BBC recording equipment goes to the bottom in sea trial

Mercury in Portsmouth Harbour
Mercury in Portsmouth Harbour
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My recent page featuring the Niarchos yacht Mercury sparked memories for Tim King and his days as this paper’s naval correspondent.

He recalls that Mercury was based on the Royal Navy’s Brave-class fast patrol boats and was followed by Ferocity which was never commissioned.

How the Evening News reported Ferocity's trial in the Solent

How the Evening News reported Ferocity's trial in the Solent

Tim’s cuttings are shown here.

He went on Mercury on June 19, 1961 for a Press tour and recalls: ‘We had been due to go on a demonstration run in The Solent, but much to our annoyance she developed a minor fault in one of her three Bristol Proteus gas turbines and the trip was cancelled. However, we did get to look around this last word in millionaire luxury – after we’d taken off our shoes and put on rubber soles so we didn’t scratch the decks.’

But this wasn’t the only Niarchos yacht he saw first hand.

‘His other pride and joy was the fore and aft-rigged ocean-going yacht, the 700-ton Creole. I got the rare opportunity to go on board in May 1956 when she returned to Gosport where she was built by Camper & Nicholson, to take on board 135,000sq ft of sail, including the world’s largest cross-cut spinnaker which measured 150ft x 45ft and had five miles of stitching.’

The sails were made by neighbouring Ratsey & Lapthorn for the three 130ft masts.

Mercury was a development by Vospers of the Royal Navy’s fast patrol boats Brave Borderer and Brave Swordsman (only two were ordered in the hope of generating export interest).

In September 1959, Tim was on board for trial runs up and down The Solent. He adds: ‘The speed and power were breathtaking. It also included an unforgettable incident.

‘We transferred to a Press boat so photographers could snap Brave Borderer going through her paces. On the second run, local freelance Peter Marshall was doing a commentary which was taped on to one of the cumbersome BBC recording machines called ewers.

Tim King's report of Brave Borderer's demonstration run which claimed valuable BBC equipment

Tim King's report of Brave Borderer's demonstration run which claimed valuable BBC equipment

‘Marshall was in full flow as the boat hurtled past, creating a massive wash which struck the Press launch broadside on. He’d propped the ewer on a seat by the rail and as we tilted violently, the machine was thrown over the side.

‘Ma rshall had his back turned and continued to pour words into the microphone for another 30 seconds as the ewer sank.’

After showing off Mercury, Vospers produced another version of the FPB based on the Brave class – Ferocity. Again, Tim was on board for runs in The Solent in November 1961.

He says: ‘Ferocity was not sold, but formed the basis for several boats for export – sales to West Germany, Denmark, Greece, Malaysia, Brunei and Libya, and was the basis for the Scimitar-class training boat.