still racing in B-class (25hp engines) and he also later moved to a single-seater, which Colin drove until one fateful race when the saddle broke on the engine (a regular problem on these engines when raced) and they gave up racing and presumably boating as well.
More proponents of the Blu-fin 13R that always come to mind are Pete Parry, and "Jock'' Geddes, both extremely nice people. Pete, with his girl-friend Anne, had a 13R powered by a 50hp Mercury engine which was named Hari Kari, with an impressive samurai sword emblazoned down each side of the hull on which the name was written. Pete had graduated to a Blu-fin from a Meadcraft, which had been named Scorpio. Jock (or H.B. Geddes as he was obliged to sign racing entry-forms) had an early prototype Blu-fin with the name of Lucy Lou (or something similar) and he later bought a Levi single-seater powered by a 100hp Mercury. Also, there was Bill Grann, again with a 13R and a 50hp Mercury. He bought his boat late in the year and then spent many hours and many gallons of fuel practising during the winter months with his crew Paul Reilly, who worked for Fletcher Marine. Bill's boat was named Palladin, after the cowboy series on TV starring Jack Palance. Palladin was known in the series to have a business-card on which was written “Have gun, will travel” but on Bill's boat the card was written as “Given gun, will travel”!!
There was also Fred Price who started racing quite late in life and he originally had an aluminium boat called Tondeleyo (again, from a film). This was a boat not designed for racing and he later bought Archie Rolls's Blu-fin and he called the boat “It” but it was later re-christened “Flippin' Fing” as Fred capsized it whilst racing on a number of occasions. I once crewed for Fred in Tondeleyo: well, I wasn't so much a crew as I would crew in a Blu-fin or similar. In Tondeleyo I was purely ballast, as I lay across the rear seat as a weight to the engine to prevent cavitating. I was thoroughly wet and thoroughly fed up, so I never repeated the experience. Fred also sponsored a trophy for competion amongst Club members, when a previous sponsor had dropped out.
Another avid racer was Wilf Gregory who owned a boat called Fancy Pants - a Yarecraft with a 100hp Mercury and Wilf raced in Europe quite a lot. More information about him can be found on this website.
Another racer of Blu-fins were the proponents of the Bermuda outboard which were made in Aldridge by BRD (whose driver's name escapes me!!) (Ken??). They raced as advertising and experimentation for Bermuda. There was another guy whose name I can't recall whose father (he was a scrap-metal dealer) bought a Yarecraft with an 80hp Mercury. They first used it for general boating but the son was bitten by the racing bug and he raced for about a season and his manner of racing was frowned upon by many club racers. He eventually had his come-uppance when he capsized the boat in a race, and we never saw him again. Apparently, he could not swim!!
One of the very early SSHSC members was Bob Beresford, his wife June and their son Robin. Bob originally had an inboard boat called Plain Jane, which I believe he built at home, in the house, and had to have part of the wall removed to free the boat!!! He used this boat to give pleasure trips to members of the public in order to boost Club funds and to make people interested in boating. It worked with the Sharratts!! Bob later built an 11'6” inboard boat (because he was told it could not be done) and enjoyed racing it. He later had to move away from the district and he sold the boat to Dougie Stott, an ex-RAF pilot.
Someone that the Sharratt's came to know quite well was Ray Hill, his wife Doreen and their children Trevor and Karen. Ray had a glass and glazing company in Wolverhampton. I believe that Ray had a family boat to start with, but then bought a Hemmings & Morris racing boat similar to a 13R which he named Vi-vá-shus and he used his 40hp Mercury engine. Having had modest success, he later bought a Bristol Clubman boat of 13' in length and changed his 40hp for a 50hp. He raced in 1965(?) with his crew Patrick Guest in the 100-mile Duchess of York race and would have won it except that the pin that adjusted the engine tilt from the transom had slipped (as he later found out) and he couldn't achieve the final burst of speed needed to beat the eventual winner John Hill, from the Cotswold club, in his Bristol Boat called Sheeza-B, powered by the relatively-new-to-the-range 35hp Mercury. This was before John had graduated into F1 racing boats and international races.
