The story of the E-Lites Round Britain Charity Challenge
For those of you unaware of how we got into this I’ll give you a bit of background. After the announcement of the RB12 race we decided that it would be a great idea to take part, having looked around at various existing options and being a race boat builder we decided to build our own. To cut a very long story short we ended up with a great boat and no race, never one to let a bit of a cock up put me off (and a sponsor to keep happy), the decision was made to “Go Round Britain” – after all how hard can it be in June!
As anyone living in the British Isles and some abroad will already know that last statement was a massive arse biting one! We had £3,000 which was the budget for the entry fee for RB12 and a fuel budget from the very nice people at E-Lites and it was decided to give the £3,000 to Children’s Hospices nearest to every venue we would visit on our little trip which was to use the traditional Round Britain race route through the Caledonian Canal. The late postponement of the race meant we had to work fast to sort out the details, but it could be done!
Venues were chosen for the combination of deep water access and population and we chose to start in our home port of Salcombe visiting Newlyn, Swansea, Douglas, Troon, Inverness, Edinburgh, Grimsby, Chatham and Portsmouth before returning to Salcombe. We had two motor homes, one owned by crew member Graham Lawton and the other loaned by Keith and Jenny Makepiece from Soar Mill Cove hotel together with a trailer and tow vehicle in case of poor weather and it wouldn’t be long before we needed it!
The start Salcombe to Newlyn
With charities chosen and the Rotary Club enlisted to help distribute the funds the start day of the 21st of June came and the crew set off for Newlyn in Cornwall for the first day of just 86 miles leaving the daunting Lands End for day two. Tim, the landlord from the Victoria Inn in Salcombe had paid lots of money via Ebay to take the fourth seat which we sold for every leg around the trip for extra funds for the Charities. Tim enjoyed himself immensely and didn’t need any medication at all after the trip! Quba sails had donated some clothing in the form of Polo shirts and Sweatshirts which we had embroidered and they started paying off immediately with people just handing over money for the Hospices, we had also had some leaflets made by PPG Print at a fantastic price which helped even more.
Day two Newlyn to Swansea 150 miles
With modern technology the opportunity to look at weather in great detail allowed us to make informed decisions all of the way round and with force 7 gusting 8 forecast we promised ourselves we would “have a look” at Lands End, however it didn’t take us long to realise that it wouldn’t be possible and despite assurance from all of the crew of the Penlee Lifeboat in Newlyn that “The crew loved to come out in rough weather” we took the less scary option of heading downwind to Plymouth to shorten the distance Kevin would have to come to fetch us down the Cornish lanes. 70 miles of big seas later, especially around the Lizard Kevin hauled the boat out at QAB and we set off for Swansea by road. After a road trip of 186 miles we arrived in Swansea Marina and on the way we had been looking at the forecast for days three and four ...........
Day Three/Four Swansea to Douglas 241 miles/ Troon 124 miles
Once again a similar forecast and even worse for the next day would mean even if we could make Douglas we definitely wouldn’t get off again to make our commitments in Troon. The difficult decision was made to leave the boat on the trailer and head for Scotland. We chose Stranrear as a good spot to potentially launch the boat and then proceed to Troon by water. 443 miles later we arrived at a campsite just outside town where we spent a rather damp evening. After the campsite owners had waived their £40.00 fee (that went into the kitty for the Troon charity) we launched the boat at the local slipway and set off for Troon in blustery conditions but well within the capabilities of the boat arriving still fresh after 50 miles in around an hour.
Day Five Troon to the Caledonian Canal 167 miles
Having met up with representatives with the Rotary Club of Troon and the Friends of the Beatson Hospice and handed over the cheques we set off for Fort William and the Caledonian Canal in what was a promising day weather wise, the crew were finally beginning to look more optimistically on the next few days with better weather forecast. Despite a slightly misty Isle of Mull once we rounded the mainland for the run up to Fort William the clouds parted, the sun came out and the sea flattened to make our 60mph plus trip though the islands one of the highlights of the whole trip, it was a shame that Ebay winner Craig Walker couldn’t join us due to work commitments until late that day at the first lock of the canal so long standing member of the team Dave Ayre got his first trip in the boat in the best possible conditions. We managed to get into the Canal in good enough time to make it to the other end of Loch Lochy where we got some amazing photos of the boat in perfect conditions of mirror calm water with Ebay winner Craig getting the run of his life in the boat. A BBQ by the canal at the side of a loch and a beer at a floating pub was a perfect end to a perfect day, Nick, our motor home driver certainly excelled himself taking the photos and cooking the square sausage (I had never heard of it either).
Day Six Caledonian Canal to Inverness 60 miles
Unfortunately Craig had been called back to work, so it was just the regular crew with Dave’s help that took the boat through to Inverness with the shore crew meeting up with us at various points including Loch Ness for more photos. The rest of the trip though to Inverness passed without any problems – even from the weather! Once there we were met by the Rotary Club of Inverness where I was treated to dinner at their monthly meeting which coincided with our visit, they insisted on hearing about our trip although they probably hadn’t bargained on how good I am at making a short story long! Nobody actually fell asleep so I regard that as a victory. A special mention must go the Rotary Club as they added £1,700 to the kitty for CHAS in Inverness that they had been collecting over the year making our contribution to the funds in Inverness well over £2,000. A lifeboat we had followed into the canal had added 50 Euros and we had collected more money from random people in pubs on the way – thanks to the extremely generous Scots!
