The role of the Norfolk man aboard a record-breaking Atlantic boat
Norwich journalist and Spirit of Cardiff crew member Clive Tully returned in May 2001 when the boat set a world record for crossing the Atlantic.
In an age when records come and go almost in the blink of an eye, it may be surprising to know that the official world record for a transatlantic speedboat crossing has been unchallenged for 20 years.
After all, isn’t that the same record set by Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Challenger II in 1986, or the Aga Khan’s Gas Turbine Destriero in 1992?
Well, not exactly. Both boats produced impressive times, but neither operated under the rules of the international body of power boating – the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique). Spirit of Cardiff’s May 2001 New York UIM transatlantic motorboat at Lizard Point is still the official world record.
The end of May and the beginning of June are still considered “silly season” in St John’s, they told us. People come from all over the world to cross the Atlantic in a variety of ways, and most of these expeditions fail, many resulting in costly rescues. What was so different about us?
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Crossing the Grand Banks, a few hours from our two and a half hour refueling stop in Newfoundland, the media in St John’s feared four Englishmen were heading for the North Atlantic in such a small boat in this sort of time. .
We explained that, although only 10 meters long, Spirit of Cardiff was a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) built to take on a heavy sea in its stride – indeed, we had already tested the boat in some of the harshest conditions. difficult imaginable.
We were convinced that we could take whatever Mother Nature threw at us – although we weren’t too keen on it slowing us down. We wanted to break records, after all.
There were only four of us in a cabin the size of a small motorhome – skipper Alan Priddy, mate (and slightly crazy psychiatrist) Jan Falkowski, Steve Lloyd and me.
Spirit of Cardiff was built with one goal in mind, to tour the world in 2002, with the intention of cutting at least three weeks off Cable and Wireless Adventurer’s 74-day 20-hour-58-minute record set in July 1998. Since the launch of Alan Priddy’s industrial unit in Portsmouth in 1999, Spirit has been racking up serious records.
Our 2000 record includes the very first round-the-world motorboat tour of the British Isles and the world’s fastest adventurers’ round-the-world trip from Gibraltar to Monaco.
Now we are after the last two, from New York to Horta in the Azores, and from Horta to Gibraltar. Once these are discarded, provided we stop at Lizard Point before heading back to Cardiff, we will also pick up the icing on the cake: a new transatlantic world record.
The UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique) had only very recently changed the arrival station for transatlantic motorboat registrations from Bishop’s Rock in the Isles of Scilly to Lizard Point at Cornwall Point. The slate was therefore cleaned up and the quick times set by Richard Branson and the Aga Khan were gone, although as far as the IAJ was concerned, they never existed since neither one nor the other. operated under UIM rules.
We realized that it would be a little ironic to take a record even with a route via Gibraltar, but there was no doubt that it would be a world record anyway.
We don’t have the Adventurer lineup to go from New York to Horta in one hop, so we’re going via St John’s to Newfoundland. It adds 170 nautical miles to the total trip, but at least splits it into bite-sized chunks of around 1,100 and 1,200 nautical miles. It turns out that the first bite has a head sea that puts us over 24 hours late.
As we headed southeast the weather started to change. The sea flattens and the wind turns. Even at this point, we think we still have a chance to get to Horta within 130 hours 45 minutes of Adventurer, but it’s going to be tight.
By the time it came in front of us, we had confused seas, where the swell goes one way and the waves the other. Now a gust of wind is blowing us.
In the normal course of events, the cabin provides welcome shelter from the elements (or at least most of them). It’s only when you venture outside for a quiet moment with the toilet bucket that you get the true measure of what’s going on.
With the engine running just right, there is an unholy screeching sound. The metal grab bars around the boat howl, indicating that the wind is strong. Spirit’s grab bars only squeal when the wind exceeds 30 knots.
The bad news is, we have our own little “perfect storm” in our hands – we’re heading straight for the point where two lows converge. We accept that the New York record at Horta is beyond us and that the priority now is simply to secure our arrival.
Fuel consumption has been critical throughout the process, and the simple fact is that if it exceeds two liters of diesel per nautical mile, we will be exhausted before we get to port. So we slow down right away, and for a while we even stop and drift. Five hundred miles from Horta is, in theory, about a 24 hour drive. Under these conditions, it looks like we could be here for days.
We arrived in Horta disappointed, but grateful to disembark for a decent rest and the chance to dry our gear. We were hoping we could still tackle Horta’s record in Gibraltar.
Conditions are good, but the strong forecast of northerly winds for about three days could prevent our return to Cardiff, and whatever happens we have to keep our appointment with the Dam and the VIP welcoming committee. And so after spending the night in the port, we set Horta Cape directly for Lizard Point. It’s 1,239 miles of calm seas and sunshine. What a contrast!
We arrived off Lizard Point in the early hours of May 30, 2001, the boat running almost on steam. We completed our transatlantic in 248 hours 47 minutes – nowhere near as fast as previous Atlantic crossings ending at Bishop’s Rock, but we have a record nonetheless. THE record, in fact! And indeed, we later find out that we even set a New York to Horta record – for boats under 50 feet, making the Spirit of Cardiff the fastest small boat to cross the Atlantic.
Twenty years later, and despite the “dog leg” course that could be straightened out by a boat with a longer range, Spirit of Cardiff’s transatlantic record still stands. Alan Priddy, currently struggling with Covid restrictions to complete his Team Britannia round-the-world powerboat project, is typically outspoken about why our 2001 record still stands.
Confronting Poseidon, Clive Tully’s gripping book on the entire Spirit of Cardiff Project, including the May 2001 epic transatlantic circumnavigation attempt in 2002, is available for Kindle download.