Everything went wrong at once as the old 31-foot sport-fisherman slammed through the churning seas off Florida. The engine box lids were not fastened down, and they were rattling. Then the wooden framework around the battery shattered, and the battery began to skitter around. Mama Rene got down on her knees with a hammer and nails to pound it back into place. While she was doing this, one of the box lids blew up and crumpled back into the port engine. As Mama started to wrestle with it against the wind, Gale kept steering into the open ocean at top speed. The buggy-whip radio aerial on the starboard side was all rigged to call the Coast Guard for help if needed, and Mama was about ready to use it when the wind snapped off the aerial and blew it into the other engine. She looked at it, then swung back with hammer in hand just in time to see the lid blow off the stuffing box, exposing the drive shaft. She reached to replace the lid, and a length of rope fell off a hook and plopped down into the hole. Before Mama could grab it, the loose line spun itself around the shaft and ripped a three-foot hole in the bottom of the boat. The water started surging in, and when Gale glanced back over her shoulder Mama was already up to her shins in light-green seawater, trying to hammer, hold, fix, patch, mend and bail. The two Jacoby girls looked at each other for a long moment, then—"Unh, better head for shore," said Mama Rene. "We're sinking."
They sank. Miss Amazon went to the bottom right off the combed and manicured beach in front of Hollywood's luxurious Diplomat Hotel, as wealthy vacationers watched from the comfort of their chaise longues.
What the big spenders on the beach saw was one quick chapter in the day-to-day racing life of Rene Jacoby and her daughter Gale, an irrepressible duo who are bringing a sort of glamorous mayhem to offshore powerboat racing. Ocean racing is a frenzied enterprise in any case. These girls make it wilder. They don't win races; they run through them—leaving a trail of high-octane perfume behind and scaring the bilge out of any man, red-bearded or otherwise, who ever thought that blue water was the last outpost of rugged manhood.
But to get back to the day their boat sank off Miami. As a final touch, Rene and Gale went over the side with the anchor line. They tried to tug the bow around into the surf so it wouldn't pound them to pieces. Then they got the line tangled around the propeller shafts. By the time Forest Johnson, who built the boat, arrived, Mama Rene and Gale were debating, hands on hips, whether to give it all up and go into the Diplomat for cocktails.
"Well, everyone was upset, of course," says Mama Rene. "But you know what they had the nerve to tell us? They said, 'You're just two women. That's all you are, really. Just two women.' "
Rene and Gale Jacoby are not the only women in offshore racing, but they are easily the best and probably the prettiest. Mama Rene is a brown-eyed, expensively dressed, reddish blonde who presides over a serene home and can barely reach the brake and gas pedals on her pale-green Cadillac convertible. Daughter Gale, 24, is somewhat taller, teaches school and used to be a blonde herself until one day her parents looked the other way and she turned up with blue-black hair, dyed to match a little poodle she had received as a gift. Both women are tanned to the color of a coffee malted and both can paralyze a man across a crowded room with their smiles.
Harry Jacoby, husband, father and financier of this odd racing team, does not—will not—race boats. While Rene and Gale are out on the water he paces up and down the dock, chain-smokes, frets, pretends to read the paper and looks frequently at his watch. He also reflects on a situation—this one—that he created nine years ago.
Harry bought their first boat just for fishing. He named it Miss Amazon for his own Amazon Hose and Rubber Co., which earns him a great deal of money. "I don't know," he says. "Buying a fishing boat is the sort of thing one does in Miami. It fills in those terrible, lonely gaps when Hialeah and Gulfstream are not operating." In those days Rene Jacoby used to get deathly seasick and Harry had to coax her aboard a boat. By the time she got over that, Harry himself was bored with Miss Amazon. His theory is: once you've caught some fish, you've caught some; why keep going back and doing the same thing all over again?
In the years that followed, Harry occasionally would move the boat from one dock to another, but most of the time he would just look at it and yawn. "For a while there I considered buying a big boat," he says. "I mean a big one with a captain on it. But I kept getting the idea that once we had the thing we would be aboard it a couple of days and then everybody would look at each other and say, 'Well, what do we do now?'
"Besides," he says, "by that time Rene and Gale had a lot of little boats, speedboats, that they were racing around in, and that kept them busy and happy."