Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice We want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter This week, we’re exploring the high octane and sometimes dangerous world of powerboat racing. Daisy Coleman and her brother Sam come from Wales and are the reigning P1 world champions. We caught up with them safely on land at their home village of Saundersfoot on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast.
Daisy and Sam Coleman, welcome to our podcast. Now, powerboat racing is said to be the fastest growing marine motor sport. Tell us about it? How does it differ from racing on asphalt?
Sam It couldn’t be far, far from different to race on asphalt, to be honest, because unless you had a wobbly, melting, moving asphalt track, then it would be a more similar. But because the water changes not just every lap, but every hundred yards of water is different, so you can’t rely on I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to come round in this corner and it’s the same as it was last time,’ because basically there’s no outline-defined track. There’s no lines on the course. Your race lines are all in your head and depth perception – and that’s where a lot of the skill comes in, managing the water immediately in front of you.
Peter So what you’re saying is the course is constantly changing all the time?
Sam Yes, it’s evolving all the time, not just from wave patterns and stuff, because we do race offshore and not on lakes where it would be a little bit flatter. But you’ve also got the wakes from other boats to take into account, as well as wind and tide. So it gets pretty complex, but pretty hectic and pretty fun, let’s say.
Daisy You’ve got to be a lot more reactive as opposed to proactive, so we can’t assume as Sam said that the call is going to be same as it was last time. So you’ve really got to think on your feet and think quickly and have a really good team dynamic in the boat and to react accordingly to get the best out of the conditions.
Felice So how did you two first get involved in power boating?
Daisy Well, purely by chance, really. I was invited…I was medically discharged from the armed forces in 2013, and I was invited down to a corporate sponsorship day that was being hosted by Mission Motorsport. Mission Motorsport uses motor sport as a platform to aid veteran recovery and help the transition into civilian walks of life.
I got asked if I wanted to have a go – I originally thought jet skis looked fun – and I was asked if I wanted to have a go. Really enjoyed it, and then, despite having no boating background, got invited to go and do the training and did quite well with it. So yes, purely by chance when people say: ‘How you get in and did you have the racing pedigree?’ Not really, just circumstantial and I took to it as a duck to water.
Felice And how about you, Sam?
Sam Well, I was a bit of a jealous big brother, to be honest. I was always the petrol head and Daisy’s always ridden horses and still does. Daisy had these opportunities through the fact that she was in the Armed Forces and looking to come out of the Armed Forces and find different things and stuff in civilian life.
So when Daisy ended up racing powerboats on Sky Sports and I’m sat there looking with my mouth hitting the floor, thinking, ‘How is my sister racing boats on TV and I’m still back home in Pembrokeshire?’ I ended up helping out on the team that Daisy was racing for at the time, like a driver-owner team, quite a small team. I’m pretty handy with engineering and things like that, so I went along to help out. Long story short, two full years later I ended up racing a boat with this guy and then he decided to retire, so I was pretty fortunate to get involved as well.
Peter So are there different classes in boat racing as there are in car racing, like Formula 1 and Formula 2?
Sam Yes, there’s many different formats. We’ve got the formula categories like you say: Formula 1, Formula 2, there is Formula 1, Formula 2, Formula 4 racing – they race more on flat water and lakes. Their boats look not dissimilar to fibre jets; they’re catamarans and they fly just above the water. There’s basically about six inches of the back of the boat touching the water and their pilot in them above the water. That’s circuit racing, as we call it.
Then we’re in more the offshore style, that’s single-seaters in the circuit racing, and then we race more the offshore style, which is a bit more like your traditional boat. We are catamarans, which are very similar but bigger, and then we tended to race a V-bottom boat with a single hull and an outboard engine. The easiest parallel would be if Formula 1 is parallel to Formula 1 boat racing and circuit racing – asphalt, well we would be more like rallying.
Felice How fast do you go?
Sam Our boat back in the championship in 2016–17 was 70 miles an hour, then our boat in America that we raced pre-Covid we’re looking at more than 80 miles an hour. That was a canopy boat for safety reasons; we had a close sail, breathing apparatus and stuff – because we were getting that little bit faster there’s more safety features involved.
We were lucky to be racing with Team Geico which is sponsored by a big insurance company in America and their Class 1 Premiere boat runs at 170 under an 180 miles an hour. Anything from 70 miles an hour, which is fast on water to 170 miles an hour, which is incredibly fast on water because it would be the equivalent of driving a Ferrari across a field.
