In 1965, offshore racing around the world had reached a level of interest and participation that was beyond anyone’s imagination. Those of us who were racing believed (erroneously) that we were special. While offshore racing on a world basis was very expensive, some of us had axes to grind. My employer, Donzi Marine, for example, was firmly rooted as a successful boat builder on its success as a race winner. Bertram Yacht had previously enjoyed that glow of success by pioneering a new hull design, and winning nearly all the offshore races over several years. They won the first several Miami-Nassau races, with namesake Dick Bertram and Sam Griffith winning 1956 through 1961, except for upstart “Crystalliner”, a 27’ fiberglass Miami Beach built craft helmed by Gordon Hoover. They also won 1962 Miami-Nassau through 1964 with John Bakos, Odell Lewis and Harold Abbott. Donzi was next, with Aronow in 1965, and me and “Donzi Baby” in 1967. Mercury Marine, with E. Carl Kiekhaefer at the helm, joined the fray in a big way. They were pioneering and proving both the new “stern drive” (Instument of the Devil) and the firm’s excellent outboard motors.
I actually drove a 20’ Brunswick race boat with a small block Chevy/Mercruiser in the 1962 Miami-Nassau race. (Note: This boat was later used by Tommy Fileman and Stan Humes to win the “1965 Around Long Island Race”). The company had sent the boat to Challenger Marine, in North Miami to be prepared for the race. I was allowed to test it, so I took it through the “Haulover” a few times, and broke the hull up front. Stu Jackson from Brunswick, and Dave Craig from Skyway Marine brought a new, miracle boat fixer, Polyurethane foam, to repair the boat the night before the race. The damage was just forward of the stringers next to the keel, so we mixed a small batch of foam, and poured it into that area. Nothing. Either the weather was too cold, or we erred in the mixing area, so we did it again and again. Suddenly, the great brown foam monster arose from the bilge and ate our helmets, life jackets, lunches, tools, etc. Thank God that we were able to save the Scotch! Wherever that boat is, right now, our stuff is still in the cuddy cabin. The Brunswick was entered by “Bulldog” Drummond Musset, an alcoholic Brit, former Spitfire driver with 0 to 23 kills in WWII, depending on his Breathalizer score. He once told me that he had flown his Spitfire through a brick house, and once told me that he had flown a brick house through his Spitfire. “Bully” was as fun as they come, and the photo of him coming through the Baker’s Haulover in the 1963 or so “Around Miami Beach” race in a tiny outboard rates number 1, either in balls or booze (or both). Maybe 30 feet altitude in a 17 footer.
Anyway, The Brunswick entry was to be driven by “Bully”, with me navigating, and Tommy “The Golden Guinea” Mottola, mechanicing. Talk about the golden days of offshore racing! We had 63 starters that year, and started the race in Miami’s Government Cut. There were nine rows of seven boats, and we were on south side of the seventh row. “Bully” was a little “under the weather” and asked me to pilot the boat for the start. The confused seas resembled haystacks. I was thrilled to accept, and kept that sucker at full throttle until the traffic cleared, which was halfway to Cat Cay. Our little boat was pretty fast in calm water, and we were quite competitive until we blew the engine.
Back to the World Championship. In early 1964, our local offshore club, OPBRA, Offshore Power Boat Racing Association (or: Old Pricks Who Bitch and Run Away, depending on whom you ask), conjured up a global championship for offshore. John Crouse, the late Aronow inflater, was the driving force behind the effort, and he furnished a beautiful trophy for the championship, the big trophy permanently on display (at John’s house), and little silver shot glass looking things that the actual champion was allowed to keep. A committee chose a number of race sites around the world, and one would win the title by garnering the most total points in those races. Jim Wynne won in 1964 and ’66. Jim was always prepared, always finished the race (even with his co-driver with two broken ankles), and deservedly won both titles.
Then, there was 1965. Don Aronow had become larger than life, and many fans (his wife, kids and secretary) were certain that he would be the world champ. The format for scoring the races was the same as Formula One Racing, with 9, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 points in order of finish. Apparently, 1965 was not a vintage year, and by November, the end of the season, only Don Aronow, with 13 points (9 for Miami-Nassau, 4 for Cowes-Torquay), Dick Bertram, 9 points for Cowes- Torquay, and Bill Wishnick, 9 points for the Sam Griffith Memorial race, were in contention for the title. The final race would be the November, 1965, Miami to Key West race. If Aronow won, he won the title. If Bertram or Wishnick won, and Aronow was 3rd or worse, whoever won was the champ.
I was ghost driving for Wishnick (Nicest man on the planet. Made Mother Teresa look like Hillary Clinton) in those early days. Bobby Moore was our riding mechanic. We were running Holman Moody Fords, High Riser, High Winder, Side Oiler, 8V, 427’s, in a 28’ Donzi, as was Aronow. Bertram had Diesel engines, a larger boat, 36 feet long, made of a miracle material, “Tree wood” which apparently grows wild, and is a renewable resource. In fact, Bertram’s boat sank the very next race. I guess we should have given the Witch Doctor a few more Gold Doubloons, and Billy would have won. Missed it by THAT much!
The day of the race, it was flat calm. We were the fastest boat in the race, in “Broad Jumper”, Don Aronow was next in “008”, then Dick Bertram in the big treewood boat, “Brave Moppie”, which was apparently named for a particularly daring janitorial device. We led at the start, and could actually back off a hundred or so RPM’s and maintain the lead. Aronow lasted about half way, and it was down to Bertram and us. We threw a propeller blade about the same time. No way to change inboard propellers in a short time. We could still keep the lead at WFT, but the boat was orbiting from the imbalance, and everything was falling apart. Bertram crept by at about American Shoal light as we could only wish and watch.
Post script: Two years later, in the Miami-Nassau race, the entire Mercury Offshore Team started the race with bad props, and I won in a slower boat. Turnabout is fair play!