What started as a spectacular week in the Florida keys was clouded by tragedy: the deaths of Bob Morgan, Jeff Tillman and Joey Gratton because of individual boat blow-overs while racing in SBI’s Key West World Championships. Very sad and they will be missed. Heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these gentlemen from all of us at Mercury Racing.
In contrast, the Florida Powerboat Club poker run from Miami to Key West was both safe and fun! Stu Jones’ event attracted over 175 entrants with more than 160 boats making the trek in four waves; one each day, Tuesday through Friday. I had the opportunity to meet many new friends and catch up with some I haven’t seen for a while.
I hitched a ride on Thursday with John Rosatti and guests aboard his 50 Cigarette Marauder. This boat was “Fred’s Office” at the 2011 Miami Boat Show: showplace for Mercury Racing’s 1350 and M8 drives. At Phil Lipschultz’ request, I discussed the benefits of the 1350 and M8 to John. Then Philly sold my office right out from under me! With this reunion, I admit I like what John has done with the place: his beaming smile lights up the boat and reflects his understandable pride and joy in its performance.
We headed South from the Marriott on a beautiful morning. The plan was to hang back among the mid-speed boats with Stu Jones setting the pace at about 85 mph. This was John’s first poker run, so it seemed to be a good idea. That plan fell apart as the faster craft throttled up. “Go ahead. They’ll catch up.” suggested Geno Gargiulo (Mercedes MTI 44), another of John’s guests. Off we went – six of us, our luggage and a full fuel load – right on up to 118 mph. (Video of this trip is linked below. It took a while editing three hours from two cameras into a 5 minute show after Key West!)
We chose the inside route for the first leg, with Cap’n Henry navigating. The fastest MTIs and Skaters stopped at Gilbert’s. We motored on to our designated lunch/card stop at Holiday Isles. Even with a chopper overhead (the only one we saw after the start), we suspected we stopped in the wrong place. We arrived alone. Not surprising, since most the time we were running over 110 mph, slowing only for safe passage through the mangroves or speed zones. Half way through my blackened Mahi Mahi, others began arriving.
Breezes were light and skies were clear, with occasional high clouds. This day was perfect! So, we headed outside for the lower keys and Key West. Most times, we were cruising 85 to 90 mph – at about 4,700 rpm. With a grin and a thumbs-up, John would hammer the Mercury Racing digital throttles and pop me into the Cigarette’s back seat. I know our 1350 torque curves from the lab, but it’s different at sea, in a boat this size, surrounded by my new best friends – getting torque-smacked into the back seat. What a spectacular ride!
We rounded the southern-most point of the USA, passed a cruise ship and pulled into our place along side “Remember When” which happens to be Mr. Rosatti’s Christensen yacht. (Interesting – he was John on the Cigarette, but became Mr. Rosatti when I saw “our” tiny 50 foot, 2,700 hp Merc powered, tender beside “his” 162 foot, 3,600 hp MTU powered mothership!) Power to weight, speed and fuel economy? Advantage Cigarette. Everything else? Advantage Christensen.
John Rosatti made this a very special trip for me. He is a most gracious host. Thank you for the sore facial muscles. I haven’t smiled so much in a long time.
Oh, there was a Poker Run Village with exhibits by Mercury, Cigarette, Shogren and Skater Nation among others. And boat racing, too. Even Bob Bull’s spectacular racing performance with 1350s (winning the 2011 SBI World Championship) was muted by the tragic human losses. I haven’t frowned so much in a long time. What a roller coaster of emotions – my week in the Keys.