• 11 in 2011- #1 Tragedy in Key West

    by Serious Offshore

    Closing out our 11 from 2011, our number one story is the unprecedented number of mishaps and the tragic loss of three competitors occurring during the Key West World’s. Nothing hits any closer to home nor any harder than the tragic passing of friends. We wish this story wasn’t being written. For now we can only hope it doesn’t have to be written again sometime in the near future.

    We’re not qualified to speculate on the root cause or causes of these tragedies. Other much more qualified and informed professionals will do that, and we wish them God’s speed in discovering why this happened. What we will do is continue to ask questions and persist as best we can in doing what we can to help prevent these accidents from happening in the future.

    The Key West Worlds 2011 now holds the distinction of being the event with the single-most loss of life in the history of the sport. Adding to the picture is the sheer number of non-fatal mishaps that also occurred. On Tuesday, during practice, Fastboats Marine Group went over and did not return for the balance of the event. On Wednesday, during the last race of the day, Bob Morgan and Jeff Tillman perished in the horrific blow-over accident seen in numerous You-Tube videos and photos. During that same Wednesday race, the Motley Crew boat also went over shortly after the blowover of Big Thunder Marine. On Friday we had the Page Motorsports boat roll in a corner, resulting in the the loss of our friend Joey Gratton. On Sunday the trip and stuff of the Warpaint cat immediately brought back decades-old memories of the near-identical stuff which inflicted a typically-fatal injury to Bobby Saccenti that he unimaginably survived. In reflecting backward, it’s surprising there weren’t more serious consequences from those other crashes.

    Each year the boats are traveling faster and faster. Technology is helping to keep racers safer, but we question if technology is progressing as swiftly as the increase in mishaps. While it has been some years since a death has occurred at Key West, there have been numerous close calls. Changes in how races are run needs to be re-evaluated. Shorter courses increase the need for higher cornering speeds. The recent talk about imposing top-speed limits may cause an increase, not a decrease of these sorts of crashes. To be competitive the boats simply have to travel as fast as they possibly can when cornering. While we don’t have all the statistics, or impression is that this has become a cat-specific phenomenon. We do have one interesting statistic. During this year’s Key West Worlds, the fastest V-bottom was only 18 MPH slower than the fastest cat. Presumably the V-bottom owners push just as hard as their cat racing brethren, and 18 MPH isn’t a huge gap. One thing we’re sure of- if speeds, cockpit construction, safety equipment and safety support procedures aren’t subjected to a top-down examination and prudent action taken, Joey, Jeff and Bob won’t be the last people this sport buries.

    The causes behind these accidents happened is still being discussed. We’re sure that discussion will continue through much of the 2012 year and discussion of pending litigation hovers over the sport. There has been talk since the moment these accidents happened about honoring these men. Immediately there were gestures of respect offered in Key West. Since then, others have put effort into activities in remembrance of these fallen competitors. These are all admirable gestures and certainly appreciated by all. We believe however that the most useful way of honoring these good and decent people is to focus every available and conceivable effort on ensuring these are the last deaths to ever occur in powerboat racing.

    RIP Gentlemen, Our sincerest condolences to all of your friends and family.