Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
With just fifteen days to go the Venture Offshore Cup is staggering towards the start line on June the Seventh like a punch drunk prize fighter walking to the ring for another bout, a fighter not sure why he is getting into the ring but feeling compelled to do so.
We have been supporters of the idea of a powerboat race from the UK to Monte Carlo since its inception back in 2010, however Powerboat racing in modern times is fraught with many event shipwrecks, and several promoters have turned a large fortune into a small fortune seeking glory promoting powerboat racing adventures at the highest of levels.
Indeed we were happy to see a group of dedicated and motivated people who believed enough in the sport to put their tender parts on the line to promote one incredible, massive, race.
Today I fear that some of the management team will lose such vital body parts over what increasingly looks like a looming shipwreck, The Venture Offshore Cup.
The event is promoted by passionate individuals who at times have stretched the boundaries of hype. Even hardened spin doctors would have become dizzy at some of the Press output generated.
Mike Lloyd, organiser of the initial Venture Offshore Cup quite rightly pulled the plug on the first event. As a result he suffered at the hands of rumour and speculation, and nearly everyone bagged him. I believe that Mike gave the race his level best. Many teams were unhappy when he cancelled the race, and after several meetings a new event broadly based on the original rose like a 'Phoenix from the Ashes', giving birth to the Venture Offshore Cup Mk2.
Things looked rosy when the organisers managed to run the Venture Offshore Cup Prologue, a shortened event effectively about the distance of three marathon races. The teams supported the Prologue and its success gave hope of larger fields for the main event, a real race to Monte Carlo.
The promoters led us to believe that things were indeed rosy, so good in fact that sponsors were being brought on, and the organisation was moving at a frenetic pace. We were bombarded with news of TV deals, Television Productions, impressive promises of coverage 'like never before'. PR companies were hired as the event was 'going Mainstream.'
Despite our skepticism about the possibility of taking a fringe and dangerous sport mainstream we hoped that even if a small percentage of the hyper-hype actually came to fruition the event would still be considered a success, and that the power boating world would benefit from the publicity. Hopefully the event would live up to some of the promises espoused by the organisers.
Doubts arose when we read the proposal material with statements about taking the event all the way to being one of the top twenty Sports properties in the world. We considered this a step beyond the possible; one has to bear in mind that anyone can identify the top two hundred sports properties in the world, where the Olympics rank 18th and the Americas Cup, comes in at 72nd. We felt that simply gaining extra coverage for a sport which is struggling in the modern world would be satisfying.
The gatekeepers of any large sponsors are cautious about committing their funds to events that make unrealistic claims, and perhaps this has been one of the key issues that concerned potential financiers and made them keep their distance.
The big problem arose last week when the RYA effectively sunk the race; refusing to approve the race based on safety grounds. On first glance one could think that the RYA acted rather harshly by denying approval without some kind of extension so the organisers could get their act together. In a recent interview with one of the key race organisers Aidan Foley, he complained about the unwillingness of the RYA to provide an extension as the outstanding details were so small.
I dug further into the twisted maze and found that the RYA invoice for the insurance for the Venture Offshore Cup Prologue raced in June 2013 was not settled in the prescribed fashion; in fact our sources claim that the first five thousand pounds was paid some eight months late, with the final thousand pounds settled later still. I believe the RYA probably decided to let the original Prologue event run its course in the hope that the organisers picked up the much lauded huge sponsor based on the publicity generated.
A rumour circulated of a possible large sponsor; Martini. This appears to have failed to come to fruition and despite intense efforts to get a comment from the Martini Brand, they are staying tight lipped about any involvement with the event.
When questioned directly Aidan stated they did not have a sponsor.
To add further fuel to the fire we have discovered that the event organisers were taken to Court over their failure to pay for the use of the Yellowbrick tracking system used in the Prologue race. Evidence provided indicated that despite many promises of payment by the Venture Offshore Cup organizers, Yellowbrick Tracking had to take legal action. The organisers of the Prologue Race waited until the end of the year and legal action pending before claiming that the trackers had malfunctioned, thus disputing the invoice. Obviously the inability to use Yellowbrick Tracking meant finding an alternate solution for the actual race.
When questioned about the tracker situation Aiden was asked "Why did you not go back to Yellowbrick in order to satisfy the RYA?" He replied, "The trackers were unreliable and we opted for a more reliable commercial solution."
