Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island. We had about 60 boats in port for the 1969 Bahamas 500 Offshore race. While not the nastiest race in the world (London-Monte Carlo is) it is a serious test of man (and woman) and machine. The first couple of years, one could expect the winner in 10 to 14 hours. While we all professed that it was a piece of cake, “500 miles in rough seas? Piffle!” It was a load. I don’t think I couldn’t shop at Publix for 14 hours. More like shopping in Harlem with a KKK outfit on, and a couple of brothers beating the crap out of you for a day. Being cooped up on an island with three or four hundred of your closest wild Indian friends almost always results in some sort of major mischief. For instance, in a previous year, the Wishnick brothers had to pay for two rental motor scooters in Nassau when the scooters apparently drove themselves off the almost finished Paradise Island bridge. Of the 150 or so race crew on the island, 114 confessed (including me and all my crew). The Sheriff, John Stone, finally said “Darn it”, or words to that effect.
Few competitive arenas could match to respect and affection of the offshore racing teams of the 60’s. I still drive a couple thousand miles every year to hang out with the remaining guys from those days. I don’t have stronger bonds anywhere. That does not mean that we gave quarter on the field of battle. Hell we didn’t even give nickel! I raced for Donzi and Holman Moody in those days. There were Johnsons, Chrysler Hemis, Detroit Diesels, and the omnipresent Mercury Racing Team. The rest of us had real jobs, building boats, building houses, stuff like that. All the Mercury guys did was f**k around with boats. Where did I go wrong? There was serious competition among the teams. What I was leading up to, was this…
We were mostly staying at the Lucayan Villas Hotel on the island. Nice place, except for the employees rioting for more wages and Canadian girlfriends. They would run through the office and tip over file cabinets and such. Never knew (or cared) how it came out. In any case, one of the Mercury team drivers was walking near the pool one morning, about 9 AM. One of the Johnson (I always loved that name) Outboard drivers body-checked him into the pool. As one might imagine, this could not end there. Next thing you know, we were throwing EVERYONE into the pool. Jake Trotter rode Tony Azzara off the 3 meter diving board in the basket of a stolen bike. The hotel manager came out and ordered us to stop immediately. We could not hear the final threats, as they were drowned out, literally. You could feel the riot mentality growing. Someone came up with a key for Jody Daoud’s room. He was, er, “in congress” with his date. We yanked him off (that just doesn’t sound right) and started out the door, when someone pointed out that he should be on the “Big Johnson” racing team. We took him back inside and plugged him back in. Bill Wishnick came out of his room on the way to breakfast. He had Ostrich skin cowboy boots, a Patek Phillipe watch, and lots of money in his pocket. Sammy James and a couple of the boys grabbed him for the dunk. He said “I will let you dunk me, if you let Brownie hold my stuff.” He carefully put the goodies in the boot, and passed them to me to hold. When he surfaced, his treasures were floating right beside him.
If you do crazy things long enough, someone always gets hurt. A well dressed gentleman of about sixty made the mistake of walking past the melee. Before anyone could offer him safe passage, someone bumped him into the corner of the pool. He went to the bottom, and slowly floated to the surface, face down. Oh s**t! A couple of the throwers and throwees were medics for the race. We put them to work rescuing the tourist. Someone towed him to the edge of the pool, where he was pulled out, and laid on his back for repairs. One medics was pumping his chest, and the other one was preparing to start mouth to mouth resuscitation, when the drownee opened one eye, and said “Don’t kiss me you sonofabitch!”. He jumped up and joined the fray. Needless to say, there was drinking involved. By noon, we were all fried. When you play, sooner or later you gotta pay. The next morning, we raced. I was driving Bill Wishnick’s excellent 32’ Bertram, “Boss o’ Nova”. The name was play on words, as I was President of Nova Marine, and Bill was my financial partner. Bill had a bad leg. I had a bad neck (still do) from the previous year’s Miami-Nassau race, where I had run my tandem, single propeller, 900 hp 24’ Super Nova a little too hard. Crew for the race was Bobby Moore and navigator, Bahamian Captain Moxie. Moxie was a great local-knowledge navigator. “Is there plenty of water over near that rock?” “Plenty water, Mon, but it is spread awful t’in!” Moxie never removed his racing helmet and jacket the entire time that were in Lucaya. I think he slept in them.
The Boss o’ Nova Bertram was the first boat ever to have #3 Mercury Speedmaster drives. I had never driven a sterndrive boat in a race. I considered the aluminum sterndrive to be an instrument of the Devil (still do), and I never felt like I was doing it right. We had slightly loose engine harness plug on the port engine, causing it to pop and sputter once in a while. At Nassau, the halfway point, I just couldn’t hold my head up any longer, and I communicated to Bobby Moore that I would by jumping overboard at the fuel dock on the first pass through. I couldn’t understand Bobby’s reply, but I think it ended with word ‘riddance’. I slowed the boat and got up on the bolster. When we were abreast of the fuel dock, I stepped overboard. Unfortunately, I had only slowed to about 60 MPH, and the pummeling that I got from the water ended my racing career forever. I was feeling a little sissified, when I got pulled up onto the fuel dock by Rocky Graziano, undefeated heavyweight champ. I asked him what he was doing there. He said that he had ridden with Dick Genth in the Thunderbird Formula race boat, and that he thought that the race was over at Nassau. Dick asked him to jump in for the balance to the trip. “Ain’t enough guys on this island to put me back in that frickin’ boat!”