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Fast Company

Lead Line — June 2004
By Richard Thiel

Fast Company
Performance boating has put me in contact with some real characters.
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June, PMY’s performance issue, is always interesting because the theme means such different things to different people. To a trawler guy, it’s 8 knots instead of 7; to a convertible guy, it’s 40 knots instead of 30. For me, performance means not so much speed and boats as people. Performance boating has put me in contact with some real characters.

My introduction to performance boating was covering the world championships in Key West in the early 1980’s. It was all noise, monster engines, women, crashes, intrigue, and money. Imagine my elation when a top competitor, who was from South America and spoke broken English, befriended me. Imagine my glee when he let me drive his raceboat. Imagine my shock when, while I was interviewing him in his palatial condo, a dozen guys from the DEA and FBI bashed down the door and dragged him away in cuffs. Seems his ostentatious lifestyle—racing included—was courtesy of extensive drug smuggling.

Then there was the “grandmother.” I met Betty Cook when she was well into her fifties. Although she’d only recently started racing, she’d won the World Offshore Championship—the first woman to win a motorsports championship—two American Powerboat Association open class national titles, and three world titles. Fiercely competitive on the water, Cook was sedate, soft-spoken, and courtly off it, a breath of fresh air in a sport dominated by machismo, braggadocio, and shady characters. She died in 1991.

Then there’s Reggie Fountain, the well-known boatbuilder who made his mark racing three-point hydroplanes—“pickle forks”—best known for their instability at high speeds. Fountain was (and to some extent still is) known for building way-fast powerboats for guys with more money than judgment. I drove one, a 37-footer powered by two monster, twin-turbocharged V-8s. As I squeezed into the bolster, Fountain stood behind me so he could yell driving hints in my ear. Finding an open piece of ICW between two bridges, I advanced the throttles. Except for copious noise and vibration, not much happened—until the cleaver props bit and we were catapulted from 8 mph to about 60. Even at this relatively modest speed, the boat was dancing—“loosey-goosey,” Fountain called it approvingly.

I nudged the throttles farther until we were doing maybe 80. I was thinking about 90 when Fountain, exasperated at my timidity, reached over my shoulder and firewalled the throttles. Everything instantly blurred except for a point a quarter-mile directly ahead—a very low, very narrow bridge. The engines roared, my facial skin bunched up around my ears, my eyes poured tears, and just like that we were at the bridge. I grimaced for the impact, when Fountain pulled back the throttles smartly, and the boat settled to a stop like a hen sitting down on an egg. “There,” he drawled. “Wudden ‘at more fun than creepin’ along?”

Yeah, those performance people are some of the craziest I’ve ever met—almost as crazy as some of the guys I’ve fished with. But that’s a story for a different issue.

This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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