Peter So it’s pretty bumpy. I mean, you’re being thrown around all the time?
Peter So, Daisy, that must be difficult for you after your very serious shoulder injury, which is why you left the army. Does that affect you now?
Daisy We’ve got a fantastic dynamic when it’s really rough. So my job is I’m literally Sam’s eyes and ears throughout, so my head is on a swivel, I’m constantly looking around. Adrenaline kicks in so my injury doesn’t give me any gip. But Sam’s really great and warning me, he’ll tell me, ‘Don’t look now because we’re going to hit a big one,’ sort of thing. So it’s only if you can get the timing wrong and it might give me a little bit of gip, but I find that it’s not too bad. And plenty of physio and plenty of exercise keeps on top of it, really.
Peter Daisy, you’re the co-pilot or the navigator and you’re the actual pilot. Do you say pilot or driver? I don’t know.
Sam You can call us whatever you like, really, as far as I’m concerned I’m a paddle and a steering wheel. And Daisy tells me where to go and where to be on the track. It is very much eyes and ears. I’ve got to focus on the next, let’s say, 300 yards worth of water and the immediate goal is to be as smooth as you can and not lose any time or have any errors across that, because each little mistake just adds up because it’s a constant.
The boat’s bouncing backwards and forwards left to right, and you’ve got to balance it front to back, left to right, at least to the boat that’s touching the water, the less drag and the faster you go. So each little minor tap left or right can knock off maybe 0.2 miles an hour or maybe 0.2 of a second and then you have ten of those down a straight as a second on the lap and it just it just adds up. So it’s all about consistency; I’m always focused straight ahead and Daisy will pretty much be just looking behind. If we’re in the lead she’s looking behind.
When we come into a corner, I won’t look behind or look inside…I’ll still be focused and ahead but looking at the track in my peripheral and using my depth perception to sort of plot a racing line, and then Daisy will tell me if it’s clear to turn in. Then if it’s clear to turn in we’ll use the ideal racing line, the qualifying racing line. If she says that there’s a boat on our inside, we’ll go one boat out. So you always leave just enough room for the person on your inside, just in case. You wouldn’t want to obviously have an accident and that scenario sort of thing.
Peter So very much parallel to rally driving?
Sam Oh, very much so, yes. But when Daisy said, I said: ‘Don’t look now,’ she’s not referring to ‘close your eyes and hold on,’ it’s more ‘don’t turn around and look now because we’re going to hit a big wave and you may crick your neck kind of don’t look now. Not just close your eyes and hope for the best.
Felice How fit do you have to be to do this?
Daisy I think the world championships really sort of set us apart. So we’re racing for a good hour in the race itself, wasn’t it? I think that the fitness, some of the other teams probably didn’t stay on top of their fitness maybe so much. You could see the fatigue starting to set in. It does make a difference. It’s like with any sport and any athlete – it’s the preparation. And I think that hour-long racing really sort of sets people apart. So, yes, you absolutely have to be fit and just be sharp in your mind as well as physically, you know, it’s all connected.
Felice What do you do to keep fit for it Sam?
Daisy Sam, you’re more the fitness freak then I am.
Sam I wouldn’t say such a freak. I was fitter before I started powerboat racing, I suppose. It depends what you set out for. Maybe I was due to enter Ironman Tenby in 2015, a week before the event, after a year’s training. I got the phone call from one of Daisy’s rival teams at the time to say their driver was injured and they’d heard I’d done my race training and done quite well. And would I like to drive their race boat that weekend?
So that was my Ironman career, for want of a better word, down the pan, I forgo a year’s training to race that race. I never knew that I’d get the opportunity to do it again. So I always thought that was next year for Ironman. But I still haven’t done the Ironman. So fitness-wise I cycle, mountain-bike and motocross these days to keep myself fi. It’s quite a parallel in terms of muscle function and stuff. You do get a bit of a beating in the boat. So getting a bit of a beating from a motocross bike is quite similar, I’d say.
Felice How about you, Daisy? What do you do to keep fit?
Daisy Sam touched on it, powerboat racing is obviously a sport that we’ve excelled in. But horse riding is my passion. I’ve got a couple of horses and I’m currently renovating a farm, so my exercise these days is more about lifting hay bales and shifting things on the farm than it is anything cardiovascular. I do kind of feel I did nine years in the military when I was running every day and I pick and choose what I do now as I’d rather heave a couple of hay bales and do some exercise on the horse then I would go for a run. So my time is more productive, should we say, for the farm situation these days.
