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They all laughed when Peter turned left
Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 11, 1969
But the left way was right for Rittmaster's 'American Moppie,' which zoomed away from the Verrazano Bridge (above) and then crept the tossing Atlantic to finish first in the Hennessy New York Grand Prix powerboat race
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August 11, 1969

They All Laughed When Peter Turned Left

But the left way was right for Rittmaster's 'American Moppie,' which zoomed away from the Verrazano Bridge (above) and then crept the tossing Atlantic to finish first in the Hennessy New York Grand Prix powerboat race

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"Then I saw a fellow in a big Chris-Craft make a 'No. 1' signal with his hand," said Rittmaster, "and I started to wonder: Could I really be in first?"

The racers who had overshot Point Pleasant, meanwhile, were holding a manic race-within-a-race. Barry Cohen, sensing his mistake about 12 miles south of the checkpoint, started to correct his course. Then he saw a flotilla of southbound boats rushing toward him and, deciding to stick with the others, kept on going the wrong way. "It was crazy," said Cohen. "I was disoriented."

After Wishnick realized how far astray he had wandered, he dropped out of the race. He had wasted so much fuel that there was not enough left to travel all the way to Shinnecock and back to the finish line at the Verrazano Bridge. Aronow and Cohens eventually got their boats back on course only to experience engine breakdowns while trying to make up for lost time. Of all those involved in the Great Point Pleasant Goof, the only driver to get back into contention was Jerry Langer, who pushed Dog Catcher at a breakneck pace the rest of the way to finish third.

Rittmaster returned to the Verrazano in four hours and 38 minutes with Duffy's Janie D. in his wake. His victory, added to points won in previous races, moved him into second place in national championship competition behind Aronow. (Aronow promptly compensated by winning the 200-mile Dauphin d'Or race in France over the weekend, and currently is in the first spot on the world-title level.)

Rittmaster was now ready to concede—or claim—that his American Mop-pie was indeed the fastest oceangoing powerboat around. Yet there is still no way of knowing for sure, for his first victory had been a triumph of navigation and endurance rather than speed. (Immediately after the race Rittmaster credited his navigator, Bob Schiffenhaus, with knowing enough to "follow the compass instead of the pack.")

Noting that Rittmaster's average had been a rather poky 48.9 mph, one of the losing drivers scoffed, "There was only one reason he won. He was going slow enough to see that damned checkpoint."

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