Hobie Catamarans

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Like many I suffer from seasickness. The only real way I have ever been able to cure my “Mal de Mer” is to do one compellingly easy thing. If you are on a small sailing craft, a refurbished Thames Barge lunging down the East Coast of the UK or on a Cross-Channel ferry – stay outside. There is something in the combination of salt air, the roll of the sea, and the wind in your face that combines to prevent the inevitable heave!

Years ago a couple of friends suggested I should try wind-surfing. It was long before the invention of kite surfing and years before I was to fall in love with Tarifa on Spain’s Costa de la Luz. It was my second sailing experience but like my first it was on a reservoir this time, a former gravel pit, St Mary’s Reservoir near London’s Heathrow Airport.

After not many lessons I mastered the trick of standing on the surf board, lifting a knotted rope to engage the mast and triangular sail, a few square metres of clear plastic, and a wishbone that required quite careful control. It helped to have some understanding of the way of the wind. I was soon pelting across the water jibing and tacking to avoid a drop into the merkey depths. A bright spark then suggested I should consider a sailing holiday.

Sunsail – still a respected operator – in Bodrum (Turkey) was the preferred location and after a barrel of Turkish beer, a fight in the Halikanas night club and shots of raki, I found myself at the shoreline wearing an orange life vest. The wind surfing was wonderful, great beach, good waves and a brilliant hippy vibe but the one thing that really caused my adrenaline to pump was riding the Hobie Cats!

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One of the instructors who’d already spent years in Mirror Dingys, GP14 and the like was an excellent coach. We hit the trampoline of the Hobie and he explained to me both the agility of this excellent craft and the fact that, if I felt up to it, I could find my self on a trapeze hanging at perilous angels over the side as it approached maximum speed. They were amazing and whist I never really mastered the tiller of these simple crafts or the full extent of the trapeze the ride was breathtaking.

So where did the iconic Hobie Cats come from?

In the early 1960’s, at Laguna Beach (California USA) a foam and fiber glass surf and skate board manufacturer and surf team entrepreneur, Canadian born Hobart Alter, set up, with his Father’s help, a surf shop. He had determined at a young age that he wanted to make a living that didn’t involve wearing “hard soled shoes”!

Hobart saw and was influenced by the Aqua Cat catamaran designed by Arthur Javes. For Alter, the Aqua Cat suffered as it needed a dagger board to ensure under-sail stability. He set to work to re-imagine the catamaran.

The first dagger-boardless Hobie Cat, that could be easily beached and launched into the surf, was built in 1965 with two asymmetrical – banana shaped – hulls, a connecting trampoline and aluminium mast.

The Hobie Cat Company was founded in 1967 and in 1971 the Hobie 16, designed by Alter and Phil Edwards was launched.

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The robust Hobie 16 – which I sailed in Turkey – has become the world’s most popular catamaran, with over 135,000 manufactured to date in the US and France. Later versions of the Hobie 16 included a two piece fibre-glass composite mast after the families of owners in the US successfully sued the Hobie Cat Company arguing that deaths by electrocution had been caused by hoisting the aluminium mast near overhead power lines…..

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Image Credits – images used with grateful thanks Pinterest, the Hobie Cat Company and Wikipedia.

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The Spirit of Ecstasy

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I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

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The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

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Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

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By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

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Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

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As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

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Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

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Zodiac Inflatable Boats

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I like boats but I have always thought that a conventional rigid hulled version was somewhat limiting. The practical reality of an inflatable boat means that it can easily be moved from one location to another and stored away from the water when not in use – thus saving a killing on mooring fees.

There are certain iconic products that through familiarity, usually based on exceptional built quality or performance, become the noun that defines the object. Hoover, Durex and Zodiac. A heritage brand.

Mrs W. spent many summers on Spain’s Costa del Sol as a teenager and when describing an inflatable boat she uses the term “Zodiac”. The boat owners she knew had their Zodiacs equipped with Mercury or Johnson outboards for use as ski boats, fun day boats or as tenders to larger vessels.

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It will come as no surprise that these air filled and thermobonded tube-gunwaled boats can trace their origins to the airships of French company, Zodiac Aerospace founded in 1896. In the 1930s, Zodiac engineer, Pierre Debroutelle, developed early prototype inflatable boats for the use of the French ”Aéronavale” – the aviation arm of the French Navy. In 1934 he invented an inflatable kayak and catamaran and in 1937 Aeronavale commissioned Zodiac to produce inflatables pontoons to carry naval ordinance.

