In 1986 John Crouse, journalist, photographer, race promoter, and racer himself, had become bored with “offshore” racing that had moved; “close to shore, on lakes and even rivers. That gut feeling the old timers had of having to find a distant landfall in a vast sea without any land references had been lost. ”Crouse wanted to resurrect a race that was known to all offshore racers, as “The Most Rugged Ocean Race in the World”. The race Crouse wanted to bring back, was the Miami-Nassau Challenge, an open sea, 184-mile test of grit and endurance. The ultimate proving ground for both man and machine, a race out on the open sea where drivers would encounter punishing conditions with waves, which could often surpass eight feet. A race previously won only by offshore legends, the likes of Dick Bertram, Jim Wynn, and Don Aronow.
However, John Crouse wanted to take it all a step further, believing that the technology had evolved quite a bit from the 1960s. Crouse proposed, what came to be known as the Miami-Nassau-Miami Sea race. A race with a distance that was double the original Miami-Nassau race; at an incredible 375 miles, the Miami-Nassau-Miami Sea race, would be the longest and toughest offshore powerboat race in the world. A course that would put racers and their new technologically superior boats far out at sea and out of the reach of mechanics, or any form of support at all, save for the ever-present rescue helicopters which would hover above the racers in case of need. ‘’It takes a little added moxie to blast off into the unknown over such an animal as the vast Atlantic Ocean and its capricious Gulf Stream knowing, that you get into trouble, you may be all by your lonesome,” said Crouse.
The course the racers had to follow was deceptively easy. There were no restrictions, except for the racers to make a single mandatory turn at the end of Paradise Island in Nassau harbor, where the ride back home would begin. There were no required checkpoints or stops to make, therefore, if you had the capacity, you could run the whole 375 miles without stopping, something that would test both the competitors and their vessels in ways never imagined. In almost no other venue would man and machine endure so much punishment, 8+ hours running almost full open while taking knocks from waves, in conditions, that would be considered unacceptable in today’s racing. This was the race that Filippo Theodoli, president of Magnum Marine, had been waiting for his entire career. Theodoli however, was no stranger to racing, in the 1960s he raced Sunbeam Alpines in class GT9 and later NART, finishing 31st in the 1961 12hrs of Sebring, 33rd in the 1962 12hr of Sebring, and 13th at the FIA Double 400 at Bridgehampton in September 1962.
Ever since Theodoli had purchased Magnum from Don Aronow in 1976, he had been wanting to show off the true power and reliability of both his new large models and their diesel engines. When Theodoli purchased the company, the focus changed from building small sport and race boats to building large yachts for the rich and famous. Theodoli’s move to build larger boats had two purposes, on one level, it afforded a level of luxury previously unimaginable in a performance boat. However, more importantly, it allowed Magnum customers to cross the Mediterranean and go from a place on the mainland such as Nice, and cruise to the island of Sardinia in almost any sea state found in the Mediterranean, such as the Mistral and Sirocco winds, which can whip up monstrous waves which seemingly come from all directions. The move to larger boats also meant that the gasoline motors that had been sufficient for the Magnum 27’ and 35’ were no longer powerful enough for the Magnum 53’ and certainly wouldn’t have the torque or power for a 63’ or the 70’ and 80’, which were to come in the company’s future. Therefore, diesel motors became the de facto power source for the new and bigger Magnums. Diesel motors were also far more reliable than gas motors which was a bonus to their use.
Theodoli was a trailblazer in the evolution of the modern high-power marine diesel, as he worked closely with Stewart & Stevenson and later with Roger Penske on improving both the reliability and then the output of the diesel, using the Magnums as test beds and delivering each customer a faster boat than the previous one. A close relationship with Howard Arneson made Magnum the first production boat to be outfitted with his famous drive. Arneson, the inventor of the first automatic pool sweep, was fascinated by fluid dynamics and felt that if a propeller would be allowed to run on the surface rather than under the boat it could cut 50% of the drag, and would also allow for better maneuverability. Filippo Theodoli was a firm believer in Arneson’s theory. However, Arneson’s predictions could only come true if there was a propeller for this system, designed to run on the surface. This is where Theodoli’s relationship with Phil Rolla came into play. Phil Rolla had recently founded what would eventually be his famous propeller company in Switzerland, in 1983, with the sole purpose of creating the world’s best marine propellers for racing. Once again, using Magnums as a test bed, Rolla, Arneson, and Magnum would put the pieces together to create the modern high-performance marine diesel package. With Rolla’s propellers and Arneson’s drive, the marine diesel was suddenly performing in what used to be only gasoline territory. Magnum 63s were now reaching 60mph and being able to maintain that speed for hours, something impossible at the time for a gas motor.
Upon hearing of the new Miami-Nassau-Miami race, and realizing that it would be the perfect venue to show off everything Magnum had been developing with Arneson and Rolla all of these years, Theodoli placed a call to John Crouse. To say that John Crouse was surprised by Theodoli’s call was an understatement. He simply never imagined that someone would want to enter a 63’ pleasure yacht in an offshore race, much less that it had the slightest chance of competing with boats that were routinely running over 100mph on the APBA circuit. Competitors such as Al Copeland in his “Popeyes-Diet Coke” 46’ Cougar, and Tom Gentry and Richie Powers in “Gentry Eagle” a 46’ Scarab, were already registered to compete. “Would I let him race? The answer after some soul searching was yes. How could anybody scream about being whipped by such a behemoth, I asked myself. It would prove viable question!”, said Crouse at the time. Theodoli was persuasive enough that Crouse decided to add diesel class just for the Magnum, never even imagining that it had the slimmest of chances of competing much less, walking away with the checkered flag.
Make sure to mark your calendars and return next week to continue unraveling the saga in the upcoming installment!