• Saccenti on the Warpaint Crash

    by serious offshore

    Photos of Entire Sequence of the Stuff http://seriousoffshore.com/forums/sh...light=warpaint

    Looking at the photo sequence of the Warpaint crash in Key West brought back memories of an almost identical crash twenty-four years ago. Both crashes involved the Apache cat. Both crashes involved a virtually identical trip and stuff. And in both events, the crews fortunately survived the impact. In the most recent, the canopy was severely damaged. In the 1986 crash, the brunt of the damage was borne by the skull of legendary throttleman and boatbuilder Bobby Saccenti.
    We sat down with Bobby and discussed the boats, the design and the circumstances behind these crashes. In typical Saccenti fashion, he walked through the events of his crash as if it were nothing more than a stubbed toe. Becoming a living legend isn’t for the meek.

    Serious: The ’86 season was your first year in the cat- tell us how it came together.
    Bobby: Back then, most of the teams had two boats, a cat and a vee. If it was going to be a smooth day, we ran the cat. If the water looked big we brought out the 41. For some reason we didn’t bring the 41 to Rochester, maybe because of the distance.

    Serious: The water that day was definitely deep vee water. What was your strategy?
    Bobby: That day pretty much everyone had cats on the water. As we always did, we got into Benny’s helicopter that morning and flew the course. We knew it was going to be rough going and figured the race would be black-flagged at the first turn. We were coming off of a big win from the previous race in Sarasota. The water was flat as a board that day- our water. The rest of the fleet followed the leader in the wrong direction. Benny knew where the turn boat was. We let the fleet run off the wrong direction and we won the race going away. We needed the points and if we were the first boat when they black-flagged the Rochester race, we would be in a strong position to clinch the championship.

    Serious: What happened after the flag dropped?
    Bobby: We came out strong and got quickly to the front of the fleet. To be honest, we didn’t have that much experience in the cat and less in big water. I think maybe I forgot I wasn’t in the big vee bottom. When I talked with Benny before the race, we knew we had to run strong and get those points. Almost right away we got up and sideways a bit and caught the left sponson tip. But we were focused on pushing to the front. It was racing. When we launched off the next wave we flew a bit and hit stern first into the next wave. Instead of plowing through and the bow coming down, it slapped the stern and popped it upward. That caused the boat to rotate in the air and plunge nose-first into the water.

    Serious: And then?
    Bobby: Then for me was several days later, waking up in the hospital with a headache. Benny got the boat to the beach and got me on land. I was out cold. We landed in someone’s yard. They used their picnic table as a stretcher. Angel 1 landed and they carried me to it on the table.

    Serious: You were very severely injured.
    Bobby: I was. Benny had a steering wheel to brace himself with and to absorb some of the impact. All I had was the throttles and a sissy bar that I rested my left hand on. The hit smashed me face first into the dash.

    Serious: No belts?
    Bobby: Nah. Back then nobody wore them. Benny was especially afraid of them. Not long before, Fullam and Poppa died being trapped in their boat after a stuff. He figured we had a better chance being thrown free.

    Serious: Back to your injuries…
    Bobby: When my face hit the dash it pretty much broke everything on it. The biggest injury though was the basal skull fracture.

    Serious: That’s bad
    Bobby: Yeah. They told me at the time that surviving it was very rare.
    (Since Bob’s accident, many motorsports competitors have died of this same injury, most notable being Dale Earnhart)

    Serious: So you’re laid up and Benny takes the championship in a borrowed boat. How long before you were back?
    Bobby: It wasn’t until ’87. Benny called me and asked me to lunch. He was just finishing the 47 at the time. He told me he wasn’t comfortable with the other throttlemen he’d been racing with and asked me to come back. We went down that afternoon and took the 47 out. I still had it and it felt good, so I said OK.

    Serious: It was less than a year after a massive injury. Were your doctors OK with this?
    Bobby: Not at all. They said “you’re still cross-eyed and wearing Coke bottle glasses. Are you nuts?” I told them “this is what I do.”

    Serious: So this recent crash in Key West must have brought back some memories.
    Bobby: I was in Key West and I heard about the crash, but I didn’t know the team or the boat. I didn’t even know it was an Apache cat until someone told me. With the modifications it looked very different.

    Serious: Anyone that had ever seen the Rochester crash certainly saw the eerie similarities.
    Bobby: Yeah. Identical. The boats came off of one wave, slapped the stern into the next one and flipped forward, spearing the bow into the water.

    Serious: Did you consider it to be a design flaw?
    Bobby: Back then the cats were still new. It was more a matter of things we didn’t know. The Apache was pretty pointy up front, as was the Conquest that stuffed. The Cougar and Active were somewhat fatter up front.

    Serious: How do you think you were able to survive an injury that is typically fatal?
    Bobby: Luck. One particular piece of luck happened before the race. In ’86 the courses were getting much shorter. We no longer felt the need to have a navigator on board, so we took out the 3rd seat in the back. That also allowed us to install headrests. One issue we were having was neck cramping. It’s much harder to hold your head up at 120 than it is at 85. My injuries happened before we went under. If not for the headrests, I doubt either of us would have survived.

    Serious: So you believe that today’s race boats are safer?
    Bobby: Well, I think they’re less prone to do what happened in my crash. But now they’re running way too fast and the race courses are laid out in a way that winning is too dependent on corner speed.


    We would like to thank Big Seas Productions for allowing us to use the video of Bobby’s Rochester crash.
    The clip is an excerpt from their “Legend of Apache” DVD, available at http://big-seas.com/