Following its development for military use, in the 1950’s French Navy officer and biologist, Alain Bombard, is credited with designing the combination of an outboard engine, a rigid floor and the boat-shaped inflatable. The resulting design was built by Zodiac. Bombard sailed a version across the Atlantic in 1952 and with his friend and fellow naval officer, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, it’s excellent performance made the Zodiac the tender of choice. See our previous post on the inspirational Jacques-Yves Cousteau here – Jacques Cousteau

The 1960’s saw a growth in the recreational use of small boats and Zodiac answered this demand partly by increasing their own production and partly by licensing others, such as Humber in the UK, to produce their boats. Further, US culture was exposed to Zodiac inflatables in Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau“ – get your copy by clicking the AMAZON link below the image.

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The Undersea World Of JACQUES COUSTEAU 6 DVD Box Set PAL

Increasingly from the early 1970’s the modern rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was a development of the classic – almost unsinkable – inflatable boat, enhanced by the addition of a rigid floor and solid hull – in GRP, steel, wood or aluminum. Adding a transom mounted powerful outboard engine made these craft highly manoeverable and able to cope with the roughest seas.

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RIBs became a favourite with the military – Zodiac established a separate division Zodiac Milpro to service this demand – and sea rescue services. Illegal smuggling gangs, intent on landing contraband whilst avoiding detection, in a part of the world I know well, made RIBs their vessel of choice – the authorities using even more military grade versions to thwart this ambition!

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks – Zodiac Nautic.

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STOP PRESS

20.07.18 – It’s been announced in Madrid, as part of Spain’s ongoing war on drug smuggling, particularly on the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar, that the Spanish Government is taking steps to ban the private use of RIBs that are longer than 8m or smaller but with a 150kW engine or bigger. Once sanctioned the ban will come into effect after six months.

Triumph TR2, TR3 and TR4

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The response to our recent post featuring the Triumph Stag – see our previous post here – Triumph Stag was phenomenal. Whilst watching a film set in the 1950’s that featured a dashing young chap arriving to pick up his lady love in an early Triumph sports model, I decided to dig deeper into the Triumph Stags’ ancestry. I discovered that the star of the TV show was a Triumph TR2 – quite a stunner.

I have never suited the image of cordouroys, a flat cap and a pipe-smoker but these seem almost compulsory for the devotees of the sprightly, iconic and classic English sports cars.

A model described as the 20TS (unofficially the TR1) was shown at the London Motor Show in October 1952 – see below a rare photo of this prototype – to a mixed reception. The then Chairman of Standard-Triumph, Sir John Black, requested the assessment of the 20TS from BRM’s development engineer and test driver, Ken Richardson. It was so damning – a slow, poor handling death-trap – that Sir John sought Black’s help to redesign the car.

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Black’s efforts resulted in substantial improvements and in March 1953, at the Geneva Motor Show, the TR2 debuted. It benefitted from a parts pool culled from the Standard Motors range that gave the TR2 excellent reliability, albeit with rather basic handling and an uncomfortable ride. It sold between 1953 and 1955.

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In 1955, the TR2, as a result of minor styling changes and an upgraded engine became the TR3 – “Small Mouth”.

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In 1956 Girling Disc brakes on the front were added exponentially improving the braking. Styling changes alone to the TR3 in 1957 resulted in the TR3A – as it is often described – was, for me, the nadir of good design for this series. Although far from “modern”, the TR3As were appreciated in both Europe and the US with annual production exceeding 10,000 vehicles.

In 1962 TR3B entered production and look virtually identical to the TR3A but with engine and carburetor upgrade. It was offered concurrently with the new TR4 in response to dealers concerns about the TR4 being regarded by the core audience as being too modern.

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Realizing that the TR3 needed a significant facelift in 1961 Triumph engaged Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti – already well known for his work with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and BMW – to design the TR4. His boxier body looked much more modern with a larger cabin, although under the skin it was largely a TR3 with upgraded steering. Michelotti designed extensively for Triumph, his work included the Triumph Stag.

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In 1965, the TR4 became TR4A with a much improved ride, a more tuned engine and quieter exhaust.

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For me the TR4 with its wire wheels and elegant lines is the definitive small English sports car.

