A’Speranziella …a new life dawns

It is as though the 1961 Boat Show and the first staging of the Cowes Torquay was instrumental in triggering a semi dormant, traditional boating industry into life. After the war years and the shortages of the 50’s, builders were still bringing to the market place products that were not just old fashioned but very dated in their build and design.

In the USA and Italy in particular a new breed of designers was emerging plus new technology/ building methods resulting from wartime experiments and needs. The result of these progressions were seen at Cowes that August 1961. The GRP Glass Moppie with her big V8 engines, the Fairey Huntsman with their Hunt designed, laminated, hot moulded hulls and Campbell’s Christina’s utilising both these innovations….but the one craft that caught most attention when it arrived in Cowes was that of the young dapper Italian Renato Levi, all eyes were on his mount “A’Speranziella” the blood red craft oozed purpose but with large doses of Italian style.
For those who were fortunate to see the races of the first years of this now historic race there were craft which registered an immediate bond with the spectators….THUNDERBOLT , TRAMONTANA, SURFRIDER all winners but then there was “A’SPERANZIELLA”, she failed in 61 to beat Thunderbolt and limped into Torquay in a poor state after the heavy pounding she endured…..
 Returning in 62 with new engines and modifications she still failed to show her promised performance although ’63 was a different matter with a total redesign and rebuild from lessons learnt in the previous years, a new superstructure and Ford engines she looked every bit the winner and was definitely the spectators choice.

The rest is history but after that win what happened?..We next saw her race in the first Round Britain Race in the hands of the Percival’s with a rather lurid paint job and sponsored by Robinsons Barley Water only to disappear again…..
I remember her being advertised for sale in Lymington and was tempted but had no resources to purchase her, then a few years later she appeared at Cowes after undergoing a “restoration” which proved to be a little unsympathetic.
She was then discovered again in Lymington by Sebastian Stapleton who was looking to purchase a Fairey Huntsman but was immediately drawn to her unusual lines. Having been poly wrapped with no airflow to stop the timbers sweating a rather sad A’Speranziella then travelled to Oxfordshire to await a second restoration and was reduced to a jigsaw puzzle of timbers with just the hull intact…..but Sebastian had secured 2 Ford Interceptors from America, the same type that she had won the 63 race with. Seb was eventually defeated by the time required to put her right and A’Speranziella was again “up for sale”.
She was advertised for sale and was literally rescued at the 9th hour by Barry Sales from Yarmouth I.O.W 
Barry takes up the story from here……

After moving to the Isle of Wight and starting to build the Crusader range of powerboats at Yarmouth, my involvement with the River Yar Boatyard cemented my passion for powerboats and after a life long involvement with sail switched my passion to power.
I had always wanted to restore a classic powerboat but funds would not allow a genuine example to be purchased.. After deciding to buy a Dell Quay Ranger in the Channel Islands and the sale falling through at the last minute I eventually settled on a Levi Triana, White Egret, this is a work in progress and she will be a superb boat when relaunched for the 2015 season.
The purchase of the Triana led me to research Levi history and thanks to the COPC website I was able to track down an old advert for ‘A’ in early 2012. After speaking to the owner Sebastian in 2012 I quickly realised that she was the boat for me and a suitable premises would be needed to store and restore her. This proved to be a monumental battle that took ages to sort but sorted it was and she now resides in the dry on the Island ready for her rebirth……

At this point I need to back track a little and explain the purchase process which is very important to me as it has cemented a friendship and made me appreciate the importance of this restoration. At this point I will apologise if this sounds like a novel, it is just how it was.I have to admit that without Sebastian’s patience I would not have been able to secure the purchase of ‘A’. If I could label it I would have said that it was ‘meant to be’ and can only thank Sebastian for trusting my intentions whilst premises were found.

My initial trip to see her in Oxford was on Saturday the 1st June 2013, although I was looking on this in my head as a formality I decided to take up an offer from a work colleague to accompany me on the trip. Simon is one of those guys that is a true professional who does not attract the attention he deserves. He is a time served yacht builder who is honest, reliable and always gets the job done.
It is for this reason that I needed his honest opinion on my heart ruling my head decision and from the very moment that the barn doors opened and I saw A’speranziella in the flesh for the first time I had doubts as to my sanity.

I remember the minutes or was it hours of Si’s silence, and my just waiting for his approval as to me purchasing her.

I will make no excuses for the abbreviation of the language used but it is like it was.His initial comment will stay with me until she is relaunched, “You must be f….ing mad” We chewed over the rights and wrongs for ages. My final answer was NO.

Sebastian had another purchaser lined up at this point who had forced my hand to view her at this time as I still had first refusal.
I had said no to the purchase and as I understand it, a call had been made to the
other interested party, Sebastian had arranged to sell her on the following Tuesday.

