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When in Nice, Visit a Boat Called Bluebird

Published: Tue 21 Aug 2012 at 16:54

Updated: Tue 21 Aug 2012 at 16:55

Where2 Magazine

There can’t be too many people for whom the revving of an airplane engine or the smell of engine oil are more enjoyable than the flight itself, but they are for Gina Campbell, daughter of the late Donald Campbell CBE who was tragically killed on Coniston Water in 1967 while attempting to set a new world water speed record. Gina, too, was a water speed record setter. A love of boats means she and her husband, Marshall Capel, both myJet2 members, fly regularly to Nice on where they board an 86-foot yacht – called Bluebird.

The name Bluebird has strong emotional associations for Gina as it was the name of the boat in which her father died. The name, inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play L’oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird), a fairytale about the search for happiness, was first chosen by her grandfather, Sir Malcolm Campbell, for his famous racing cars and boats. It was subsequently adopted from generation to generation.

Sir Malcolm was fêted in the 1920s and 1930s for his land and water speed records. His son Donald went on to become the first person to set both land and water speed records in a single year (1964). Posthumously he was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct for his many water speed records. Gina inherited this passion for speed and competition and was determined to prove herself in what was then a very male-oriented sports’ world. Already an excellent skier and show-jumper, she turned to speed racing in her 30s.

From a young age her father had taken her with him to various record-breaking attempts, including to New York and Australia, and Gina knew how this world worked and how to wield an oil rag! She could fly, too, as Donald flew a single-engine Piper Comanche and then a twin-engine Piper Aztec and sometimes he asked his young daughter to take over the controls of this while he took a nap.

Her determination to succeed saw Gina achieve a Women’s World Water Speed Record of 122.85 mph in 1984. Spurred on to outdo her own performance, she immediately made another attempt – culminating in a high-speed accident that almost replicated her father’s. Fortunately, being small, she was ejected from the boat and survived. She continued to race, eventually moving to New Zealand where in 1990 in a speedboat named Bluebird she set another speed record of 156.49 mph on Lake Karapiro. That same year Gina was awarded a Queen’s Service Order for her work touring every school in New Zealand to promote water safety. 

New Zealand used to have the highest death rate from drowning per capita in the western world and this was an extremely successful campaign, reducing the figures by over 30% in the first year alone.

The New Bluebird

When in 2004 Marshall sold his highly successful business and retired, he decided it was time to get involved in a beautiful Leopard Flybridge motor yacht, called Bluebird. It can accommodate nine guests and is moored in Port Vauban Marina in Antibes, between Cannes and Nice. This is one of several chic marinas on the French Riviera that attract many motor-cruisers and super-yachts with big-name owners such as Roman Abramovich, J. C. Bamford (JCB) and the likes of Paul Allen from Microsoft.

The Bluebird may be more modest than many of these cruisers but it still has a crew of three, skipper, deck hand and chef/stewardess. A house, or rather boat, rule is that the stewardess must ensure there is a fresh baguette waiting for every guest by 9am – but not just any old French stick. It must come from the top baker in Antibes. As the former founder and CEO of Oakdale Bakeries in the UK, with 41 years in the trade, Marshall is well-placed to judge.

Between April and December the couple fly out several times a year. “The fact flew to Nice was instrumental in our getting involved with Bluebird,” says Gina. “We go back and forth to Nice as many as 16 times in the year.  We just love it.”

“Last year,” says Marshall, “the crew motored over to Naples and we joined them there, flying from Leeds with friends. We really like Corsica and cruising this island is a delight. Bonifacio has a wonderful natural harbour and the west coast is terrific for boaters. We can moor and take the tender to shore wherever we fancy, hiring a car to explore if the weather precludes boating.

“What’s marvellous when you have a boat is that you avoid the summer crush. And of course the views are simply fabulous from the sea. One of the most stunning is the approach to Monaco – we had a guest who was moved to tears seeing it for the first time. We truly appreciate our good fortune to be able to enjoy all this along with the happiness to share it with friends and family.”

Pursuing Passions

While Gina no longer seeks to set speed records, she continues to water-ski as well as playing golf competitively. Marshall meanwhile has combined his own passions for golf and a challenge to develop and globally market Kwik Golf, a two-person-team speed golfing competition played over six holes. It’s a game with huge family appeal that can be played anywhere from a playing field to a beach. Simple video coverage on the Kwik Golf website will mean distant families and friends can watch teams compete, even across continents. This will be inaugurated in March 2012... a real Olympic-style initiative!

“When not cruising we play a huge amount of golf,” says Marshall. “In France we mostly play at Saint Donat in Mouans-Sartoux, which is reasonably priced and quite challenging. Otherwise we go to Cannes Mougins – a very pretty course – or the fantastic, expensive Royal Mougins.”

Gina has another fond memory of Mougins, from the time when aged 16 she worked there as an au pair to perfect her French. She met a charming elderly neighbour who would chat to her and who invited her to visit him. She never did, and only later discovered his name: “Pablo Picasso! To think,” she says, “I could have been his muse..!”

France today brings countless pleasures to Gina and Marshall. “On Antibes, says Gina, “only 300 yards from our mooring we’ve found one of the best Indian restaurants we’ve ever come across – Achina. We also love Cannes, of course, window-shopping along the 2 ó-km long rue d’Antibes, which is lined with wonderful designer shops, or at night strolling along the vibrant la Croisette seaside promenade. We also go to Ventimiglia, just over the Italian border, for the wonderful Friday market and beautiful leatherware.

“One of the most fabulous (and fabulously expensive!) treats we’ve ever had,” she recalls, “was dinner at La Réserve Hôtel in Beaulieu. We moored offshore and, when we reached the jetty, we were met by stewards in white gloves bearing glasses of champagne on a silver tray! That was incredibly special as you can imagine – as was the bill..! ” flights serve champagne too, of course, although not usually on silver trays! Gina and Marshall are very complimentary about the service and the convenience of flying from Leeds Bradford airport. "We've been very lucky, whether flying to Nice, Rome or Pisa, never being delayed or losing our luggage. Since we regularly use to fly to Nice and other destinations, we now collect myJet2 points and have boosted our collection with points earned when booking flights for our friends. It's great that we can put these towards free flights and we've already spent some to fly to Nice to board Bluebird...”

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