Sam Griffith, who drove fast motor-boats for a living, would have preferred to die at the wheel slamming through a wind-riven sea at 50 mph. Instead it was the sad fate of the man who practically invented offshore motorboat racing as chief "test pilot" for Boatbuilder Dick Bertram to die last year in bed. To honor his memory, the sponsors of the Sam Griffith Memorial scheduled a race for a time when, with any luck at all, wind and wave would combine to torture every boat and every driver to the limit of their endurance. How well they succeeded can be seen below and at right. As the 15 hardy entries warmed up their engines in Miami harbor for the grueling 143-mile run out to sea and back, the winter weather proved so cooperative that two of the husky cruising boats assigned to mark the course refused to stay out in it.
Rain and wind tore at the coastline, and the sea beyond Miami's Government Cut was an ugly, churning caldron. It battered and tossed the boats heading into it so brutally that only four of them survived to the second mark, Bimini. Fuzzy Furlong at the wheel of his 31-foot Prowler piled into three short, steep seas that tore his engines right off their mounts. A piece of floating debris pierced the bottom of Jim Breuil's Enterprise like a harpoon and sent him rushing for the nearest beach. Jack Manson's 36-foot Allied Marine X 12 seemed at first less bothered by the seas than the other boats, but before reaching Bimini her compass tore loose, her clutch gave out and she limped dismally into port. Two women, the mother-daughter team of Gail and Rene Jacoby, gave promise for a while of outlasting the men until their fuel tanks began to go adrift and a sudden chill breeze where the seat of Rene's pants used to be gave evidence of even more desperate trouble.
The winner at last and one of the only three to finish was Griffith's old boss, Bertram, in his newest Moppie. Mop-pie's bad luck was all accounted for two weeks before the race began when a truck carrying her two huge, newly tuned 400-hp diesel engines was stolen from a motel parking lot. They were recovered and reassembled just in time to carry Lucky Moppie to victory in an offshore race as rough as any suicidal old Sam Griffith could have hoped for.
In the first part of a characteristically tortured sequence, John Raulerson's 30-footer, Ram Rod. takes off at 30 mph from the steep slope of an oncoming wave to become as airborne as any ski jumper.
Ram Rod stands motionless on her tail for a moment like a hooked marlin, then, with a thud that can dislodge one's kidneys or tear an engine off its moorings, she slams down in an explosion of white water.