The return journey from Oxford to the Isle of Wight consisted of a whole list of pro’s and con’s being chewed over. In the main pro’s from Si and regrets from me at saying no.

Sunday came and a telephone conversation with Sebastian confirmed he had sold her to the other interested purchaser who intended to effectively take A’speranziella’s identity and build a replica alongside the original.

I do not profess to know if these facts are absolutely true but the thought that Sonny Levi’s first true race winner and the start of a remarkable blood line could be lost forever was something I did not want to risk.
Sunday night was very long and by Monday morning I had decided that I had to buy ‘A’.
An early and awkward phone call to Sebastian proved fruitful. She was now mine and I thank Simon for his support and honesty.

 

 

The Jackie’s S and other craft

By the start of 1962 such was the impact of the first Daily Express Powerboat Race on entrants and boat builders alike that the forecast entry list had doubled to twice the original race’s figure. The eventual number that started that ‘62 race was 41, and not only had the quality of entrants improved tenfold but there were some highly exotic craft built especially for the event.

We all remember Tramontana with her mighty CRM powerhouse and Agnelli’s Ultima Dea enveloping 3 Maserati’s in her Levi hull but high on list of horsepower was one Jackie S with owner Emil Savundra eager to make his mark in offshore racing.

At 39ft oa Jackie S named after Savundra’s daughter, was designed by Naval Architect Cyril Hughes and built by the Jaqueline Group a Savundra company offshoot. She was designed with input from Savundra and was powered by 3 American Chrysler engines rated at 300hp per unit….in her first incarnation Jackie had a flush deck with a central steering position and with various hatches aft, a tripod mast and less than streamlined windshield, she was not a pretty boat!

The 62 race was a sharp learning curve for the Doctor…. he did finish but petrol tanks had broken away and the hull was awash with fuel with barely an eggcup full in the remaining tanks the helm seat had collapsed plus he was disqualified for missing the Branksome mark!

The Jackie S that returned to Cowes in 1963 bore no resemblance to the previous year in more ways than one! Gone were the triple Chryslers to be replaced by four marinised Jaguar engines totalling 1000hp (on a par with Tramontana 2), the rather shambolic flush deck now sported a very handsome streamlined turtledeck cabin and wheelhouse pushing the helm right aft. The helm was crammed full of throttles and gauge’s to control the beasts below and she still carried her race no10…but all was not well as the race was to prove.

Jacky S certainly had the pace on race day and set off in the leading pack at around 43 knots earlier though there had been a slight worry, the boat had developed a slight list to starboard and even the smallest wave disturbed her momentum causing her to veer off course which neither the throttles or 3 rudders seemed able to control.

The first hint of trouble happened on approach to Yarmouth when one of the starboard engines was overcharging, the engineer went into the engine bay to disconnect the dynamo and yanked off the HT lead instead, Jacky stopped dead in the water for 4 mins. Once sorted she was off again at maximum revs but still with the steering causing the diminutive but stocky Savundra a lot of arm wrestling to keep her in order. As they approached to round the Needles with the Hurst tidal race in full flow she suddenly dug in and headed straight for the lighthouse at 40knots, hitting the concrete base at 5knots after the quick thinking engineer cut all engines. She slipped back into the water and after a quick check for damage was off again to complete the island circuit but as they hit the St Catherines tidal race she was off again hurling tons of sea water over her bows.

As they emerged from the second dousing the crew found themselves abreast of Don Shead’s Trident when it happened again the chine dug in and she slewed in a torrent of water. They emerged to find Trident coming towards them but quick thinking Shead had cut throttles although Trident still reared over Jackie’s deck ripping out stanchions and buckling part of the wheelhouse

With a shake of his fist Shead was off and so was Jackie back towards Cowes although the engineer was now throttling back at any indication of steering vagaries….passing Cowes and in 8th place they were rapidly approaching Yarmouth again through a fleet of spectator craft, the water was getting lumpy, a sou’wester was building and they soon were bow on at speed to the converted lifeboat Skipjack when the inevitable happened and Jackie was headed straight for her.

Skipjack was struck at 20knots and within minutes had broken up and sunk…..its crew were safely rescued transferred to a launch but Jackie S had been holed in the stern…the race was over and she headed for Poole. It has long been muted that her problems resulted from 1000hp being transferred to four props all rotating in the same direction…a lesson to be learned!

The new Jackie S could not have been more different to her predecessor, designed by Fred Cross the Yachtsman and Aircraft Aerodynamicist around a R &W Clark Moorland hull with lines based on Flying Boat float principles. At 35ft oa Her turtle deck and tumblehome stern followed no know powerboat trend, the Doctor was again making a statement and powered by 800 HP of the latest Ford Interceptors she would prove to be a capable craft unlike her predecessor.

