The 36ft long needle nosed hull looked like nothing ever seen before, her space age looks had the pundits shaking their heads in disbelief and uttering such comments as “it will never work”.
Not only was her hull shape totally alien to anything racing in 1965, her 1000 horsepower engine installation defied convention and had never been used before on the British offshore racing scene. It had been experimented with in the USA in 1964, in a raceboat called Holocaust, a 23ft Formula which developed a serious chine riding motion due to the power being fed through the single shaft.
When travelling at her top most limits she also developed the same unnerving Chine ride!, but at a steady 60mph she rode perfectly albeit with a little porpoising….in 1966 the 28ft Ghost Rider used the same tandem layout and won that years Championship outright! But we are talking of course about “SURFURY”.
The Deep “V” born 8 years earlier by Ray Hunt and copiously copied had overnight trans-morphed into what Sonny Levi, her designer, had termed the “Delta”. The boat was to be the replacement for their race winning Bertram 31 “Surfrider” and carried over the Gardner Brothers unique trademark twin position steering!.
1965 signaled the start of a new era in Offshore Powerboating a trend that was set by Surfury’s out of the box speed, never officially declared but reckoned to be 70mph. There were problems of course, the tandem coupling of the 2 powerful Turbocharged Daytona’s through gearbox’s to the single shaft then to the Zip strut rudder mounting meant propellers lasted little more than one race before being destroyed by the forces of the water they displaced. The engines and their unique installation also created problems for engineer Ivor Verlander as he rode shotgun behind the drivers peering at his charges through the perspex engine covers, broken engine mounts, loose tappets and piping contorting itself through the enormous pressures encountered.
Her first major race was a re run of the previous years dual with Dick Bertram, his new mount “Brave Moppie”, Bertram was keen to avenge his ’64 Cowes Torquay defeat. Brave at 38ft was 2ft longer than Surfury and diesel powered, she was admirably suited to the race conditions that ensued in the 65 race.
At the start of the 65 Cowes Torquay, Surfury shot past the Squadron line into the lead and into the hearts of the 1000’s of spectators lining Cowes Promenade and coastal vantage points. As the fleet fought their way to Torquay Brave Moppie took the lead in the Solent leg with the Gardeners content to run in Bertram’s wake but on the return passing of Cowes Surfury again demonstrated her power prowess and sped past Brave Moppie. This was the pattern set for the next leg out of the Solent and on towards Portland Bill, both craft taking the deepening swells at approximately 49 mph. Then shortly after passing St Albans the gremlins struck Surfury…she came down off the plane and turned for home, Bertram had seen his only challenger fall away and plunged on towards Lyme Bay.
This was a bitter pill for her crew to swallow but within 30 minutes and to everyone’s delight she was racing again. Ivor had found a loose rocker nut, both engines were again running sweetly and the dart shaped craft set off after Bertram and the now second place boat Merrick Lewis in Thunderbird. Bad luck struck again in West Bay when the bow tank refused to fill and they lost trim tabs but undeterred they carried on across Lyme Bay despite the somewhat uncomfortable ride and were now placed fourth after being passed by Tramontana 2.
Bertram swept into Torbay, on approaching the finishing line he completed a double sweep to ensure they crossed the correct position and erasing last year’s bad memories. 9 mins later Thunderbird swept across the line at the same time Tramontana and Surfury rounded Berry Head into the smooth water of Torbay. Tramontana had also fared badly in the Lyme Bay crossing when a 16ft split along the hull opened up and she lost a heat exchanger through it. Surfury snapped at the heavier boats heels and to a great roar in Torquay passed and pulled away, crossing the line in 3rd. The crew disappointed perhaps but the boat showed tremendous promise and Levi’s delta design put the boot squarely into those who had doubted his genius.
Surfury ruled the waves for the next 4 years, won the Cowes Torquay outright in 1967 and came 2nd in 1968 beaten by Tommy Sopwith’s diminutive Telstar after his cheeky inshore route, taken to avoid the rough weather that saw Magnum Tornado sink whilst battling with Surfury. It was to be another 12 years before another major offshore design breakthrough came, the Beard /Curtis catamaran Yellowdrama 3.
Surfury was retired after her last race in 1970 and was donated to the nation by the Gardner Brothers. She has spent most of her time since on display at the Basildon Powerboat Museum but after the museum’s closure she was transported to the NMM storage facility near Swindon where she now sadly corrodes and fades away in desperate need of a full restoration and a permanent home!
Surfury was a true design breakthrough and is still fondly remembered and talked about by offshore fans world wide, no other Offshore Raceboat has ever registered so highly in the minds of people who followed the sport in those early years and also the modern day…well maybe perhaps there is one..”Tramontana 2″ but that’s another story.
NB. CLICKING ON PHOTO’S WILL ENLARGE