Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 15:13 UK

Reporter's log: Curry goes coastal

Declan Curry
BBC Breakfast business presenter Declan Curry is leaving his desk to go coastal.

He is travelling to a string of ports along with the first round-Britain powerboat race in 24 years.

But it is not all about horse power and testosterone. Declan will bring you stories from the maritime economy as he criss-crosses the nations and regions, and throughout his journey he will be filing reports about the people he meets and the places he visits.


The Greek-entered boat Blue FPT has won the 2008 Round Britain Offshore Powerboat race.

It was driven by Vassilis Pateras and navigated by Britainís Dag Pike. At 75 years old, he was the oldest competitor in the event.

The organisers say its average speed was 67.94 mph.

It was third over the line at the final stage at Portsmouth this afternoon; in fact it failed to win a single stage throughout the competition.

But a consistent run of strong finishes and an absence of the mechanical problems that plagued other boats left it at the top of the table.

More detail on the results has been posted by the organisers. The overall winner, Blue FPT, completed all eight stages in 20 hours 36 minutes.

Second was the Norwegian entry Lionhead, with a total time of 21 hours 56 minutes.

Two of the boats we featured were winners of their individual categories.

Gee, which took part in the original 1969 race, won its historic and classic boat category with a time of 34 hours 17 minutes. That gave it 22 place overall.

Meanwhile Silverline, the self-styled "pluck British underdogs" of Miles Jennings and Drew Langdon, won its RB2 category with a time of 41 hours 16 minutes. That left it 28th overall.

The category winners in order of finishing time were:

  • MC1 - Blue FPT - 20 hour 36 min
  • RB3 - Lionhead - 21 hour 56 min
  • RB1 - Venturer- 23 hour 47 min
  • RB4 - Sealbay - 24 hour 51 min
  • MC2 - Power Product Marine - 26 hour 54 min
  • HC1 - Gee - 34 hour 17 min
  • RB2 - Silverline - 41 hour 16 min

The all-woman Scorpion Dubois team, raising money for the childrens' cancer charity CLIC Sargent, finished 12th overall with a time of 25 hours 46 minutes.

The race favourite Wettpunkt limped in 27th. Despite winning many individual stages over the week, it couldn't shake off the massive time penalty it incurred on the first day.

A string of mechanical difficulties and an on-board firm left the Top Gear team on Garmin in 33rd place.



Declan Curry talks to three generations of Bird's Eye employees


I need to apologise.

I've been having terrible problems with names all week.

Portsmouth and Plymouth were just too close for comfort for my tired brain.

I'm told that when we were in Milford Haven, I said we were in Milton Haven. And later Newport Haven. Good luck finding those on a map.

Even on my own home turf, Bangor in Northern Ireland became Brighton for a split-second.

I wasn't told of any problems with Oban or Inverness.

But I even got my own name wrong. When I have to spell my surname, I'm aware my Ulster pronunciation of the letter R can cause confusion. So I just say "Curry - like the food".

Except that today I said "Declan - like the food". Which left the poor woman at the desk utterly baffled.

And my producer Fraser on the floor, helpless with mirth and on the edge of a little accident.

If Declan was a food, what type of food would I be? I'm sure you'll have your own ideas.

But all these years, I thought I was turning into Breakfast's version of Keith Chegwin. That was wrong. It's really Jack de Manio, the Today presenter who couldn't tell the time.

Anyway - if you noticed, sorry.


We've not been broadcasting this weekend but I'm still keeping an eye on the race.

On Friday, the boats battled it out between Inverness and Edinburgh. Today, they made the journey to Newcastle.

And while others win the individual stages, it continues to be a tussle between the Greek and the Norwegian teams for first place in the overall race.

After the race to Edinburgh on Friday, the Norwegian rib Lionhead was the overall leader. It was a clear 11 minutes ahead of its nearest rival, the Greek boat Blue FPT.

But tonight, at the end of the sixth stage in Newcastle, Blue FPT is the overall leader.

Lionhead suffered a severe technical fault just ten miles into today's journey. The onboard mechanic was able to fix it, but the delay cost it the overall lead. It is now in 5th place overall, and more than an hour behind the leader. But with more than 500 miles left to go the team is hopeful it can catch up.

It has been two great days for the Venturer team, which was first over the line on Friday and set the second-fastest time today. That leaves it 9th overall.

