A Cigarette Racing Team Owners Rendezvous on a waterway in the freakin’ Midwest? Sacrilege, you say. How could the builder of the world’s most iconic performance-boat brand, a builder that began its life on Miami’s “Thunder Boat Row” for heaven’s sake and still calls South Florida—the city of Opa-Locka to put a fine point on it—home possibly choose the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri for such a rare weekend?
There are two great answers to this question: 1. Cigarette long ago expanded brand identity beyond its East Coast birthplace—you find Cigarette models of various shapes, sizes and vintages all over the country, not to mention the world. 2. Performance Boat Center.
The second answer is perhaps the most relevant when it comes to understanding the success of last weekend’s Cigarette Owners Rendezvous on the Lake of the Ozarks. Performance Boat Center is among Cigarette’s newest dealers, having taken on the line last year, and has been relatively aggressive with finding customers and securing orders for the Cigarette models. According to Skip Braver, the owner and chief executive officer of Cigarette Racing Team, Performance Boat Center’s early and immediate success with the brand has everything to do with Mark Waddington and Brett Manire, the owners of the Osage Beach, Mo., multi-line dealership, service center and storage facility.
“They understand Cigarette—they have taken the time to understand everything there is about Cigarette and they are in for the long haul,” said Braver. “They love performance boating and they are extremely open-minded about new ideas. They definitely get it. They know it’s about a brand, not a boat. They know it’s about building a family of people loyal to the brand.”
A significant portion of the Cigarette family descended on the Lake of the Ozarks last Friday. Some hauled their boats as long as 14 hours to reach the waterway. The event kicked off with a party at Performance Boat Center Friday night and finished with a swanky affair in the Cigarette VIP Lounge at the Camden On The Lake Resort Saturday night. Oh, and somewhere in between, the 50-something Cigarette owners did some exceptionally relaxed boating during Saturday’s lunch/fun run.
“I didn’t get a direct head count, but I think we had 51 or 52 boats and it was absolutely incredible,” said Manire. “People came from all over the country, and I believe everyone had a great time. It was a lot of hard work, but it really paid off. We had everything from a couple of Cigarette 20-footers to a 46-footer, and everybody hung around and helped each other. When we left for the lunch/run on Saturday morning, I had goose bumps. There were so many Cigarettes pulling out of our cove that I couldn’t see the marina.”
Led by Performance Boat Center representatives, the fleet divided into smaller groups for lunch. After that, they reunited at a local waterside haunt for a pool party before heading back to Performance Boat Center and preparing for the evening.
“All of the women at the VIP party were dressed to the nines,” said Manire. “The 62-foot Princess [Performance Boat Center is a Princess Yachts distributor] rolled in front of the hotel and had music on it. Skip got up and gave a speech about how awesome it was to see how everybody took care of each other and their boats—how much pride there was in the boats. My phone and Facebook page have been blowing up with people saying, ‘Thank you. We had a great time.’
“On the other end, I’ve heard from guys with other brands like Donzi who’ve already told me they can’t wait to join the Cigarette family and go to great events like this,” he continued. “Our goal was to take care of our existing Cigarette customers, and attract new ones. That’s what this event was all about.”
A difficult man to impress, particularly given all the poker runs and other go-fast boat event he’s attended during the years, Braver was floored by what he experienced during the event.
“I have never seen that level of warmth and enthusiasm at any event,” he said. “People just wanted to be with each other. If someone’s boat broke, they stopped. Nobody ditched anybody. Nobody cared what anybody had—they were just proud of the brand, and it didn’t matter if you had a 20-footer or a big [Mercury Racing] 1350-powered boat. There was a sense of camaraderie, not competition. It was a Cigarette family event. Nobody cared how fast they went or who got to the dock first. If you get to the dock first, that meant you had to help people tie up when they got to the docks.
“We got a great cross-section of Cigarettes,” he added. “And those guys, Brett and Mark, really know the lake. They did this the way a poker run should be done. They kind of brought it back to the idea of what a rendezvous really should be. They attracted people who love the brand, and they treated them amazingly well. It was unbelievable.”
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.