The Cowes-Torquay – 1961 to 1970

The Cowes-Torquay – The Wood & Glass Years 1961 to 1970

The Beaverbrook Trophy It all began in 1959/1960 whilst Max Aitken, soon to become Sir Max, proprietor of the Daily
Express, witnessed and participated in the Miami Nassau Powerboat Race. Together with John Coote
they formulated rules for a similar event to take place on England’s south coast the following year 1961.
It would be for craft of the specification laid down in the rules, basically built around the cabin
cruisers of the day in order to develop the designs into safe seagoing vessels. It was to start at Cowes
and finish in Torquay, where the Aitken family had homes and would be sponsored by the Daily Express.
Aitken Sopwith
The first International Daily Express Offshore Powerboat Race was scheduled to start on August
the 19th and would be the first race in modern day Europe since the 1930’s. Of the 62 original entries,
27 came to the line off the Royal Yacht Squadron at 10am that morning and off they headed off into
the unknown and into some severe conditions, a fleet composed of mostly inexperienced crews, amateur’s
and gentleman sportsmen in some highly unsuitable craft!

Seven hours and seventeen minutes on the first boat crossed the line at Torquay and so was born one of
the most famous offshore races of all time, the one they all wanted to win, The Cowes-Torquay and with it
the Beaverbrook Trophy (above left). The winner of the first race was Tommy Sopwith, ex Jaguar sports car racer
and son of the aviation pioneer Sir Thomas Sopwith. His boat Thunderbolt was a strengthened version of a Ray
Hunt designed Bruce Campbell Christina 25, powered by 2 Cadillac Crusaders totalling 650 hp, the course was
covered at a speed of 21.4 knots which prompted the comment from Sir Thomas that he was doing twice the speed in
the Thirties when he was racing in the Gold Cup! Tommy responded that they were not in force 5 conditions and
miles out to sea!

By 1962 with the race in only its second year, it was attracting major entries, from the USA and Italy and names soon to become legends in the marine world were building their reputations in the Cowes Torquay…Jim Wynn, Sonny Levi. Dick Bertram. Don Shead Tommy Sopwith .Charles Curry and Peter Twiss the air speed record holder and test pilot. The list of entrants grew each year along with the stature of the race. Although problems loomed soon after the 62 race when Dick Wilkins entry, the mighty Vosper built Tramontana with twin Italian CRM’s totalling 2000+hp stormed ahead to win and make a mockery of the rules. The result being, the application of a 1000hp limit and capacity regulations for petrol and diesel engines, which were put in place for the ‘63 race..

Tramontana I courtesy Graham Stevens Tramontana II courtesy Graham Stevens
Tramontana I courtesy Graham Stevens. Tramontana II courtesy Graham Stevens.
In 1963 a new Tramontana appeared with four Jaguar E type engines producing in total 1000hp but also entered was one Sonny Levi in A’Speranziella his 61/62 entry but totally remodelled, strengthened and powered by twin Ford Interceptors totalling 800hp…lessons were being learned about a boats behaviour in offshore conditions and these were being put into practice by the now established offshore designers. It was third time lucky for Levi! Also in the fleet that year were two brothers Charles and Jimmy Gardner in a Bertram 25′ called Scorpion.
In 1964 and driving an identical boat to Dick Bertram’s Lucky Moppie they stormed the finish at Torquay minutes behind Bertram but their mount Surfrider won as the American had shot past on the wrong side of the marker and had to retrace his route and pass the right side! The score so far was England three, rest of the world one.


By 1965 it was not only the Cowes race that attracted major entries, The Wills Trophy, the Round the Island, Southern Speed Trophy and races for the up and coming Class 3 racers had large entries but it was still Cowes that drew the best the world had to offer and the spectators in their thousands along the coast to watch the “BIG ONE”.