The Austrian racing star Hannes Bohinc and his Wettpunkt team was fastest on Saturday's stage. He has won many of the individual stages of this race, but it nowhere close to overcoming the massive time penalty he suffered after mechanical problems forced him to pull out of the first day's race between Portsmouth and Plymouth. It has been climbing the leader table in recent days and is now 21st.

Rough conditions punished boats on both Friday's and Saturday's stages.

Cinzano 558, which was sounding decidedly rough during tests in the marina on Friday, broke down just a few miles outside Inverness. It had already suffered a series of mechanical failures at the very start of the race in Portsmouth, which knocked it back for the rest of the week.

Another Norwegian team, Gutta Boyz, which had been in the top places earlier in the week, was forced to turn back on Saturday after damage to its boat.

The team of Watford taxi drivers on The Bandit also had to turn back to Edinburgh.

Better news for the Top Gear team. Their boat Garmin had been forced to retire at Milford Haven after a fire on board, and raced up to Inverness by lorry to make repairs. Back in the water for the race to Edinburgh, it finished 10th on Friday's stage and tonight is 37th overall.

Miles Jenkins and Drew Langdon, the Silverline team, are now 7th overall. The all-woman team on Scorpion Dubois are 11th overall.

And the oldest boat in the race - the restored racer Gee - is second in the classic boat category tonight, even though it was forced to slow down when one of its crew suffered a back injury. As mentioned in earlier blogs this week, Gee took part in the first round-Britain race in 1969, but had pulled out by this stage back then. It is now 24th in the overall race.


A tale of three airlines.

We took one flight on each of Flybe, Ryanair and Easyjet during the week.

We had the same baggage for all three flights. But only one airline charged for excess luggage. Lots.

Take a wild guess which one ...

Perhaps surprisingly, the one that charged so much extra didn't even have the cheapest overall price to begin with - despite its marketing slogans. And this was for the shortest flight by far.

The lesson is - they're not all alike. And always read the small print ...



Declan joins eco-tourists for dolphin watching

Happy Birthday Maggie.

I don't know who you are. But thank you for allowing me to gatecrash your party.

Let me explain.

We were on our way out of Inverness, hoping to make a short film about dolphin watching.

As usual, I was grumbling about a rumbling tummy.

Normally my producers ignore this. But as it was actually lunchtime and Fraser was a bit peckish himself, we stopped at the pub in the next village.

There was a group of women in the dining room. We could see balloons, streamers and other signs of a well-enjoyed birthday party, so we left them to it and went into the bar.

A few minutes later, the excited sound of shrieks and whooping burst through from the next room.

Saucy old girls, I thought. They must have ordered a stripper.

Then a bashful head pops round the door.

It turns out the birthday girl - and the others - are regular viewers. And Maggie would like a birthday kiss, but was too shy to ask.

I was only too happy to oblige. And no-one even thought to ask me to remove any clothing.


I did a double-take when I remembered just how far north Inverness actually is.

By my map, it's even more northerly than Moscow. There aren't many major population centres closer to the Pole than this. When you start to list them, you're looking at places like Anchorage in Alaska, or the Scandanavian capitals Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki.

Tracking the race to here from Portsmouth a week ago has been quite a journey.

And because we've gone so far up the country, the race was able to use Britain's most northerly man-made waterway, as the powerboats cut through Scotland along the Caledonian Canal.

I find this thrilling. I love canals. I'm a canal nut.

Canals became the central nervous system for the Industrial Revolution. They let us get more goods to market, cheaper and faster - slashing costs, driving down prices and boosting demand.

The Caledonian canal opened in 1822, linking the west coast of Scotland with the east.

It was designed by Thomas Telford, by then Britain's leading canal builder. It is only 60-odd miles long, because it starts at the end of the long natural inlet from the Atlantic Ocean into Fort William.

Only about one-third of the canal is actually man-made; the rest of it is formed by the natural waters of Lochs Lochy, Oich, Dochfour and Ness (yes, legendary home of the reputed monster).

The Caledonian was designed to help ships avoid the treacherous journey all around Scotland's northern coast.

It was part of Telford's ambitious plan to improve communications and logistics in Grampian and the Highlands, by building dozens of new roads and bridges and improving harbours like Aberdeen.

The economic history of this time, in this part of the world, is remembered as brutal and vicious. This was the time of the second Highland Clearances, when the poor were burned from their homes and driven from the land so it could be turned into pastures for grazing sheep.

