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Power Boat Racing 1982

Power Boat Racing at Bristol City Docks BS1 1982.


The course was so dangerous that they nicknamed it the ' widowmaker' - and by the time the curtain came down in 1991 the Bristol city docks international powerboat races had claimed seven lives. The races in a notorious circuit which included high dock walls, tight turns and stiff breezes which whipped up waves large enough to overturn the fragile but fast moving boats started in 1972.


The course tested drivers' skills to the limit - one German driver was quoted as saying: 'If you really want to test yourself you have to race at Bristol.' And so it turned out. The following summer another German, Rudi Hersel, aged only 27, was crushed to death when his powerboat hit a dockside wall at 70mph. A crowd, estimated at 250,000, and which included his wife Resi, watched in horror as his boat disintegrated in front of them. But his boat wasn't even going particularly fast. Nought to 60 in less than two seconds was commonplace with boats reaching up to 120mph on a straight stretch of water. Even the corners - and they were very tight - would be taken at 90mph.


Despite - or because of the danger - the Embassy Grand Prix became a very popular annual event at the docks. All the small craft were forced to leave the area for two or three days as the snarling two-litre fuel-injected engined Formula One boats took over. Their Sunday race was a highlight of the weekend, with large crowds enjoying the spectacular thrills and spills. Despite stringent safety precautions - the one-and-three-quarter mile course had 14 rescue boats, eight ambulances and 14 doctors on call - another driver, the fifth in 15 years, was to die in 1986. Danish Formula Two racer Jorgen Askgaard's catamaran smashed into a wooden jetty almost opposite the ss Great Britain. He had a wife and baby daughter. A rescue dinghy arrived within 15 seconds but he could not be saved. Two boats sank during the race and Tony Hill, the reigning world champion, called the circuit, 'just too dangerous' and asked for safety barriers to go up at danger spots.


Safety measures were taken and the competition continued. It put Bristol on the map - and also on TV. Then in 1990 there was another accident. French ace Francois Salabert died when his boat hit the dock wall at 80mph. Although his craft was fitted with a so-called 'safety cell' which should have protected him, he died of brain damage. The following year sponsorship failed to materialise. The council blamed the recession, but in 1992 the £130,000 needed to run the event was still not forth coming. Local champion powerboat racer Mike Zamparelli said at the time: 'The prospects look pretty grim for it ever returning to Bristol.' He was proved right.

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Taken on August 2, 2009