The TR3 and TR4 saw production runs in the region of 70,000 cars each so there’s lots of potential examples out there both those that are Concours ready and those that could benefit from a significant re-build. Checking sites like http://www.hemmings.com or http://www.erclassics.com will demonstrate that a price range – depending on condition between £5,000 and £30,000.

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You’ve been promising yourself that you’ll find a classic sports car to rebuild – perhaps now’s the right time.

Would a Buyer’s Guide to the TR2 and TR3’s assistant you in your quest? If so, published in July 2018 is an Essential Buyers Guide –  click the AMAZON link below the image to order your copy

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Triumph TR2, & TR3 – All models (including 3A & 3B) 1953 to 1962: Essential Buyer’s Guide

If a TR4 is more your thing then there is also and Essential Buyer’s Guide for this model – click the AMAZON link below the image to get your copy

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Triumph TR4/4A & TR5/250 – All models 1961 to 1968 (Essential Buyer’s Guide)

You’ll, of course need a trusty Haynes Owner’s Worshop Manual – get a copy here that covers the TR2 to TR4A – please click on the AMAZON link below the image

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Haynes 0028 Car Maintenance Service Repair Manual

I do appreciate that your enthusiasm may only stretch to wearing the T shirt – in this case a personalised vehicle registration plate – if so, please click on the AMAZON link below the image

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Triumph TR2, TR3, TR4, TR5, TR6, TR7 Chassis Plate T-Shirt *PERSONALISED* Model & Reg Plate (M, Charcoal)

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Photo Credits – with grateful thnaks – Hemings.com, Standard-Triumph

The Hovercraft

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Seldom do we seen such a dramatic shift away from one established technology with the arrival of a competing and, often, better new technology or solution – this is described by the cruelly true word of “obsolesce”.

A classic example is the Kodiak 35mm film or the Polaroid camera – see our earlier piece here on the Polaroid Camera – when confronted with the dawn of mass digital photography and the ever increasing pixels of the cameras incorporated into mobile phones demand for these former market leaders collapsed.

The powered or manual ribbon typewriter was rendered redundant by the arrival its victor, the word processor/computer.

An equally dramatic commercial market shift can be seen in the impact that the opening of the Channel Tunnel, in May 1994 and the commencing of its passenger services in November 1994, had on the transport links typified by ferry boats and today’s iconic design, The Hovercraft.

On many occasions from the mid 1970’s to late 1980’s I used the Hovercraft services that ploughed between the Kent coasts and Northern France. Akin to flying, rising up then skuttling across the waves on its air inflated “skirt”, the ride was fabulous – if a little noisy – for the sea-sick prone, like me, who could resemble an emerald before a traditional ferry boat had left the harbour!

Not entirely without predecessors, the Hovercraft is regarded as a British invention of  the late 1950’s when mechanical engineer Christopher Cockerell’s and his colleagues developed an annular ring of air for maintaining the cushion and providing lift under the vehicle, combined with a successful “skirt”, resulted in the first practical vehicular use of the concept.

Initially, until no military use was shown, Cockerell’s work and design were Classified. However, it was later Declassified and in 1958 Cockerell obtained funding for a full scale model. Launching in June 1959, it crossed the English Channel on 25 July 1959.

By 1968 a car and passenger cross-channel ferry service was offered by Hoverlloyd from the Kent coast to Calais and Boulogne (France) and, later, by Seaspeed – a joint venture with British Rail and the French equivalent SNCF. In 1981 the two businesses merged to become “Hoverspeed” – whose majestic craft is our featured image.

Hoverspeed Brochure

The Hoverspeed services ceased in 2000 and were replaced by Seacat catamarans until 2005. The reason, often cited for their closure was the impact of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

I’d also suggest the routes suffered from a decline in so-called “Booze Cruises”, when us Brits, would fill up our cars with lowly taxed beers, wines and spirits in Northern France.

Hoverspeed Booze

Although the Hovercraft continues to enjoy a role, both in the military and civilian services around the world, and production still taking place on the Isle of White – the  home of its design and testing – perhaps like Concorde – see our earlier post here – Concorde by Dominic Baker in years to come and market forces identify demand there will be a revival in the fortunes of the Cross Channel Hovercraft services, I would be a keen supporter.

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Photo credits – Hover Speed And MarkusHerzig.com