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Highs and Lows of High-Performance Boating in 2009

All but a few lucky people in the go-fast powerboat world will remember 2009 as one tough year. Like so many other industries, high-performance marine was—and still is—slammed by the current recession. No segment of the industry was left untouched.

Offshore racing fleets were smaller in 2009. Poker runs declined. In yet another sad sign of the times, two magazines covering the market, one of which had been published for decades, went out of business

Yet 2009, at least when it came to the high-performance boating world, wasn’t all bad. There were more than a few highpoints. What follow is my list, by major category, of highs and lows for the year. Enjoy the read.

In Boat Building

High: Marine Technology, Inc., reportedly had one of its strongest years. That proves that there is always a market for high-quality, high-end performance-boats supported by a high-quality, high-end dealer, namely Pier 57.

Honorable Mention High: Statement Marine’s 42-foot-long V-bottom created buzz at poker runs and races all summer with its air-suspension cockpit, impeccable craftsmanship and refined performance. True, the builder has yet to prove itself in the marketplace, but if the company’s upcoming 50-foot-long catamaran—to be officially introduced at the Miami International Boat Show—is anything like the V-bottom, Statement is on the right track.

Low: Fountain Powerboats went bankrupt, taking Baja by Fountain with it. With fingers pointing in every direction, the fact remains that Fountain’s closure cost people jobs well beyond the company’s Washington, N.C. headquarters.

In Safety

High: Poker run participants continued to clean up their act. The two poker runs I attended in 2009 weren’t just incident-free, they were devoid of the purely idiotic driving that was once so common at these events. According to the poker run organizers and participants I spoke with this year, that’s becoming the norm.

Low: The accident that took the lives of Mohammad Al Mehari and Jean-Marc Sanchez the UIM Class Dubai Grand Prix was horrifying. Even more horrifying was that the event did not have a single helicopter with rescue divers in the air for the race. No rescue helicopter at an event for the fastest offshore race boats in the world? Mind-boggling.

In Media

High: The message boards of seriousoffshore.com have become the place for intelligent, civil discussion on everything in the high-performance boating world. Sure, you’ll find the occasional “boobs and beer” thread, but for the most part seriousoffshore.com can be taken, well, seriously. Seriousoffshore.com is a delight.

Low: Hot Boat and Extreme Boats magazines closed. Though I won’t miss Hot Boat’s “gratuitous babes” approach or Extreme’s heavy and, frankly silly reliance on the word “extreme” throughout its pages, I am a huge fan of diversity in the specialty magazine marketplace.

In Offshore Racing

High: You’ve got to love the AMF/Geico team for its relentless promotion of the sport. Sure, a lot of it is self-promotion—without that nothing happens anyway—and yes, the turbine-powered catamaran often races with little to no competition. But driver Marc Granet and throttleman Scott Begovich are superb ambassadors for the sport, and team owner John Haggin foots the hefty bill. And during a racing season that would kindly be described as dull, they gave us something exciting to watch.

Honorable Mention High: The consistent performance of Talkin’ Trash, which reportedly put on a show of its own at the 2009 Super Boat International Key West World Championships after a wicked crash at the event in 2008.

Low: With the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies, it’s a miracle that there is a sport of offshore racing in the United States. Because lord knows, splintering has done everything it can to kill it. On a brighter note, in 2010 you just might see some unification. There are good signs. On a less-than-brighter note, I don’t think anyone in his right mind believes Super Boat International will join in the big group hug.

Happy New Year. I’ll be back on Jan. 4.