One June morning under somber London skies, the River Thames held the launch of an ambitious fleet of powerboats on their 2,700-mile sea marathon, along the spine of Western Europe. A flag raised by Princess Margaret sent them on their way, at once embarking on a 14-day sprint from Central London to the Mediterranean shores of Monaco. A first of its kind endeavor that sparks discussion to this day, as well as influencing an attempted revival covering a shortened route in 2013.
The year was 1972, and saw 21 starters taking part in what is since viewed as one of the most daring nautical races to ever occur; The London-Monte Carlo Race. Among the field were such teams as powerboat champion Ford, having entered with three racing cruisers plus three more ‘works’ boats under their Ford Sport-Shead team, ‘Jaffa Orange Juice’, an independent entry as with Italian entrant Riva, who stood out in their ‘Super Aquarama Zoom’, to name a few ensuing leaders in the general classification. Meanwhile, the nationalities of said participants were not equally as numbered, with all but three crews hailing from the United Kingdom. Only one overall victor would prevail, determined by the best between an average of 7 hours at sea, timed and measured daily within each respective stage.
The first stage, commencing on June 10th, was met with less than ideal conditions. Upon traveling through the mouth of the Thames, the race had already been reduced to 19 - the rest of whom would coast through dense fog down to Cowes, roughly 194 miles away. With the only tools at each one’s disposal being a map and a compass, the most assured tactic was gliding near the shore’s vicinity amidst a sea of far-flung rocks, often depending on frontrunning boats for direction. With that mentioned, the leaders at this point consisted primarily of Fords, including the steel ‘Ford Cammenga’ captained by Finnish rally great Timo Makinen, alongside his three crewmen Watson, Morris and Mayes sitting atop 1,000 hp (40-50% greater than most opponents, with 500-700 hp).
What is normally a decisive factor in the final outcome, the engine’s power (this bout indicating petrol > diesel), had proven less influential when paired with such foreign, punishing conditions. But for Gianfranco Rossi, then aged 27 at the helm of his Super Aquarama Zoom, the classic plywood craft certainly ventured far beyond its conventional duties, though it faired considerably well; as craft and build were equally paramount in this race (a true testament, following remarks claiming he would not even make it to sea). In relation to the reducing field, Rossi, joined beside TV presenters Ettore Andenna and Renato Mazzolini, had advanced well over the water and subsequently up the rankings from Cowes through to France, and later Portugal. However, after facing initial navigational errors proceeded by 12-meter waves between Bilbao and Coruna, the former would nearly halt their pursuit in stage 6 of 14 (this was their first ever stint in offshore racing, for context). As they departed leading the pack the next morning, faster in large part for their nimble size at 8.5 meters, a misinterpretation between kilometers to nautical miles led them turning too early into a narrow passage. While averting disaster by thwarting back the throttle into a swell, thus narrowly avoiding a rock, Jaffa Orange Juice was not so lucky, having followed suit and caused itself significant damage that would give first and second positions ‘HTS’ and Riva a favorable margin. There were now 11 boats remaining onto Porto.
All of Riva’s distance had been covered using boosted Thermo Electron V8s including, among other modifications, twice its regular fuel capacity with an extra 500-liter tank. To their delight, the longest stretches were behind them and in front, past Portimão lay familiar scenery; the Mediterranean. After calm, uneventful waters and ensuing throttle in preceding stages, it was here where things picked up - or rather broke down for others… Starting with race leader HTS encountering a setback wherein their engines overheated, though had it occurred the following morning, rather than at the closing of stage 8, the lengthy repairs would certainly have left them eliminated. A further saving grace awaited all beyond the Strait of Gibraltar, with a 24-hour resting period permitting overdue maintenance work, as well as for Jaffa Orange Juice along with two others to rejoin.
Credit: Barche Magazine
With the final stages in sight, after a pair of cracked ribs aboard two separate boats and another sinking, the Super Aquarama Zoom tackled wind gusts resulting in shifting results, yet it nonetheless propelled through Marbella, Almeria and Alicante to arrive first in Barcelona and La Grande Motte; the second final stage. As they commenced their final leg towards Monaco on June 24th, their view upon the home stretch was abruptly met with disaster. After a fuel tank detached, rupturing a fuel line and electrical components, more precisely the starters, there would be no reigniting the engines; they were to remain running until reaching Monte Carlo. Miraculously, albeit some distance from the finish due to the threat imposed by leaking fuel, the weakened Riva finally took second overall behind HTS and ahead of ‘WD-40’ out of six total finishers, whilst coming first in their respective class. An evening of tremendous celebration ensued, with the trophies presented by Prince Rainier III and HRH Princess Grace of Monaco. Thus concluding the longest, most exhilarating feat in powerboating history, moreover catapulting Riva and Gianfranco Rossi each into storied careers.