In 1969, the Miami International Boat Show moved from its historic digs at Dinner Key, to the brand new Miami Beach Convention Center. Most of the boatbuilder exhibitors were chapped by the fact the demonstration facilities at Dinner Key were sumptuous, and the ones at the Convention Center were nonexistent. I had just finished my new Nova 24, and had shown it at the New York Boat Show in January, and had invited lots of folks down for a demo ride. The Nova 24 was way different than all the other performance runabouts her size. In New York, we had shown the boat on a special cradle which tilted the boat on its side, and allow ‘lookers’ to see that we had a twin inboard engine v-drive boat with lots of innovations (for the day). All the other boats in that market had sterndrives or outboards. I had always considered the aluminum sterndrive an instrument of the devil (still do), and set about making a very nice inboard boat. The booth was staffed by my French dealer, Jean Claude Simon, and local dealers Skip Allen and Pete Quackenbush. We had an ace in the hole. I had surveyed the area, and discovered that there was place to tie up on the Dade canal, right next to the show. Two palm trees arced out over the water, right next to the Meridien Avenue bridge. The Holocaust Monument is there now. My boat just fit under the bridge at high tide, and we could run demonstrations at will.
When the show opened, one of the first customers into the booth was an elderly gentleman who identified himself as Mr. Gottwald, Chairman of the Ethyl Corporation. He asked for me, and said that he had been referred by Ed Cantor (the bridge champion, not the comedian) to buy a Nova 24. He asked if he could get a quick ride, and I was pleased to tell him that we had the only demo at the show. It was powered by 351 Holman Moodys, and Crusader Vee drives. I instructed Pete to take him for a spin.
They proceeded across the parking lot to my “secret” dock and boarded the boat. After showing Mr. Gottwald around the boat, Pete fired it up and proceeded along the Miami Beach shoreline to Government Cut. In February, it is seldom smooth at the mouth of the cut, but that day, it inundated by big swells from the north. You couldn’t find a better day to demonstrate the Nova 24. Gradually picking up speed, they were cruising about 40 MPH, heading east toward the Atlantic, and the big swells. Pete advised Mr. Gottwald to sit down in the bucket seat, and to hold on lightly to grab bar in front of him. The swells got increasingly higher, but the Nova was at her best in these conditions. They were climbing the backsides of the waves, and contouring down the other side with just the props in the water, and rest of the boat clear. A smooth landing each time, and back into the air. Mr. Gottwald finally lost his confidence, and when they reached top of a particularly lofty roller, he partially stood, while still holding on the seat, and lifted the seat off the pedestal with the boat at about 45 degrees. When they reached the base of the swell, gravity caused Mr. Gottwald’s legs to buckle a little, and he sat back down, but the pedestal was unhooked from the chair, and the bottom of the chair hit the pedestal forward of the post. This caused the chair to rotate 90 degrees aft, and the chair, still in the death grip of its passenger, landed behind the post, and as the boat climbed another swell, chair and passenger zoomed aft, stopped only by Mr. Gottwald’s head sticking between the engine box and the side of the boat. Picture this: they are climbing another swell, and the rider is lodged, on his back, with his head holding him in place. Pete sees the situation and immediately yanks the throttles to zero, and here comes Mr. Gottwald and his chair at a relative speed of 35 or 40, still on his back, head aft, feet forward, aiming for the now empty pedestal. The bottom of the chair hit it dead center, clipped it off like a matchstick, but the force caused the chair and passenger to rotate forward 180 degrees. Now headfirst, he rocketed through the teak doors, all the way to the rope locker, where he stuck his head through the vinyl cover, still with a death grip on the seat. Pete called to him “My God, Mr. Gottwald, are you all right?” “Yes”. “Let me help you out of there”. “I’m OK. If you will stop trying to kill me, I will buy the boat”. Which he did.