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The Great Challenge (1991)
Virgin Atlantic Challenger II
Page 1

"Well," you all are saying, "what is The Great Challenge?" It was an idea that I had when we built a model of Virgin Atlantic Challenger II with the help of Mr Richard Branson.
I thought it would be a great idea to try to create a long distance world record with a 53"model, equivalent to Richard Branson's boat crossing the Atlantic. The model's distance is 184.31 miles.  
This, you would say is a very long way indeed and is not for the faint hearted!  
Unfortunately the first attempt in 1986 was called off and this put us back by 5 years, so you see it can take a long time to organize.
BUT a challenge is a challenge all the same. Peter and I are chalk and cheese i.e. pessimist and optimist and guess who is the optimist.  
The building of the model was quite straight-forward BUT the chasing up of help and funds was a different matter and that came down to the semi bald old sod.
In the end Mary, my wife, said how about sticking a pin in the marine section and see if any body would sponsor us.
Out came a firm called Mermaid Yard in Brundall and in due course we had a meeting with Mr David Puttock, the owner, who said that it was an interesting idea and he would support us. Also he said that he knew a few other people who might be interested. Others were Mr George Robson, Mr Nigel Jolley and Mr Clive Roulston. Also we were sponsored by Anglia TV who had a three man crew.
Where to attempt it? Well there was the sea, river or large lakes. The sea was dependent upon good weather and rivers became too busy and had speed limits. So it came down a lake and the one that came to mind was Willen Lake in Milton Keynes. The only problem we had was they would not let us have all the lake but we could have 1 1/4 mile dog leg in a corner of the lake. I will spare you all the ins and outs of the considerable task ahead and break it down a little.
We had a few interesting things that happened before we could set up base camp, Mishap No.1 was when  one of David Puttock's spark plugs deciding to work loose and come out, so he arrived firing on only 3 cylinders and he was towing a Rib boat aswell and it was a LONG DRIVE down. When George Robson got there he had come with his very large mobile home which we had to get over a wooden bridge that was on the way to base camp. This proved to be difficult as it was heavy and as he drove slowly over the bridge it started CREEKING much to our ALARM!
But we all made it and duly set up the camp.  I had borrowed the firm's van to bring down all the scaffolding, boards and all the other essentials that would be needed.
My wife Mary had brought a very large ridge tent for us, but Peter slept in the van; foolish man as there was loads of room in the tent.

The Team

The complete team comprised of the following people; Graham Davies and his wife Mary, Peter Dorsett, Mr David Puttock, Mr George Robson with Gill his wife and their son Philip, Mr Nigel Jolley, his son Matthew and Mr Clive Roulston.

George & Philip Robson plus Nigel &  Matthew George & Philip Robson plus Nigel & Matthew

  Mary & Graham DaviesMary & Graham Davies


David Puttock, Philip, Graham, George & PeterDavid Puttock, Philip, Graham, George & Peter

  A Very cold Peter DorsettA Very cold Peter Dorsett


Clive Roulston the time & lap keeperClive Roulston the time & lap keeper


Mary & Gill looking very coldMary & Gill looking very cold

The Lake

 It was decided to make the attempt on April 21st 1991 and it turned out to be a VERY COLD weekday indeed.  Also we learned that the lake water was very low and we would have to take enough scaffolding and boards to build a small jetty of around 30 feet out from the lake side.
 This took a good deal of blood, sweat and ********.
We had informed everybody not to walk around on the unsecured planks when Nigel, wearing wet suit, fell off the end of the planking and into about 5 feet of very cold water.
He hit his knee on one of the protruding scaffolding bolts which cut him, fortunately without cutting his wet suit, so that was No.2 mishap.
After we had finished the building of the jetty we turned to erecting Mary's very large ridge tent and Peter put the firm's van next to the tent to make a wind break from the very cold wind. Mary and Jill got on with the making of sandwiches and loads of hot tea and coffee that was needed all the time. In the mean time Nigel had said to his son, "DO NOT TAKE THE BOAT OUT ON YOUR OWN", and sure enough he did.
When powering around the course he lost control.  Fortunately he had the key on his arm and it pulled it out of the ignition and stopped the boat. That was lucky he thought, until he got back and Nigel told him off.  That was No.3 mishap.
 We decided that the fast chase boat was too difficult to get around the VERY tight circuit so we went back to using George's rib chase boat.

Mishap No.4 was when Nigel reversed his BMW car straight back into a low heavy wooden seat and wrote off his expensive rear bumper.



As you see in the picture to the right, David and Peter looked VERY cold indeed.

It had snowed on the way down to Willen Lake and the night before the Great Challenge we had an extremely hard frost and when we all got up at an UNGODLY hour of 4 am we found Peter FROZEN into the firm's van.

We had to boil up some water and then pour over the van door to release Peter and when we eventually got him out he looked a little worse for wear from spending a very cold night on the front seats in his sleeping bag.

We also were sponsored by Battery Specialist now called Multicell who supplied the main heavy duty Varta starter battery.
I made an outer cage of aluminium angle with a power board under the handle.  As you can see it’s a very compact item.
They also supplied 3 x 4.8 volt x 4 amp hr, 3 x 9.6 volt x 4 amp hr for the RX and Transmitter plus a 12 volt x 4 amp hr video battery which were all NiCad.
We were very lucky to have the sponsorship and help. As sponsorship lasts only one year I felt this was very short time to give them support so I have over the last 21 years continued to send them customers year in year out.