Thunderboat Row Page 2

The Tale of Two Cities

Part 2: “Kramer wanted to be the king of Thunderboat Row and the world champ of offshore racing.”

By Elizabeth A. Ginns — June 2003


Photo: Courtesy of
John Crouse
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• Part 1: Thunderboat Row
• Part 2: Thunderboat Row
• Part 3: Thunderboat Row

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But by the 1980's, the offshore powerboat industry Aronow had created was getting a lot of negative publicity, as speedboats had become synonymous with drug smuggling. According to an A&E documentary on Aronow's life, in the 1960's the industry had been about "men having middle-age crises buying the boats, [but] in the 1970's and 1980's, criminals seemed to be the ones buying them."

In January 1984 then-Vice President Bush, U.S. Customs Major Malcomb Ferguson, and Aronow tested a 39-foot catamaran that Aronow had recently constructed at his latest company, USA Racing Team. Aronow had just sold another company called Squadron and, under the terms of the sales agreement, was barred from producing deep-V monohulls. The crafty Aronow simply took the mold for one of his deep-V designs, split it in two, and created the 39-footer, which he dubbed Blue Thunder. Despite reports that the boat's performance was mediocre at best, Bush and U.S. Customs were impressed and ordered two in an attempt to curtail the drug running that this type of boat had made so easy and accessible. U.S. Customs ordered 12 more of these boats from Aronow and USA Racing Team.

That same year, in keeping with his modus operandi of starting and selling companies, Aronow sold USA Racing to Ben Kramer, another high-profile denizen of Thunderboat Row and owner of Fort Apache Marine on 188th Street, a man authorities at the time considered to have a questionable background. "Kramer wanted to be the king of Thunderboat Row and the world champ of offshore racing but didn't have the same charisma Aronow had," recalls Lipschutz. "He [Kramer] just wasn't a nice guy." Truth be told, Kramer was a recognized money launderer and known by the DEA to have ties to Columbian drug lords. Not surprisingly, U.S. Customs refused to do business with Kramer and cancelled its order for the 12 boats. That left USA Racing Team and Kramer with practically no business, so Aronow was forced to buy the company back from Kramer--at a profit, of course. That left Kramer with a bad taste in his mouth, a feeling that only worsened when, following the resale, Customs officials reinstated the agency's order, plus 20 additional boats.

At about 3 p.m. on February 3, 1987, on one of those perfect, 80-degree, blue-sky days South Florida is famous for, Aronow left the USA Racing Team office on Thunderboat Row in his white Mercedes sports car. As he approached Fort Apache Marina, a man driving a dark-colored Town Car pulled up beside Aronow and fired five bullets into his car, killing him. The triggerman was, according to subsequent testimony, Bobby Young, who had been hired by Kramer. According to the A&E documentary, Aronow was killed the day before he was supposed to appear in court to testify against Kramer on federal racketeering and other charges. (A persistent but never corroborated rumor has it that Kramer killed Aronow because the latter wouldn't refund money that changed hands under the table as part of the sale of USA Racing Team.) After a lengthy investigation, Kramer was charged and pleaded no contest to Aronow's murder. Much to the chagrin of those involved in the case, both Young and Kramer were convicted of manslaughter. At the time of his sentencing nearly ten years later in 1996, Kramer was already imprisoned, and he is now serving a life sentence without parole. Young was released from prison but is now back behind bars for serious drug related charges and faces a possible life sentence.

Next page > Part 3: The whole sport has been in decline ever since. > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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