What made the whole affair more curious is that in any race that counts toward both the American and the world title, any driver whose equipment complies with the regulations of both the American Power Boat Association and the Union Internationale Motonautique can run as he wishes, for national or world points or both. Franz drives a Bertram hull powered by Kiekhaefer engines. Bonomi drives a Cigarette hull. Through his whole championship career Bonomi used Kiekhaefer power, but after the Miami-Nassau race the Martini & Rossi team switched to Mercury motors. Since Cigarette hulls dominate on both circuits, if Americans driving Cigarette hulls declined to go for world points, would it not seem that they might be trying to help Bonomi in his rivalry against Franz? It is in such a climate clouded with commercialism that politicking flourishes and bickering abounds. The referee of the Key West race, Art Hafner, cleared the air by declaring that any competitor he deemed eligible for world points would get them whether he wanted them or not. So it turned out that to get the nine points he heeded to win the world title Bonomi would not be racing Franz head to head but battling a dozen rivals in the 15-boat fleet.
Franz and Bonomi have one thing in common: the reason they got into the offshore game in the first place. It was not at all an affection for the slick equipment they use but a more genuine love of the sea at large, and specifically its underside as seen through a face mask. Both are ideal for team effort—extravagantly loyal. Out of respect for the U.S. origins of his hull and motors, Franz' boat is called Pangar� Gringo, Portuguese for "Dependable Yankee," but it also bears the Brazilian flag and a sales pitch, DRINK BRAZIL COFFEE. "Coffee is Brazil's most important export," he says, "and I must always be a patriot."
Four days before the race the five-day forecast indicated good weather. In a subtropical watery area like Key West's, in autumn when the sun is sinking into the winter, a five-day projection is usually worth its weight in flea feathers. Despite the promise of a bonny day, during the last hours before the race the winds jumped up to 12 knots with heavier gusts in the dirty fringes of rain squalls. Some drivers swore the swells toward the shoals exceeded 12 feet. Older hands said they were at least eight feet.
Since it is the last on the circuit, the Key West race is normally not a suspenseful chapter in world competition; usually someone has clinched the title at some other venue along the way. The race customarily has been dominated by the likes of the now retired Dr. Bob Magoon, or some pretender anxious to knock the good doctor out of the title ranks. This year it seemed the fates were conspiring to keep the drama of Bonomi battling the field for nine points from being upstaged. Long before the halfway mark, Bonomi was solidly in front, plunging across following seas like a broad spear blade. By the time he turned the most seaward checkpoint and started the 70-mile run back into head seas, there were only four boats with a beggar's chance of catching him. Satullo, in the first event in defense of his national title, never got his boat moving. ("It ran like a pig," he said later.) In the field of eight that made it all the way, Satullo placed sixth, taking solace that three of the rivals with a chance to dethrone him—including newcomer Rocky Aoki, owner of the Benihana restaurant chain and winner of the Miami-Nassau race—had to be towed back to port.
At the ninth of 10 checkpoints, 36 miles from the finish, Bonomi had a good seven-mile lead on his nearest pursuers, Franz and Joel Halpern, a New Yorker driving a narrow prototype Cobra hull called Beep Beep in his debut in the open class. For more than 30 miles Bonomi had been easing off, playing it safe, but suddenly in an instant he had not played it safe enough. Twenty-one miles from home the nose of dug into a head sea. The impact broke one of Bonomi's ribs and his mechanic's heel and ruptured the gas tank. Bonomi's wife Manuela, after circling over him in a plane for 10 minutes, said, "They are now eating sandwiches and drinking coffee, so it must be over for them."
In the last 15 miles Franz opened a 1�-mile lead over Halpern in Beep Beep. In the last eight miles Beep Beep closed noticeably, but Franz got across the finish line with 26 seconds to spare.
It was not a race distinguished for speed (Franz averaged only about 50 miles an hour in the rough water), but it had more than an ordinary share of joy and grief. A Brazilian becomes the world champion in a sport the Italians, the Americans and the English seem to own. An Italian bows out of the sport in a humbling way. After six years of domination, Don Aronow's hulls lose a world title to a Bertram, and are now running behind Halpern's Cobra hull for the next national title.
There were 10 sets of Mercurys in the race and only one pair of Aeromarines, made by Carl Kiekhaefer, the onetime boss of Mercury, but the lonely Aeromarines got home first to clinch a third straight world title for Kiekhaefer. It is indeed a sport of troughs and crests, of unexpected ups and downs.