Along the Brooklyn waterfront they still remember a rum-running boat called The Cigarette. Long, lean and rapid, she was built by one Benny Higgins for thirsty Irish-American free-enterprisers whose business was booze in the days when it was both profitable and illegal. One day, however, the gang lost The Cigarette to some other inventive businessmen who liked her lines and speed. Why waste time and fuel running out to meet suppliers offshore, they had reasoned, when it was much easier to hijack other boats as they sped home. Embarrassed by The Cigarette's gangland fame, the Coast Guard ultimately captured her and made an honest boat of her.
When he began building his latest, fastest crop of ocean racers, Miami's Don Aronow recalled the infamously quick Cigarette and named his new hulls after her. And why not? He was a Brooklyn boy himself. Most recently a Cigarette piloted by world point leader Bill Wishnick won the race across the strait from Sweden to Finland and back. Earlier, Cigarettes captured the Key West race, the Sam Griffith and the Bahamas 500, among other events, while putting together a remarkable victory string, including every race this year. In fact, they have been undefeated since the 1970 Miami-Nassau crossing.
Among men who know their boats best, ocean racing has reached the point where, to win, it seems one must have a Cigarette. The present world champion, Vincenzo Balestrieri, has two—a 32-footer and a 36-footer. Dr. Robert Magoon drives a 36-footer, as do Wishnick and the Bahamas 500 winner, Doug Silvera. Roger Hanks of Texas duded up his model, called Blonde II, with handsome teak decks and an $8,600 set of tuned exhausts.
"Aronow is the house," says one driver. "No matter how the dice roll he's got to come up winner."
Like the original rum runner, Aronow's Cigarettes are long, low and lean. His 36' hull has a beam of only 9'4". By comparison, the stock hull nearest in dimensions is four feet shorter but nearly 1� feet broader. This leggy slimness permits the Cigarettes to span the waves rather than pitch from crest to crest as a stubbier boat might. "These boats ride on their tails and the props stay in the water where they belong, always grinding," says Aronow.
Aronow also gave the Cigarettes wider than usual strakes, those lift-providing corrugations. "With wide strakes the boats do not roll from side to side the way they used to," he explains.
Finally, Aronow provided "the most refined deep-V bottoms we have ever made." In practice this means a Cigarette is supposed to settle back into the water after a flight, not with a slam but a bouncy sigh. As a result, speeds are up and drivers' fears of cardiac experiences down.
Twenty workmen craft the basic 32-foot and 36-foot racing models at Aronow's North Miami Beach plant. Each boat costs about $43,000 complete with either outboard engines or an inboard/outdrive setup. Aronow achieves lightness—the 36-footer weighs only 7,700 pounds—without sacrificing strength. If, occasionally, a Cigarette rips apart under the stress of pounding the seas at nicely competitive 75-plus mph, that is part of the game. "It's bound to happen," says Aronow.
As a spin-off from his racers Aronow also molds several stock Cigarettes a year. They bear a close resemblance to the race boats, but in addition to containing more creature comforts, they also are smaller and heftier. When amateur drivers run them into things, Aronow doesn't want his "civilian" Cigarettes to buckle.
When Aronow shows up for work of a morning—usually at the executive hour of 11 a.m. or so—he rolls up the sleeves of his open-throat silk shirt and goes out onto God's own test tank, the open ocean. He concedes that conventional tanks, like the one at Stevens Institute in New Jersey, are O.K. for testing models of sailing yachts, but he fails to see how a tank can tell how hard the ride is going to be for an ocean race-boat driver and his crew. Nor does he see how a tank can tell whether or not a boat will roll at top speed under varying sea conditions. He believes in performing full-scale experiments with full-scale models. "When I get that boat out there in the ocean," he says, "I know what it can do and I know what we have to do to make it a faster boat and a better boat. So far we haven't been wrong."