Brownie’s Bites: How High Could You Possibly Jump in a 9,000 Pound...

Brownie’s Bites: How High Could You Possibly Jump in a 9,000 Pound Boat Anyway?

After selling Donzi Marine to Teleflex, Inc. in April 1965, Don Aronow started up Magnum Marine next door, in the spring of 1966. The basis of Magnum was to be the 35’ Donzi, designed by Wynne and Walters (mostly Walters) for Donzi. Don had sold me with the company, and we were selling little Donzis hand over fist. The boobs at Teleflex decided to give the 35’ Donzi to Aronow, in return for his racing for Donzi. Don raced it with very mild success in a few races. Don named the big wide boat “Big Bad Donzi” after himself, perhaps. He was still ‘persona non grata’ with Mr. Kiekhaefer at Mercury Marine, so he was using Holman Moody engines in the larger boat, with the thought that he might win the rougher races. In those days, we raced no matter what the weather. In the summer of ’66, Bill Wishnick shot Aronow’s big boat plan in the ass when he purchased the 32’ Aluminum Maritime, which had carried Jim Wynne to several race victories in the US and abroad.

The Maritime was clearly the best offshore boat on the circuit, with a mix of good speed, with its twin 600 HP troublecharged Daytonas, and a fierce head sea performance at about 15,000 pounds gross weight with the ballast tank full. The ballast tank, which moved the center of balance further forward, and held the bow down (no trim tabs back then) was controlled by the crew with a couple of valves to fill and empty it. It wasn’t all fun and games. The Daytona engine turbochargers glowed white at full throttle, which was most of the time, and the boat had integral fuel tanks which always leaked. On a dark day, the turbos lit up the entire engine room, so that one could watch the 115/145 aviation gasoline squirting out of the bottom of the fuel tanks. The first matchup between Big Bad Donzi and Wishnick’s now named “Broad Jumper”, was in the spring of 1966, at the Gateway Marathon race from West Palm Beach to Lucaya, in the Bahamas, and return. The wind was blowing 15 to 20 knots out of the northeast, and it was rougher than hell. They postponed one day after a vote, but all the business men (and women) agreed to run the next day.

I was still driving for Bill in the difficult races, and I started the race.  Aronow took off like a shot. He was about half a mile ahead in ten minutes, and we could see him flying high above the waves, looking down on the seagulls. We were still learning our new boat. Bobby Moore was our riding mechanic, and we all shared one of our best hangovers, from drinking Sake at the Jap lunch place the day before. No one dreamed that we would race the next day. I think I remember that the check was over a hundred bucks for the four of us. The fourth was Mark “Big Dirty” Raymond, Bobby’s backup mechanic. Aronow broke very quickly, no surprise, and we slugged it across at a sparkling 32 MPH. We won the first leg by an hour. In the middle of the Gulfstream, the seas were mountainous. We kept the ballast tank full, to minimize jumping, but the downhill run on the enormous waves usually didn’t end at the bottom of the wave. We would continue into the face of the next wave, and a big “greenie” would come barreling down the deck at about 40 MPH. We all hit the floor and looked for fish as the wave passed over. We probably did that fifty or sixty times. One of the late arrivals at the finish line was my hero, Odell Lewis, who was piloting a 22’ Mike Navalany S-22 boat with a black motor of some sort. I think he was the first outboard, and he had a rider bouncing around the floor who was much the worse for wear. Aronow and I jumped down to Odell’s boat, and helped get the barely conscious rider up to the dock, and medical help. Odell said “I put my foot on him every time he bounced by…..” We won the leg back, and the overall victory. Next race was Around Long Island. I drove the 28’ Donzi “Little Broad Jumper”, Bill drove the big one, and Aronow drove the BBD. Aronow and I had identical Holman Moody Fords, but his boat was 1800 pounds heavier that mine. I carried my Long Island Donzi dealer, Bobby Weichbrodt, and the President of Bertram Yacht, Peter Rittmaster, as crew. We built up a big lead down the Atlantic, and then cruised Long Island Sound until Aronow caught up with us. We made a circle around him, just to show him where he stood. He motioned for me to slow down to his speed, and that we would finish bow to bow, with me slightly ahead for PR. Bobby Rautbord was running third, so it would be our first Donzi 1-2-3 finish. Don kept slowing bit by bit, but Peter noticed the ploy and alerted me. We beat him by about 10 feet.

