Trev’s TT Trip 2018 Part Seven
After a final dinner with the McWilliams family it was time to head for the Belfast docks and join the long queue for the late overnight ferry to the port of Douglas on the Isle of Man.
Luckily, the night was not too cold and there was only a very slight bit of occasional drizzle to dampen the spirits of the hundreds of riders as they waited patiently with their motorcycles in the open air of the Belfast Ferry Terminal at Albert Quay.
As far as docks go these are quite pleasant. From the waiting area you look across the inlet to the blue lights of the Titanic Belfast building. Its leading edge designed to resemble the prow of the infamous ship itself. The Titanic was built in Belfast and launched in front of over 100,000 spectators on May 31, 1911, thus the homage to the ill-fated passenger liner.
While a lot less grand, I was hoping our Steam Packet Ferry across to the Isle of Man would perhaps prove a little more successful in being able to reach its destination.
Ferry tickets to the Isle of Man generally book out over 12 months ahead of each TT. Thus Dave Milligan, founder and proprietor of Get Routed, a company that specialises in travel packages to the Isle of Man TT, along with other bike shipment destinations (Felixstowe, UK, Athens, Greece and Barcelona, Spain) in Europe, had sourced our precious spots on the ferry.
Get Routed generally book dozens of tickets to ensure his clients have space for both themselves and their motorcycles. Dave also books a few houses on the Isle of Man to put his clients up during the TT fortnight. Some prefer to take tents and camp out in one of the many campsites which spring up for the TT. It’s a cheaper option.
Get Routed had organised our unique package to my requirements. I didn’t want to do the straight-up regular ferry from Liverpool and back from the mainland like most TT goers. I had come a long way and desired a much more diverse itinerary to make the best of our few weeks away.
I wanted to tour the southern climes of Great Britain and Wales before the TT. I was also keen to do some riding in Ireland, including a dirtbike tour up in Donegal, before then catching up with the McWilliams family in Belfast for a good craic.
To cater for this Dave had advised us to book a ferry from the Welsh port of Holyhead across the Irish Sea to Dublin. Then our ferry to the Isle of Man from Belfast for the TT fortnight, and also sourced us ferry tickets that after race week would take us from the IOM across to Liverpool. Where we would then continue our motorcycle touring to take in England’s Peak and Lake Districts before returning our Explorers back to Triumph’s Hinckley HQ. It was a somewhat complicated plan of attack, but Dave had sourced the required tickets and just made it all happen. Obviously he did this over 12 months in advance.
As we waited in line for the ferry from Belfast we realised that we were probably the only first timers onboard for the trip across to the 572 square-kilometre island that has been made famous around the globe due to the 37.73-miles of tarmac that snakes its way up and down and around the central parts of the Isle of Man, the fabled ‘Mountain Course’ IOM TT.
The ferry was jam packed, seats were at a premium. Predictably, there was a little argy-bargy involved in order to try and get a reasonably comfortable spot. The trip itself is around a three-hour affair, and you also spend a good few hours standing around with your bike at the terminal waiting to board. In fact you spend almost as much time dicking around at the terminal as you do on the bloody ferry! Check in closed at midnight but you are advised to get there well before that, despite the ferry not departing until 0200. It is a bit tedious, but the excitement in the air is palpable and makes up for it, we’re going to the TT!
I got to talking to a group of Irish fellas who were long time TT goers. A couple of them clad in full leathers complete with knee-sliders, eager to lap the mountain course themselves when ever the roads are open during TT Practice week and to a lesser extent race week. The roads are generally open most of the time, you can cut a dozen laps or more during TT week without too much bother if you are keen. Doing laps of the TT circuit also affords the time to seek out good viewing spots for when the real speed demons hit the circuit.
These Irish fellas I had got talking to, likely in their early 30s, so ten years or so younger than myself, were seasoned punters and knew the score. They had lost mates themselves at the TT. However, they were all proper Irish motorcycle nutters that had grown up around road racing, it was in their blood.
Their childhood heroes the likes of Joey Dunlop, 24-time winner of the Ulster GP and 26-time winner at the TT. Joey ‘Yer Maun’ Dunlop was a national treasure, awarded both an MBE and OBE before his tragic death while racing a 125 in Estonia in 2000. Conversely enough, Joey died on a closed course rather than ‘on the roads’.
Death is a part of the TT. It always has been, and unfortunately, most likely always will be. You always hear about the deaths of the famous riders losing their lives on road courses, Joey’s brother Robert lost his life on a 250 at the Northwest 200, Robert’s son William passed away this year after an accident at Skerries.
Scores more lives have been lost that never made any headlines. Almost every year a number of racegoers lose their own lives, crashing their motorcycles while on the Isle of Man to enjoy the TT fortnight. These crashes rarely make the news, its just part and parcel of what happens on this pretty patch of dirt in the middle of the Irish Sea.
I don’t wish to be morbid, but it is a simple fact of life, the Isle of Man TT also quite often involves death. It is what it is….
Changing tack somewhat… It was a glorious morning in Douglas as our Triumph steeds turned their wheels for the first time on the Isle of Man tarmac. Dave from Get Routed was there to meet us as we rode off the ferry. We followed him out of town and down towards our digs at the southern end of the Isle, the picturesque Port Erin. That first morning though we were not up for seeing much of anything other than bed!