She appeared on the race scene in 1964, won the Wills Trophy and the Poole Bay International at a speed of 45knots. Winning the CT could be in the grasp of the Doctor but 64 was the year of the flat calm, she had been designed for less moderate conditions but proved herself to be a contender against the latest from America and Italy.

She came 5th in the 64 race and may have finished higher had she not stopped at the Nab Tower with an overheating thrust race. 17 mins later with a jury rigged hose pumping seawater on to the offender solving the issue she was off again but now down to 10th and had to started clawing her way back up the order.

For 1965 Savundra had decided to go for more power but instead of buying ready made built his own engines! Actually he asked Harry Westlake the renowned engine wizard to convert large diesel engines to petrol with a view to challenging the Americans….the Sea Unicorns as they were known produced 600hp but insufficient development time resulted in an unreliable machine that ate spark plugs at an alarming rate! She failed to finish the first 2 miles of the 65 race and this was just the start of Savundra’s problems…he had been spending vast sums of money on this and other projects ..not his!….to the detriment of his business. The resultant collapse of FM Insurance in 1966 was the biggest fraud to that date and Doctor Emil Savundra was finished. In his desire to win the Cowes Torquay he had taken on the mantle of producing some fiery craft but it all came to nought.

The following update shows how important it is to have 90% of the facts when compiling history, the other 10% will fall into its rightful place.When the Savundra era closed nobody thought that 48 years later the recollection of who, what, when and where would be so much easier to formulate into an historical article if it was recorded and saved for prosperity. If it wasn’t for Graham Stevens and his unique archive we would be up the creek without a paddle and to top it all the grey cells take longer to work, mix up names and forget important items. It also makes the resultant article that much more interesting and pulls together all relevant details.

Graham by the way is owed a great debt of gratitude from followers of the sport as a whole, his vast collection is only part way through being archived it is a time consuming job with very little thanks given. But it is gratifying to know that my nudging for information has stimulated recollections, produced long forgotten articles and pictures for which we are all most grateful.

Jackie S and other Craft……updated.

In the chaos that followed FMA’s collapse Savundra fled to Ceylon, Jackie S was seized by Customs and Excise, whilst at Vosper’s a new boat was on the stocks…FLYING JACKIE and at Watercraft in Shoreham was the John Teale designed SPEEDY JACKIE. Both it is believed were to have been powered by the Sea Unicorns, they were 7litre AEC diesels converted to petrol by Harry Westlake and producing in the region of 600hp, Savundra’s attempt to beat the high powered American engines of the day..

Jackie S was purchased from the receivers, re-engined with the Ford’s and raced by John Robertson until 69…

 

Flying Jackie was being built in Aluminium by Vospers with construction drawings by John Mace and a stress engineer from Mitusbishi helping with calculations, work carried on towards completion but it is believed she was then re engineered to take the latest Daytona engines supplied by the British agent Don Shead.

Vospers entered her for the 1966 Cowes Torquay with Mike Trimming driving…and of course a change of name to Flying Fish, she sank in Lyme Bay after a battle with Ghost Rider in the rough conditions that ensued. It was believed that she had split her hull although one of the first divers to inspect her subsequently found that her hull was undamaged! (Motor Boat and Yachting report) Attempts were made to recover her but she had drifted further out than realised and subsequently sank. Grahams observations from all the works he carried out on stress re P brackets lead him to the stern mount being subjected to more stress than is usual with standard P bracket…was it this that failed?

Speedy Jackie was of an unusual build being a glassfibre and balsa sandwich laminate which resulted in an extremely strong lightweight hull and was already fitted with 2 of the Sea Unicorns. Savundra’s company Fire Marine crashed prior to her launch and testing and the builders were left “holding the baby” ! She was displayed in January 1967 at the London Boat Show then found her way to Cobbs Quay where she sat forlornly on dockside looking for an owner. She was finally purchased in 1975 by Philip Lynes of Bournemouth who stripped out the old engines and intended to fit twin Sabre diesels. 10 years after her launch he was going to prepare her to race in the OP class but alas no record can be found of this.

So of the 4 Savundra boats built to try and win the CT we know where one is Lyme Bay, the fasted boat in her day and if whatever happened on that race day had not maybe she would have won but without the Doctor!

Speedy Jackie last heard of in Poole 1978…who was Mr Philip Lynes? Is he still with us does he know what happened to Speedy?

The R &W Clark Jackie S last known owner John Robertson, what happened to her after 1969.? Last seen at POUNDS SCRAPYARD PORTSMOUTH prior to and during building of M275 Disappeared when site cleared.

And the original Jackie..last heard of heading back to Poole in 1963…. 

