Robert Magoon. It
is not a name one would give instinctively to a monarch. Add the man's
professional title and he becomes Doctor Magoon. The sound of it on the tongue
immediately brings to mind Mr. Magoo, the nearsighted cartoon curmudgeon, and
there's nothing kingly about that. And while Magoon is himself a handy man with
a cornea—he is an eye surgeon of great and delicate skill—his true kingdom is
the sea, over which he drives large and thunderous racing boats at exceedingly
rapid speeds. For four years Magoon has reigned over U.S. ocean powerboat
racing, leaving all pretenders in his boiling wake. Last week he began a new
defense of his fief by winging 190 miles from Key West out to the Dry Tortugas
and back at a near-record clip for a victory right royal.
driving up a storm to your right in what must be one of the nicest presents
ever given a sovereign. It is a 36-foot Cigarette hull of the kind that has
dominated recent ocean racing and in its stern are two splendid new engines—all
in all, a $40,000 gift. Until last week Magoon had simply driven boats owned
and prepared by Carl Kiekhaefer, a Merlin among mechanical abracadabrans, but
now Kiekhaefer had not only pulled the engines from his bag of tricks but had
given them, boat and all, festooned with a big pink ribbon, to Doc Magoon.
Well, the engines
created quite a racket, even when they were not running, as the contestants
assembled for the Hennessy Key West race. There was a clatter of complaint from
drivers who did not possess the new power plants, built by Kiekhaefer
Aeromarine, that perhaps they had not been truly homologated—i.e., that not
enough had been sold to make them legal for championship competition. But since
there were eight for sale at dockside (at $8,500 apiece) and another pair had
been installed in a boat called Red Vengeance, the grumbling eventually died
What makes the
new engines so attractive is the fact that Kiekhaefer has somehow managed to
make them run without belts of any kind. Belts break. In addition they are more
compact than most engines of their output—605 horsepower. Indeed, at 468 cubic
inches they give away several inches to the rival 482-and 496-cu.-in.
MerCruisers. Some of the owners of the bigger engines were among those who
wanted the Aeromarines out. This perplexed a Kiekhaefer man, Odell Lewis, who
said, "It's the only time in my life I've ever heard of anyone protesting a
When the racing
crowd wasn't thumbing the rule book it was trading war stories, among them a
yarn spun by Knocky House, once right-hand man to famed Don Aronow and now
crewman for the new world ocean-racing champion, Bobby Rautbord of Miami Beach.
( Key West, one of four U.S. races counting toward the world championship, was
the last on the 1972 world calendar but first on the 1972-73 domestic
schedule.) Rautbord drives a boat called Fino and House is an ex-Olympic
wrestler who went for a swim during the Norwegian championship race last
House said it was
the roughest race he could remember, and he is an expert on the subject, having
been in more than 150 events all over the globe. According to House, the boat
got lost while belting down the Danish coast. "Where are we?" he asked
a Norwegian navigator who was aboard for his supposed local knowledge. Replied
the Viking with a shrug, "I dunno." Just then, over the tops of
towering waves, House sighted people on the beach. Rautbord headed Fino
inshore. Dressed in life jacket and helmet and with a chunk of chart stuffed in
his mouth, Knocky leaped overboard and swam the 100 yards to shore.
As casually as he
could, he strolled up to the folks, laid the chart out before them and jabbed
his finger at the finish line. They pointed, House ran for the water, swam out
to Fino, climbed aboard—and off they went to win.
Also present at
Key West was Oilman Roger Hanks with his Blonde IV. He had won the race last
year and was back determined to repeat. A tall, rangy individualist who lets
the world know how happy he feels when a well comes in—he claims he has drilled
only one dry hole—Hanks is famous in racing for doing everything the hard way.
"The harder I work," he says, "the luckier I get." If a
vaultful of money and a tendency to shove the throttles through their mounts
were the only criteria, he would never lose. "The difference between men
and boys is the cost of their toys," says Hanks. His cost plenty. He has
approximately half a million invested in boats and engines alone.
There was also a
sensational Italian driver, Dr. Carlo Bonomi. A newcomer, Bonomi won the
prestigious Cowes-to-Torquay run in England this year and gave Rautbord a good
fight for the world championship. He had finished second in the Miami-Nassau
race after a courageous trip in rough weather, but at Key West his Red
Vengeance was fated to fizzle.
One of the mob
not on hand was Sammy James. A not-so-funny thing happened to him on the way
down. James is racing director of the Bertram Yacht Corp., once a world-beater
in ocean racing, and had intended to make Key West the inaugural event in a
smashing comeback with a winged racer. The idea behind the wing was that it
would not only help stabilize the boat but glide it over rough water and add
lift to lighten the hull, thus increasing speed. When James and co-driver
Gordon Cooper, the astronaut, took the boat out for a test spin off Miami last
week the wing was not in place. Coming in through Government Cut the boat hit a
freighter's wake, leaped 20 feet into the air, landed on her tail, got slapped
by a smaller wave and came down hard—so hard that James bit the steering wheel.
Picking himself up, he turned to Cooper and mumbled through broken teeth,
"Am I O.K.?" Replied Cooper, who escaped with a badly wrenched knee:
"Well, your tongue's sticking out but your lips are closed." It took 26
stitches to sew up James' face. The boat was out of the race.