I had a chat to Nick Farrell from YellowBrick Tracking and this was his written response;
"Our trackers are used across the globe for yachting, powerboating and extreme sports events. We provide tracking for several hundred events a year, as well as providing personal trackers for thousands of individuals. I am confident you could approach any one of our other customers and they would give a positive review of our products. Read into this what you will. Never before have we encountered an organisation quite like the Venture Offshore Cup, and frankly we'd rather not encounter another ever again.
Our sympathies are with the competitors and other suppliers/sponsors who will be the biggest losers in this sorry affair, both financially and otherwise.
Incidentally, if anyone wishes to review for themselves the 'unreliable' tracking we provided for the Prologue Race, you can do so by following the links below."
Leg 1: Venture Cup Prologue Race 2013 leg 1 - Powered by Yellowbrick Tracking
Leg 2a: Venture Cup Prologue Race 2013 leg 2 - Powered by Yellowbrick Tracking
Leg 2b: Venture Cup Prologue Race 2013 leg 2b - Powered by Yellowbrick Tracking
Leg 3: Venture Cup Prologue Race 2013 leg 3 - Powered by Yellowbrick Tracking
While continuing our research we discovered a PR company who confirmed that their name and reputation had been used without their permission when in fact they had never had any dealings with the Venture Offshore Cup or the personnel in the event management team. They have requested anonymity in the media.
It appears that someone from within the Venture Offshore Cup fold is moving toward legal action over an unpaid loan made to the event. A person close to the deal stated that Preben Sorensen of Predator Boats loaned the event a sum of money. The sum was based on a commercial sponsorship deal, but the exact amount has not been revealed. He did however go on to say,
"Problem is that he (Preben Sorensen) gave 25% of the money immediately as a loan and now has had to withdraw as a financier of the event."
We have talked to many other parties in an attempt to track down the totals and indeed get a comment from Preben. While we were unable to talk to Preben Sorensen, we believe, based on our research that the total is somewhere between £30,000.00 and £50,000.00. It would seem that as he has withdrawn as a financier for the event he could rightly expect his investment to be repaid.
To fully understand the RYA position one must look at the resource the organisation placed at the disposal of the Venture Cup Organisers. They appointed Sally Windsor as the Chair of the Race Approvals Committee and the liaison officer for the Venture Offshore Cup. This was a generous and intelligent move as Sally has acted as Race Secretary for some of the leading big boat events in the world, is a stickler for detail and has been involved in the successful running of many offshore events. Sally was prepared to do as many hours as were necessary to assist the organisers.
So based on the resource allocated one would expect the race organisers to accept the organising body's offer and use it wisely.
While on the subject of the RYA, I put the question to Aidan regarding the incomplete course approvals and he answered; "We had approval verbally from La Marina Real Juan Carlos and were scheduled to have a meeting two days later." He could not understand why the RYA could not grant an extension while these details were confirmed.
As far as we can establish the RYA struggled to get the documentation it required from the Venture Offshore Cup organisers despite issuing deadline after deadline and granting countless extensions.
It would be my guess, and I have nothing from the RYA to confirm this, that the rumours of mounting debts and lack of a sponsor led to a reluctant decision somewhere within the governing body to cease working with the organisers.
One really shouldn't be surprised by the outcome in light of the delays paying the insurance bill for the earlier Prologue race, a bill that should have been paid before the race was run. The RYA would be naturally cautious about confirming their support for the second race, and with the insurance bill for the actual race still unpaid it takes little to extrapolate that a similar situation was likely. Worse still if the event is struggling to pay insurance, what other cuts would be made to get the race across the start line?
On balance with the lives of competitors at stake the RYA had no option but to act decisively, by denying the approval for the race. One swift move put an end to this long running saga by terminating the Venture Offshore Cup as a race.
When the event failed to gain race approval or insurance in the UK, one would think the only statement available to the organisers would be 'Over and out.'
The event promised by the promoter was well and truly dead.
Without approval and insurance there could be no race.
But wait…., there's more.
In a move which could only be described as desperate the race will now leave St Katherine's Docks and tootle down the Thames heading for the start off the coast of Belgium and then into the race proper.
It seems as if the race organisers have found a friendly foreign organisation under the Belgian branch of the UIM. We cannot however confirm any UIM agreement or insurance as yet.
I talked to Aidan Foley during Monday afternoon and he stated that "The UIM has given approval for a rally to start off Belgium." He also stated that "the event would be a time on distance event with the eventual winner selected by being the closest to the estimated times worked out when the crew did their passage planning. The start off Belgium would not be a public start, but rather a time check point. The official start would still be St Katherine Docks."
