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Remembering Their Friends: Jim Melley and Garth Tagge

Although everyone is able to pay their respects to Georgia performance boaters Jim Melley and Garth Tagge in person next Wednesday and Thursday during their respective memorials in Buford and Cumming (click here for more details), speedonthewater.com reached out to a handful of people in this community who knew Jim and Garth well to see if they’d be willing to comment publicly for a tribute we wanted to do for the teammates who died a week ago today in a boat crash in Virginia (read the story).

jim garth helmkamp

Jeff Helmkamp captured this pretty picture of Jim Melley and Garth Tagge running their 36-foot Skater in Oklahoma in July.

Obviously we knew we could talk about the intelligent, meticulous, generous gentlemen that Jim and Garth were. We also could recognize their competitiveness and talk about what a joy they were to interview over the years. Instead, we decided to let their friends do the talking. After all, their memories are way, way better than ours, plus this isn’t about us.

The news hit Kentucky’s David Southern quickly Saturday morning and he was in disbelief, especially since he was planning to go with Garth and Jim to the Potomac River Radar Run.

“I was supposed to go with them to be their ground crew, but I had to back out because of a critical illness in the family,” said Southern, who owns Pure Platinum, a 38-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran he ran with Tagge at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Missouri at the end of August. “I wish I had gone now so I could have hung out with them one more time. I’m sure going to miss them. Garth took me for my first ride in a Skater. I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed their boat more than him.

jim garth southern

“Garth and Jim also were guys who would go out of their way to help anyone,” he continued. “In 2015, I went to the Shootout by myself. Garth and Jim knew I needed help unloading my boat and the race fuel I brought with me. They ended up meeting me at the ramp, helped me splash the boat, took my truck, trailer and fuel back to Camden on the Lake and met me there to help tie up. I had a problem with an oil pump belt that had broken and they helped me locate one that Vern Gilbert happened to have with him. We had plans to put it on Friday morning and then go out and run both of our boats. When I got up Friday and went down to work on my boat, Jim had already replaced the belt, checked all the fluids and looked everything over.

“I could go on and on, but I think you will hear the same type of stories from anyone you interview,” he concluded, adding that he would send an image he took of the two of them at Super Cat Fest in 2014 (at right). “While we are all aware of the risks and consequences associated with what we do, it is still a shock when it happens. My heart goes out to their families, especially Garth’s and Jim’s sons.”

Chris Mills, who owns Boat Customs in Caledonia, Mich., said that reality set in for him when he walked into the shop on Monday morning and immediately noticed the spot where Garth’s boat sat last winter.

“This one is going to sting for a very long time, probably forever,” Mills said. “We have lost two of the greatest mentors, friends and fathers. Garth and Jim were the most professional, passionate, hardest-working, genuine guys I’ve ever been around—they will truly be missed.

“Some may not know this, but Garth was a mentor to me and had a lot of influence in the success of Boat Customs,” he continued. “I learned a lot from him and Jim. I spoke to both of them last week about future projects. I could go on forever telling stories about those guys, but I can’t seem to hold back the tears.”

Check out the slideshow above for more images of Jim and Garth courtesy of Pete Boden, Tristan Garvin, Beau Renfroe, Kenny Mungle, Jeff Helmkamp and Jacob Melley.

Ron Duggan, the owner of Captain Ron’s in Sunrise Beach, Mo., and the lead organizer of the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, said he had tremendous respect for Jim and Garth.

“Those guys were wonderful to be around,” Duggan said, recollecting the several times he shook their hands on stage during the Sunday Shootout awards ceremony. “They were always so cordial in person and nice to converse with over the phone. I appreciated their competitiveness and how much they loved the sport. I also respected their approach, they were gentlemen and they always did what they could to support our event.”

jim garth heathman

Alvin Heathman, who has hosted the popular Super Cat Fest event that’s been complementing the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout for the past seven years, is still trying to come to terms with the loss.

“They’re gonna be missed just like the rest of them who have left us too soon,” said Heathman, who took the photo at right in July at the GLOC Performance Boat Challenge Shootout on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees after Jim and Garth ran 188 mph. “They were so much fun to be around. I was joking with them at Grand Lake that they were going to need to get some team shirts and actually name their boat because that speed was going to bring a lot of attention their way.

“In all seriousness, that’s not who they were—neither of them were looking for the limelight,” he added. “They were the most humble and modest guys out there who carried a big stick. I mean look what they did with a 36 Skater. Their 194-mph run at Lake of the Ozarks definitely rattled the shootout world.”

Last, but certainly not least, Brian Smith, the brother of the late Brad Smith of Smith Power, talked about how great it was that Garth and Jim have been so supportive of respectful of his brother and the engines he built for their boat.

“When I think about my family’s relationship with Garth and Jim, it can only be described as one of mutual love and respect,” Smith said. “We never greeted each other with a hello, rather a genuine family hug. They were two of several customers who continued business with my dad after our unfortunate loss, but there’s no doubt they were the flagship shootout team for Smith Power.

“Winning shootouts was their passion, and they consistently credited Brad Smith and every other small business contributor for the setup they’ve incrementally improved upon since 2013,” he continued. “They were never looking for the credit, they were just dedicated to perfecting every aspect of the boat for just one more mph. I witnessed the pinnacle 194-mph run at Lake of the Ozarks and I couldn’t be more proud to have had the pleasure of breaking that run down with Jim on the dock, while Garth was doing double duty on the throttles with David Southern. We’re going to miss them more than words can express.”

In closing we’d like to thank the contributors for their candidness for this tribute story, which we hope helps the families understand what their husbands, dads, sons and brothers meant to some of their friends in the powerboat community. We look forward to seeing Jacob Melley and his twin brother, Jordan, out running their dad’s 28-foot Skater in the future.

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