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OPA Bimini Race Shaping Up

Scheduled for April 28-29, the Offshore Powerboat Association’s inaugural race in the waters off the Bahamian island of North Bimini, is coming together thanks to the efforts of at least three separate but collaborative entities. On the production side, there is Roger Berkon of Roger Berkon Lifestyle Events Management, which has extensive longtime experience producing events in the Bahamas. The OPA is handling all issues regarding the racers and the race itself. To that end, the OPA is working closely with the Chesapeake Bay Powerboat Association, which has a 40-plus-boat fleet heading to Bimini that weekend, to provide start, turn and support vessels that weekend.


Resorts World Bimini will be the host venue for the OPA’s upcoming offshore race. Photo courtesy/copyright Resorts World Bimini.

Berkon said he is arranging transportation for the OPA raceboats via privately contracted roll-on/roll-off ferries out of the Port Everglades seaport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Those costs, he said, are being covered by Resorts World Bimini, which with a Hilton hotel and extensive marina on site will be the host venue for the weekend. Racers are responsible for their own lodging costs as well as OPA event entry fees.

Berkon said that he was inspired to work with OPA by the offshore races in the Bahamas of the 1970s.

“If you can go to the Bahamas Ocean Sports Authority website there is a (landing) page where I reminisce about bringing back offshore racing to the Bahamas,” he said. “I started talking to Smitty (Ed Smith, the president of OPA) about one-and-a-half years ago.

“I eventually got together with Donna Mackey, the senior manager of film development for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for the past 15 years, and told her I wanted to get powerboat racing back to the Bahamas. We went through a couple of ‘dry runs’ at different resorts, and finally met with the sales team at Resorts World Bimini. They said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.’”

Berkon said that he and Smith originally discussed scheduling the event for early April. In a stroke of good fortune, the CPBA had scheduled its first-ever Bimini run for the last weekend of the month. Former OPA veteran competitor Jimmy Jernigan also happens to be on the CPBA’s board of directors, so a strong connection between the Maryland-based club, which had assisted with previous OPA events, and the racing organization already existed.

“Every five years, we try to do something fun with our group—we’re like a big family,” said Jernigan. “This year, we’re going to Bimini. I planned for three months and got a block of rooms for everyone. Three months go by and Smitty calls me—he saw on Facebook that I had invited him to go with us to Bimini. He told me he wanted to do a race there, but wanted to do it in the first part of April. He needed the support boats. I said, ‘No way. I can’t. I’m sorry.’ Cynthia Paez, the lady who put this together at the resort, said this was the only free weekend they had. Smitty called me back the following Monday and said, ‘OK, we’ll go with that weekend.’

Jernigan said there are 42 boats registered for the CPBA Bimini run. “Only about half of the people are from Maryland,” he said. “The other half of the group is coming from all over—Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, South Carolina. It’s a free event—there is no registration fee. People just have to pay for their hotel rooms.”

At present, OPA reportedly has somewhere between 20 and 30 boats committed for the event. (A phone call to OPA to confirm that number had not been returned when with this story went live.) Depending on the number of boats that make the trek to Bimini, races could be on Saturday (definite) or Friday and Saturday. Offshore racing veteran Gary Ballough will assist with course layout and logistics, according to Berkon.

Berkon said that safety assets will include two helicopters and 10 open-water-trained, certified Emergency Medical Technician rescue divers, as well as an on-site physician and medical support staff. Bimini has no hospital/trauma center, so Berkon said emergency aircraft transportation to Florida is “being negotiated” in the event it is needed.

Even though the event is more than a month away, deadlines loom.

“The boats need to be in Port Everglades no later than April 20 so, if they want to, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security can inspect them—they have to be available for inspection,” said Berkon. “Smitty said a couple of people from OPA will be there to supervise the loading and unloading of the boats on the ferry. They need to be in Bimini no later than April 26, and once they get there they’ll be off-loaded and moved to the dry pits.”

Berkon said he expects to meet with Smith next week for a final planning meeting.

Editor’s Note: Speedonthewater.com chief photographer Pete Boden and writer/offshore racer Johnny Saris (Saris covered the 2016 OPA season with fellow contributor/racer/broadcaster Mike Yowaiski and will be competing in Bimini) will provide coverage of the CPBA run and OPA race.

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