Your go-to source for performance boating.
HomeRacingDry Martini Cigarette To Celebrate 50th Birthday In Poole Bay 100

Dry Martini Cigarette To Celebrate 50th Birthday In Poole Bay 100

As the 2023 United Kingdom Offshore Powerboat Racing Association championship prepares to kick off May 13 at the Poole Bay 100, many onlookers will once again relish the prospect of seeing and hearing a very famous name again out in the bay—the vintage 35-foot, Martini & Rossi liveried Dry Martini Cigarette Racing Team V-bottom. During the early-to-mid 1970s, the near bulletproof combination of Cark Kiekhaefer’s Aeromarine engines and Don Aronow’s racing hulls proved enticing for many would-be champions.

Even at 50 years old, the 35-foot-long Dry Martini Cigarette is forever young. Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Tapping.

Cigarette hull No. 3 was born 50 years ago, and after a lengthy sabbatical this beauty once again appeared on the racecourse. After coming to light in the United States in 2009, the famed 35-foot was purchased by Mike Bontoft and shipped to the U.K. in time for the 50annual Cowes-Torquay-Cowes offshore endurance race in 2010

And to the delight of many old school race fans, she’ll be on the offshore racecourse and giving it her all next month.

Remarkable Legacy
After gaining the runner-up position in the 1972 Sam Griffiths Union Internationale Motonautique World Championship, Carlo Bonomi, a young economist from Milan, Italy, decided to go all out for the overall title in 1973. After securing the best that money could buy, including Carl Kiekhaefer protégé Richie Powers to throttle and Martini & Rossi as title sponsors, he walked away with the championship in a 36-foot “widebody” Cigarette.

When Powers took the brand-new hull out for her first run, he was impressed and likened the difference between the then-dominant Cigarette 36-foot hulls and the new slimline 35-footers to that of “a Stock Car and a Formula 1 racecar.” The flightiness typical of the widebody 36 was gone.

The narrower 35-footer replaced the 36-footer as Cigarette’s endurance raceboat of choice. Photo courtesy/copyright Malc Attrill.

In 1974 Bonomi used the 35-footer in United States and 36-footer in Europe the 36, winning seven of the eight races he entered and earning back-to-back to back World Championships. In the U.S. the 35 footer had won the Bahamas 500 but fared less well at other races.

At the end of the season, the 34-year-old Bonomi decided his business commitments were too much. Plus, he had nothing to prove anymore, stating he wanted to “retire when you’re at the top.” However he entered the occasional race in 1975 for pleasure and  somewhat unexpectedly found himself in with a chance of winning the 1975 World Championship. By the end of the season he was up against Wally Franz in the KAM powered 38-foot Bertram Pangaré Gringo

The finale in Key West, Fla., would be the decider. Powers was no longer on board and Bonomi had switched for this event to MerCruiser power. At the green flag, the conditions seemed favorable but on approach to Sand Key things turned decidedly nasty. The tough conditions led to not only broken boats but broken bones. Bonomi fractured a rib while his throttleman, Romano Succi broke his ankle. Thing went from bad to worse when fuel-line issues forced the team, which was holding third place, to retire from the contest. A third consecutive world title was not to be.

Changing Hands
So disappointing was the 1975 Key West loss to Bonomi that he sold the hull on the spot while waiting to have it shipped. New owners John Amato and Sal Scafidi then retained the hull in dry storage for a quarter of a century. Taking possession without motors, once re-powered the sleek craft was used principally for pleasure purposes and local races only.

In 1980, Englishman David Hagan wished to follow up his Class 2 world championship achieved in Venice, Italy, the year before, with a shot at the famed Harmsworth Trophy. Hagan wrote to Sal Scafidi and leased the hull, entering the U.S. leg of the Harmsworth Cup–the Benihana Grand Prix – to run some challenging Atlantic seas against 22 other open class competitors. Hagan retired along with the majority of the fleet. Just six boats finished.

Dry Martini earned its reputation in some of powerboat racing’s roughest events such as the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes endurance race. Photo courtesy/copyright Malc Attrill.

After a brief period of ownership by American Kurt Berger, who conducted a cosmetic restoration, Mike Bontoft bought the boat. “It’s like getting in a time machine and setting the dials back to the mid-1970s,” he said at the time.