Peter So how dangerous is it? Can you can you hurt yourself?
Daisy Well, if it wasn’t dangerous everyone to do it, wouldn’t they?
Sam So it is pretty dangerous. There was a fatality in 2012 in our category, and unfortunately one in 2018. Safety has moved on since that in both occasions, which is good. We’re kind of catching up with the initial circuit race style where we’re now going to canopies. In both the incidents unfortunately, part of the problem was that people were thrown from the boat in an accident.
A bit like Sterling Moss‘ days racing Formula 1 – they used to think it was safer to be thrown from the car than to stay with it kind of thing. And we’re not quite so old fashioned in our safety views, but it’s not dissimilar that people still thought it was safer to be out of the boat than to be in it with the possibility of drowning. But we’re all trained with dunk tests and emergent tests and scuba trained.
You have a tank with you, you’ve got air, so when the boat goes over…if the boat goes over…you can sit there calmly, have a little breathe on your air canister and then let yourself out. It’s then safer because you’re in a three or four thousand Knewton stress-tested cockpit. If something did impact the boat, the chances are that you’re in pretty good condition in there and you just wait to let yourself out.
Daisy Certainly with our series, I don’t think we touched on it, it’s one design series so all boats are the same. So it really is close racing and Sam’s already touched on the two racers that we lost and it was the result of being thrown on the racing line that was the most dangerous thing and fundamentally caused their fatality. So there’s been some great waves being made and some adaptions now in the safety of the sport that’s really upped its game, so to speak, just trying to keep you with the boat as opposed to throwing you clear and at risk of being taken out of the other boat.
Felice Do you ever feel scared?
Daisy No. It’s quite funny; when I first started, it was the adrenaline is the buzz now. So going round when we get to do a couple of laps, it’s like we just start going into test mode. And you know, they call it adrenaline junkie for a reason don’t they? Your boundaries get really do get pushed. So now it’s like not a lot really scares me.
I remember once upon a time, I used to love going on roller coasters, but now I’m like, ‘Is that it?’ We both snowboard as well, so that’s a passion of ours as well – our season runs within the summer so we try to get out on the slopes as and when.
Peter Do you ever feel seasick?
Daisy No, we’re moving too fast really.
Sam There’s not really time to think about getting seasick. I mean, every time we’re sat rolling around in between the muster area or in between races if we have to, sometimes the format means that we’ll leave the port or beach or wherever we’re racing from, and do two or maybe three heats back-to-back. And the any time that you have a chance to sit there and roll around and maybe feel a little bit of that seasick sensation, but adrenaline overrides it and there’s too much going on to even think about it.
Peter So how far offshore are you when you do this?
Sam It’s a very close to shore circuit. Our format of racing was designed to be spectator-friendly so it could be taken to places where we’ve had some good venues in the UK. But Greenock in Scotland, we were on the Clyde, we had a mile-long course very close to the shore there…so we were within 100 metres of spectators. And in Bournemouth we were in between the piers down Bournemouth beach, the Boscombe to Bournemouth pier, along the shore, and Milford we were in the estuary as well. So with one design series: P 1 that we were in, we were in a lot more closed course, inshore, partly for television as well, to keep the boats close together but also to be able to be more spectator-friendly. Classic offshore racing is running from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Torquay and back.
But some of the stuff we were doing in America, they’re more interested in running up and down the shore, the beach. So people are out on the beach enjoying and watching it as well. So trying to incorporate spectators a little bit more than the traditional maybe.
Peter So you mentioned England and Scotland and America. Do you go elsewhere in the world?
Sam America is…as with many things, things tend to be bigger and better as they think maybe, maybe not always, and racing out there is just pretty insane at the moment. So there’s a few hotspots for powerboat racing around the world: the Italians love it, the UAE have a big surge for it – there’s two big teams based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also Australia and New Zealand are pretty popular as well. But Florida seems to be the centre for the pinnacle of offshore racing at the moment; it’s moved from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Florida. And a lot of the foreign teams, the Australian team, Dubai team, Abu Dhabi team and Italians tend to go to Florida to race at the moment, but it is popular in other countries.
Daisy We should be in Florida like last year, shouldn’t we?
Sam Well, yes, maybe we were due to race in Florida again.
Felice How many boats take part in a race?
