In 1964, I was General Manager of Challenger Marine, North Miami, Florida. Challenger was probably the nicest marina on the planet in those days. We were one of the largest Chris Craft dealers, the largest for Boston Whaler and Formula, and Johnson outboards. It was a gathering place for the fledgling offshore racing crowd. We stored some of the offshore race boats there, and launched some of the others. In fact, I launched Don Aronow’s 32’ Petersen Viking diving boat in 1962, when he first came to live in Florida. It was not unusual to see Aronow, Jim Wynne, Howard Abbey, Dave Stirrat, Sam Sarra, Cal Connell, Jake Trotter, Dick Genth, Merrick Lewis, Jim Breuil, Jr., Jim Mander, Mark “Big Dirty” Raymond, John Raulerson, Stu Jackson, Gale Jacoby (my secretary for a while), and many others there, swapping lies. It was hard to stand out in that crowd. I always said to myself, “Hey, you can beat these guys. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you”, until I found out that Big Dirty, who was a fireman, could hold his pants by the belt, and jump in, all at once.
One of the early raceboats that we stored there was John Raulerson’s 27’ Howard Abbey built, twin Cadillac Crusader powered, “Hot Rod”. Hot Rod had been partially deflowered with the addition of a Marlin tower, and outriggers. Raulerson was a bigtime sportfishing tournament competitor, and the performance of his former raceboat put him in good stead for chasing down giant Bluefin tuna and such. He even had a girlfriend named “Bluefin Tina”. During a party at his house in Keystone Point, He showed us an eyeball from a giant Marlin that he had caught in Australia. It had been taxidermied by Pfleuger, and was mounted on a gold base. It was 6” in diameter! In addition to the Abbey, John also had a 34’ Hatteras for more mundane pursuits. Strangely enough, tournament fishing and offshore racing were not challenging enough. He was also a world class Martini drinker. “Shaken, stirred, I don’t give a shit!” John was a very successful builder/developer in Miami, and he loved to have fun. He called me one day and asked me to fuel his 27’ Abbey, as he was taking some clients to the Red Lion Restaurant in Bimini for dinner. Not an unusual request from John. He owned the Bowling Alley in Hialeah, which had a great bar, and I had the feeling that he had just left there from lunch. They left the dock at sunset and headed for the Bahamas. It was important not to lose ones buzz, and they were, apparently, able to maintain it all the way to Bimini, 50 miles away. Unfortunately, they were playing, and drinking, gin, when they reached the dark beach in Bimini. They had been running on autopilot in the dark, and no one noticed that they had reached their destination. They hit the beach right on target, and, had they turned left, would have had a perfect trip. Remember ‘hit the beach’? Well, they did. The propellers were just clear of the water at high tide. “No problem, said John, we will have dinner, party and sleep at the “Compleat Angler”, fly back on Chalk’s seaplane in the morning to get my Hatteras and pull that sumbitch off the beach”. A good plan. John had to work that day, and although a little frazzled, he put in a full day, including the Bowling Alley…. They left at dark in the Hatteras with a new crew, and, two hours later, put the Hatteras up on the beach, right next to the Abbey!
As interest in offshore racing grew, John spent more and more time around the racers, and became enamored with the Diesel powered offshore craft. Jack Manson (one of the greats, in every area) had recently won the rough-as-hell inaugural Miami-Key West race in November, 1963. [Side note: At the finish of the Key West race, Manson reported that he had broken 12 ribs on his 43’ wooden Allied race boat, 8 on the boat, 4 on the crew]. I was fixing to go to work for Aronow at a new company, to be called “Donzi”, and we were planning to build a 28’ single engine Detroit Diesel powered race boat. The Detroit boys hung around a lot, and their head engineer, Don Wilcox, made a deal to furnish John a pair of 650 HP aluminum 6-71 Diesel engines for a race boat. John installed them in a 30’ Alim Marine that he named “Ram Rod”.
