Telstar 31 August 1968

Telstar 31 August 1968

I can still remember as if it were yesterday, we were standing on the southern most point of Portland Bill waiting for the return of the leaders in the Cowes Torquay Cowes, the weather had been abysmal, it was cold with drizzle and sometimes a very stiff wind, suddenly the loudspeakers burst into excited action and the commentator announced that the leader was approaching The Bill, they didn’t say who but from the address system came the Tornado’s record Telstar and at that moment she came into view bouncing through the Race, an almighty cheer went up and she was gone. You could still hear the growl of her single Daytona as she vanished up the coast and into the history books.I can still remember as if it were yesterday, we were standing on the southern most point of Portland Bill waiting for the return of the leaders in the Cowes Torquay Cowes, the weather had been abysmal, it was cold with drizzle and sometimes a very stiff wind, suddenly the loudspeakers burst into excited action and the commentator announced that the leader was approaching The Bill, they didn’t say who but from the address system came the Tornado’s record Telstar and at that moment she came into view bouncing through the Race, an almighty cheer went up and she was gone. You could still hear the growl of her single Daytona as she vanished up the coast and into the history books.


But let us go back though to the beginning and to a class 3 boat called “Avenger” penned by racer turned designer, Don Shead, which was taking the class by storm, 21 foot long, built by Souters and powered by 2 Mercury outboards she changed the face of class 3 and started Mr Shead on his path to fame. Based on the success of this design a certain Mr Tommy Sopwith ordered a larger OP2 version of the design, to be built by Souters. With several unique design features, the Souter built Telstar also had a twin called Melodrama for entrant Mike Campbell and Brian Hendicott which did not incorporate Telstar’s raked transom though was otherwise identical and powered by Mercury outboards, in fact Mr Shead had 7 Avenger based designs in this years race although Telstar and Melodrama were the 25ft versions and the others, 21 footers.


Telstar Photo Courtesy Graham Stevens.

Telstar Photo Courtesy Graham Stevens.

Telstar was unique in several respects, firstly at 25ft she was a small boat and had the driver and navigator standing in tandem in the slim hull, the Cowes Torquay was notorious for its changeable weather conditions, (1968 was no exception) most craft were designed around the mid to maximum length allowed in the rules.

Secondly, most entrants even the outboard brigade relied on 2 engines, Telstar had 1 Turbocharged Daytona of 650hp driving through a V drive, powerful enough, but one engine in this race renowned for breaking even the biggest most powerful craft was a risky choice.

Thirdly, Don Shead designed her with a new drive system, the first of what some people have called a surface prop. From her raked transom a stainless steel framework carried the rudder as far aft as was possible, the prop shaft emerging from the hull at quite an acute angle through a transom mounted P bracket and ending about 6 ins behind the rudder assembly.

On top of all this “new” engineering the race was now to return back to Cowes a total of 196 nautical miles!

The twin Melodrama had been successfully entered in The Needles Trophy, The Solent 70 and the Wills International taking 2 places and a first but Telstar retired from her first race the Wills, the omens did not look good, but at least the hull design had proved its worth with Melodrama.

The C-T-C had an entry of 54 boats for its new configuration with 3 top Italian teams out to win it and points in the World Championship, Vincenzo Balestrieri being the top gun In White Tornado! Telstar was also ranged against the cream of the British offshore scene including Surfury, Delta 28, Shand Kydd’s Ultimatum, also single engined, Kennerley’s Maltese Magnum 2 (an ex Don Aronow boat), Tim Powell’s UFO and a host of fast cabin boats who can take the rougher weather in their stride! and rough it turned out to be!. In the sheltered waters of the Solent it was the fast guys who set the pace Surfury and White Tornado swapping places whilst being hounded by Ultimatum, Maltese, Ken Raybould in John Hodder’s Broad Jumper the ex Bill Wishnick Formula and UFO.

The weather was grey for the start and as the fleet left the Solent turned grim, by Yarmouth one was swamped and sinking another retired, by Durleston Head one of the Italians was out, the 40ft Levi Parentocraft. By Weymouth, Maltese Magnum, Ultimatum and Delta had retired whilst out in Lyme Bay a battle royal ensued between the Gardner Bros and Balestrieri reaching its climax when White Tornado sank after splitting her hull. The Gardner’s thought they had the race in the bag as they swept into the calmer waters of Torbay and headed for home paying little attention to the disturbed water ahead of them left by a very fast boat!

Having won the initial race in 1961 with Thunderbolt, 25ft long and powered by 2 Crusaders giving 650hp in similar conditions although that was a one way trip! He was now leading the 1968 race also in a 25ft boat with one engine giving 650hp and was heading home again as leader. Which takes us back to where we started this story! Telstar on the outward journey had headed into the sheltered water of the Lyme Bay coast, a longer route to Torquay but far safer considering the turmoil of the direct route that day, even so she was bounced around like a top in the choppy waters and had lost the forward hatch, the route was first used by Bruce Campbell in 1961 when he finished 4th in Christina and now Tommy had used it to his advantage in Telstar, it became known as his trademark and was to win him the race!

When Surfury appeared out of the mist there was no way of telling them that little Telstar was already passing Durleston Head and had opened the throttles, the same applied to UFO, then to Gee and Gypsy Girl, Spirit of Ecstacy and Melodrama, Telstars twin which was being pitched constantly in the tidal race off Portland Bill, her Mercury engines screaming as she took off on each crest.

Now back in the calmer Solent waters Tommy pushed Telstar to the limit and she crossed the line taking 6hrs for the full course, 11 minutes later Surfury powered over the Squadron line with the Gardner Brothers not understanding why they had received such a quiet reception, it was only when they motored back to the Winners barge to find celebrations well underway and little Telstar occupying prime position did they realise that thinking they were leading is one thing and easing right back in Bournemouth bay was another, for it had surely cost them a certain victory!

Tommy Sopwith became the first person to win this race outright twice and was to go on to win for a record third time, but that is another story.

Post Script.

Telstar was one of many ex-Tommy Sopwith boats that were purchased then raced, sometimes successfully, in the years following the sale. Telstar in 1969 passed into the hands of Cowes Torquay regular Maurice Hardy and finished 4thoverall and 1st in OP2 in that years race, Tommy had moved on to a 33ft version of Telstar, T2, utilising the same rudder prop layout as her smaller sister but failed to impress. (T2 then became Hot Bovril and had a few minor successes.)

She did not appear on the racing circuit the following year and was offered for sale in a full page Motorboat and Yachting advert with the headline “Are you man enough to handle this boat?” The line drawing showed a conversion to a 4 seater fast day boat but it seems this redesign was never actually carried out. Telstar then reappeared in the original conception with new owner Richard Benge at the 1972 Cowes Torquay but retired, he entered her again in 73, where she again finished in 4th position only to be disqualified for missing a marker. Benge entered her in 74 but again retired.

In 1975 or 76 there was no sign of Telstar and Mr Benge now owned the old Plantec boat Uno Embassy which was renamed Thunderbird.

Telstar like so many ex race boats she vanished into oblivion but has reappeared many years later fully restored and in the ownership of Mr Colin Mullan, although she has a new engine Colin is still sorting out the transmission! It seems Mr Sopwith’s boats never die. Now tell me, where are T2 and Miss Enfield?