Daisy So within our class, that’s specifically in P1, and championships we won…we’ve been racing against 11 other teams…there’s 12 in total, all the boats the same as we touched on. But like Sam’s already said, over in Florida the events that have been going on when we raced out there in the year before last was we’re talking 70, 80 boats per event, which was pretty insane, wasn’t it?
Sam Yes, it’s great. I mean, the classes were stacked and that was 70 or 80 boats, maybe over six, seven classes, so there was various different speeds and formats and different shapes and sizes. Some look like your normal wakeboarding boat down to the smaller classes to, like I said, the giant 45 to 50 foot catamarans with twin inboard engines that Geico run in the Premier Class 1 class as well. So it’s pretty interesting.
Peter So you won the world championships?
Sam Yes, we won the world championship within our within our category, which is P1. And that was in Mumbai in India, which was quite the experience. They estimate there was 250,000 people lining the shore of Marine Drive in Mumbai watching the race. It was broadcast live on Sony ESPN in India and around the world at the time, which was very surreal for a couple of people from Pembrokeshire.
Peter So you’re the reigning world champions, then?
Sam Yes, it’s not been contested. There’s not been the chance to defend our title because we’re still waiting for the next. There’s talk of one maybe in the UAE somewhere. But putting on big events like that, we don’t get those halo events quite as regularly, like your world cups or whatever. So they take a fair amount of logistics getting local countries interested. So we’re the reigning world champions in our discipline.
Peter You grew up by the sea in Pembrokeshire?
Peter Were you mad keen about boats as children?
Sam No, I didn’t drive a boats until 2013 when Daisy was racing boats, save for a friend’s boat down the estuary by the Jolly Sailor if I went for some some wakeboarding with a mate or something. But other than that it was literally zero boating experience for either of us really.
Peter What about you, Daisy?
Daisy Yes, same goes. I grew up loving horses and have always been a landlubber, apart from a mackerel fishing trip when I was probably about 12 years old – that was my only sort of on-water experience.
To get invited down to the training was pretty, pretty special, and then to be invited back to actually race on the training itself with seven-times world champion, Neil Holmes, I felt a little bit out of my depth. Again, another great pun. But I did feel out of my depth because everybody on the course had experience and I was the only one who didn’t. So I didn’t know my port from my starboard, and I didn’t know any of this boating terminology. And it came to that.
I didn’t realise that on training they had a 70 percent attrition rate; so 70 percent of people need to go back for more training to pass. It got to the last day, and after feeling that I hadn’t done very well, it turned out I was the only one to pass the mandatory race training. So the team had no choice but to chuck me in a boat three days later, so I had a bit of a baptism of fire.
My first race was the Cowes-Poole-Cowes race, which is a 35-nautical mile offshore race. And it was pretty, pretty sketchy and pretty leery. We didn’t know how we were going to get on; it was really rough as it notoriously is. We were racing a 21-foot boat at the time, sort of got off from the race and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that again,’ and found out we got third place on the podium. Competitive as I am, I was like, ‘Oh I can do this again,’ and I actually quite enjoyed it. So yes that was it.
But no, no previous experience, never really. I’m sort of a thrill seeker, so I think that’s where it comes in. I think we’ve done well, Sam and I, and I believe that we’ve walked into this sport with a beginner’s mindset in terms of we’ve accepted that we don’t know the answers, we haven’t got a racing pedigree, we haven’t grown up on water, so we’ve just absorbed everything like a sponge. Having that humility to be able to turn around and say, ‘We don’t know, teach us,’ means that we’ve been taught correctly and we’ve absorbed it in the right way. We don’t have our own bad habits, which is a testimony to why we’ve done so well, I think.
Peter Is there a bias against women in powerboat racing, like in lots of sports?
Daisy No, I wouldn’t say so at all. In fact, it’s one of the only sports where you are on parity. It doesn’t matter when you put a helmet on, you’ve got a helmet on. Whether you’re a girl or boy is irrelevant. In fact, I wouldn’t say there’s any gender biases. You do have less females within sport for whatever reason, but there are some absolutely fantastic female powerboat racers out there as well. So I don’t think it’s no more bias than anything else. I’ve always worked in male-dominated environments, having been in the military for so long. So, yes, I would say there is a bias, but it’s not discriminatory at all, it’s just simply that not many women have gone into it.
Felice So if someone wanted to do this, how would they start? How would they learn?
