Remembering MIKE SOUTHWARD R.I.P. MOD Plod Retired, RIB Racer Retired
It was with sadness I learned a couple of days ago that an old ribster friend had passed away suddenly. Mike Southward died on the 29 Feb. He was 77 and I believe his next birthday would have been soon. His funeral was today (04/03/2016) at Cardross Crematorium.
Mike was one of our early rib racing pioneers making his initial mark on the scene in 1990 when he and his MOD Plod (Ministry of Defence Police) team took 1st place overall in the inaugral Highlands & Islands RIB Race of 1990. His enthusiasm and energy was infectious and later he organised his own events under the name of Scotrib running from the Clyde.
Before joining the MOD Plod Mike was a submariner and Royal Navy diver. I think it would be fair to say that Mike had spent quite a lot of his life either on, in or under water!
I first met Mike through business in 1989 when he telephoned me in his then capacity of Sergeant in the Clyde Marine Unit based at Faslane Submarine Base on the Clyde. Back then Carson RIBs were built on the Wirral. He explained that he and his team had recently been involved in policing Greenpeace activists on the water. As a direct result of those encounters he was instructed to investigate more about the ribs Greenpeace were using. Apparently the ribs used by the MOD were unable to intercept the Greenpeace Carson ribs.
Soon after that call Mike came to my office and had a tour of our works. Later we took him for a sea trial aboard a Carson 750 when we enjoyed putting it through its paces on a sunny but chilly River Mersey. Despite the bitter wind chill Mike was grinning like a Cheshire cat and was clearly loving his job!
Not very long after that Mike called me again but this time about quite another matter. He told me of an upcoming event to be run in July 1990. It was called The Highlands & Islands RIB Race 1990. He was thinking of entering and would I be interesting in sponsoring his MOD crewed team with a Carson 750. I immediately agreed. I did say he could be infectious.
The next couple of months were a bit hectic to say the least. Mike and his team were busy his end getting leave, organising logistics and sponsorship from local businesses. I at my end had my own issues. In addition to supplying a boat I had agreed to gather a team to assist with support and logistics, etc.
The demo boat he was to get had got stuck in customs in the U.S. after trials with the U.S. military and looked increasingly unlikely to get back to the UK in time for the race. We had a cut off deadline in which we could build a new Carson 750 in order to fulfil our commitment. That was only three weeks from the start gun. And yes that's exactly what we did. I'm not sure if Mike realised how close to the wire we were and if he did didn't show it. I never saw Mike get flapped about anything. However the boat was ready in time (just) and duly delivered to the Faslane base as planned with just one day before the race began. After a quick trip out on the Clyde to ensure nothing fell off and all was good to go and get some press photos we headed north to Inverness. And the rest as they say is history. After a week of racing that included a speed trial along Loch Ness, a jolly through the Caledonian Canal and then open water racing from Fort William round the top of Scotland and finishing back in Inverness, Mike and his team achieved a 1st overall win and were presented with the Stockdale Trophy.
The final day entailed a race around the cans in the Moray Forth ending off North Kessock. For this I was to helm the boat. Mike had mentioned that the steering had gone a bit slack. Not until I got out there did I realise just how slack it had got. Keeping a straight line was nigh impossible, especially when crossing other boat's wakes so to say it was an interesting race is somewhat of an understatement. It was after that I realised another of Mike's traits. He could be the master of understatement. Turned out the hydraulic steering was loosing fluid, fast. These races and others are already well documented on this forum under Rib Racing - Remembering The Early Years and Carson RIBs and elsewhere. For those who haven't seen it there's also a bit on Youtube with Mike and his crew in action;
We all had so much fun that year (and success) thanks to Mike's enthusiasm and ability to get things done (he wasn't a sergeant for nothing) that we were all back again in 1991. Almost exactly the same team. Unfortunately we didn't get the 1st place that time partly due to Mike having suffered a back injury. But true to form he insisted on carrying on through the week to the finish line. I was getting reports that he was suffering so much pain at times that he had to stop the boat from time to time to take a breather before roaring off again. While stopped overtaking boats gave a cheery wave only to get a return wave from Mike as he stomped past them again later. Not only was he very determined, I'm sure he won't mind me saying, but he could be a tad stubborn at times too. He said the same of me on occassion when we sometimes each took a different view point on some matters. However in the end we somehow always got the job done.
Yes I got to know Mike pretty well back then. We somehow even managed to end up sharing a hotel room during the 2nd Round Scotland. Not sure who's idea that was but more likely Mike's. Like funds he didn't like to waste a spare bed! On another occassion I had the pleasure of staying in his lovely home not far from Faslane Base and the pleasure of meeting his wife Helen. They proved to be the perfect hosts and entertaining company always good for a laugh.
So today I and my Fastest Rib Building Team reflect back to those days shared with The Fastest Round Scotland RIB Racing Team and offer our condolences to Mike's wife Helen and family. Thank you Mike for the opportunity, thank you for the challenges you threw at us, thank you for the good friendships that were borne and still endure and thank you Mike for the great times and happy memories. R.I.P.
Attached photos all include Mike; 3rd from right in group on winning RIB. At the helm in others on same RIB. And in green drysuit on black Carson 750 with me in red the 1st day we met on the R. Mersey, 1989