But it was also a time when Telford helped lock in future enrichment, by putting in place the logistical building blocks - roads, bridges, harbours - essential for production, distribution and trade. Essential to this day.

And in recent years, we've rediscovered the economic value of canals all across the UK - whether it be attractive sites for new flats and shops or the growth in barge holidays and tourism.

Canal tow-paths are also used now as conduits for high speed Internet cables. The network that helped the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s is now part of the nervous system for today's Communications Revolution.


Just bumped into Iain May, the cameraman from BBC Two's Top Gear who's skippering the Garmin team.

This was the celebrity boat of the race.

Daytime TV presenter Nick Knowles was on board for the early stages, and Top Gear presenter James May was set to join the team later on.

But it's had a terrible race.

The presenter of DIY SOS had his own on-board emergency as the boat suffered one technical problem after another, including a fire.

Iain tells me they threw in the towel after Milford Haven when he realised their running repairs hadn't stuck and they needed a significant chunk of time to fix it properly.

So they pulled into Fishguard, put the boat on a lorry and drove to Inverness so they'd arrive at the repair yard ahead of everyone else.

The work's all done now so they'll be back on the starting line tomorrow morning. Iain was hoping to finish better than the 11th place his dad got in the 1969 race.

But having missed so much of the race, the objective now must surely be just to finish.

And to ignore the irony that the Top Gear team has covered as much of this race by road as it has by sea.


Top Gear cameraman Iain May and DIY SOS's Nick Knowles show off their boat


I caught up with some of the race teams as they enjoyed their night off in the bars and restaurants of Inverness.

The team that was tipped as the dead-cert winner is now resigned to losing, and badly.

Wettpunkt set the fastest time between Milford Haven and Bangor, and then between Bangor and Oban.

But it suffered a big time penalty after it failed to complete the first stage between Portsmouth and Plymouth, and is now 33rd overall, according to the organisers.

With just 4 stages left, skipper Hannes Bohinc doesn't fancy their chances.

His only hope is if some of the boats ahead of him suffer technical problems.

So at this stage, it looks like the overall winner will be among the Norwegian Rib Lionhead, the Greek entry Blue FPT, or the other Norwegian entry Gutta Boyz.

Meanwhile, much teasing from the crew of the classic boat Gee about the write up I did about them a few days ago.

It took part in the 1969 Round Britain race, and I painted a scene of plucky endeavour as it battled through high seas to lead the field going into Dundee.

Unfortunately owner Chris Clayton didn't mention that it didn't go any further than Dundee because of fuel and rudder problems.

Cue team hilarity at reporter falling for old sea dog tales.

It's having a better race of it now - overnight it was still first in the classic boat category.


If you're wondering why I've not blogged already, there's no race today.

The competitors have a day off to get themselves from Oban on the west coast of Scotland to Inverness on the east.

Many will go through the Caledonian Canal, complete with its "Devil's Staircase" set of locks. The power boats were queuing up powerlessly from dawn.

Others are going by road, on trailers. It's possible we're stuck behind one right now, but I can't see past the 3 cars, 3 cyclists, bus and caravan immediately in front of us.

Your fact of the day is that the west of Scotland gets three times as much rain as the east. Don't worry, we noticed.

I spotted this on a sign at the Glencoe Visitors Centre. The sign was directly outside the gents' toilet, which amused me as an example of someone else's whimsy and frivolity.

Alas not.

It was part of a display on how the centre re-uses collected rain water in its plumbing system.



Declan meets Easdale islanders


An update on today's results.

It was another great day for Hannes Bohinc and the Wettpunkt team.

Their boat was the first to cross the finish line at Oban, after covering the 128 mile journey from Bangor in one hour 43 minutes.

But the time penalty Wettpunkt incurred for quitting the race during Saturday's leg means other teams are still ahead when you look at overall time, including the Greek boat Blue FPT, which finished sixth overall today and first in its racing category.

Silverline Original Style finished first in its category, despite the absence of skipper Miles Jennings after he broke three ribs yesterday.

The all woman Scorpion Dubois team finished fifth in their class.

Don't forget the team is updating its own blog from the high seas.

And the historic boat Gee - about which I blogged earlier today - finished second in its class.

Ten boats did not start today, including the Garmin team headed by Top Gear cameraman Iain May.

Also benched today, the Ferrari of the powerboat world, Fabio Buzzi.


Just had a call from the Silverline Original Design race team - the "plucky British underdogs".