The son of the late Alf Bontoft who tragically lost his life during the 1976 Cowes-Torquay-Cowes event, Mike Bontoft has spent much of his racing career in both the U.K. and U.S., working for various teams including the Toleman stable and Tom Gentry. After taking delivery, Bontoft knew there was significant work to be done. Fuel tanks needed replacing, hull/deck separation was an issue, bulkheads needed attention—offshore racing takes its toll, and some say the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes is perhaps the most brutal offshore contest of all. It was going to be a mammoth project

But it was worth the considerable effort. Bontoft has been on board the boat since its return in 2010.

“Anyone that says you can just jump in a powerboat and run competitively straight off the bat frankly knows very little on the subject no matter what make of boat they are running,” he explained. “The first maybe four years of ownership, of course, we were only doing one race per year so this gives you very little time on the water to hone your skills. Being of 1970s vintage the boat was built to standard Class 1 rules with total combined engine displacement not to exceed 1,000 cubic inches and Speedmaster No. 3 drives. The boat runs at its best in a moderate short choppy sea and with the experience I have gained to date we find ourselves running quite competitively with boats far newer.

“By now, we have practically raced in pretty much all conditions and she has never put a foot wrong,” he continued. We average about 80 mph fully fueled, with 86 to 87  mph being the boat’s maximum speed potential. She burns about 400 liters of premium petrol per hour wide open. Her race-ready weight is 4,500 kilograms.”

Though Christian Toll, who developed a passion for vintage offshore raceboats through his father, Ian—he bought the wreck of Vincenzo Balestrieri’s Magnum Tornado after she sank in the 1968 Cowes event—never owned Dry Martini, he has followed the 35-footer as closely as anyone. And eventually he found his way on board.

“My passion for Don Aronow boats started as a very young boy when my father bought Magnum Tornado,” he explained. “From there, I simply fell in love with Magnums and Cigarettes, then later Apaches. I used to drool over the 36-foot Cigarette design that dominated the sport in the early 1970s, and when the 35’ came out I remember everyone went crazy, not only for its stunning looks, but also its blistering performance.”

Toll first met Bontoft in 2010. They had an instant rapport and built a strong, enduring friendship.

Look closely and you can find Dry Martini navigating the rooster-tails are the start the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes endurance race.

“We got on well, so when the opportunity came up to race on Dry Martini I jumped at the chance, which turned out to be the start of 11 years behind her wheel,” said Toll. “She has stood the test of time extremely well and still performs to the highest of standards on a regular basis. The boat is thoroughly original and meticulously maintained. Where repair work and minor modifications have taken place over the years, the first thought has always been to preserve her originality whenever it is possible.

“In 2017 we had the honor of famed American offshore powerboat racer Richie Powers join us for the Cowes weekend, it was such a joy to listen to his stories of both rigging and competing in that very same boat,” he continued. “Now  that she’s celebrating her 50th anniversary on the water, I think it’s a truly wonderful thing that Dry Martini is still contested regularly.” 

The U.K.’s Nigel Hopcroft and Diane Dollin purchased Dry Martini and ran it last year in Cowes-Torquay-Cowes in 2022 with Bontoft and Michael Peet (who owned Dry Martini from 2015 to 2019) in the cockpit. Sold this season, the 35-footer celebrate its Golden Anniversary as the property of Hector and Jonathan Sainsbury.

Without question, Dry Martini has stood the test of time. Toll perfectly summed up the classic V-bottom’s enduring appeal.

“I have seen firsthand how people react when she pulls up at a race event,” he said. “She draws a lot of attention with her natural beauty and those injected big-block engines. Clearly, the world needs to continue to see this wonderful piece of racing history.”

Christian Toll: “Clearly, the world needs to continue to see this wonderful piece o history.” Photo by Cole McGowan copyright Powerboat P1

Editor’s Note: Currently living in Andalucia, Spain, Nigel Barrett is longtime follower and fan of “old-school” offshore powerboat racing. This is his first article for speedonthewater.com.

Related stories
Inside The Cowes Classic, Offshore Powerboating’s Toughest Endurance Race
Speed On The Water Contributor McGowan Headed To Cowes Classic
Powers Returning To Cowes-Torquay-Cowes Offshore Endurance Race
Warpath Targets Cowes Race After Venture Cup Prologue Adventure
Pratt And Jennings Teaming Up In 345 Racing’s XINSURANCE-Sponsored Class 1 Boat
Kaama Raceboat Restoration Moving Forward
Powerboat P1 Flying High With XINSURANCE Sponsorship