I was standing in the middle of the Salle De Presse at the 1990 Offshore Powerboat World Championships looking for a friendly face to enquire what exactly was happening.
Having had no luck with the local Monegasques, I spotted an English journalist trying to get any telephone he could lay his hands on to connect with the outside world:
The trouble with these people is that they think the ‘press’ is something they put their trousers in before they head for a cocktail party!
It was Ray Bulman.
We were both sat there with a huge breaking news story happening around us and all the phone lines out of Monte Carlo had been ‘switched off’.
He was desperate to get the tragic news of the death of Stefano Casiraghi back to the copy desk at the Daily Telegraph but the fact that the husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco had been killed a couple of miles off the coast of Monaco meant an immediate news ‘blackout’.
With the ‘party’ now well and truly over I took the opportunity of chatting with Ray; as a ‘newbie’ to the glamorous world of offshore powerboat racing I was eager to get any ‘tips of the trade’ I could.
As I continued to immerse myself in the world of powerboat racing our paths would often cross and on one occasion Ray asked if I would supply a South African magazine with a selection of transparencies to go with the words he would send them.
I felt honoured that he had asked me, but I was quickly brought back down to earth when he told me they wouldn’t pay for them, ‘the Rand is worthless’ he said, ‘but I’ll sort you out a bottle of wine or two’.
Later, copies of Power Boat And Ski would start arriving through the post, but it was only when a delivery van arrived with five cases of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon and Franschhoek Valley Pinot Noir did I fully understand what he meant.
To this day I still wonder about the tie up between the publishers and the wine importer but by the end of the racing season I had enough of the stuff in my garage to rival any Majestic or Laithwaite’s!
It wasn’t always powerboat racing where Ray required my services.
I have fond memories of our day trip from Tower Bridge to Southend aboard the Waverley paddle steamer.
For Ray it brought back memories of the unique sounds, smells and excitement of the gleaming steam engines of his youth.
The River Thames soon became a common theme for our Motor Boat & Yachting articles, although ‘the Thames ain’t what it used to be’ was something I was often reminded.
Back in 1997 Ray, having only recently undergone a triple coronary bypass, came up with the idea of rowing a twenty-five-foot skiff from Abingdon, near Oxford to Richmond.
A journey of some eighty-eight miles, it had been a lifelong dream of his to pay hommage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, a book which had become a bible to him and many of his classmates.
The late Tim Brand-Crombie, an old powerboat racer himself, would row with Ray throughout the duration of the trip. Whilst Ray and Tim, along with his dog Abby, slept onboard the skiff, I had the comfort of heading home each night and would meet up with them the following day at set locations, one of them being lunch in Henley-on-Thames where my wife joined us.
With limited space on board, a spare change of clothing was almost a luxury and as Ray joined us for something to eat wearing a rather loose pair of shorts a slight wardrobe malfunction meant my wife was suddenly put off the idea of meat and two veg!
The following year we were back on the Thames, this time joining the brightly dressed Thames Watermen from dyers’ and the vintners’ livery companies for a day swan-upping, a tradition that is older than the changing of the guard.
These days though it serves the very modern needs of wildlife conservation but still has all the pomp and pageantry from a bygone era.
What-ever the story is Ray always had this knack of comfortably fitting in with the crews giving him the perfect opportunity to chat with all those involved, it certainly made my life easier when it came to getting images, but it also meant that the text he delivered made for a fascinating read.
There are many more stories we all have about working with our friend Ray.
Like the time on the 2008 Round Britain Offshore Powerboat Race when we headed to bar of the four-star Clandeboye Lodge Hotel. Being Northern Ireland and all desperate for a pint, a round of Guinness was a must, it was only later when we asked for the bill did Ray let out an almighty ‘HOW MUCH’ on discovering it was £7.00 a pint!
Ray never let his age get in the way of a good story. So, when he decided that he was going to recreate the famous Putney to Calais powerboat race in a restored seventeen-foot Sunseeker Sovereign with his old friend Geoff Tobert, we all signed up for another great escapade.
After one very early morning false start we all gathered the following day to escort Ray and Geoff down through the Thames Estuary and across the Channel to Calais.
The weather gods were certainly smiling on us that day but having entered the Port of Calais and with the champagne cork hardly out of the bottle, the booming sound of a rather irate French Harbour Master came across the loud speakers informing us that we weren’t at all welcome or something along those lines, (my French language skills were never that great) and a hasty retreat back to good old Blighty was soon under way (Top Photo).
On several occasions, especially during the Cowes Powerboat Festival I was lucky enough to be invited to stay at the ‘Royal Bulman Yacht Club’ where I was wined and dined in the company of both Ray and his lovely wife Brenda.
Sat around the dinner table our conversation would inevitably revolve around the state of powerboat racing and it’s sad demise.
I once said that I was beginning to sound like a Bulman mark two at which point Brenda replied:
There is nothing much wrong with the mark one version thank you very much!
Ray Bulman will be laid to rest tomorrow, (7th February) on the Isle of Wight.
Chris Davies ARPS, has been photographing and writing about powerboat racing since 1987.