They seem to have fixed most of the mechanical problems that had them going round in circles - literally - yesterday afternoon (both the gearbox and steering went about 35 miles out of Bangor; it took them two hours to finish that last stretch).

After overnight repairs, they finished first in their class today, and fourth overall for the leg from Bangor into Oban.

It may take longer to fix skipper Miles Jennings. He looked pretty groggy when I saw him this morning.

He confirmed he had actually broken three ribs, is dosed up on painkillers and would sit out the next few days, rejoining the team on the leg from Inverness to Edinburgh on Friday.


Side by side in the Bangor marina, two different boats which show just how much dedication this sport demands from its devotees. And how willingly they give it.

On the right, the distinctive green and orange flash of the Wettpunkt boat.

Skippered by the racing legend Hannes Bohinc, it won yesterday's stage between Milford Haven and Bangor after hitting speeds of over 100 knots.

Peeking under the bonnet during engine tests this morning, you could see at a glance it was a highly-toned beast. Perfection and performance like that does not come cheaply.

Next to it, a craft that required love as much as it did money.

The Gee boat is the oldest one in the race.

It looks nothing at all like its high-speed neighbour.

In fact, at first glance it resembles a boat you might board if you were treating an aged aunt to a leisurely Sunday lunch on the river.

But don't be fooled by its genteel gin and tonic appearance.

Named after the Hon Edward Greenall - as in the brewery (it's his initials backwards) - it took part in the first Round Britain Powerboat Race in 1969.

And its performance was none-too-shabby. In heavy weather, it was leading the field as the race entered Dundee.

But twenty years later, it was already in racing retirement, serving its time as a rich-man's pleasure boat in the south of France.

It was rediscovered almost entirely by chance.

The boat ended up in the hands of a finance company, after the rich man became, ahem, a little less rich.

The company booked it in for a make-over at a repair yard back in the UK. And from there, it was eventually bought by its current owner, Chris Clayton.

He's a surveyor based in London and Surrey. But while he's land-locked at work, in his spare time he has a passion for the sea.

He told me he'd bought Gee to use as a pleasure boat, and it made many appearances at events like Cowes. But the beauty of its design provoked him into researching its past.

And once he uncovered its racing history, he was determined it would have a racing future too.

So 39 years after the first Round Britain race, here it is today taking part in the latest one.

Chris says it's the best 40th birthday present he could give it.


Dawn at Bangor marina, and the weather is a bit better than expected. But the LED display at the Coastguard station gives a very gloomy forecast for later.

Declan Curry and Ecco the dog
Buoyant dogs look good on TV, according to Declan

By 0610 I'd already had my first clanger on air - calling it Brighton rather than Bangor. The only defence is that it was very early. Sorry.

Some of you have been complaining in the comments that we've not done race results on the TV.

We have - but not every time I'm on air.

As a rough rule of thumb, the race report is at quarter past 6, 7 and 8.

But don't forget this is really a look at the economy of the sea to coincide with the race, not full race coverage.

Oh my goodness there's a dog with his own lifejacket. We must get THAT on the television.


Declan and canine friend in Bangor


Bad news from the Silverline team - the "plucky British underdogs" who won Saturday's stage.

Miles Jennings has been taken for a medical examination; he appears to have suffered some damage to his ribs, though doctors say they're not broken as first feared.

The boat itself has also been damaged; the gear box broke about 15 miles out from Bangor, which affected the boat's steering as well. It is now being repaired in Bangor.


The power boats have arrived in Bangor, and the bookies' favourite has roared back into the race.

The Wettpunk team - headed by racing superstar Hannes Bohinc - set the fastest time on the leg from Milford Haven after belting across the Irish Sea at speeds of more than 100 knots.

It's a swift recovery from his disastrous performance on Saturday when he had retire from the race with engine trouble.

Even though he incurred a time penalty, the organisers stressed at the time that he could easily claw back the advantage over the remaining 1,000+ miles.

But while the Schumacher of the power boat world is triumphant, the Ferrari of the business had another disappointment.

The Italian boat designer and builder Fabio Buzzi had mechanical trouble yet again, and retired early.

No word yet on the other teams we've been following - the all-woman Scorpion Dubois, the celebrity Garmin squad with its Top Gear stars and Saturday's winner Silverline; more on them when it comes in.

