good old days there were no rules, at least not many.
The boat must finish with the original crew the book said, so they turned around, put the injured driver back in the boat, tied him to the transom and roared back into the lead.
The first modern-day offshore powerboat race crowd was a tough bunch. Hairy chests, bulging muscles, beer drink-ing, tobacco spitting, swearing, brawl-ing..., and that was just the women!
An example of the lunacy back in the early days of ocean racing occured in the first offshore race organized by the just incorporated Offshore Power Boat Rac-ing Association of Miami. A few racers (everyone in the free world) were un-happy with the heavy-handed tactics of the Miami-Nassau race organizer, Sher-man “Red” Cnse. ~‘They” who caused all the problems then, and even today, de-cided that the racers could manage the races better than a professional race organizer. So, they scheduled the first race for Nov. 4, 1963, from Miami to Key West.
There had been only a few offshore powerboat races in the past 50 years, seven of them from Miami to Nassau. With only one race per year previously, very few proper raceboats existed. Many of the entries in the Miami-Key West race were modified high-speed pleasure boats. The fastest boat in the race was a 27-foot in days of yore! “You’re” running without much protection.
Formula, built by Don Aronow, and owned by restaurateur, Mike Gordon. The crew for the boat, “Fish Peddle?,” was made up of Mike, as driver; Sam Sarra, throttleman; and Pres Coulter, nav-igator. Sam was chief engineer at Day-tona Marine, makers of the twin turbo-charged 409 ci. engines. Sam was one of the fiercest competitors that ever raced anywhere, and was not at all hampered by sanity. Pres was A.P.B.A. champ of predicted log racing, and at five feet, 11 inches and 265 pounds, had a black belt in lasagna eating. Mike was a champion circle-racer in Marathon and ski-boat competition. Unfortunately, his enthusi-asm and desire to win somewhat over-shadowed his driving ability. Consequent-ly, his body resembled something that had been assembled in a basement, with a variety of pins, plates, etc.
The “Fish Peddler” was arranged
with Sam at the throttles and gauges in the port-forward seat (mahogany
yet!), so that the rest of the crew could not see his maniacal grin. Pres
occupied the star-board seats. (Due to his size, plural for seat is not
a typo.) Mike was aft since he had difficulty keeping behind the wheel,
which was mounted on a bracket resem-bling the top of a tuna tower, a pair of outrigger spars was welded to the steer-ing bracket, with a window washer’s safety belt around his waist. Communi-cation among the crew was minimal, since Mike couldn’t see and Sam didn’t care. Navigation was fairly simple, re-quiring only that you keep America to the right.
Drinking while driving was manda-tory in those days, so an incredibly hung-over fleet arrived at Rickenbacker Cause-way for the start of the race. With the wind out of the north at 30 knots, the seas at Fowey Rock Light were 15-plus feet. Everyone pretended that this was what they really wanted to be doing at the moment. The green flare at 0700 com-menced the race.
The fleet was comprised of a gaggle of Formula 23’s with Aronow, Wynne, Meyer and me.. .Jack Manson’s 43-foot Allied Diesel, Jim Breuil’s 36-foot diesel Enterprise, Dick Bertram’s 31-foot Mop-pie, the beautiful Jacoby girls in Miss Amazon, Bud Dawson Jr. in a Prowler, Mike’s Fish Peddler and for about four miles, the 26-foot Amby of Jack “I swear I hit something” Barnes
Bertram was first to Fowey, Barnes was first to the bottom, and I was first to Forest Johnson’s Boatyard, where Dave Stirrat, my co-pilot and I broke in, and fabricated a new alternator bracket for our trusty 400-hp Interceptor engine.
Bertram held the lead to Molasses Reef, where Fish Peddler took over. After trading the lead several times, Ber-tram bent a shaft, and quit. Clearly in command, Sam decided to run wide open in the stormy seas. Sam’s theory was that if you touched the water every 300 yards, the boat and engines wouldn’t take such a beating.
Around Marathon, Pres noticed
that America was now astern, not a good sign. Sam noticed that either the
flying low, or Fish Peddler was jumping very high. Mike didn’t notice anything, since he had lost his footing and turned upside down in the harness, with his head banging the deck each time the boat slammed into a wave.
Sam agreed to stop (after Pres pulled a gun, I think) and take Mike into Mara-thon for medical attention. Running at full throttle (Sam did that a lot) in the smoother inshore waters, with Sam now throttling and steering, they roared up to the Commercial Dock and gently placed (threw) Mike onto the dock and asked a startled fisherman to call an ambulance. Blasting back out Hawk Channel to get back into the race, Pres was reading the rule book only to discover that “the boat must finish with the original crew.” Exe-cuting a 180-degree, they roared back to the dock, gently placed (threw) Mike’s still un-concious body into the stern of the boat and tied him there so as not to bleed on the teak cockpit sole, then sped off.
