A cross-Channel attempt with a big difference

David Tapp at sea with his support boats

David Tapp at sea with his support boats

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MEMORIES of a cross-Channel attempt with a big difference still raise a smile for a Felpham resident.

July 30 marked 50 years since David Tapp, of Sea Lane, travelled from Cap Griz Nez in France to Kingsdown, near Dover – on a tractor.

David Tapp celebrates finishing the journey with a pint

David Tapp celebrates finishing the journey with a pint

Mr Tapp said: “I think people must have though I was mad when I said what I was going to do. No one has tried it since, and I was in the Guinness Book of Records for a while.

“We were also the first and only tractor to be logged passing the Goodwin Lightship close to the English coast.

“I remember on the day we had good weather, but the sea was quite choppy; one side of my face was completely white because of the salt.

“The tractor’s top speed was three-and-a-half knots, so it took around seven hours and 50 minutes to complete.

David Tapp during his channel crossing

David Tapp during his channel crossing

“Surprisingly the tractor was quite easy to steer. Minor changes could be made using the tractor’s steering, but if I wanted a more major change in direction I used the steering brakes.”

Mr Tapp made his journey on a County Sea Horse tractor, which did need some modifications to make it sea-worthy.

It had to be waterproofed using special oil seals, screwed dipsticks and a sealed clutch.

The vehicle’s transmission breathers also had to be made higher so they were above the waterline.

C131054-1 Bog Tractor  phot kate''David Tapp with a model of the tractor that was driven across the channel.Picture by Kate Shemilt.C131054-1

C131054-1 Bog Tractor phot kate''David Tapp with a model of the tractor that was driven across the channel.Picture by Kate Shemilt.C131054-1

It ran on diesel and had no electricity. It had to be started by hand using a Simms inertia starter, and was also equipped with flotation compartments.

Mr Tapp, who at the time was a director of Country Commercial Cars, a Hampshire-based company, said he decided to make the journey of 28 nautical miles to test out a new set of tyres.

“We wanted to prove that the tyres would be able to go through almost anything: swamps, sand, mud, water,” said the 82-year-old.

“I remember someone saying they would float and they did. Afterwards we sold about 2,000 of the tyres a year. Three of the tractors were used on the Dutch coast on gas fields where the tractors had to be able to get up over the sandbanks,” he added.

The tyres used were 18x26 Goodyear Special Sure Grip TD-7 tyres designed for rice and cane work.

Mr Tapp said: “At the time the attempt was quite a publicity stunt, it was named stunt of the year. We decided to set off from France though because that meant all the press had to pay for themselves.”

He was well supported on his journey by a support vessel crewed by Country’s servicemen.