The Union of International Motor Boating is the governing body for boat racing around the world. In the interest of harmony, and larger, more competitive racing fleets, we led the UIM in maintaining fairness in the rulebook. The UIM offshore world championship commenced in 1964, with Jim Wynne taking the prize for the most points accumulated in a series of races around the world.
While offshore racing was never inexpensive, the world offshore tour required a “big bucks” approach, with races in the US, England, the Bahamas, Sweden, Cyprus, and other less famous sites. It finally became a logistics championship, requiring at least two boats, and crews all over the world. In 1977, The UIM changed the format of the championship, now down to one “Really big showwwww” at Key West, Florida in November. The new format would level the field, somewhat, in that a man (or woman) could win the title despite the fact that they only had a titanium spoon in their mouth.
In 1977 I was chief engineer at Magnum Marine, on the just becoming famous 188th Street, in North Miami Beach, Florida. Magnum was owned, at that time, by Ted and Katrin Theodoli. They had been Magnum and Cary Marine dealers in Italy, and when APECO (Ape Co?), sold Magnum back to Aronow for 2 cents on the dollar, They bought it. I had done essentially all the development on the 49’ Cary Diesel boats, the first American made, fast Diesel cruisers. They hired me to develop the 53’ Magnum, soon to be the King of big, fast, smoky, smelly toys.
With our Italian connection, we began to use some of the excellent aluminum twelve cylinder BPM 650 HP gas engines. We took the 38’ Magnum, which had been somewhat of a slug, built it of the new miracle fiber, Kevlar, and stuffed in a pair of BPM’s on vee drives. We even cut the sheerline down by a foot, so that it looked like an overweight 008 raceboat. With the new one-race format world championship race coming up in Key West, Ted sent Danny Durrough, GM of Magnum, and me to Key West to get some publicity for the new boat. Danny and I were best friends, and in the interest of the best possible press, took two incredibly beautiful blonde strippers on the trip. The southern Atlantic can be a hostile place in the winter, and the weather looked grim for the race, with very strong northerly winds for the next couple of weeks, encompassing the race.
We ran from Miami to Key West down Hawk’s Channel, a magnificent stretch of crystal clear water just inside the outer reef, for 160 miles. The water was choppy, the sky bright blue, and we had plenty of beer. The girls worked on their tans, and Danny and I worked on the case of Heineken’s.
We arrived in Key West and hooked up with Ted and Katrin, who had driven down from Miami. The town was full to the brim with racers, hangers-on, and wierdos, and we blended in perfectly. The girls wanted some pot, and we wanted nothing to do with it. They went off in search of oneness with nature, and when we saw them again, they were mighty mellow. “Looks like you scored”. “Yeah, we found a kid on a bicycle who could hook us up, and when the deal was done, he was a man, riding off on a Harley”.
We gave lots of 60 MPH demo rides, got photographed, and had fun belittling the ‘smooth water sailors’. The actual championship race was scheduled for a 10am Saturday start, and we timed our arrival at the Pier House Hotel for a 9:59 suntan lotion spreading contest. The race was exceptionally well attended by the top offshore men (and women) in the world. We had entries from England, France, Italy, Australia, South America, hell, we even had an entry from California! I was reconnoitering beach locations with just the right amount of sun, cover, and access to the excellent pina colada machine, when about 20 people screamed “THERE HE IS!” I looked around to see who they were talking about, when I realized that it was me! They unstuck me from my model, and dragged me to the Officials tent. “Brownie, if you don’t take the Magnum out to Middle Ground, the far checkpoint, there will be no race.” “You just now realized that you do not have a frickin’ check boat at Middle Ground?” “It sank”. “Then you are not going to race today”. The wind was howling out of the north at 15 to 25 knots, and the waters around Key West were the color of week-old coffee. “I fish the Middle Grounds, and I NEVER go out there if the wind is over 10 knots”. Ted Theodoli pulled me aside, and said “Brownie, I told them that you would do it.” “OK, goddammit, you and Katrin are coming with Danny and me”.
We didn’t have a radio powerful enough to reach shore from there, but there was a Coast Guard cruiser in range to relay the results to the committee. We took a shortcut to Middle Ground over some shallow reefs that were impossible to “read” in the dark brown water, which perfectly matched my humor. I think I was secretly hoping to bang my props, and get to beg off from my duty. No such luck. With a vicious current from the south, and the wind from the north, the seas were about 10 to 12 feet high, and only 50 feet apart. The water resembled sort of a chocolate Christmas candy. What a mess! We reported ‘on station’ at noon. The boat was a shambles. The custom deck was split in a couple of places, there was teakwood all over the cockpit sole, and all the crew had some level of damage. I picked a likely spot to anchor, and Danny fought his way through the trash-strewn cabin to get to the anchor hatch. As I backed and filled (and cursed), Danny pitched the anchor, and we slid back until the anchor caught. When it finally set, it pulled the entire boat underwater to the windshield! “Holy Shit! Danny, cut the line!” He somehow cut the line, and freed the boat to roll and plunge in the waves, while I contemplated the possibilities of surviving the day. Just when I was ready to turn tail and run, someone said “Here comes a boat!” “Boy, that must be a tough tobacco spitting, etc. man (or woman).” Nah, it was Betty Cook and John Connor, making about 40 MPH in the slop. They were a couple of miles ahead of the next boat, and we felt some satisfaction, watching them get the crap beat out of them. We stayed on station for two hours, until the last Class II boat had come by. I chose a course home in the lee of some reefs, and actually beat a few of the slower raceboats home.
Betty and John won the race hands down. Several boats sank. Everyone had some level of injury. That evening I was taking some strong medicine for my bruises and getting a neck massage, while regaling our adventure to anyone within earshot. A local observed that it couldn’t have been that rough, as the race was won by a woman. I hit him right in the mouth.