Three boats had passed Marathon, with Jack Manson’s big diesel in the lead. Sam wasted no time in regaining the lead. Over the roar of the engines and Sam’s maniacal laughter, Pres heard the sound of mahogany cracking beneath him. At this point, Fish Peddler was at American Shoal Light, in the lead. Unable to with-stand the beating administered by Pres’ immense posterior, the bottom of the seat gave way, and Pres found himself sitting with his rear-end on the deck, and his heels neatly tucked behind his ears. A concert of sounds drowned the whine of the turbo’s and V-drives as Sam laughed, Pres cried, and Mike, now awake, shouted references concerning Sam’s an-cestry while biting at the ropes that held him to the transom.
This unlikely crew rounded Sambo Reef and headed north in smooth water toward the finish line and the checkered flag two miles away. One of the batteries lost the last of its bodily fluids through a crack in the case, and the port engine quit. With only a center rudder and one engine, Sam discovered that he could only make counter-clockwise circles. Manson shot by (at 43 mph) to take the flag. So did the rest of the fleet (even me, last). I think the Fish Peddler floated in with the tide.
The Key West Holiday Inn hosted
the awards that same night. The group as-sembled in the banquet hail resembling
the survivors of some World War II sea tragedy. It took about three hours
for the participants to make their way to the stage to accept their trophies.
Everyone who still had skin on their hands, clapped and whistled as Jack
Manson picked up the gold and revealed that his boat had a dozen broken
ribs (eight on the boat, four
on the crew). Finally the presenter an-nounced a special award to Mike Gordon and the Fish Peddler crew. As I recall, it was for losing the most blood and mak-ing the most circles, or something like that.
Mike was still dressed in
his yellow rain slicker as he made his way to the podium .clump, slide..
.clump, slide. He ac-cepted the “Rough Rider” award with great dignity.
When asked if he was injured, he replied, “I don’t know. I can’t move my
arms up far enough to get my clothes off.” Then a many-time flipped and
daring dosed-course champion, he summed up the race for all of us. “You
&!#~ guys are nuts!”
Peter Rittmaster struck the rock reef behind Mama Rhoda Cay while leading the Miami-Nassau Race in 1967. Twenty years later it is still named for him,.. “Stupid Rock.”
At the start of the “Around Nassau Race” the same year, the entire fleet of 40 boats joined a conspiracy against “Red” Crise, the race’s blustery promoter. “Red” waved a giant Bahamian flag to signify the prompt start of the race as planned for an 11 a.m. breakaway. With the friction of the madly waving flag and the epithets (that word is clean), but what came out wasn’t; red-faced now, “Red” was, for the first time anyone could remember, speechless. Then as prear-ranged with the racers, at 11:03 Don Aronow pulled a white laced hanky from his life jacket, waved it once, and the fleet roared away, to Red’s dismay. (Hey, that rhymes. Maybe I’m a poet, too.)
In the 1966 Miami-Nassau, John Rauler-son, a wealthy mall magnate, beached his leaking 30-foot diesel AIim Ram-Rod, on Frazer’s Hog Cay. He found only a clogged transom drain, but the boat was high and dry. John chartered a plane, then flew on to Nassau. Upon his arrival, he found that no diesel-powered boats had finished, He then chartered the same plane back to the boat, stole a bulldozer and pushed Ram-Rod back into the water. UpOn his very late finish in Nassau, he almost collapsed when he found out three diesel boats had finished before him.
While leading the “Sam Griffith Memo-rial Race” in 1965, fleet leader Bill Wishnick’s brother, Jack, broke a couple of ribs bumping the gunwale while crossing the extra rough Stream. Jack asked Bill to take it easy to help alleviate his pain. With misgivings, Bill backed off the throttles till he was told Jack Manson’s big diesel was catching up.
Bill decided he “was not my brothers keeper”and poured it on for the first check boat. There, with the help of his amazed crew and trusting Jack’s life jacket was in working order, he set him over the side for a check boat pick-up. Bill Wishnick was proud he won the race. It didn’t mean much to his mother though, and he wasn’t welcome in the house for a while.
There were a couple of low-budget guys who always managed to raise their entry fee and their hopes, that they’d accidentally outlast every other boat in the race and someday be the winners.
Their names were Ernie Box and “Swede” Christiansen. Shortly after the start of an “early day” Miami-Nassau event, they broke down in the fast-running section of the Calf Stream. The Swede, who fancied himself a good mechanic, decided not to radio a break-down and see if he could get the engine started,
In a three-and-a-half knot current and strong winds pushing them north, it wasn’t long until they were out of what the Coast Guard figured was a normal sweep-search for lost, seasoned, ocean-racing navigators.
Box and Swede, wanting to report that their engine didn’t work, found out their radio didn’t work either. By this time they were almost off Hillsboro Inlet and mak-ing good time, North. An all-out search was in progress.
Late that afternoon, the)’ were found by a kind fisherman who towed them ashore. At the race banquet that night, “Red” Crise asked for an explanation, consider-ing all the concern and effort that had been made to find them.
“Swede” fully explained the
situation to his own satisfaction. “Vee noo vair vee vuz. The Coast Guard,
they didn’t know vafr vee vuz!” Allan Brown, presently Director of Product
Development at Cigarette Racing Team Inc., was elected to the Gulf Marine
Racing Hall of Fame in 1967.