The TORTOISES’…. also ran’s in the worlds most rugged offshore race.

We all know the stories of the boats that won the races and those that reached Torquay with great haste but what of the tail end Charlies who finished with little praise for their efforts.…

In 1961 2 boats made the journey at the sedate speed of 16 knots never failing to slow for the conditions encountered which at times was force 5. They were not Deep V’s, neither did they have any fancy gizmos in their design they were just solidly built semi displacement motor boats that gave a smoothish ride in heavy going….constantly!.

The boats were Yeomana 3 owned by famous Yachtsman Owen Aisher, crewed by Peter Thonycroft and Stan Bishop and Vantage owned by John Dupree, both were 32 ft overall designed by Thornycroft and built by Keith Nelson. Yeomana being powered by 2 Perkins diesels totalling 138hp and Vantage by a single Rootes Lister rated at 100hp.

When the fast boys had long finished at Torquay these 2 stalwarts were finishing the course in 13th and 14th places but 2 hours out of time, still they proved their staying power against many of the hares that failed to finish.

Peter returned the following year with a new boat, his own, soon to become a favourite amongst the sports followers “Espoir” carrying no 39 which became his “number”. Espoir was a 34 footer powered by 2 Perkins totalling 260hp, she was designed by TT Designs and built by Keith Nelson. She finished that race in 13th which was acknowledged as one of the “rough” one’s at a steady 20mph this time within time and again beating many more powerful craft that fell by the wayside.

There was no entry in 63 or 64 from Peter but Espoir was back in 65 now carrying 139 due to rule changes and powered by twin Parsons diesels totalling 354hp…..This was the year of the “Diesel” with Miami boat builder Dick Bertram winning in his 38 prototype 1100 hp Cummins powered Brave Moppie but finishing in 25th taking 9hrs 25mins against the winners 5 hrs was Peter’s Espoir, a third of the power but a much smoother ride!

Espoir was back in ‘66 with one of each in the engine bay!? 1 Parsons and 1 Cummins but still totalling 354hp finishing 9th at 22.5 knots….Again this was one of the roughest races on record so far with the winning boat the 28ft Ghost Rider arriving in Torquay with Jim Wynn’s co pilot crouched in the cockpit with broken ankles….second boat home was Steve Macey’s 42 ft, 900hp Rolls Royce powered Spirit of Ecstacy.

In 1967 the race was to be done in style when Cdr Peter Thornycroft appeared with Grand Espoir, a 41 foot TT designed Nelson powered by 2 Cat diesels totalling 800hp. In light conditions that favoured the greyhounds GE rolled into Torquay like a dowager duchess having averaged 31.5 mph, finishing 7th in class and 24th overall …

1968 was another “rough” race and Peter’s new boat Horatia finished again in conditions that suited her, 8th in class and 17th overall.

1969 was the year of the Round Britain Race and 4 craft were entered from TT but only 2 actually participated the Vosper built Bani Yas and Horatia which finished 16th over the 1400 mile race at an average speed of 28 MPH.

1970 was the last year we saw Nelsons participating in offshore racing and Horatia finished the CTC in 26TH overall second to Spirit of Ecstacy in the class…the world of powerboat racing had changed dramatically from those early years, it was all now speed, speed ,speed.

Of all the racing Nelsons over the past decade only one is known of and that is Horatia in the hands of John Trafford and she is still running the same Cats but they are now a little temperamental having been rebuilt by John several times…..I wonder where the others are? If anyone can fill in the blanks please lets us know at CLASSIC OFFSHORE….they may not have won major prizes but boy they proved their worth in the toughest of conditions where many of the favourites floundered and failed.

Mike James  Oct 2012