Trouble and strife on the ocean waves

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The Independent Online
Yacht racing has been compared to standing under a shower while tearing up pounds 50 notes. Power-boat racing must therefore be the equivalent of standing under a turbocharged multi-head full-body surround-shower with Jacuzzi attachment while snipping through platinum credit cards. Which does not, of course, diminish the attraction for wealthy aquanauts or documentary film-makers.

The Power and the Glory (BBC2) followed two speed addicts in their preparations for an important race at Cowes. Much was made of the disparity in their means. The plucky Brit, Cliff Smith, supported his racing on "a dustman's income", while the brash Yank, Charles Barnett III, was the heir to a $2bn food and beverage fortune.

It seemed, to begin with, that the sympathies of the viewer were being sought on Cliff's behalf. But there was rather more to the plot than backyard racer v moneyed dilettante. Lucy Jago's subtle film kept running up against unexpectedly whopping issues like happiness, loneliness, envy and the pursuit of love. Never mind the sea conditions, what about the human condition?

Charles, for instance, had a great deal of dough (his family own, among a lot of other things, Sunblest bakeries), but has found that great wealth is no guarantor of happiness. A spiritual descendant of the archetypal romantic plutocrat, Whingin' Jay Gatsby, Charles longed for the really important things in life, like a wife and children. But just to pass the time until they come along, he was indulging in a few of the unimportant things.

Chiefly, power-boats. He had four, two small (ish) and two large (very), all of them a particularly virulent shade of yellow. He also had a purpose- built workshop to keep them in, a maintenance truck, a team manager, three full-time mechanics and several part-time ones and, de rigueur for the power-boatee who really wants to make an impression, a clothes designer to deal with the team rig-out. Well, Gatsby had a thing about shirts.

Back home (the Palladian British mansion, not the pads in Florida or Texas) he had other ways of passing the time: bombing up and down the lawn in a tank, for example, or dressing up as a devil and inviting 220 close friends around for a costume ball and birthday drink.

Charles wished us to know, however, that the good life had its bad moments. "Sometimes it's a bit daunting," he confided, "walking up the stairs and seeing 10 bedrooms and trying to decide which one to sleep in tonight." Daunting indeed: blessed are the Big Issue vendors, if only they knew it.

The man was not totally without self-knowledge. "I like to think of myself as a universal kid," he admitted. And we like to think of him receiving a universal clip round the ear for being a spoilt brat.

But for all this conspicuous consumption, Charles lacked the one thing that - don't you know - money can't buy. "I'm more afraid of getting married than I am of any ocean race," he mused. "It's hard to buy - girlfriends, I guess - wife, whatever."

And Charles, whose trusting face looked silly beneath his giant satanic party horns, had been hurt in the past. "I think it makes you a lot more withdrawn, when you're betrayed by people." Or about as withdrawn as one can be wearing a nine-inch crimson satin codpiece.

In case we had missed the ironic possibilities of their contest, Charles finally spelt it out. "My ultimate goal is, as Cliff is able to do, is to get married and have some children. He has a home life, a relationship, I think that would be - very nice to have."

Ask Cliff's wife, Sharon. Despite the fact that her husband had progressed from bin man to self-made man via his recycling and dog-poo-tidying businesses, she was not happy with her lot. Cliff's power-boating obsession absorbed funds that Sharon felt would be better spent on the children's ponies.

"It's a waste of time, and a waste of money," she declared, as the habitually bare-chested Cliff buried himself up to his armpits in a broken engine. "You come here all weekend, spend five minutes out there [an eloquent gesture dismissed the English Channel] - and you're back again."

What were Cliff's plans, Sharon wished to know, when he had finished the engine repairs? "I'm going to get dressed and go and get drunk," he said. Oh no he wasn't. "You're going to get dressed and we're going home."

The power-boat racing got completely lost beneath the moral homily, but just for the record, Cliff's engine went phut and Charles won. Unlucky in love...

There was another marriage in miniature in Oi! Referee! (Channel 4), one of the Lloyds Bank Film Challenge documentaries. Eric Fenn, a Class Two ref with the Nottinghamshire FA, explained the romance of his calling. "Surely it's better than sitting at home," he suggested, "or, for t'want of other word, taking t'missus shopping. Can't be worse than that." Happy homecoming, Eric.