Other names I remember from Chasewater were Eric Holroyd who was Commodore of Chasewater for a while. Cecil Woodall was another Commodore during the late '60s - he had an inboard boat, a Healey. Yet another Commodore was Derek Wassall who was a solicitor, with his two sons Philip and Andy. Philip also went on to race. There was Stan Pearce, his wife and two daughters and Stan acquired from John Merryfield an experimental fifteen-foot racing boat powered by an 80hp Mercury. This boat was very flighty and although I was never to race in it, I rode in it many times and knew what a handful it was. Two brothers from the early '60s were John and Bert Freeman - both inboard boaters and racers and both with self-designed Freeman boats powered by Ford engines originally but when Mark II was unveiled, these had Mercedes engines and were much quicker. Bert's boat was called Cheetah and John's was named Miss Tiss. They had a colleague Bert Stokes who followed suit with the boats and he named his S'Agaro, from an Italian village he was fond of. Two more brothers were Peter and David Balmford who came in the late 1960s by which time single-seater racing boats were the order of the day. They both raced Fletcher boats with 50hp Mercury outboards and David later became treasurer of Chasewater Powerboat Club as it had by then been re-christened. Two more brothers were Brian and Barry Hildick who owned Whittalls Wines. They both started with Albatross inboard boats and Barry later went on to race a Moonfleet inboard unit. There was also Sid Thompson and his two sons Steve and John. Sid was a garage trader in Walsall and Steve later headed Steve Thompson Cars in Walsall. The Thompsons had a Cee-Craft boat with an 18hp Johnson, just the same as we had when we started, but theirs was a little bit faster than ours!! They later graduated to a large Owens boat powered by a 75hp Evinrude engine.
One man I will always remember was Sam Hargreaves with his wife, daughter and son Robert. Sam started as a general boater but he was tempted by racing and after a few different boats he arranged with Ron Wolbold for him to modify the now mostly-outdated Blu-fin 13R hull which he built and raced as “Har-fin”. Sam was Club secretary for quite a few years before unfortunately contracting MS in mid-life, which finished his boating and his independence.
I also remember Bill Kendrick who started with a medium-sized racing boat and later had a Levi boat with a 100hp Mercury and later still a racing catamaran. Bill was part of the Kendrick building family in Walsall. He used to arrive towing his Levi outfit with a Porsche Carrera fitted with a tow-bar!! Another name I recall was Jim Peverelle who later built racing boats with quite considerable success. There was Ray Pillow who owned Warner's photographic busines in Wolverhampton, and his daughter Vanessa and son Dave. Vanessa went on to race boats with moderate success but she was always singled out as the only girl in that particular race. The only other women I can recall were Fiona Brothers, Pat Lewis(occasionally) and Pat Ainge.
To give my own involvement in all this, as I said earlier, I was nine-years-old when Dad and Mom bought their first boat and my brother John was fourteen. I became very interested in racing but I was not allowed to participate as a crew in races until I was fourteen years old and drivers had to be sixteen. I had five years to learn my craft, so to speak, and I was informed by Dad and Mom that quite a few drivers had asked their permission to use my crewing abilities from the time I was about twelve!! I was tall for my age and belied my younger years.
