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Commentary: Ripples from Key West

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Matt Trulio

Here’s a recent email from my best friend in the high-performance powerboat world, a guy who has a ton of experience driving really fast boats:

“Maybe I am getting old, but the loss of three racers this weekend really dampened the sport for me.  I guess the ‘speed and danger’ really came into perspective when you watch how quickly it all changes in a blink and how ‘there is no tomorrow.’

“Not ready to take up sailing but have to admit that the High Speed Rush is sort of dampened.”

I couldn’t agree with him more, and I have a feeling he’s not the only hardcore go-fast boat guy feeling this way at this moment. So maybe this moment is worth holding onto for a while.

Even in a sport where death is a potential outcome and the people involved presumably know and accept that risk, the recent loss of offshore racers Bob Morgan, J.T. Tillman and Joey Gratton during the Super Boat International Offshore World Championships was completely unacceptable. Only luck prevented two more racers from suffering the same fate on Sunday, which to me at least, indicates the problem of safety in offshore racing is systemic.

I don’t want to get into that topic. Rich Luhrs already provided an informed big-picture perspective on that subject in “Commentary: The Price of What,” which appeared on this site a week ago. I have nothing to add.

But if three racers perished with “protective” canopies over their heads, what chance do people have in open-cockpit high-performance pleasure boats running similar or greater speeds in the same kind of catastrophic event?

None. And we all know it. And if we don’t know it we’re stupid. Or ignorant. Or both.

Strong words? You bet. Appropriately so.

So while I, too, have enjoyed high-speed thrills and chills such as the rivalry between Bill Pyburn and Gino Gargiulo, I am so over it. I hope they are, too, because while neither is a close friend both are intriguing characters that make the go-fast boat world a whole lot more fun. And that’s when they’re on the docks.

Earlier this year, I rode in a boat at 170 mph for the first and last time. I didn’t feel lucky for the experience when I got out of the boat. I felt lucky to be alive.

Have I lost my nerve? No, I’ve come to my senses. I love my job, but no one pays me anything close to enough to take that much risk. I survived six years of sport skydiving, something like 1,200 jumps with three reserve parachute rides—nothing fun about those—and 12 total hours of freefall, by managing risk. Eventually, I felt the risk was unmanageable because the odds were going in the wrong direction. So I walked away.

Just as I am now walking away, so to speak, from extreme speeds in powerboats. As I told Scott Shogren, no stranger to speed on the water, as we rode down to Key West in a 39-foot center console at 60 mph, if I never break 100 mph again in a boat I’ll be just fine. I won’t miss it.

Don’t worry, I still report on it. That won’t change—it’s a major part of my job. Speedonthewater.com isn’t going anywhere. But as far as putting myself in harm’s way goes, I’m done.

I am not asking anyone else to be done. But I am asking, maybe even begging, my friends who routinely take it to the edge to think about it hard and maybe, just maybe, back away from the edge more often than not.

Because you know what? Even if you die “doing something you love”—and a more inane cliché does not exist—you still die, and chances are you leave behind a lot of people who love you and need you.

And no number on a speedometer is worth that.

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