Like the citizens of, say, Venezuela, those of the Bahamas are prideful people. In sport they rarely have a big winner to parade before the world. When they do, the steel drums thrum into the scented night and tropical goombay melodies carom off the palm trees. Last week there was quite an inpouring of rum and outpouring of rhythmic celebration because a Bahamian named Doug Silvera, an engineer by trade, beat the world's best drivers in the world's longest and best ocean powerboat race, the Bahamas 500. Did it for the second year in a row, too, and at a record speed of 71.22 mph.
See Douggie Silvera as he struggles happily up from the water at dockside in Lucaya, Grand Bahama, where a rival driver has dipped him, and struts along the quay. He has the sipping tube of a Gatorade jar between his lips and a huge grin on his sun-scorched face, and all around him are a riot of equally happy Bahamians. "I knew you could do it, Douggie." "We prayed for you, Douggie."
"Oh, my," said Silvera, "there are so many other drivers in the world better than I am." "Oh, that's not true," said a massive, ebony-hued friend. "You run for the Bahamas, and that's what I told the mon."
Now Mr. Silvera, he pretty smart mon, you see, because, as the race began, he had a little secret. He was not going to make his refueling stop with the rest of the 20-boat fleet in crowded Nassau Harbor. He was going to race on to Eleuthera, 60 miles away, with light tanks to lend him wings, and make a superfast pit stop there at a facility he had thoughtfully arranged beforehand.
Doug Silvera also had plenty fast boat. Like several others in the race, it was a new 36-footer of the Cigarette breed built by the former world champion, Miami's Don Aronow, and so named because Aronow's last 500 winner was called The Cigarette. Silvera's was named Starduster, and in its yellow and white hull were a pair of MerCruiser engines as strong as 550 horses.
Amazingly, Starduster was ordered just 37 days before the 500. Ordinarily it takes months to build and tune a world-class racer, but Aronow, a man who delights in challenges, had her launched in exactly three weeks. Engines were installed—and, ah! extra-large fuel tanks—and a few brief trial runs were made off Miami scant days before the $65,000 boat was shipped to Lucaya, barely in time for the race.
Silvera had a powerful booster in the flamboyant race promoter, Sherman (Red) Crise. The 500 race promoter. Mr. Crise, he not only plenty smart mon but plenty surefooted, too. There had been talk that the race would die after this year, but if a Bahamian won, how could anyone deny Mr. Crise a 500 in 1972.
Silvera assembled a first-rate crew in Mark Raymond, a Floridian who is a veteran of the race, and Bill Sirois, a past winner of the world outboard championship on Arizona's Lake Havasu. At Lucaya, there was time only for superficial testing, which bothered Raymond not at all. "Every foot you go joyriding," he maintains, "is a foot you don't go racing."
As the fleet threaded the narrow channel between the Lucayan Marina and the starting line, the 50-odd extra gallons of gasoline Starduster carried made her seem to lumber through the emerald water. Around her were Bill Wishnick's big gray Boss O'Nova III, another new boat and the favorite of many; the red-hulled Aeromarine of eye surgeon Bob Magoon, probably the most knowledgeable and sensible driver of all and leader in world championship point standings; the Black Tornado of Italy's defending champion, Vincenzo Balestrieri; Bob Rautbord's Fino, fastest in the fleet and capable of better than 80 mph; Roger Hanks' swift Blonde II. The course, 542 miles long as the rooster tail streams, lay southwest toward Bimini, southeast to Nassau (and once around New Providence Island), northeast to Eleuthera and northwest back to Lucaya.
At precisely 7 a.m. Friday, with a bright sun overhead and flat seas all through the Bahamas, the fleet leapt away. The better boats quickly asserted themselves. After doing one short leg around a marker and reversing course to repass the committee boat for the 44-mile run to Great Isaac Light, six boats, including Starduster, soon had a mile of open water on the rest. First one boat led, then another, in a constant interchange of positions. More often than not, however, either Balestrieri in a 32-foot Cigarette or Wishnick, with his bigger, heavier hull, was out front. At Sylvia Light, out in the middle of rippling Elbow Bank where only a few feet of water separated the boats from the bottom, Balestrieri and Roger Hanks were practically bow to bow, with Wishnick lying about a minute behind and Silvera all but lashed to him. With fuel loads lightening, speeds climbed.