A well-known performance-boat owner and former offshore racer, Matt Rice can say he entered the New Year in much the same way he left the old one — with a fun run followed by lunch with friends. On New Year’s Eve day, Rice, who lives in Pennsylvania but owns a second home on Siesta Key, in Sarasota, Fla., and his wife, Toni, ran their Skater 32 catamaran with twin Mercury Racing Verado 400R outboard engines in the Fort Myers Offshore club’s annual jaunt from the Sanibel Island Bridge to Marco Island.
The following day, they loaded up the 32-footer with a few family members and took off for the Joey Gratton Memorial New Year’s Day Fun Run in Sarasota.
“The weekend was fantastic,” said Rice, who has a 36-foot Skater cat with Verado 400 ROS (Race Offshore) outboards in the works. “We had signed up for the Fort Myers Offshore event on Friday, but they had to move it to Saturday because of the weather. My wife and I decided to go for it. We left at 9 a.m., boated 80-plus miles and got to Sanibel with five minutes to spare before they left (for Marco Island).
Rice said that while the weather was cool the run to Marco Island was beautiful, as was the hospitality he and his wife received from Eric Belisle, Bob Barnhart and the other members of the club during the day. Lunch ended at about 3 p.m.
But the highlight of the day was the ride back to Siesta Key.
“It ended up being like 75 degrees on the way back,” said Rice. “We were trying to get home because it was New Year’s Eve and we had family in the house. So I ‘put it to the dash’ and ran 100 mph all the way home. My wife and I had were chatting all the way—we had a great time. I kind of equate it to riding in a convertible. That boat has been bulletproof every since we made the repower.
“We ended up doing a little over 250 miles for the day,” he continued. “I had not done a trip like that for awhile, so I was a little anxious. But Grant Bruggemann (of Grant’s Signature Racing, the company that handled repowering Rice’s 32-foot cat) checked everything out a few days before he went on vacation and assured me everything would be fine. The boat has been absolutely bullet-proof since the change. All I do is put gas in it and it bring us home every time.”
Next to the trek south and back for the FMO event, the Gratton run the following day was short, just about 60 miles round-trip from Siesta Key to the Blu Mangrove Grille Restaurant in Palmetto for lunch. But it was every bit as delightful for Rice, who’s participated in the annual New Year’s Day happening a half-dozen times, and his exhilarated crew.
“There’s a lot of intense running once you get out of Sarasota Bay,” said Rice. “It gets narrow and there are a lot boat wakes and boats coming from different directions. I had six people in the boat, and some of them had never experienced anything like that. But everybody seemed to enjoy it.”
Just one day after making new friends at lunch during the FMO event on the final day of 2016, Rice found himself in the company of longtime companions during lunch on the first day of 2017. Some, he said, were from his offshore racing days. Others were from the local pleasure-boating community. Still others were from both.
“We spent lunch with the Grattons,” said Rice. “I see Blake and Brock (offshore racer Joey Gratton’s sons) all the time—they are probably my closest friends down in Sarasota. And their dad was one of my best friends. It was kind of a special day for everyone.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.