On The Trail Of Fabio Buzzi

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Other than “find another career if you want to get rich,” I have just one piece of advice for would-be journalists: The more foreign and faraway the feature assignment you’re offered, the more quickly you should accept it. Between cultural differences and language barriers, you will be forced to raise your reporting and storytelling games. And that can lead to some of your best work.

I learned that lesson on the trail of Fabio Buzzi, the famed 76-year-old Italian powerboat designer, world champion offshore racer and endurance-record pioneer who died last week during a tragic accident on the water. In January 2002, Powerboat magazine editor Brett Becker sent photographer Tom Newby and me to Peru to cover an attempt to break one of Buzzi’s many endurance records. Bob Teague of Teague Custom Marine in Valencia, Calif., and his Lima-based customer Lizardo Benites were going after Buzzi’s Puscasana-Ancon-Pucasana record off the Peruvian coast.

The challenges for a U.S.-based reporter covering an endurance event in a foreign country included deciphering press releases delivered in another language. Image courtesy Bob Teague/Teague Custom Marine.

By averaging more than 92 mph in a 40-foot canopied V-bottom powered by 1,200-hp supercharged Teague Custom Marine engines in both directions of the 60-plus-mile run, they shattered the record set years earlier by Buzzi in La Gran Argentina, a 55-foot canopied V-bottom powered by four turbocharged Seatek diesel engines—a boat-and-power package of his own creation. The following year, Teague and Benites returned to break their own record by averaging 107.14 mph for the two-way run.

From Newby and I being lowered by cable out of a Peruvian Navy helicopter to reach the finish-line celebration in Puscasana to being shadowed by armed guards with automatic weapons during our entire four-day stay in Lima—to our entire team discovering the joys of food poisoning on a long flight home—the trip was the adventure of a lifetime. As strangers in strange land, Newby, Teague and I got closer than we already we were, and we laughed about our adventure, especially the food poisoning part that landed us all on courses of Cipro (a wicked antibiotic), a lot during the years.

Since then, I have had wonderful overseas assignments in Canada, France, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Qatar and more. None compared to my gig in Peru.

Fabio Buzzi remains the undisputed king of offshore powerboating endurance records. Photo courtesy FB Design Group.

And “Peruvian Gold,” the Powerboat magazine story that came out it, earned an award from Boating Writers International that year at the Miami International Boat Show (not that awards mean all that much, but I enjoyed the $500 prize that came with it).

So when Fabio Buzzi died last week I was sadder than I normally would have been at the passing of someone I had never met. With 40 such powerboating endurance/speed records to his credit, Buzzi was the undisputed king of the long-haul, high-speed genre. A few of his records, such as Pucasana to Ancon and back, have fallen during the years. But most still stand.

Arriving at Powerboat magazine in the early 1990s, I learned a lot about Buzzi from Eric Colby, my editor at the time. I also learned about him through now-long-retired offshore racer Mark Nemschoff, who ran a Buzzi-designed boat during part of his career and was a longtime Buzzi friend and fan.

But in 2002, I chased him—thanks to one of his many accomplishments—all the way to Peru.

 

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