The next day saw almost perfect weather unfold after a crisp and clear morning over the delightful sheltered harbour of Port Erin. This trend of sun and warmth continued for our entire time on the Island.
We were lucky enough to enjoy what was possibly the most glorious weather ever encountered over an entire TT fortnight. Later in the year Classic TT goers were not quite so lucky…
I was taken aback at the beauty of the Island. I guess my thoughts surrounding the Isle of Man had never gone beyond the tarmac of the Mountain Course, and the men that lay black lines of rubber on it. But now my eyes were opened to its beauty and I was keen to drink it all in.
Dave had situated us down on the southern coast of what proved to be a much larger island than I had imagined. We had motorcycles to explore it on, and better still our motorcycles were adventure bikes, thus we could also venture off-road when it suited us.
The beautiful landscapes and myriad walking trails got me to thinking that it would not be a mistake for someone to bring their family to the TT.
There were days where we never even ventured near the mountain course to take in practice sessions, instead hiking our way along the picturesque southern cliffs, which at some points look across to the Calf of Man.
The much needed exercise also made me a feel a little less guilty for indulging in the fantastic ales and awesome pub food that we encountered pretty much everywhere we toured throughout the UK. I am salivating at the memory!
And of course the first pub I visited on the Isle of Man I bump into a group of Aussies, some of which I had crossed paths with before.
We had got so lucky with the weather, the lush rolling green hills were picture perfect and the surprisingly brilliant clear blue of the Irish Sea sparkled in contrast, a backdrop good enough to paint.
The visibility in the water was remarkable and allowed us to spot plenty of sealife from afar. Basking Sharks the most common sight visible from the Port Erin Harbour or the clifftops above.
Clearly, there is a lot more to enjoy on the Isle of Man than just the racing.
It was once a favoured holiday destination for much of the UK, but with these days of cheap flights to the warmer climes of Spain and the Greek Islands, it has fallen out of favour as a mainstream holiday destination for Brits.
The island comes alive for the TT though, and the TT (and farmers exporting rare breed bull semen), is now what keeps the island alive.
Race week saw new records set. Peter Hickman’s final lap to win the Senior TT was epic, his speed across the mountain section in particular was breathtaking and an outright lap record.
Racers that specialise on the ‘real roads’ circuits such as the IOM and the North West call traditional career motorcycle racers ‘car park racers’. Reflecting on the fact that they race on circuits with only a dozen turns, as compared to the hundreds found on the mountain course. The speed of Hickman and Harrison at this year’s TT though showed just what a dedicated season of speed on a Superbike or Superstock bike in BSB now brings to the table as speeds continuously rise and new records are set at the TT. This pair regularly race in the tight cut and thrust of the British Superbike Championship, and look set to dominate TT proceedings for the foreseeable future.
I got a couple of laps of the Mountain Course in myself onboard the Triumph Explorer 1200. One of the days I was stuck near the top of the mountain section with hundreds of others riders, the road had been closed due to a rider making a fatal mistake that would prove his last. Strangely, there was still more excitement than sadness in the air, riders were keen to press on again as soon as the carnage had been cleared and the roads were open again. This is the TT, this is how it is.
I shot down a skinny side-road back towards town before turning my way back up towards the course along another farm lane that eventually met the course again only a few hundred metres from where the other hundreds of riders awaited the road to open again. Here though I was amongst only a few dozen waiting at the police manned barriers. I quizzed the officers as to which barrier would get lifted first, ours or the one I could see just a little further back up the road, they said likely ours. I was keen to get the holeshot, keeping my helmet on as I wanted to get out ahead of the pack.
It turned out just how I had planned, the barrier lifted and I launched that 1200 Explorer hard out of the hole to beat everyone else on to the circuit. This was it. I had a clear run over the final few miles of the mountain section and if I went fast enough, I would keep the hundreds of sportsbike riders behind me at bay due to their delay in getting away. I did not want to get mixed up in that bunch of nutters so I had a crack.
It was glorious, two lanes of perfect blacktop to myself as I sped past landmarks that I had only seen before on TV. Flying past Kate’s Cottage and then flat out down towards the tight right hand bend in front of Creg-ny-Baa. I was still leading and could not see anyone in my mirrors as I sat up to brake for Creg-ny-Baa. Hundreds of onlookers out the front of the pub let out their cheers of congratulation as I lofted the front wheel past them on exit.
Of course that last bit about the crowd was all just in my head, I think the people drinking at Creg-ny-Baa were really just thinking, ‘look at this fat bastard on an adventure bike reckoning he is John McGuinness’. Of course, when the real racers got at it later in the day I would have looked like I was at walking pace in comparison.
I didn’t care, I was on the Isle of Man, I was riding a motorcycle pretty fast, passing milestones and landmarks that I had only before seen a thousand times on TV, and it was glorious. It will stay with me for a long time. Hell, I think I might go again next year, care to join me?
If you want the chance to enjoy riding the Isle of Man then get the low down from Dave Milligan as to the ins and outs of how you can go about it. The old bugger can seem a bit ornery at first but once you get to know him he has a heart of gold. Get Routed have been taking people to the TT for over 20 years. Dave is a font of knowledge and if he can’t help you, he will no doubt put you on to someone who can. Give him a bell on 03 5625 9080 to find out more.