Daisy So get out there I would say, get some experience. Start networking and reach out to us on social media. We’re always looking to try and get more people into the sport, so reach out to sport organisers as well – our social media handles are @racingcoleman. You’ll be able to get Sam on on Instagram and me I’m @P1daisy. Just drop us a message, there’s plenty of information out there on YouTube and things like that, look at the videos and give it a go if you can.
Sam It’s not a case of give it a go. If they haven’t got a boat, I mean, how do they get one?
Daisy Well, yes, that’s true.
Sam You do need a boat to start powerboat racing. I mean, we were quite lucky the way we’ve entered it into a single series. But there are training centres in the UK. I highly recommend if you’ve got a boat and you’re just doing it for pleasure, do Powerboat Level 2, a bit like a CBT for your bike or road bike, motorbike. Get out there and get some training at an approved training centre because there’s so much that you can learn and it makes your boat safer. But also you’d be amazed at how much fun it is.
These accredited centres can do an advanced powerboating and things like that, which you don’t even need a boat to do these courses – they’ll have the boat, some facilities and things like that. But then you get some of the clubs like Powerboat Racing Club a fantastic club that I know is not in Wales at the moment, but they’re based near Milton Keynes and Bedford and they’ve got these small GT 30 training boats, which you can rent and you can do training in a race environment in an inshore, a safe environment on a closed course inshore, and you can even rent them to enter races, which is the very beginnings of circuit racing, like I said before, with the Formula 4, 2 and 1 with the very first inshore boats. But there’s a lot to be learned from these clubs and these little boats just for having fun and racing.
It’s a little bit like go-karting but on water with these boats, they’re only 30 horsepower, but they do 50 miles an hour. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fast. But you can rent these things at places like Stewartby Water Sports Club and there’s one in Lancashire at Cartmel as well.
Felice Is it an expensive sport to do?
Sam It depends, it can be, there’s different levels. There’s plenty of grassroots racing with offshore circuit racing, which you get all types of boats from little 16-foot with a 90-horsepower outboard on them, up to your big stuff. But you can pick these little boats up and use them as a pleasure boat and go race in them for a couple of thousand pounds maybe.
It’s like starting out with motocross or any other motor sports. You can just turn up to these events and start racing. They usually tend to offer training as well, of course, etiquette and safety features and stuff like that and how to navigate as well as part of these clubs. But the grassroots level is actually quite cheap to get into, to be honest, and a lot of fun.
Felice Do you need to have a licence?
Sam Yes. The licencing is taken care of by the clubs generally. So if you got in touch with, like the OCR racing guys or if it was the inshore stuff like at Stuartby, the people who run the clubs are extremely helpful.
Peter What does a P1 powerboat, a boat like yours, cost?
Daisy A good question.
Sam Ours – the new boats that we were racing in America – 150,000 dollars for the boat with the engine and then it’s not available in the UK at the moment. But like I said, there are various different levels you can get into. Our team’s Class 1 boat, you’re looking at more like a million dollars because of the bigger size and technology. But the Class B racing with the standardisation, same engine, same propeller, same boat – so everybody’s in with a chance – we’re looking at 50,000 dollars in America.
Peter Daisy, where do you see yourself in five years time?
Daisy Five years time? Oh good question. Well, pre-pandemic, the plan was to be in the summer racing boats in the winter snowboarding with the Armed Forces Para Snowboard Team. But now we’re in a post-pandemic environment, I’m not so sure, to be honest. I’ve immersed myself in farm life currently – I’ve bought a tractor and a digger, I’m making hay and have got a couple of horses here, so I don’t actually know. Yes, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, Peter.
Peter Sam, what’s your job…daytime job?
Sam Day-to-day job is the family business. We’ve got a guest house in Saundersfoot, so we’re just on St Brides Hill in Saundersfoot and we’re in a lovely little spot. So that takes up quite a lot of my time. But also with it being a family business, mum and dad, I’m very grateful that they’re still in the business and they’re able to offer me the copious amount of time off I require in the summer to go race powerboats.
Peter If people would know more about you and Coleman Racing, what are the websites?
Peter Daisy and Sam Coleman, thank you very much for coming on the show and once this pandemic is over, we wish you the very best of luck in the future in getting back to racing and continuing as world champions in P1.
Daisy Thank you very much.
Sam Lovely to meet you.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any of the many podcast platforms. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’d love you to sign up for our regular emails to [email protected]
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