By the time I became fourteen years old in July 1963, our family were taking their usual holiday on a hired Norfolk Broads cruiser and John had persuaded Dad and Mom that he and I should race our Merrycraft when we reached Oulton Broad, which was one of our main stops. Lowestoft and Oulton Broad Motorboat Racing Club held their race meetings on Thursday evenings and also on Bank Holidays. A couple of years earlier we had witnessed the race when Rooster came to grief. Racing is what John and I wanted to do. Our Mother was reluctant to let both her young sons race together but she never dissuaded us. By this time John was driving the prototype Merrycraft and we were very cute in negotiating this basic two-buoy course. The only boat likely to out-corner us was driven by local, Frankie Holmes. Frank had originally raced a Yarecraft Mistral powered by an 80hp and later a 100hp Mercury engine; and they were wooden boats made aptly-enough close by the River Yare. As the boat negotiated the 180-degree turn buoy, the bottom of the hull was clearly visible by all the spectators and so the brand-name “Yarecraft” was written in large unmistakable lettering. We had an amazing race-meeting and won third prize on the day and the only driver that managed to turn inside us was.....Frankie Holmes. Up until then we had enjoyed a mostly spray-free ride, but after he overtook us, we were sodden!!
One year Frank was due to drive in the Paris Six Hours race in the autumn and he had a boat built especially strong to withstand the notorious rigours of the race. He decided to give his new boat some race-practice on Oulton Broad and as he was about to turn around a buoy, his steering cable snapped and the boat flew onwards and embedded itself through the central wheelhouse of a hired cruiser that was moored on the Broad as it's hirers watched the race. Both the cruiser and the Yarecraft had to be gingerly towed to a nearby boatyard for them to be separated!! Later, Frank (I think) started Mistralcraft, which were very similar to Yarecraft but this time he had “Help” emblazoned along the bottom.
Other names from the Lowestoft club that I remember were Toby Sutton from Toby Marine who usually raced Johnson outboards, and quite successfully: Tom Percival who achieved much international success before he was killed whilst racing: and the Sabberton brothers who made beautifully-varnished inboard boats powered by 3-litre Jaguar engines. One of them sank at Chasewater during the Manufacturers' Trials event and I believe that it was an enormous task to retrieve the boat from the water as it was so heavy.
Later on, I raced with Les Good in his Blu-fin and then with Archie Rolls when he bought the boat from Les. One tale I do remember was a new boat called a Qual-craft had come from the Lancashire club. This boat was made for the 50hp engines, with driver and crew in tandem as motorcycle riders would be. At the turn buoy, the crew would come alongside the driver onto a cushioned squab and the boat would turn very precisely. On one meeting, I was laid up with an almighty carbunkel on my left knee which was very painful and I could not even straighten my leg and so I could not race and as I sat in Dad's car waiting for the race to start, one of the Qualcraft drivers had announced on the PA system that he needed a crew - I was so distraught that I couldn't oblige.
Right: My brother John, with his crew and family-friend Chris Thelfall, in the Merrycraft as they finish a race. The boat was called Sunset Strip, named after the Sunday-night TV show “77 Sunset Strip”.
By the time I was sixteen years old, crewed boats were becoming fewer, and more new boats were being made as single-seaters. Also I was having problems with my back, so instead I took to becoming one of the Timing Control staff. This was run by Harry and Pat Lewis. Harry was in time-and-motion study at Austin/Morris Motors at Longbridge in Birmingham. Pat occasionally raced in a borrowed boat. My Dad was already chief starter (“flag wagger”) in the timing-control staff and I later inveigled my girl-friend Jan (now my wife of 40 years) along with me. It was Harry who ran the show but it caused disagreement with wife Pat who had racing experience against Harry who had none. However, on one Sunday during a Club-only race meeting, Harry was unable to come because of work pressures and so Dad, Jan and I assumed that Pat would run the timing-control. It soon became clear that she would and I think Dad and I made most of the crucial decisions that day.
Left: 'Sunset Strip' at rest.
Chasewater hosted the first British 24 hour powerboat race and that was (I believe) in June 1967 - it was held at the weekend closest to the longest day. We had entries from Sweden and Holland and other countries and the following year we had a Spanish entry but that turned out to be Trevor Fox, Don Ross and Another in disguise!!
