Imagine a combined 10,000 horsepower skipping along the surface of the Atlantic, looping in an elongated course from Juno Beach to Jupiter and reaching speeds of 150 mph. Sound pretty cool? That’s what the Palm Beach County Sports Commission thought when it approved the Palm Beach World Offshore Championship, powerboat races sanctioned by the Offshore Powerboat Association, to take to the water just off northern Palm Beach County beaches from October 18-21.
In 1999, Palm Beach County held a similar powerboat event off Singer Island, the Palm Beach Offshore Gran Prix Festival. While the offshore championship races are a first for this part of the county, some of the teams and boats are no strangers to the area. Hailing from Jupiter is the reigning 2011 Extreme class champion, Miss GEICO—a jet turbine-powered 50-foot water rocket capable of speeds up to 190 mph with a whopping 3,700hp under the hatch. A number of drivers, throttle managers and navigators also call Palm Beach County home.
For most, going to an offshore powerboat racing is a new experience. Best described as NASCAR on the seas, overpowered boats careen in a five-mile loop, each race lasting about 50 minutes. The OPA represents 10 classes of racers, from the Extreme class, with its 3,000-plus-hp turbine engines, to Class 600 class, which is limited to a single 525hp engine, among other specifications. Each boat is manned by at least two men, one controlling the steering and the other manning the throttle. Both are integral to the boat’s performance: The throttle man controls the gas, trim and trim tabs, while the driver keeps the course true. Navigators, found on all three-man teams and some teams in Class 300 and lower boats, balance the boat and pay homage to the days before offshore racing literally went offshore.
The new school of racing has been brought closer to shore, creating more of a spectator sport. It's also become more high-tech: GPS units and precise timing monitor each boat's speed, which helps determine its class and sets ground rules. If a boat breaks the preset speed determined for its class, it will be disqualified.
The OPA expects as many as 50 national and international teams and boats in eight classes to race at the Palm Beach championships, with 20 boats or more racing at a time. The sheer number of boats, at the speeds they travel, has the opportunity to cause some rather crowded and dangerous conditions, so races are tightly structured to ensure boater safety and top-quality racing.
“Typically, there are 15-20 boats per race, but there may be staggered starts to allow for adequate spacing of the boats. This helps keep the boats from bunching up at the turns.” says Nick Scafidi, the championship promoter and a backup driver for the Extreme Class boat Aqua Mania. “Right now, we’re slated to be the third-largest race in the country. This is a world event. We have some of the world’s best coming.”
The course will take the boats from the Juno Beach pier to Jupiter’s Carlin Park. The Palm Beach race is the culmination of the OPA 2012 season, with teams vying for their respective championship win during a 50-minute, full-throttle sprint. The event will include three races over two days and a free family-friendly festival at Carlin Park:
- On October 18, race teams arrive for check -ins, debriefing and test trials from noon to 4 p.m. Wylder’s Waterfront Bar and Grill will host a "meet the racers" party from 6-9 p.m.
- The racing begins October 19 at 11 a.m. with the Super Vee Lite and Class 600. Races get progressively quicker, building on classes. Race Two starts at 12:30 p.m., followed Race Three, the day’s final, at 2 p.m. The Square Grouper Tiki Bar will host a "meet the racers" party from 6-9 p.m.
- On October 20, racing takes a hiatus for a family-friendly festival at Carlin Park. Live entertainment with local bands and a fashion show will take to the Seabreeze Amphitheater. Fans can explore the pits, and the Kids Zone will occupy the wee race fanatics. Corners Ocean Bar and Grill will host a "meet the racers" party from 6-9 p.m.
- The racing concludes October 21. Racing begins at 11 a.m., followed by a second at 12:30 p.m., culminating with the main event at 2 p.m.: a no-holds-bar twin-turbine showdown between Semper Fi and Aqua Mania, two vessels capable of speeds up to 170 mph with a combined 6,000hp-plus. The awards ceremony will take place at the Square Grouper Tiki Bar from 4-8 p.m.
Spectators can watch this free event along the beaches from the Juno Beach pier to Jupiter’s Carlin Park. Premium viewing spots on the Juno Beach pier are available for $75 per person the day of the event ($50 in advance). Festivities and the pit area at Carlin Park are free and open to the public. For more information, see powerboatpalmbeach.com.