I don’t pretend to know the inner workings and politics of offshore racing. I don’t know the agenda, altruistic or otherwise, of any offshore racer. I don’t know if it’s possible for the sport to ever rebound to where it was in 1999 through 2001 under APBA Offshore, with big fleets in several classes including Super Cat and Factory II. Of course, the economy is not what it was back then—far from it—and I would argue that the economy has more to do with the current weakened state of the sport than anything else.
But can it be better than it is? My answer, and the answer of a number of racers including Tony Marcantonio in the Super Boat International Superboat catamaran class, is a definitive yes.
If you follow the sport in even a casual way, you likely read the “Superboat Class Engine Spec Change Target Reliability and Cost”story on speedonthewater.com late last month. The main thrust of the article is contained in the headline, but ever since the story went live the mobile phone of Marcantonio, the owner and driver of the J.D Byrider 36-foot Skater cat that runs in the Superboat class, has been ringing off the hook.
“I get everything from, ‘You guys are ruining the class’ to ‘You guys are doing a great thing’ to ‘You guys are making boats obsolete’ to guys who tell me they are going to wait and see how the motors hold up,” said Marcantonio. “We’ll see how many guys show up, but right now it looks really promising that we’ll have a good fleet of six, with a possibility of seven, boats in the Superboat class for the [Super Boat International] Worlds in Key West next month.”
Mike D’Anniballe of Sterling Performance Engines in Milford, Mich., certainly has no problems with it. At present, he is building engines for two Superboat teams. And like Marcantonio, he’s heard from other possible teams who are waiting to see what happens in terms of turnout and engine reliability in Key West.
“Our marine high-performance engine business has been quiet, so it’s nice to see racing driving some new engine builds,” said D’Anniballe.
For the record, the Superboat 850 and Super Cat Light classes are gone from SBI. You won’t find them in Key West. They have been replaced by the single Superboat class, but to be fair both of those classes were struggling under the SBI banner. In addition to existing Superboat-class catamarans, cats from those now-defunct classes can now compete as Superboats if they meet the new engine spec.
“Here’s what I know today,” says Marcantonio. “I spoke to the driver of the CRC boat and the CRC boat is in. Randy Sweers has changed engines in his boat. Stihl has changed engines. WHM, obviously, had changed engines. We have changed engines. War Paint is putting in [Sterling] engines. So as I said, it looks really promising that we are building the class.
“My hat is off to [SBI president and owner] John Carbonell for combining classes,” he continued. “It’s like anything else, people are always reluctant to change because it’s change. This may be the greatest thing. It may be the biggest mistake, but I give John credit because he’s attempting to cut classes. At least he’s listening. For way too long there have been way too many classes.”
Few observers of the sport, myself included, would argue with Marcantonio on his last point. Offshore racing has far too many classes to be understandable, much less watchable, to the average spectator.
Worst case? Marcantonio, Mauff, Carbonell and the rest of the folks who spearheaded the engine spec change are wrong. It’s not as if they’re blowing up a thriving offshore raceboat class. In fact, the sorry state of the class made the time for a change ideal.
“We’re not exactly tearing apart something that was really working well,” said Marcantonio. “There are a lot of boats on the sideline. With the economy the way it is right now, who wants to go boat racing? We’re trying to do something that makes it more attractive economically. We’ll have to wait and see, but so far it looks good.”
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 editor of Sportboat magazine.