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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Boats that put the wow into power
by Jonathan Morris
BBC News Online South West

Negotiator came third in the first race of the season in Lisbon

Negotiator is a 14m long catamaran made of carbon fibre with two Lamborghini engines, each as powerful as a Formula One car's.

It spends more time out of the water than on it, as it lurches over the waves at a top speed of 160mph.

But Negotiator represents more to its owner Chris Parsonage than the expensive thrills it can provide.

It is the lynch pin in the Plymouth property developer's plans to take the city upmarket.

Mr Parsonage is pumping 1.5m into his first year in Class 1 powerboating, the first time for 12 years that there has been a British entrant in this rarefied corner of boating.

Chris Parsonage
If we can make Plymouth more upmarket then property prices go up, so there are paybacks
Chris Parsonage
He is also backing Plymouth's fourth year hosting the Class 1 racing championship, which comes to the city between 16-18 July.

But Mr Parsonage gets understandably upset if you call Class 1 powerboats rich men's toys.

He points out he and all the drivers are tested to the limit.

"They say if you're in control you're going too slow," said Mr Parsonage, 46.

"You can be in the boat for an hour without any air conditioning in the Gulf in the summer.

"It's unbelievably physical."

And to prove it, he has a personal trainer to keep him fit for the eight-race series.

The farmer's son from Cawsand in Cornwall started his working life as a builder's labourer, mechanic and occasional ski instructor.

Through a series of astute purchases, he has built up a property development company, Gervas, with an annual turnover of 14m.

Hull: Carbon fibre composite catamaran
Length: 13.5m
Beam: 3.5m
Weight: 4,650kg
Engines: Lamborghini-Skema, 2 x 8.2litre, V 12
Power: 920 hp per engine @ 8200 RPM
Married with two children, he now intends to use powerboat racing as a way of putting Plymouth in the spotlight.

Sutton Harbour, where his office is located, is a showcase of regeneration, much of it by Gervas - where warehouses are being turned into chic apartments and where trawlers rest alongside megabucks cruisers.

Mr Parsonage said: "All our business is in Plymouth and I love the city.

"If people do not bring things to the city then we are not going to make it a better place to live."

He says he will make a loss on the three-day event, and he is on the lookout for sponsors to slap their brand names on his boat.

But he is confident that Plymouth and his firm will benefit in the long term.

Blew up

"Everyone says I am mad, but there's one thing being mad and quite another knowing what you're doing," he said.

"And if we can make Plymouth more upmarket then property prices go up, so there are paybacks."

His immediate concerns are with his boat, which is being fettled for the Plymouth races after a third place in Lisbon in May, the first race of the season.

In the last race, in Alicante, one of Negotiator's 8.2-litre turbo-charged V12 engines blew up.

They guzzle fuel at a rate of 1,000 litres an hour, so perhaps it is fortunate that the last races of the season are held in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai.

Chris Parsonage and Peter 'Muddy' McGrath celebrate in Lisbon
Mr Parsonage is partnered by New Zealand throttle man Peter 'Muddy' McGrath whose job includes keeping the boat stable.

There are 10 Class 1 boats racing in the championships this year round courses that last about an hour. In Plymouth, the 18 laps cover 117 miles.

In the cockpit, a satellite GPS system, trim indicators, engine data dashboards and instrument panels and warning lights keep the crew aware of the boat's progress during a race.

But danger is not something that obsesses Mr Parsonage, despite driving Negotiator for the first time earlier this year, after 15 years of driving boats with a fraction of the power.

"We took her out in the bay and we took it easy, but we soon gelled as a team," he said.

"Peter is the best throttle man in the world."

And love for the sport appears to be in the family as his son Gavin, 24, will be racing over the same weekend in his Honda Formula 4-stroke boat.

He is standing fifth out of 11 boats in the 225hp class, the same position as his father in the Class 1 championship.

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