The real name of this game is Let's Get Together and Bust Up All the Equipment. Oh, there's another, more formal, title—The Michelob Light World Offshore Championship—but by either name, it's a wonderfully manic event, with brave men in strong boats racing over the ocean off Key West. And the 1984 edition last week was a doozy.
For one thing, not all the boats and men were strong enough to survive three days of churning madly into two-to seven-foot seas. The water around the tip of Florida doesn't come in predictable rolling swells—it bunches up into nasty chop, the result of the reefs, jagged coral heads and the shifting sandbars that lie just beneath the water's surface. Indeed, it was amazing that all the racers were accounted for last Saturday night.
The grittiest among them was George Morales, 36, of Fort Lauderdale, whose kidneys and two compressed ribs are still aching even as you read this. Morales and crew banged through most of Saturday's final 166.25-mile race beset with three big problems aboard MerCruiser Special. One outdrive unit blew apart, one of the three engines conked out, and then the inner transom plate ripped loose. "We had to keep going," Morales said, "because if we stop, we immediately sink. And we didn't want to sink."
The boat still averaged 71.9 mph—plenty fast enough to avoid taking on water—and finished third in the final race but first in points for the week, thus cinching Morales's second American Power Boat Association world championship in a row. Morales allowed that, while it wasn't exactly a perfect windup, it was much better than finishing at the bottom of the sea.
Terrific, but pretty typical stuff for this sport, which may be the last outpost of adventure for well-to-do madcaps.
Forty-nine boats from five countries rolled into Key West for the occasion, entered in six classes that ranged from the little 400-hp, 22-foot-or-so models up to the awesome 2,800 horses of the so-called superboats, the unlimited, no-holds-barred craft introduced last year. The boats fought it out in three events: two races around an 81-mile course and the grand finale over the longer layout. And between events, everybody faithfully kept the world's longest continuous cocktail party going.
For sheer glamour nothing could touch the superboats, which loomed above the others in size and swagger. Before 1983 the APBA limited its top class to 45 feet and 1,000 cubic inches of engine. The revised Class I is creating a new generation of heavyweights, boats that tool along routinely at 100-plus mph. The class still isn't recognized by the Union of International Motorboating, the world governing body, and a world superboat title may or may not be official, but who worries about such details? There were four of the giant boats in Key West last week, and they caught the town's fancy.
The contest for the world championship finally shook down to two boats: Morales's 45'6", 2,100-hp, V-hulled Cougar, an item of some $300,000, and the 50-foot, 2,800-hp catamaran Popeyes/ Diet Coke, the $600,000 pride of Al Copeland of New Orleans, boss of a fried chicken empire. Cope-land's Cougar cat is a vessel to inspire awe: It weighs 16,000 pounds—that's eight tons—and it's powered by four Mercury engines. It holds the APBA world speed record, 130.401 mph. And Copeland could stage the Mardi Gras parade on the foredeck.
Copeland won six of eight races this season to wrap up the 1984 national championship before coming to Key West, and what better way to cap off a season than by adding the world title as well? But, alas, mechanical gremlins struck in the first two races in this winner-take-all series. Morales won both easily, with Popeyes placing third twice—and George came up to Saturday's final leading 450 points to 254. With 400 points going to Saturday's winner, Copeland's problem was clear: "I've gotta win this thing," he said, "and Morales has to finish fourth. Or worse."
And so they prepared for battle the way the rich folks always do in this sport: While their crews changed engines, they outlimousined each other. Morales was being whisked around funky little Key West in a bone-white stretch limo with tinted windows, plush seats and bar. Copeland struck back with a black limo with bar and color TV. Oh, that's not enough? Copeland then sent his man out to buy up all the Dom Perignon in town, every last bottle. Take that, Morales!