Day Seven Inverness to Edinburgh 226 miles
This would be one of bigger days with 240 miles down to Edinburgh we felt like this was on the home stretch but we were cautious as we still had a couple of big days ahead before turning the corner to head West for home. The run was fairly uneventful until we neared Edinburgh itself when the rain came in with a mist which made navigation in such a busy waterway challenging, luckily we had the best navigation equipment from Raymarine that included an AIS system that showed up all commercial vessels and any private vessels transmitting on our chart plotter, a feature which we would use more and more on this trip! With Graham standing up in the back of the boat keeping a good look out we crept into Port Edgar in Edinburgh for the night. Once again we met up with Rotary Club members and representatives of CHAS, the Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland to hand cheques over.
Day Eight Edinburgh to Grimsby 261 miles
We had a great start with Jeremy Best on board as the Ebay Winner and calm seas saw us hitting speeds of well over 60mph for good distances. Somewhere north of the Farne Islands we hit the first of many fog patches where Raymarine’s AIS system was once again put to good use, however we found that fishermen like to turn it off as it prevents the competion finding out where they are fishing, this all makes dodging fishing boats a bit of a challenge. In places we were down to 5 mph and despite passing inshore of the Farne Islands and very close to navigation buoys we saw very little. We picked up speed from time to time as we passed out the other side of the fog banks. Somewhere near Amble we detected a loss of pressure in the port trim ram and stopped to investigate, once we had bypassed the problem we decided to carry on to Grimsby. It was at this point we realised that something was very different and it wasn’t us! The sea had become very confused and difficult to make headway so it was decided to head for the next port which was Blythe, just after we surfed into the harbour which luckily has a decent sized entrance it appeared as if the man upstairs had put the sun out – it went very dark and it even made berthing in the marina a bit of a challenge. It turned out we had driven into the biggest storm in at least 30 years, one person sadly lost their life and thousands of people had their properties flooded and damaged their cars. Our support team was having an equally difficult time, Kevin ended up rescuing an ambulance and the people they were trying to help- all without removing the trailer from the tow vehicle! Once the situation had calmed down a bit the nice people at the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club lifted the boat out onto the trailer and it was back on the road again, however as life is never that simple the size of the problem became apparent – we were only able to manage 1 mph through South Shields and witnessed the scale of what had happened – one pedestrian underpass was full up to road level as we passed by, there were countless abandoned vehicles at the side of the road. The irony of towing a large race boat through floods in the worst storm for decades wasn’t lost on the population of the North East and the number of people pointing and laughing and giving us the thumbs up made it not seem quite so bad for us after all.
Day Nine Grimsby to Chatham 219 miles
Having arrived in Grimsby at 01.15 we got up to be greeted by a bit of a breeze and a weather forecast that was “doable”, so we enlisted the help of John from the Humber Cruising Association to drop the boat in and Pete Lea got in the “Ebay Seat” for the trip to Chatham – the conditions weren’t perfect and I promised his wife we would look after him! After locking out into the mouth of the Humber it was obvious it was quite windy but not too rough – we managed about 4 miles before it was obvious that we weren’t going any further – there was so much water coming over the windscreen that we couldn’t see where we were going, it was like driving your car through a really big puddle every three or four seconds! Despite having a relatively short trip Pete was over the moon with his experience and I think he was rather glad that it only lasted for about 8 miles! Having got the boat and Pete back to Grimsby in one piece we set off for Chatham – Pete got in touch later and the wind was reported by RAF Donna nook weather station as force 6 gusting 8 so we definitely made the correct decision!
Day Ten Chatham to Portsmouth 180 miles
We had a very warm welcome from the Chatham crew where Barrie Williams had put in an extraordinary effort to make sure we had everything taken care of – the boat was cleaned and polished by a couple of very keen young lads from Fogs marine services, a barbeque had been cooked and much cold beer was at hand! Kerry had given us an amazing amount of local knowledge that would have made the approach by water so much easier if we hadn’t come by road! Barrie had also arranged for Steve Ladner from BBC Radio Kent to join us on the boat for the trip to Dover, as he was also a member of the Dover Lifeboat crew we weren’t expecting him to be any trouble! That part of the trip was quite uneventful but on reaching Dover it was obvious the wind was picking up and sadly back on the trailer it went and off to Portsmouth by road once again. Alan Priddy, himself an extraordinary adventurer who has been around the world and crossed the Atlantic gave us an extremely warm welcome in Portsmouth and laid on power for the two motor homes, showers and cold beer as well as topping up the funds for Naomi House who were supporting in the Portsmouth area, another of the fantastic welcomes we had around the country that made the trip much easier.
Day Eleven and home to Salcombe 128 miles
What was meant to be the last easy day was a continuation of the wettest and windiest June in my memory and it was a real shame that it wasn’t even worth launching the boat in Torquay or Plymouth to say we arrived back by water, we are still counting the money and it is still coming in from locals who have read about it or customers of the crew – thanks you to all of the Ebay bidders, our sponsors of whom Adrian at E-Lites must take top spot as he had faith in us delivering a worthwhile event to substitute for the lack of a powerboat race!
The on board crew were:
The support crew were:
David and Ron Ayre
Lastly thank you very much indeed to our wives and partners for putting up with a bunch of nutters who just wanted to go round Britain!
The aftermath of the rain in South Shields