Blue Moppie courtesy Graham Stevens
Blue Moppie courtesy Graham Stevens.
It was 1965 that saw Dick Bertram conquer this race, he had been in there at the start, first with Glass Moppie then Blue Moppie , Lucky Moppie in the 64 fiasco, this year it was Brave Moppie 38ft long and powered by 2 Cummings Detroit Diesels, the first win by a diesel engined craft. .The race was a battle royal between Bertram and again the Gardner Bros in their new Levi Designed Surfury, destined to become one of the most famous powerboats of all time but it was Bertram who beat the others this year, Merrick Lewis was second in Thunderbird a FORMULA boat designed by Don Aronow (remember that name) and Surfury 3rd after suffering engine problems.

1966 saw the Yanks beat us again but with a British built boat, those master builders at Cowes the Souter family had built Ghost Rider for American sportsman Hugh Doyle and it was designed and driven by none other than Jim Wynn who also cut his teeth in 1961 with YOYO and had entered every race since. Driving the race of his life, with Bob Sherbert braced into the corner of the cockpit with broken ankles after landing badly off a rogue wave, he urged Wynn to carry on. Neither of them knew that Surfury had retired with a smashed engine mounting and Flying Fish had sunk off Portland Bill such were the conditions in what turned out to be one of the roughest races so far in its history….The second boat home was Spirit Of Ecstasy entered and driven by Steve Macey who had also entered every year since 1961.

Come 1967 and subsequent rule changes had allowed the American open style racers into the fray Class OP1 and 2 joined the cruisers but they would not compete for the famous Beaverbrook Trophy only points towards the world championship but who won?, none other than Surfury now in her Third year of racing , a famous victory for all concerned and the second time the Gardeners had won the race. Surfury was regarded as the most advanced design of the time with her Levi Delta hull and twin Daytona’s driving near 1000hp thro’ a single shaft, she was the epitome of the state of play in a rapidly changing offshore racing world. Levi’s design’s had changed current thinking but lurking in the wings was Don Shead who had owned and raced Levi designs i.e. Trident and Delta 28, he was currently designing class 3 boats and success was coming with his Avenger designs, 1968 was to be the start of his climb up the ladder…..

The ‘68 race saw another rough ride but this time the Cowes Torquay had another sting in the tail, it did not finish at Torquay, the fleet had to return home to Cowes a total of 230 miles! Flashing into the lead was Surfury again racing against Italian Vincenzo Balestrieri in White Tornado, a Don Aronow designed and built Cary but as they headed out into Lyme bay a small 25ft Don Shead designed and Souter built craft driven by Tommy Sopwith (the 1961 winner) took Telstar the smoother inshore route to Torquay. Unseen by the Gardner’s and Balestrieri he avoided the boat breaking direct route, that was to condemn White Tornado to a watery grave and give Surfury one of her roughest rides. Sopwith won the race for the second time, no mean feat in those conditions for a single engined boat and one hell of a shock for the Gardner’s when they arrived at Cowes thinking they had won!

The CTC as the race was now known was reaching its zenith and 1969 saw the American dominance surge to the fore again bringing with it the mighty Cigarette and Don Aronow, already World Champion and building some of the most successful boats on the offshore scene he stormed to victory in record time, 3hrs 33 minutes at a speed of 66mph…Also racing that day were several new designs, one from Don Shead , Miss Enfield, an aluminium hull with 2 V8 Mercruiser Inboard Outboards. Miss Enfield was the start of a revolution in hull building that was to dominate the 70’s and although unsuccessful in this race The ENFIELD concern of John Goulandris built some of the fastest mono hulls that competed in the 70’s.

We finish this instalment with 1970, a race in which more records were broken, one of the largest fleets to start , a 3rd victory for one of its most popular contenders , Tommy Sopwith at the wheel of Miss Enfield 2, a development of the original boat and still the majority of craft, cruiser based .

The start of the new decade saw the boats still racing to the original rules with some minor and major tweaks along the way but this would change as rapidly in the years to come, as had the racing in the past 10 years, the emergence of Don Shead as the No1 designer and with him the Italian dominance, even higher speeds and the birth of the CAT.