One question…why did the 2 new boats carry nos 275 & 276 instead of Savundra’s 110…was he allocated new numbers for his team entry? especially as 111 was allocated to Surfury and Jimani was 109…had his lucky no run out of luck?

Pictures and information courtesy of Graham Stevens.

 

Nelsons…

The TORTOISES’…. also ran’s in the worlds most rugged offshore race.

We all know the stories of the boats that won the races and those that reached Torquay with great haste but what of the tail end Charlies who finished with little praise for their efforts.…

In 1961 2 boats made the journey at the sedate speed of 16 knots never failing to slow for the conditions encountered which at times was force 5. They were not Deep V’s, neither did they have any fancy gizmos in their design they were just solidly built semi displacement motor boats that gave a smoothish ride in heavy going….constantly!.

The boats were Yeomana 3 owned by famous Yachtsman Owen Aisher, crewed by Peter Thonycroft and Stan Bishop and Vantage owned by John Dupree, both were 32 ft overall designed by Thornycroft and built by Keith Nelson. Yeomana being powered by 2 Perkins diesels totalling 138hp and Vantage by a single Rootes Lister rated at 100hp.

When the fast boys had long finished at Torquay these 2 stalwarts were finishing the course in 13th and 14th places but 2 hours out of time, still they proved their staying power against many of the hares that failed to finish.

Peter returned the following year with a new boat, his own, soon to become a favourite amongst the sports followers “Espoir” carrying no 39 which became his “number”. Espoir was a 34 footer powered by 2 Perkins totalling 260hp, she was designed by TT Designs and built by Keith Nelson. She finished that race in 13th which was acknowledged as one of the “rough” one’s at a steady 20mph this time within time and again beating many more powerful craft that fell by the wayside.

There was no entry in 63 or 64 from Peter but Espoir was back in 65 now carrying 139 due to rule changes and powered by twin Parsons diesels totalling 354hp…..This was the year of the “Diesel” with Miami boat builder Dick Bertram winning in his 38 prototype 1100 hp Cummins powered Brave Moppie but finishing in 25th taking 9hrs 25mins against the winners 5 hrs was Peter’s Espoir, a third of the power but a much smoother ride!

Espoir was back in ‘66 with one of each in the engine bay!? 1 Parsons and 1 Cummins but still totalling 354hp finishing 9th at 22.5 knots….Again this was one of the roughest races on record so far with the winning boat the 28ft Ghost Rider arriving in Torquay with Jim Wynn’s co pilot crouched in the cockpit with broken ankles….second boat home was Steve Macey’s 42 ft, 900hp Rolls Royce powered Spirit of Ecstacy.

In 1967 the race was to be done in style when Cdr Peter Thornycroft appeared with Grand Espoir, a 41 foot TT designed Nelson powered by 2 Cat diesels totalling 800hp. In light conditions that favoured the greyhounds GE rolled into Torquay like a dowager duchess having averaged 31.5 mph, finishing 7th in class and 24th overall …

1968 was another “rough” race and Peter’s new boat Horatia finished again in conditions that suited her, 8th in class and 17th overall.

1969 was the year of the Round Britain Race and 4 craft were entered from TT but only 2 actually participated the Vosper built Bani Yas and Horatia which finished 16th over the 1400 mile race at an average speed of 28 MPH.

1970 was the last year we saw Nelsons participating in offshore racing and Horatia finished the CTC in 26TH overall second to Spirit of Ecstacy in the class…the world of powerboat racing had changed dramatically from those early years, it was all now speed, speed ,speed.

Of all the racing Nelsons over the past decade only one is known of and that is Horatia in the hands of John Trafford and she is still running the same Cats but they are now a little temperamental having been rebuilt by John several times…..I wonder where the others are? If anyone can fill in the blanks please lets us know at CLASSIC OFFSHORE….they may not have won major prizes but boy they proved their worth in the toughest of conditions where many of the favourites floundered and failed.

Mike James  Oct 2012

Graham Goodchild

Recently I received an email from Graham asking if I would like to see some items he had from his long years in the boatbuilding world. Graham had worked for some big names ie: Morgan Giles with whom he served his apprenticeship, Fairey Marine and Tremlett’s…not only did he work for these companies he also found time to design and build his own small multi purpose cruiser the little Potwalloper…2 of the items Graham sent were unique insights into Morgan Giles history and pictures of the last boat down the slip prior to the closure of the company. It is impossible to reproduce those here but selected pictures are and the unique Tremlett brochure. If it were not for people like him who carefully save and value such items we would have little history to refer to. A big thank you from us all to people like Graham.

Below a selection of photo’s gleaned from his collection..

The Tremlett Brochure

The young Graham, below the POTWALLOPER

Morgan Giles History