By the time I leave Key West, Fla., every early November after covering the Super Boat International Offshore World Championships, I am ready to be gone. More often than not, I’m on the first flight out. Don’t me wrong, it’s a pretty part of the world, one steeped in history and all manner of oddly compelling weirdness and inappropriate behavior. But it’s also the last and most heavily celebrated event of the go-fast powerboating season, so by the time it’s done, so am I.
And yet, even with the specter of SBI Worlds fleeing Key West and heading up the state to Clearwater, even with a less-than-50-boat fleet competing in far too many classes, I’m actually optimistic—yes, you read that right—about the future of powerboat racing in the United States.
But that’s another column for another day, preferably once I’ve had time to digest and process all that went down during the 2013 event. For now, I’ll just bring you three highs and three lows from this year’s Key West Worlds.
High: Unlimited Class Battle Royale—With races on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the SBI Key West Worlds featured a grueling three-race format—with double points awarded for Sunday’s race. Miss GEICO, a 44-foot Victory-built catamaran, took first place on Wednesday, but was bested by CMS, a 48-foot Marine Technology, Inc. cat on Friday. So each team headed into Sunday with a first- and second-place finish to its credit, and that made Sunday’s race a winner-take-all finale. To make things even more interesting, both cats were powered by twin 1,650-hp engines from Mercury Racing. And with CMS falling prey to mechanical gremlins, the much-deserved win went to Scott Begovich and Marc Granet in Miss GEICO.
Low: Turbine Class Tank—Head-to-head Turbine class battles have been about as easy (and likely) to spot as Bigfoot in recent years. The class has never produced much in the way of real competition. But with Semper Fi, a 48-foot MTI cat, and the Qatar team’s Al Ada'aam 96, a 50-foot Mystic cat, both committed to the 2013 SBI Worlds, there was at least some hope for Turbine-class fans. Unfortunately, Semper Fi didn’t run in Wednesday’s race and Al Ada'aam 96 did, meaning all it had to was run a couple of laps in all three races to take home the Turbine class “world title.” And the Qatar cat did just that—ran a couple of laps—before mechanical issues knocked it out of every race. Turbine-powered race boats certainly can find a home in special top-speed events such as shootouts and kilo runs, but the bottom line is this: As an offshore racing class of their own, there is no place for them.
High: Superboat Fleet Goes Huge—When the Superboat catamaran class arrived in Key West before the racing began, there were eight boats in its ranks. That’s the biggest fleet the class has seen since the early 2000s when it was called Super Cat and ran under the sanction of the now-defunct APBA Offshore Racing organization. A practice-day mishap knocked the CRC team out of the event (fortunately, no one was injured), but when Wednesday’s green flag dropped there were seven Superboats, each with twin spec-restricted 750-hp engines, in the field. Stihl, the fastest cat during the regular season, took first place on Wednesday and Friday, and looked unbeatable headed into Sunday’s race. WHM Motorsports took second place on both race days. But when Stihl broke on Sunday, the door opened for offshore racing veterans Billy Mauff and Jay Muller to pilot WHM to a Superboat world title.
Low: 5 Brothers Grocery Goes Sunnyside Down—OK, this is kind of a personal low for me for two reasons. First, Ryan Beckley, the owner of the boat, is a longtime friend. Second—and more important—the 32-foot Doug Wright cat was my pick to take the world title in the class, and not because Beckley is a pal. With his racing partner Chris Schoenboen, Beckley finished in second place in every race he ran during the SBI regular season. Heading into Key West’s three-race format, that kind of consistency boded well for his team. But truth be told, even without the 5 Brothers roll-over, the team didn’t have a chance against the dominant Talbot Excavating team of Kyler Talbot and Jay Muller, who won the first two races and finished second in the third to take the world championship.
High: Back To Back For Snowy Mountain Brewery—With Absolutely Not, the first Fountain race boat built since Reggie Fountain and the performance-boat company he founded parted ways several years ago, in the Superboat Vee class field there was at least some cause for optimism that the new 30-footer could compete with Michael “Doc” Janssen and Brian Forehand in the 29-foot Outerlimits called Snowy Mountain Brewery. Such optimism proved unfounded as the 29-footer ran away with all three races, just as it did in 2012. In fact, the Outerlimits boat hasn’t lost a race since it touched the water. To their credit—or at the very least to entertain the fans—Janssen and Forehand ran just about every lap on the ragged edge and often appeared to be on the brink of disaster rather than the brink of back-to-back world titles in the Superboat Vee class.
Low: Key West or Clearwater—By the end of this month, SBI president and owner John Carbonell reportedly will announce whether the SBI Worlds wills stay in Key West or head leave for Clearwater. That decision has been hanging in the air since October, and it clearly was on the mind of just about everyone I spoke with in Key West during the week. In general, the fans I chatted with in Key West hate the idea, as do most of the local business people. Key West is an “event town,” and the SBI Worlds is one of the city’s most profitable events of any given year. Racer reaction to the possible move was mostly and somewhat surprisingly indifferent, with an edge—a thin one anyway—going to Clearwater. While Key West does have plenty of offshore racing history and allure, it’s also expensive and in terms of getting “to and from” a logistical nightmare for teams with lots of big equipment to haul. To say the uncertainty “cast a pall” over the event would be an overstatement. There are too many watering holes on Duval Street to allow any sort of a pall to be cast over anything. But more often than not, where the SBI Worlds could end up was a common topic of discussion.