The boats had to be equipped with standard navigation lights (red to port, green to starboard) and a forward-facing headlight and each driver had to have an orange flashing light on top of his crash-helmet (battery powered) in case he ended in the water during night-time; the turn buoys were also lit. Fuel was provided by Regent Oil and a separate fuelling stage was set up on Chasewater's South Shore, so it was away from the main pits area. During the second race in '68 Ray Hill, driving a Fletcher boat, was unfortunate to suffer fire whilst refuelling but thankfully the petrol-tanker did not suffer. The following year, John Sharratt also had the same problem, but again the bowser was unaffected.
The Timing Control was run on a shift system with staff from other Clubs' helping out with race control duties with the Chasewater contingent. During the second year, the race was visited by Prince Philip and the shift system meant that the Chasewater crew had a 5-hour stint instead of the usual three hours. The first 24-hour race was won by Bob May, his son John and Julian Bailey.
Whilst I was involved in timing-control duties, Jan and I started to take on the signing-in duties, where each person who wished to race would have to sign-in (legibly) to a disclaimer about accidents and insurance claims and also give particulars about their boat and engine etc. for the commentator's use.
One of the earliest visitors from other clubs who came regularly was Bob May, from the London club, whom I remember having a Derry Fabrications boat powered by the biggest outboard then, the 70hp Mercury, which were then in brown on top and grey/white on the lower unit with a red engine cowling. It wasn't until the 100hp engine came about that Mercury engines were then all-black. Bob's boat was called Yellow Peril (from the boat's colour) and he later had a similar boat which was named Orinj 'Orrer (again after it's colour). Bob later went on to single-seater craft and had one of the early Levi hulls with the 100hp Mercury which he co-drove with his son John, and Julian Bailey to win Chasewater's first 24-hour race in 1967.
Some other visitors were Coulie Coulson from the Cotswold club with his Levi hull and a 100hp Mercury (or bigger, as it later evolved as 110hp, 120hp and 150hp) and his boat was named Schhhh-You-Know-Who, from the popular Schweppes advertisement of the time. Another visitor was Dennis Burton who also used a Levi/Mercury combination, and his boat was called Uncle Den. Dennis and his family used to arrive in a then fairly-modern 42-seater Duple coach that had been converted as a motor-home, towing the boat's trailer behind. I wouldn't liked to have had to pay the fuel bills for that outfit!!
One very well-known driver was Bill Shakespeare from the Cotswold club. He was a very affable man and quite short in stature but he was a B-I-G racer. He designed and built the Shakespeare collection of boats from the fourteen-foot boats (less successful) to the seventeen-footer which was called the Avon, and also pleasure boats as well as racing craft. He first started when craft where required to carry driver and crew and I believe that he unofficially ran with the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes offshore racers whilst testing a boat, and he sold many successful boats. He raced all over Britain and abroad and he wrote a book about powerboat racing, of which I have a copy. He died in 1971 or '72 at Lake Windermere whilst practicing for a race there. Neither he nor his boat were ever found, despite many searches - only a small cowling from the speedometer surfaced.
One of the racers in the two-seaters boats of the E-class (50hp engines) was Mike Spires, who had a Bristol boat called Lucy Lastic, with a humourous signage on the boat showing what the name meant! Mike came from the Bristol club.
Another visitor, from the Southend club, was a driver called Roger Hook,who has designed and built an inboard outfit and was hoping to bring out an outboard version quite soon. When the single-seaters arrived, we saw derek Edwards and Martin Clayton, both from the Cotswold club, both in E-class boats. Derek had a small Levi hull whilst Martin was using a Bristol Clubman boat that was originally a two-seater but he had modified it with a long snout to make it comply with the regulations as a single-seater. It was a flighty outfit, but it worked. The Levi hulls were quite revolutionary at the time. They were made of marine ply and the earliest ones of sixteen-foot length had a false bilge to them and an air-intake on the foredeck which would disperse the water from within the bilge through bailers. This water intake was included because the hull was shaped as a very deep-V and (in theory) this feature was to keep the boat stable when stationary. The Mark II did not have this water bilge system and I think it was because it was made in a shallower V-formation. This was certainly the case on the E-class.
