Magazine article The Spectator

Sitting on a Rocket

Magazine article The Spectator

Sitting on a Rocket

Article excerpt

There is a big divide in the boating world between sails and engines. Sails are romantic and green and require ancient skills.

They are therefore good. Motorboats are fast, noisy and blast music from large stereos. They are clearly bad.

It's not something I'd admit during Cowes week, but there's much to be said for motorboats. Perhaps it's their speed, or their sexiness (they always come with a beautiful woman on board) or maybe it's just their blatant burning of money.

So when I was invited to the Malta Powerboating Grand Prix I didn't think twice about ditching the deck shoes and waterproofs for the loafers and linen shirts.

I expected European glamour, sunny weather, blue sea and blonde women in bikinis. But when we arrived at the harbour it felt more like a village fête. There were stalls, a small stage with very large speakers either side and a big TV screen showing the fast-car telly presenter Tiff Needell interviewing the boat pilots. But where were the boats? Out at sea, apparently, testing their engines.

The P1 powerboating championships involves ten speedboats driving around a sixmile circuit, a short distance out to sea, as fast as they can. The first one to complete nine circuits is the winner. We set out by normal motorboat to watch the first day's time-trial.

As with a Formula One grand prix, this is where each boat races a single lap to decide the starting positions for the following day's race. It was only as they started racing that I fully appreciated the power of these boats.

To put it into perspective, the speed of a boat that pulls a water skier is around 30mph.

These powerboats can travel at 150mph.

In choppy water that is very, very fast. The noise from their engines as they accelerate is incredible. Not only are these boats ridiculously loud, but they also burn an unbelievable amount of fuel. I worked out that one to run my Vespa for four years.

After watching the time-trial I met Asif Rangoonwala, the owner and founder of the P1 championships. After making his money from supplying the UK with his special formula bread buns, Asif has financed P1 single-handedly. There have been no financial returns so far, but Asif is full of belief in the future of his sport. 'Look around, man. We have everything. It has to work. We have the Five S's: sun, sport, sea, sand and spectators.

That's all you need.' The problem with powerboating is that it is an offshore sport so, other than the small group of spectators optimistically looking out to sea from the harbour wall, people have to watch the race on boats. These varied from multimillion-pound Sunseeker ocean yachts packed with champagne to a couple of inflatable dinghies with local teenagers on board. …

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