I'm also watching out for the Gee team, if only because they gave me a free hat. (Remember that old quote that said British journalists can never be bought, but just look what they'll do for free? ...)

Meanwhile, while the boats roared over into Bangor, we've just limped into Belfast Airport after driving from Milford Haven to Cardiff and getting the short flight across.

Given the customer service delight that is modern air travel, I can't help wondering if we might have been better off being bashed around on the Irish Sea at over 100 mph ...


I'm standing by the Silverline boat, the winner of the first - and only - stage of this race so far. Gosh it's small. It barely looks like there's space for one person in there, never mind a whole crew.

It all depends on your perspective, I suppose.

If you were stuck behind it as it made its way along the roads of Wales to Milford Haven, it must have seen both massive and annoying.

In the marina, it looks small amid even the run-of-the-mill leisure boats.

On the high seas, the crew told me they feel both tiny and vulnerable.

Silverline are all geared up and ready to go, but they don't expect to hold their lead as other teams which race less frequently around the UK get their bearings.

One of the other teams we're following - the all-women Scorpion Dubois team - are also raring to go after their 24th placing on Saturday.

They're delighted with that finish - not least because the overall race favourite and other big names were knocked out, so it shows they're getting it right amid the big boys of racing.

Don't forget they're raising money to treat children with cancer.

But they're all going to have to wait a bit today.

It's going to take hours for the crane to lift the boats off their trailers and put them into the water over at Pembroke Docks.

And there is an alarming number of boats on trailers whizzing past the marina here at Milford Haven - six miles away from where they should be. More than one driver has screeched to a halt, wound down the window and shouted out: "Excuse me mate, do you know where the slip way is?"

Anyway, we've been busy down at the docks this morning speaking to some of the movers and shakers; take a look for yourselves:


Declan speaks to people in Milford Haven


One by one they arrived.

The racing teams and their boats have been turning up at Milford Haven this afternoon, having made the long journey from Plymouth - by road.

The second stage of the Round Britain Powerboat Race was abandoned this morning because of high winds.

The waves in the Bristol Channel were so enormous they would have imperilled not just the teams' ability to race, but their safety on the seas.

It sparked a mad scramble for lorries, trucks, trailers - anything that could carry boats as long as 50ft on their 250-mile unscheduled road trip.

Some teams already had a plan B; others had no such standby arrangements.

One team told me it had booked a lorry on Saturday evening, just in case. In the minutes after it made its booking, the lorry company got another dozen desperate-sounding phone calls.

It all comes down to the wind. The organisers are confident that wind speeds will die down enough overnight to allow tomorrow's stage from Milford Haven to Bangor, Northern Ireland, to go ahead.

But this evening, winds are still too high to lift the boats off their trailers and put them in the water. All that unloading by crane will have to take place in a very short time tomorrow.

The boats are all fuelled, and the start time has been pushed back - but it may still be another scramble.

Ps - Had to go up a small hill to file this, as Blackberry reception is a bit patchy. The cows are looking at me with what I assume it bemusement.


Today's leg of the race has been cancelled.

The organisers are blaming bad weather. Boats will be taken by road from Plymouth to Milford Haven, or will sail early tomorrow morning.

The start time for tomorrow's stage from Milford Haven to Bangor, Northern Ireland will be delayed.

By road? Crikey. If you thought being stuck behind a caravan was bad ....

Here's the statement from the event organisers:

"Due to very high winds and forecast wave heights of up to nine metres in the Bristol Channel, the second leg of The 2008 Round Britain Off Shore Power Boat Race from Plymouth to Milford Haven has been cancelled.

"The fleet are presently travelling to Milford Haven by road and will start the third leg tomorrow (Milford Haven to Bangor) at a slightly later time. †

"Boats without trailers will go by sea to Milford Haven and will be leaving Plymouth at an EDT of 6am tomorrow (Monday 23 June). When this fleet has arrived there will then be a second start from Milford Haven for the Bangor leg."


The route for today and tomorrow - into and out of Milford Haven - has been changed, because of concerns about the impact it might have had on marine life. If you haven't seen it already, there's more in this BBC report:


Race update - It's been confirmed that the bookies' favourite Wettpunkt had to retire during today's race from Portsmouth to Plymouth.

Also knocked out for today are the boat designer Fabbio Buzzi, and the Garmin team led by Top Gear cameraman Iain May.

But they're expected to be back on the start line at Plymouth tomorrow. They'll get a time penalty for retiring today but with a journey of more than 1,000 miles still ahead they could claw their position back in later stages.

