The Cowes-Torquay 1981 to 1990

The Cowes-Torquay, Della Valle, Diesels and Cats 1981 to 1990

Before we start the history of this decade it must be noted the Cowes Torquay was undergoing
drastic changes to suit A, the speeds now encountered. B. the changing face of the sport. C.
the diminishing fields as costs spiralled and D. the fading away of the class that represented
Max Aitken’s original purpose of the race, to promote safety at sea for all, in cabin cruisers
and seagoing craft of a certain type… the pleasure boat!.

The 80’s saw many changes, which resulted in a split between the American and European race
organisers. There would also be high profile accidents resulting in death’s, which would damage
the sport, this would result in stricter regulations that drove out the privateers. On the
technical side many advances were made but the Catamaran would only dominate in America due to
the European seas! The Italians concentrated on their mono hulls and the cat was not successful
on the European circuit until the middle of the decade when it began its resurgence. On the
engine front the once mighty Mercruisers dominance was toppled by Lamborghini and the mighty
Isotta Fraschini diesels a relative of the CRM Petrol engines that powered Tramontana in 1962
and steerable surface drives.

1981 and the Cowes Torquay was still drawing the best names to the Bank Holiday Spectacular !
and the crowds. It was also the year that the Italians started their dominance of the race. The
current sponsor was now Toyota and the 214 mile race was again subjected to the unpredictable
weather, it seemed that any year ending in 1 had the monopoly on ROUGH! And ’81 was no exception.
Ted Toleman was the British flag flyer and American Paul Clauser was chasing points to secure the
Harmsworth Trophy but it was also a low pointing the race history only 12 entries including OP2.
The entry included Goldrush, Mike Doxford and Tim Powell in Peter Stuyvesant 1, Romans Sabre and
Robin Cook’s Aquaglide. Within an hour of the start the forecast good weather turned sour and
knocked out half the fleet, Toleman within 10 mins and favourite Della Valle in Ego lost a drive
shaft. The surprise winner was Italian Alberto Smania in Rombo a 38ft CUV at a speed of 47mph.
Smania would go on to win the European and Italian championships and Renato Della Valle would
dominate the Cowes races over the next 4 years.

Peter Stuyvesant 1981 courtesy Graham Stevens. Toleman Group 1981 courtesy Graham Stevens.
Peter Stuyvesant 1981 courtesy Graham Stevens. Toleman Group 1981 courtesy Graham Stevens.

The year started badly when the sport lost Cougar founder and designer James Beard to Leukaemia, the
catamaran design which he had championed with veteran Clive Curtis would dominate racing in the States but
never attained the same level in Europe due to our “rough sea’s”. The Italian’s still preferred the deep V
and so it was for the Cowes Classic which would not run to Torquay this year but sponsored by PETER STUYVESANT,
be based in the Solent and surrounding waters of the I.O.W., a course distance of 205.9nm and yet again the
weather played its part!. Ted Toleman was again our leading contender in the 38ft Bertram named after the
race sponsor with Clive Curtis in the 38 cat PS2, there were 5 Italian teams including Della Valle in his 38
CUV Rothmans and Smania in the similar Marlboro plus Al Copland from the US in the Scarab “Popeye’s”. Again
it was a poor fleet in terms of entries 14 in total OP1 and 2. The race was a brutal test of seamanship with
boats sinking, catching fire and retiring with broken engines, six foot waves at Christchurch ledge added to
the drama which in the end had Della Valle in Rothmans beating Toleman by sec’s at a speed of 65 mph taking
the Sam Griffith trophy to boot!

1983 and thank goodness it was back to Torquay with the Italians dominating the entries
yet again, another low entry though with 10 OP1 and 2 OP2. Della Valle was back with Rothmans Ego, Smania with
Marlboro and Buzzi’s Red Iveco driven by Maurizio Ambrogetti. Only 2 OP1 boats finished the 192 mile course
Della Valle in Rothmans Ego/Ego Nooxy (2 names given for same boat) followed by Smania who took the European
title. The only crumb of comfort for Britain was the redoubtable Lady Aiken and the Countess of Arran winning
the cruiser class!

White Iveco 1984 courtesy Graham Stevens.
1984 The year of the second Round Britain Race in which a certain Mr Buzzi registered his future intent on the offshore world with not only his designs but also his engines… The Cowes Classic was still sponsored by Peter Stuyvesant and the 192 mile course cut out Torquay. Entrants from the Round Britain made up some of the fleet of 16 OP1 and 2 and a revival of the cruiser class ran their own course. Among the big names were Bill Bonners Supercat and Gervaise-Braziers Jaguar the Legend and of course that man again Della Valle in Cinzano. Yes he won the race again, equalled Tommy Sopwith’s 3 wins but in consecutive years! His speed 76 mph and just for a change it was the smoothest water known for the race.

1985 Was barely into its stride when the sport lost more of the names that made
powerboating what we knew and loved… first it was Francesco Cosentino then American and Cowes supporter
Merrick Lewis and the biggest loss of all Sir Max Aitken. All in the year, when the race was to celebrate its
25th anniversary. The Cowes Torquay was back with a vengeance though with a new format out to Torquay a 1hr
stopover with refuelling, then back to Cowes.

The regeneration sparked an upsurge in entries all quality and still Italian dominated but the Brits had
some good boats if not the luck! A total of 19 OP1 and 2 plus 7 Cruiser class filled the entry list, top Brit
was Ray McEnhill in Outsider a giant mono from Stain with 2250 hp from 3 Isotta Fraschini diesels, Ken Cassir
was back in Ideal Standard a leased 38ft CUV. The Italians again were led by you know who, a certain Mr
Renato Della Valle, with 2 720hp Lamborghinis in the CUV’s engine bay and the Spelta family came with Nooxy,
the big surprise was the big Buzzi mono driven by Len Bylock from Sweden also on the list but did it appear?
was “Telstar”…

Outsider 1985 courtesy Graham Stevens.

Outsider 1985 courtesy Graham Stevens.

The Race was run in moderate conditions with the Giant Buzzi mono taking honours at Torquay, the first
Swedish win hotly followed by Nooxy Fresh and Clean, on the turn around Della Valle swept into the lead, the
Spelta’s were left with flat batteries losing time hunting for replacements and Len Bylock’s Buzzi was sinking
at the dockside. Della Valle sped back to Cowes hotly pursued by Outsider who unknown to her crew was shipping
water with her speed falling with every mile, the Spelta’s meanwhile had found their required 24 volt batteries
and set off in hot pursuit of Outsider and Cinzano Bianco but once again it was Renato Della Valle’s race and
another record set of 4 consecutive wins! McEnhill finished 2nd and the Spelta’s 3rd.