In the spring of 1965, we took our highly advanced fleet of offshore racing boats to Freeport, Long Island, New York, to teach those smartass New Yorkers a thing or two about manly men racing in the ocean. New names appeared in the fleet. Notable among them, Bill Wishnick and Merrick Lewis. Both were Titans of Industry, and both were at least as crazy as a bedbug. Wishnick brought up the 28’ Donzi, “Broad Jumper” which had just won the “Sam Griffith Memorial Race’ in Miami. I was driving most of the time, giving Bill the opportunity of watching me learn to drive. Merrick brought a stretched 23’ Formula, now 28’ long, crewed by the “Golden Guinea”, Tom Mottola. Don Aronow, who was yet to win a race, brought a cut down 28’ Donzi, “008”, which I think was code for DNF, DNF, 8th.
Broad Jumper got most of the press interest, so we decided to wash off the road grime for the pictures. A pretty teenage girl volunteered to wash the boat while it was still on the trailer. We showed her where the supplies were, and how to open the transom drain after washing, to let the water out, and went to drivers meeting. The race management was straight out of “Archie Bunker”: “Shut up, youse guys, I’m trying to make a pernt!” “Duck soup”, we thought.
The biggest draw among the participants in offshore racing, aside from winning, was the camaraderie. My best surviving friends are from racing 50+ years ago. One of the most colorful was Jim Breuil, Jr., was on a free-loading racing tour. He was stopping by on his return from winning the recent “Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio’ race in Italy, where he hitched a ride with Jim Wynne in Merrick Lewis’s 32’ Aluminum “Maritime” race boat. Jim Breuil bore an amazing resemblance to the Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, both in stature and facial features. In addition, they shared another similarity: Neither had ever spent a dime of his own money on offshore racing. He was here to thumb a ride with Bruce “The Moose” Wilson, who bore an eerie resemblance to “Alley Oop”, from the comic strip. Bruce had a 36’ Pearson, Diesel powered monster that was to be a contender in the 255 mile race.
Previous to those adventures, he rode with me in my speedy Formula 233 race boat ”Challenger”, in a UIM sanctioned 3 hour ‘roundy round’ marathon race at Pelican Harbor Yacht Club, in Miami, Fl. The race was to set endurance records for offshore, and to give us something to do. We set two world records in that race. One was for averaging 50MPH for three hours, and the other for dumping about two dozen quarts of oil into a very tired 400HP 427 Interceptor. I drove, and Jim sat on the engine box, in his natty white racing coveralls, with a hose leading to the valve cover to add oil. Since we ran WFO the whole race, the hose was always pressurized with blowby. Jim was a trouper. He faithfully sat there and dumped can after can of oil into the hose. He was a mess!
Rather than discard the jumpsuit, which had a couple of ‘hero’ patches on it, Jim’s wife, Nanette, cleaned it about fifty times. This apparently caused some structural problems with the stitching which held it together. Remember the boat washing girl? She noticed that after our test runs and fueling, there were some footprints on the deck. As a favor, and at no charge, she cleaned them off, and opened the transom drain, sinking the boat past the numbers in the Travellift slings! Enter: All nighter.
Finally, on July 17th, 1965, at 7AM, we left Jones Inlet, on the Ocean side of Long Island. It was quite foggy, but the highlight of the morning, for me, was the 40’ Hacker Craft pace boat with band leader and hydroplane racer Guy Lombardo at the wheel. Most of us roared off into anonymity, which is further up the coast. Aronow couldn’t get on plane. This apparently made him angry. It was said that one could see the veins in his neck and forehead from the Statue of Liberty. We led the race (We think. You couldn’t see a goddam thing) to Shinnecock Inlet, threw the waterpump belts, and fried the engines. Merrick was sinking nearby. All in all, the Florida boys were not putting on much of a show. Our last shred of credibility rode with the big Pearson Diesel, with Big Bruce and Jim. At least, they were in the lead, and if they won, we would not need to retract all the rotten things we had said to the locals.
Miles in the lead, they somehow came up with a case of cold beer, and were toasting their upcoming success on a regular basis. Gremlins were punishing them. All the metal in the cockpit had become electrified with 32 volts DC. The windshield frame, steering wheel and throttles would give you a considerable jolt when touched with a bare hand. In addition, they were jettisoning large quantities of Diesel fuel due to incorrect valve settings. The cockpit was awash in fuel after hurried plumbing modifications at wide open throttle. In any case, there was no place to sit, and if you stood, there no non-electric place to hang on. Breuil solved this in no time. He grabbed a couple of cold brewskies and hoisted himself up onto the engine box, behind the cockpit, with his toes hooked under the fuel lines on the top of the tanks. This worked perfectly except for one teensie weensie thing: the boat was going 60 MPH, into a 20 MPH headwind. Apparently, 80 MPH was somewhat above the tensile strength of the threads holding his costume together. Sleeve by sleeve, zipper by zipper, hero patch by hero patch, the natty, white, fitted jumpsuit disappeared over the stern. Breuil was a shocking sight to the spectator boats, Staten and Governors Island ferries, and gridlocked cars along the race route. He was totally naked except for his jockstrap! His finely chiseled chin jutting into the oncoming stench of the east river.
While the crew pointed and taunted their nude partner, the big Diesel boat was literally eating up the race course. They were now one hour and forty minutes ahead of the next boat! “I’ll drink to that!” As they hoisted another beer, Breuil’s eyes narrowed. Dead ahead was the 45’ tall Hell’s Gate Buoy. The boat was an ill-handling beast at best, and required both the steering and throttle manipulations to make much of a turn. Like a naked cheetah, Breuil sprang off the engine box and pulled back the port throttle, while The Moose spun the steering wheel to starboard. Net result? They center punched the buoy, and sank it! Value? $125,000! The boat came to a grinding halt as they rode up and over the remains of the buoy. Shards of fiberglass thirty feet long trailed aft. The boat could only make right turns, and could not maintain a straight course. A quick vote by the crew resulted in the driver being thrown overboard, to tie up the loose fiberglass parts away from the propellers. The boat could now proceed at five knots. Five miles from the finish, their big lead had ticked down to zero, and a tiny 20’ Brunswick boat (that Bulldog Drummond Musset and I had driven in the 1962 Miami-Nassau race) passed them to take the lead. Along the beach, from Coney Island to Jones Beach, Breuil busied himself by mooning the parade of spectator boats and swimmers. Newbies Tom Fileman and Stan Humes took the flag, and we took the first stage out of town…..