I'm told the Wettpunkt boat is getting new engines overnight and the Garmin boat is travelling through the night to get repaired and then carry on to Plymouth.

Race organiser Mike Lloyd told me that cranes and other facilities are available to help crews get ship-shape for the start of the second stage in the morning.


It appears there may be sensational news from the race.

Two of the biggest names seem to be out of the competition, on its very first day.

Fabbio Buzzi has retired, according to the official race website. I don't know if that means just this leg, or overall. I'm trying to find out.

He's been described as the Ferrari of boat building. He's been designing stylish, distinctive and powerful craft for decades - and many of the boats in this race started as a gleam in his eye.

Boats in the Portsmouth to Plymouth leg
Forty-seven teams are taking part in the round-Britain race

And I can't see any reference to the bookies' favourite Wettpunkt in the results table. I was checking because some of the other teams phoned to say the gossip was it had developed engine trouble.

If it is out it will be fairly amazing, as its owner and driver is the racing superstar Hannes Bohinc, and he was seen as a dead cert to win. He had been around the UK in other events, and had set world-record times.

Hannes was on Breakfast this morning. Off camera, I thanked him for taking time away from his last minute preparations. He shrugged a little, and said if the boat wasn't ready by now, it would never be.

That, I thought, is a man who is supremely confident.

We all hope he and the other competitors are safe and well. There are only 32 finishing places in the results league out of 37 boats at the start, so it clearly was an arduous first stage.

What of the other teams we featured? I can't see the "Top Gear" team - or as it's officially known, Garmin Racing - in the finishing list yet.

It's skippered by TG cameraman Iain May, and was set to have been joined by presenter James May later in the week.

Today the celebrity on board was Nick Knowles, but don't be fooled into thinking this was just a boatload of TV tarts messing about.

Sailing is in Iain's bloodstream; his dad took part in the first ever Round Britain powerboat race back in 1969, and finished 11th. May junior was determined to beat that.

There's better news from the all-woman team we featured, Miranda Knowles and Sarah Fraser.

They're sailing as the Scorpion Dubois team, and are aiming to raise £50,000 for the CLIC Sergeant children's cancer charity.

They've finished 24th today, but remember they told me they were more worried about Sunday's stage between Plymouth and Milford Haven.

According to them, if the Atlantic swell near the Bristol channel goes wrong, there's nowhere safe to bolt to.

But the best news of all has to be this - the other team we interviewed won!! Silverline, headed by Miles Jennings, styled themselves on air as the plucky British underdogs.

Well, today they came out on top, crossing the finish line in Plymouth just before 1250. Congratulations to them. We hope to hear from Miles again as the week unfolds.

Do bear in mind that these results are still subject to confirmation. If I've got something badly wrong, or there's a big change, I'll correct it as soon as I can.


Timing is everything in live television.

We had all geared up for a prompt start to the race this morning. The first wave of boats - classic and motor cruisers - was set to go at 0930.

They would then be followed half an hour later by the ultra-powerful racing boats. They go at quite a lick - the fastest of the lot claims speeds of "at least" 90 knots.

Enthusiastic crowds gathered more than an hour early on the sea front. The race commentator squawked one delicious fact after another over the public address loudspeakers.

Police boats, local craft and even a Royal Navy destroyer had all turned out to show support.

Above us, Navy helicopters performed aeronautical gymnastics that first delighted the crowds, then dampened them as the blades whipped up sea spray in their direction.

Dogs of all size and breed snarled, snapped and sniffed amid the din.

The competing boats emerged in various bursts from Portsmouth harbour, on their way to line up in the Solent at the start line at Southsea Castle.

The crowd cheered and whooped. At the last moment, the superstar of the race arrived - the distinctive green and orange colours of the favourite to win, the Wettpunkt team. Engines roared. Helicopters clattered.

0930 came and went. But the boats didn't go anywhere.

Were the timing gods smiling on me? My broadcast wasn't until 0940. Perhaps we could capture the start on live television after all? The clock ticked.

The presenters introduced me. The race still hadn't started. I gabbled. Spectators chatted. But still no sign of the magical, elusive green flag from the starting boat.

In the end, our time on air ran out. The programme moved on to other items.

And then less than two minutes later, an explosion of noise. The yellow flag is up, the boats rev up and suddenly it's green and they're off.

It took a while, but goodness it was worth the wait.