First race for Ram Rod was to the 1964 Sam Griffith Memorial. It was rougher than the Key West race, and was a good opportunity for the Diesel boats. In fact, after the race, one of my clients mentioned that he was staying on Miami Beach during the race, and that a green boat called Ram Rod came right past his window. I asked what about it? He said that he was staying on the sixth floor! John carried his nephew, Bo, as crew. Bo was a major “Good ol’ boy”. Strong as an ox, and as tough as they come. John broke most of the stuff in the boat, and limped back to the marina. They hauled him out on an emergency basis and cradled the boat. The GM boys came to look, and were aghast to see Bo’s heel prints 8 feet forward on the deck from the handrail where Bo was holding on for dear life. When they dove the boat into a wave, Bo would do a ‘giant swing’ and land on his back on the front deck. Both transmission mounts were torn off. Two 5 gallon cans of spare engine oil were beaten as round as a basketball from ricocheting around the bilge.
Every boat in that race was wounded. We all worked diligently, getting ready for the Miami-Nassau race. We all helped each other, drank a lot of beer, and lied. April, 1964 came around in record time, and we barely had the boats ready for the race. Raulerson had spent a lot of time and money on his boat, and was one of the fastest boats in the race. Other Diesel entries were Jack Manson, in the 43’ Allied GX, Miami Herald boating editor, Jim Martenhoff in Allied X-8, and Jim Breuil, Jr., in Enterprise. Roy Breaux in Ragin’ Cajun, and Sir Max Aitken, noted Spitfire Ace, in a Souters built, Cummins powered 39’ wooden beauty, and the US frickin’ Coast Guard in one of their picket boats. Raulerson had apparently made a very large bet with someone with regard to winning the Diesel class.
It was a good rough race. I ran my trusty Formula 233 with a 400HP, 427c.i. Interceptor engine on a Crusader V-drive. There were about a dozen 31’ Bertrams, nine other Formulas, some Prowlers, etc. The Bertrams finished 1,2,3, and the Formulas 4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 11. I won Class 2 UIM and Jim Wynne won Class 3 UIM. In those days, offshore got lot of press, and we usually had a good foreign entry. The race started at 7:00 AM in those days, and had a time limit of TWO DAYS to get to Nassau, 183 miles away. Don’t laugh. In the 1960 Miami-Nassau, the winners, Sam Griffith and Dick Bertram did it in 8 hours, 1 minute. 2nd place, Jim Wynne and Bill McKeown, 15 Hours, 15 minutes. 3rd place, Bob Cox and Ed Joyce, 25 Hours, 23 minutes! There were about 50 starters at the gun, and we “rode off in all directions”, with some of the rookies finding that their “storebought” compasses failed immediately. After an hour or so, the fleet strung out across the Gulfstream like a pearl necklace, assembled by a drunk.
Among the Diesel boats, Breuil had broken both transmission mounts, Jim Martenhoff had sunk “Oh, Lord, thy sea is great, and my boat ain’t so great!” Navigation woes and crew injuries had sidelined the rest of the Diesels, and John, unbeknownst to himself, was in the catbird seat. He was running near the front, and everything seemed to be going well, until Bo said, “Uncle John, there is about a foot and a half of water in the back end of the boat”. Very bad sign! Most of the inboard powered boats had a remote controlled drain valve in the transom, including Ram Rod. They were abreast Frazer’s Hog Cay, about 40 miles from Nassau. When they couldn’t locate the leak, they decided to beach the boat on a sandbar at the end of Frazer’s Hog Cay. With the shifting load in the bilge, they used a little too much throttle, and rode the stern wave all the way up the beach. They were high and dry. John seemed to have a penchant for that…. “Well, at least we didn’t lose the boat”. Upon examination, they discovered a plastic bag full of spare whatsits stuck in the drain hole. “Oh, gosh darn it, or words to that effect”. Not knowing the disposition of the other Diesels, they chartered a nearby seaplane and flew to Nassau to join the party, drink and lie. On arrival, they discovered that they were the only Diesel that had cleared the checkpoint at Mamma Rhoda rock, near the boat. The seaplane hadn’t yet left, so they flew back to Frazer’ Hog Cay, and commandeered a D8 Caterpillar bulldozer that they had seen on takeoff. They pushed Ram Rod back in the water and finished the race. You can’t make this stuff up!