As one might guess, God’s gift to offshore racing, Aronow, was getting a little chapped. Next race was the Houston Channel Derby, from Texas City to the San Jacinto Monument in Houston, and back across Galveston Bay. The monument is a few miles up the Houston Ship Channel, and total distance was under 80 miles, as I recall. I was amazed when Don invited me to join him in the Donzi 008, a cut-down Donzi 28, for the Texas race. Riding mechanic was Bobby Moore. Aronow had a penchant for cutting down the sides of boats to make them sleeker, and he did not give a damn that he stuck out of the cockpit an extra foot. I accepted, and off we went to Houston. There were about 90 boats entered in the race! Every conceivable type of race boat was in the mix. Offshore boats, SK boats, outboard catamarans, the whole Mercury racing team, you name it. One of the entries was famous oil well fire fighter, Red Adair, in last year’s winner, “Holocaust”, a 23’ Formula with tandem turbocharged Daytona engines, driving one propeller. It was fast and wild. Red was the subject of the greatest miscasting by Hollywood in history. John Wayne played Red in the movie “Hellfighters”. Wayne was 6’6”. Red was 5’ in his elevator shoes. Red enlisted the help of ace Chrysler racing mechanic, Butch Elliott, to assist in the race preparation. After a final test run, Red asked Butch how much fuel he should carry. “Fill her up, Red.” “Hell, Butch, it’s only about 75 miles.” “You are gonna spill more than you use!”

The Race Committee dreamed up an amazing starting order. The boats were sort of lined up in rows at the Texas City Dike (I think I met her at the party), with us and the other big boats in the 9th row. As we milled for the start, Bobby noticed that our neighbor boat, a 23’ Crosby with tandem racing engines, was on fire. We motored over, and Bobby jumped aboard with our fire extinguishers and helped put out the fire. The crew in the burning boat? Gordon Cooper and Gus Grissom, Mercury Astronauts. The logic of the starting sequence escapes me. With the little boats in front, we would pass them going across Galveston Bay, then pass them again in the Houston Ship Channel on the way back. Visibility was lousy, and Aronow couldn’t see anyway.

On the ninth flare, away we went! We were big, but we were slow. Top speed was about 65 MPH, and we tootled along in about 75th place. Watching the compass and aiming Aronow, we passed lots of boats going lots of directions. Peering into the haze, I could make out something REALLY BIG ahead. It was a gaggle of free running tugboats, oil tankers, research ships and such. The waves behind each ship, 8 to 10 feet high! My heart moved up nearer my voice box. There were broken boats and drivers scattered on the course ahead. I looked at Aronow just as he saw the mess ahead. The maniacal grin on his face told the story. This was our chance to win! We zoomed up the first wake at wide open throttle, and continued skyward so far that the strut bearings on the propeller shafts dried out, and made a moaning sound. We went from nearly last to first in two miles. When we reached smoother water, I looked at Bobby, and we smiled at each other, just happy to be alive. We roared on up to the monument, turned our lousy turning racer 180 degrees, and started back down the channel alone. We were as happy as clams until I realized that we had to jump the wakes again, this time from the front! On one particular flight, I think I could see my house in Miami…. We got back to the dike about 10 minutes ahead of the next boat, then couldn’t find the little Boston Whaler with the flag that marked the last short laps. Aronow turned the wheel over to me, and sat on the engine box, cleaning his glasses and muttering threats about losing the race. We finally found the boat, and won the race.

Two dozen racers went to the hospital. I was simply amazed that I wasn’t one of them. Don’s balls and expertise carried us through, but once was enough. I grew a new admiration for Knocky and Bobby and Big Dirty, who had to ride with that crazy sonofabitch all the time.

A couple of years later, Bill Wishnick and Bobby Moore won the Derby (They stopped inviting us….) in the first race boat with #3 Speedmaster drives, the 32’ Bertram “Boss o’ Nova. Bill was driving and throttling, but with no power steering, they went around the far checkboat 4 times. Bobby invented the throttleman position that day.