Umm, let's see now. Four tubes of Chap Stick. Check. Put bigger wings on the DC-3. Done. Take a tracheotomy kit, just in case. Has the King of Spain RSVP'd yet? Talk to Wally Schirra again about survival. Does the trawler captain realize he may have to circle for seven days? Brief the American consul in the Azores. A backup for the backup life raft? Make sure the guy on the mountaintop has enough flares. Alert the French missile-tracking station. And oh yes, remember to look out for whales.
Like many Americans, Dr. Robert Magoon, an eye surgeon from Miami, is planning an outing over the Fourth of July weekend, making his list and checking it twice, thrice, ad infinitum. For him that is always the most enjoyable part of a trip. "I love the details," he says, "planning things. Preparation is everything. Getting there is anticlimactic."
Well, this time a few small thrills may sneak in. For what Bob Magoon intends to do, you see, is drive a motorboat across the Atlantic Ocean, from Cabo de Sao Vicente, Portugal to Nantucket lightship off Massachusetts, 3,345 punishing miles with a crew of three and an oceanful of imponderables. At stake in the Citicorp Trans-Atlantic Challenge is the world record for crossing under power (both elapsed time and average speed) that was set by the S.S. United States
on its maiden voyage in 1952. The 52,000-ton liner made the trip from Ambrose lightship in New York harbor to Bishop Rock, England—2,949 miles—in 82 hours 40 minutes. Pounding across seas at gut-wrenching speeds of up to 60 mph, Magoon hopes to come roaring home in 72 hours, even though he has chosen a longer route to avoid the icebergs and fog of the North Atlantic.
"This is no stunt," Magoon insists. "I've been preparing this trip for two years, and we've got a 50-50 chance of making it. From the beginning we've treated this like a space shot."
Certainly Magoon has the credentials—or whatever it takes to compel a man to battle an entire ocean. Now 43, he has won more national offshore powerboat championships (five) and more races in one season (six) than any driver in history. And that was the problem. "After a while," he says, "the challenge was gone. I was supposed to win every race, and when I did, it meant nothing. So I retired and looked for something different."
He found it in 1974 when he covered the 1,257 miles from Miami to New York in a record 22 hours 41 minutes, clipping nearly nine hours off the old mark despite squalls, rough seas and being out of radio contact most of the way. Magoon recalls, "After that race a friend, kidding around, asked me when I was going around the world. And I started thinking about it. But the Suez Canal was closed then, and I estimated that it would take three months. So I settled for the hardest part, the Atlantic. I get very itchy if I'm not doing something challenging."
Fred Stecher, chairman of Citicorp Services, Inc., distributors of traveler's checks, agreed to sponsor the project because it offered "the kind of boldness that we like to bring to the marketplace." Magoon knows all too well the perils that go with boldness. He has experienced his share of spinouts, top-speed disasters in which the boat digs in at the wrong angle and instantaneously swaps ends, leaving the stomach where the feet should be. He has dive-bombed off the steep walls of waves as well, once so violently that his helmeted head smashed a hole in the deck. "You have to respect that ocean," he says, "and if you don't, you don't belong out there."
Nevertheless, when Magoon unveiled his new 36-foot
Citicorp Traveler for inspection at the Cigarette boat works in Miami a few weeks ago, many old salts nosed around it like Biblical seers waiting to slip the word to Ishmael. "He'll lose that windshield in two hours," warned one. "The damn thing weighs 10 tons fully gassed," grumbled another, "twice the weight of the boats he's used to handling. You come off a high one the wrong way and the boat'll slam down like it was dropped from a 10-story building. The hull will never take it. It'll go down like a rock."
Even Don Aronow, the designer of the Cigarette hull and a former offshore powerboat world champion in his own right (he once had a midair collision with a press helicopter that was following too closely overhead), expressed reservations. "I crossed the Atlantic maybe 20 times during the war and, believe me, it's a nasty body of water," he said. "You get rough seas with that weight, and you're going to dive if you slow down. He shouldn't go unless he gets the kind of weather he wants."
Magoon listens to all this like a man on a Bermuda high, a period of calm that makes the Atlantic as tame as Walden Pond at dawn. He says, "The Navy's top man is doing the weather for us. and he says that during the first week of July Bermuda highs are the rule, not the exception. If something bad blows up, we'll abort. I'm not insane."