The summer of 1965, our John decided to spend his 21st birthday money to buy one of the boats, a single-seater, designed by Roger Hook and Roger Holcram, which they called the H-Craft. These were built in Teignmouth in Devon and John needed to go there (from our home in Wolverhampton) to fetch the unfinished hull. He needed a co-driver for this long car journey but couldn't find one for that particular week-end that he needed to travel, so he asked me to accompany him (although I was not old enough to drive a car then) as companion and to keep him awake. The story goes that not only was I an inadequate companion on that long journey, but I also fell asleep as a passenger, which made it doubly worse for John: but he got the boat!! He later raced his completed boat with some success and decided to enter it in the Duchess of York Race, which was 100-miles long; 100 laps of Chasewater's race-circuit. The single-seater EU-class was still fairly sparse then and the opposition were Derek Edwards in his Levi and Martin Clayton in his Bristol. Both of them had decided to carry fuel with them for the entire race - John had decided to take about 50-miles-worth and then stop to refuel. I know for a fact that there were a number of potential buyers of H-Craft waiting to see how John performed that day before placing their orders. When the EU-class started on the timed handicap, John's boat being lighter of fuel, shot off into a commanding lead whilst the other (heavier) two were having difficulty coming onto the plane. John was circulating consistently for about twenty-five laps when I realised (as I was his pit-crew) that he was missing from the frey. No word had come from the commentator but eventually I saw the nose of John's boat stationary and pointing skywards from near the ski-raft. It seems that the boat had lost a piece of planking from the bottom near the transom and when John slowed down to investigate the BANG that he had heard, the boat just sank. Several cheque-books were returned to pockets then, and I believe that the H-Craft was not the success that had been hoped for.
Around about this time, a new class of single-seater came into prominence - the C1U. These were all powered by the Crescent 35hp engine from Italy. They were a small but interesting group of boats, all very competetive and all using either Fletcher or Blu-fin hulls. One of the more successful drivers was Clive Wall from Birmingham.
Another outboard that was quite prominent as a hydroplane engine was the König, from Germany. The hydroplane engines were very basic - no cowling and with a very short drive-shaft (as befits the hydroplane), but the powerboat engine was more refined and I believe it did not have the usual rope recoil-start mechanism, it was only electric start. The output was about 40 to 50hp, but I didn't see many of them.
Another driver who springs to mind was Paul Yates, from the Lancashire club. I saw him in a variety of boats but he might have had a bad accident and that may have finished his boating career.
Another Chasewater driver was Fred Gosbell who kept to driving inboards - he was another later-in-life convert. He stayed mostly to larger inboard boats but he did buy a racing boat. He often would relinquish his driving to Pat Lewis (the head time-keeper's wife) who had acquired a Club racing license. With Pat having had first-hand experience of racing and Harry (who had not), it often lead to heated debate (arguments?) in our timing-control over certain issues.
Two other (female) drivers were Vanessa Pillow(again from Chasewater) and Fiona Brothers (CMBRC). By day I gather that Fiona was a buyer for Marks and Spencer. Fiona gained quite a lot of media coverage because she raced the fast ON boats in England and abroad and she attempted a water-speed record on Lake Coniston. She later suffered a bad accident and she disappeared from the scene. Vanessa came into racing via her father who did some racing but then handed over the driving to son Dave and daughter Vanessa.
When my brother John finally gave up circuit racing, he was asked to drive the boat for racing water skier John Brosch, another Chasewater member and he and Jim Hill both raced in many events around the country and close off-shore.
My interest waned around 1973 and I believe that circuit racing suffered greatly during the petrol shortages of the late 1970s. I am still a keen enthusiast for small powerboats and if I am ever near a marina, I am always keen to view the boats; although my interests have now moved on to other things.