A magnificent sight, a deafening sound - a blur of colour and foam signalling the start of the toughest race of its kind, and the determination of 47 small teams to conquer the might of nature - or at least, give it a good try.


Declan Curry finds the timing gods aren't smiling on him


There's one point in particular that jumped out of our broadcasts this morning.

It's an admission from the shipbuilding boss, Alan Johnston.

He's the chief executive-designate of the new shipbuilding company BVT, formed by the merger of the surface fleet arm of BAE Systems (previously British Aerospace) and what used to be Vosper Thorneycroft, now VT Group.

These are famous names indeed, with a long heritage in shipbuilding.

The official line is that the companies are merging so they can share and develop skills and know-how; as I wrote last night, modern shipbuilding is as much about technology and design as it is about welding and riveting.

And that is true, of course.

But Mr Johnston admitted one other hard fact - these big beasts are throwing their lot in together because there just isn't enough business at home to maintain them as two separate, vibrant world-class companies.

As a sharp reminder, the UK government just this Thursday scuppered plans for two further Type-45 destroyers for the Royal Navy. Six have already been ordered, as part of a £14 billion investment in shipbuilding.

(You might remember that BBC Breakfast was on board the first one - HMS Daring - as it ended its first sea trials last year.)

It was thought we needed 12 of them, but that was scaled back to eight, and now it's just six. Ministers say resources are limited and spending has to be prioritised.

Hear from workers building the new Royal Navy aircraft carriers

The bulk of the work on these destroyers would have been carried out by BAE and VT, some of it here at Portsmouth.

Over the next half-decade, in their new joint company, they'll build the biggest warships that Britain has ever owned - the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

But their dominant customer - ie us (in the form of the Ministry of Defence) - is continually trying to squeeze better value out of big defence contracts.

And the MoD is not averse to going abroad for some of the work if it cannot find the price it wants here. The Royal Navy does not always have "Made in Britain" stamped under the bonnet any more.

Some people may not like it. But going abroad can mean our money is used more wisely.

It's the same rationale behind the switch of call centre jobs to India, or textile manufacturing to Vietnam. It's not just simple cost saving, but a more effective use of capital that in theory makes us better off in the long-run.

Shipbuilding also shows the consequences of that globalisation.

In a world that former CBI boss Digby Jones used to describe as: "China eating our breakfast and India eating our lunch" - in other words, where China dominates low-cost, low-skill manufacturing and India does the same with services - we have to offer goods and services that are high-skill, hi-tech, distinctive, creative, flexible or fast.

To do that, we need workers performing at the very top of their technical capability or creative ability.

But business has long complained that it just cannot find enough skilled staff, and the recent Leitch report into the issue warned that Britain would be billions of pounds worse off and have millions of people who cannot be employed productively because they don't have the know-how they need in a knowledge-based economy.

Some blame schools, teachers and the educational system for churning out an estimated 6 million of people who cannot read, write or do sums adequately.

Some blame business itself for not spending enough on training its own workers for fear they'll walk out the door with their new skills to a rival firm.

But in a world where we will thrive on wit and wisdom, skills will be the critical factor. If the real driver behind shipbuilding's big merger is that it can't get enough talented and capable workers, then we're in danger of being sunk economically.

So let's hope it's about the money after all.



Declan Curry kicks off his UK tour at HMS Victory in Portsmouth


If you didn't know already that Portsmouth's life and history are intertwined with the sea, you get a broad hint before you leave the railway station.

In most places, the exit sign reads, "way out to shops". Here it says, "way out to ships".

Britain's only island city. Home to the Royal Navy since the 12th Century. And a dockyard that was one of the world's largest industrial complexes.

The sea is Portsmouth's economic lifeblood, and its fortunes have ebbed and flowed accordingly.

Schoolboys joined the shipyards and left as old men, but nowadays far, far fewer do so.

The city will get a boost from the construction of two new aircraft carriers, but the work will be shared with other places across the country, and will also be shared between two old companies operating together as one.

Shipbuilding is a different business from the one you might imagine.

It's as much about design and technical systems as it is welding and riveting, and more about co-operation than competition. Jaw-jaw, not war-war.

Anyway, more of that later. We've got a whole week and a bit to explore Britain's maritime economy.

Right now I have to pick between the Mega Burger (four of them, for under a tenner) and the 20oz steak with optional peppercorn sauce. What obesity crisis?

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