|Chase, Catch, and Cuff|
high-performing 39 Midnight Express and U.S. Customs are a dynamic duo
fighting crime on the high seas.
I watched with mouth agape from the co-pilot's seat of a Bell Jet Ranger speeding sideways as U.S. Customs' officers Tim Stellhorn and Noel Manheimer each ran his new 39 Midnight Express up Miami's Government Cut at wide-open throttle. Behind me my photographer Jim Raycroft was taking photos, and these boats were running hard and close--first side by side, then turning on a dime, but never more than a few feet apart, thanks to the directions coming from Raycroft.
The two 10-year veterans were doing better than 60 mph, thanks to a complement of four screaming 225-hp Mercury OptiMax outboards. Even the Furuno open-array radars were turning in synch. Coincidence? Perhaps, but cool nonetheless.
To Stellhorn and Manheimer, running these high-performance boats with the precision of the Navy's Blue Angels was just another day in the office. Little wonder. Before a U.S. Customs Marine Enforcement Officer climbs behind the wheel, he or she must go through 16 weeks of boot camp, five weeks of boat handling, and three weeks of advanced boat handling. Of course, to be as good as Stellhorn and Manheimer, you have to work the waters off south Florida for a decade, chasing "bad guys," performing high-speed boarding, making undercover rendezvous with drug dealers, and occasionally ramming or running boats. Last June the pair was involved in a high-speed pursuit of drug smugglers, which eventually ended after 45 minutes when the perpetrators lost control of their speedboat and ran it into mangroves near Biscayne Bay.
Customs spokesman Zach Mann told me it is the kind of boat-handling skill
I saw firsthand that enables these officers to successfully chase, hunt,
and stop suspects. He points out that many of the boats used for smuggling
drugs, refugees, and exotic animals are faster than the Customs boats,
but their drivers are not nearly as adept at high-speed operation as the
officers. Accordingly, the agency's unofficial motto is, "Interdiction
through superior seamanship."
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.