It's too bad there were no motorcycle cops tooling along Miami's MacArthur Causeway at about 10 in the morning one day last week. If they had been there, the cops would have done a considerable business in speeding tickets, for motorists following the second annual Sam Griffith Memorial powerboat race from the shore had to roll along at speeds of 60 to 70 mph to keep up with the boats heading along the ship channel to Government Cut and the open sea.
A fleet of 22 of the world's fastest ocean racers, paced by the favorite—Dick Bertram's brand-new Brave Moppie, a sleek 36-footer powered by two 550-hp Detroit (formerly GM) diesels—set out on the 145-mile round trip to Cat Cay in the Bahamas and back. But only half of them returned to cross the finish line. Bertram's boat blew a gasket before he even reached the first checkpoint off Fort Lauderdale. Two other boats sank, a third lost her engine, a fourth had to be beached and a fifth simply got lost.
After finding it necessary to toss his wounded brother overboard, a rank amateur named Bill Wishnick, who had never skippered an ocean race before, roared home to a new record in less than half the time it took defending champion Dick Bertram to win the same race last year. In doing so Wishnick, the 40-year-old board chairman of a chemical-manufacturing firm, not only knocked Bertram's Moppie out of the race but out of the leadership in offshore racing, which Bertram's boats have enjoyed for a decade. The new name in offshore powerboat racing is Donzi.
Donzi Marine is not, as many might suppose, the name of a firm of Italian speed merchants like Ferrari. It represents the combined talents of two American marine enthusiasts from Miami: Designer Jim Wynne, one of the boat world's newest geniuses of the slide rule, and Boatbuilder Don Aronow. Their joint venture got its name when the two launched their first delicately sculptured, deep-V-bottomed boat, and Aronow mourned in mock despair: "Well, I suppose everybody will recognize it as a Wynne design." "But that's not fair, Donsy, baby," cooed a sympathetic secretary who had suffered through the construction with both of them. "Your name should be on it, too." So Donsy Baby became Donzi Marine, and Donzi Marine, from its first near win in the Miami-Key West race last November with bearded Jim Wynne at the helm, became the talk of the powerboat world.
There were five Donzi boats entered in the Sam Griffith, a race named—ironically enough—for the tough old mariner who drove Bertram's Moppies to everlasting fame. Of the five, one finished first, one third, one fourth, one sixth and one 10th. Early in the race, when the Donzis were forging ahead and a black cloud of smoke rose from Bertram's blown gasket, another driver was heard to observe: "That's not motor trouble. That's just Bertram fuming."
The 28-foot Donzi Broad Jumper, driven by Bill Wishnick with his brother Jack, Dave Wilson and Donzi Sales Manager Allan Brown as crew, was such a recent acquisition that Wishnick scarcely had time to paint its new name on the stern before heading out. The craft, powered by twin 550-hp diesels, was in 13th place as the boats left Government Cut, well behind a low-flying 23-foot Formula named Holocaust, powered by twin 400-hp Daytonas. As the fleet headed out of the cut and northward into the slop of the broad Atlantic, most of the smaller boats began to slow down, while the bigger ones began moving up. At the first checkpoint, just south of Fort Lauderdale, Broad Jumper had moved up to second place, behind Holocaust and ahead of a big 36-footer named Kamikaze. "Then we pulled away from Holocaust," said Brown, who did most of the driving. By that time Kamikaze, driven by tough Jack Manson—who has heart trouble and ulcers and recently injured his shoulder playing jai alai at the age of 51—was the only threat. "Every time it would get rough," said Brown, "we could see the smoke and spray of Manson's boat behind us. Other times we were completely out of sight of everybody."
Most of the veterans agreed that the sea was pretty calm by Sam Griffith standards, but tyro Wishnick felt otherwise. "Far as I was concerned," he said later, "it was rough as hell. But we had no problems. The engines never coughed once."
By the second checkpoint, which was the yacht Mar Lyn anchored off Bimini, Broad Jumper had comfortably increased her lead. But just then a huge wave caught her bow and slammed Jack Wish-nick against an engine mount. Jack was plainly in need of medical attention but, rather than louse up his brother's chances in the race, he went overboard to swim to a committee boat. "We peeled off and boomed Jack out of the boat while still going about 25," said Helmsman Brown later. "The last we saw of him he was swimming on his back."
Jack made it to the committee boat, which sent for the Coast Guard, which ordered a helicopter, which flew him to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where they took an X ray and pronounced him not seriously injured. Others, meanwhile, had fared worse. For the second year in a row, the famed daughter-and-mother team of Gail and Rene Jacoby had hard luck. They had to run their 31-foot Prowler, Miss Amazon, onto the beach, after a dragging line yanked an entire propeller shaft out of the boat. Some 12 miles out from Bimini, the 31-foot Bertram Rum Runner, owned by Ogden M. (Dinny) Phipps, opened up and began to sink so fast that her three crewmen never even had a chance to call for help. Safe on two life rafts, they were spotted and picked up by a big yacht that had lost its way. Two Coast Guard planes—both in search of that yacht—had flown over them without even noticing.
Another lost soul, Harold Ungerleider, a Miami Beach lawyer with a weakness for the sea, was spotted by the Coast Guard off Great Isaac Light in the Bahamas, miles away from the race course, after his compass went on the bum. Despite his mishap, Ungerleider insisted when he got ashore that ocean powerboat racing is the best of all sports. So, in one phrase or another, did all the others in the Griffith, particularly if they were riding in Donzis.