Aidan also assured me that the event would be insured.
To contradict this we learned from Facebook Monday evening that the UIM had not convened its meeting to consider these matters.
In response to mounting pressure the organisers have placed an updated entry list for the 'Race' on the Venture Offshore Cup website and now show just eight competitors. To further complicate this we know some of the eight teams mentioned may not make the start.
The Venture Offshore Rally (our insertion) has lost ten teams from their advertised billing. This will have a massive potential impact on the race from a promotional point of view. The event falls from what would have been an interesting spectacle to something far less. The only upside we can see is that the Television coverage is cancelled, and with less coverage we save the world from watching an emaciated event self-destruct in the glare of public attention. This will hopefully go some way to limit the potential damage to the sport. The event has effectively wiped itself from the radar completely.
If the rally does run with only eight boats stretched across thousands of sea miles then the event will be about as much fun to watch as paint drying. This takes no account of enforced retirements due to mechanical failure, adverse conditions or accidents.
One would think; Why not give up and ditch the event?
When asked this question Aidan replied, "When we left the RYA we were stunned, so we had a meeting and decided that the event was too valuable a property to let go."
Based on our enquiries we believe that the Race is under some kind of contractual obligation to the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, and should the boats not make the run, the event organisers would apparently be exposed to possible litigation for the recovery of some of the Council investment. Councils these days require a direct return on any investment. The return usually involves promoting local businesses and leisure and the financial support decisions are based solely on the economic activity generated for the community by running the event.
In this case the economic return will be near impossible to prove given the potential number of runners. Whilst we have had difficulty obtaining confirmation from the Council, we received this information from a reliable source which has proved to be consistent when crosschecked with several other sources. Checkout line 837 of the Council expenditure report.
It is easy to bag promoters, who when taking on a huge task like the Venture Offshore Cup, put their lives, finances, and reputations on the line. One of the requirements of a front man is a positive attitude, even under the gun of intense scrutiny, so one can't fault Aidan on this score in his tireless activity attempting to sell the idea to all stake holders, and it's a damn hard job. If it were easy we would have twenty such events every year.
There is a fine line however between fact and fantasy, and while I make no judgment here, it is useful to recall the trail of broken dreams and promises which have led the event to this conclusion. I believe that somewhere a line has been crossed. The Venture Offshore Cup has failed to live up to the smallest of its promises; that being the running of a powerboat race to Monte Carlo.
The hype and press were unbelievable for the most part, and the whole project has failed to reach the race fans. The promoters have not only dropped the ball, they've lost it. Their war cry of 'We're going to take the event mainstream' could still prove true, but I now fear the only mainstream interest will be the final chapter of the event which will attract unwelcome publicity to the sport we love.
The organisers would do well to take into account a statement from one of our sources;
"If I were a creditor of Venture Offshore Cup Ltd, I would be asking the directors to confirm that they are not continuing to trade whilst insolvent. (an offence that can lead to personal liability for the individuals) I cannot imagine that continuing this charade of an event will improve the creditor's chances of being paid. Therefore the only responsible course of action is to cease trading immediately."
I am sure that social media will be full of anonymous people who wish to bag me for writing this article. Some will say that it will damage the sport, others will agree with me, the Venture Offshore Cup organisers and followers will take the defensive position.
I say that the RYA got it right when they pulled approval, and we decided to go to press with as balanced an article as we could, given that some parties would not talk to us. I have made over fifty phone calls, sent countless emails, and interviewed Aidan Foley for fifty five minutes, with the interview backed by a detailed list of questions. I now have a full set of notes and a timeline detailing the milestones of the journey thus far. I have re-read the emails and press releases from the organisers in detail from start to finish. This article is accurate based on the current information we have, but I am sure more will come to light in the next few days as the event date nears.
The lack of powerboat racing in the UK caused a vacuum, and into this vacuum dropped the Venture Offshore Cup Mk1, and then MK2. We were enthusiastic to see the race take shape as there was precious little else going on. We collectively lowered our guard. Yes, I mean you and me, as well as the broader Powerboating community and media, and effectively we were all drunk with lust at the prospect of a stellar contest. What we all forgot was how difficult and expensive such a race would be, and while swept up in the moment and tales of fabulous things we believed a master storyteller because we wanted to.
The ocean is awash with bold plans, dreams, disasters, adventure, boat races, and seafarers. I find it very sad that probably the only lasting wake left by the passing of the Venture Offshore Cup will be a trail of creditor's invoices bobbing in the wash.
By Geoff Davies