Standing next to Skaterfest organizer Ron Szolack, Peter Hledin led off yesterday’s drivers’ meeting ahead of a 70-plus-mile lunch run from Detroit’s Metropark public marina in Harrison Township, Mich., to Pepper Joe’s restaurant in St. Clair. Hledin stood in front of 40 of his biggest fans—meaning the owners of his Skater Powerboats catamaran creations—and their guests in town from as close as St. Clair Shores to as far as Discovery Bay, Calif.
Framed by the St. Clair River, Bill Grannis’ 36-foot Skater dubbed OPA looked simply spectacular. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“I love building boats,” he said to the rapt group before him. “I love building boats even more than I like riding in them.”
The crowd laughed and applauded.
“Now gentlemen, start your engines,” he said, then smiled.
The crowd erupted again.
Szolack interjected. “Hold on, don’t go anywhere,” he said. “We still have to do the drivers’ meeting.”
Mike D’Anniballe of Sterling Performance Engines and his wife, Connie Cushing, enjoyed the event with friends in their 2007-built Skater 30 catamaran powered by 700-plus-hp Sterling engines.
At that point Chip Miller, the owner of nearby Miller Marina, took over and explained the course from Lake St. Clair down to the mouth of the Detroit River and then to the St. Clair River. He reemphasized the rules of the road and things to avoid, most notably other powerboats headed to a massive and notoriously raucous raft-up on Muscamoot Bay.
Miller and Szolack have been best friends for 20 years. His marina plays a big role in staging, launching and retrieving the Skater cats that participate in the event, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend.
“It would have been No. 11 but, you know, COVID,” said Szolack, who ran his latest ride—a 46-footer called Final Final—that mostly likely will change hands in the very near future.
The heat and humidity that blanketed Friday’s casual fun run from Miller Marine to Metropark for pizza and submarine sandwiches—and then to Brown’s Bar on Harsen Island—was gone come Saturday morning, A steady north breeze helped keep the temperature to a dry 75 to 80 degrees throughout the day.
As it turned out, Saturday was one of those days where Hledin would have been better off building boats in his Douglas, Mich., facility. His ride for the run, the 46-foot Freedom catamaran owned by Northern Californian Dale Razor, had an engine issue, and had to return to Miller Marina.
They were done for the day and didn’t make it to lunch, which was sponsored by Skaterfest absentee Danny DeSantis.
The 438 Rockette Skater remains one of the Douglas, Mich., company’s most breathtaking and timeless creations.
“We got about 20 miles before we broke,” said Rayzor. “But Pete was great about it the whole time.”
Several other Skater owners and their guests had their day cut short with mechanical issues, but those who completed the lunch run and returned to Metropark for a catered Italian dinner—courtesy of Skater owner Don Doty and another Skater-owning friend—were delighted.
“This is the first time I’ve done Skaterfest as an owner but it’s always a great event,” said Mark DiMichele, who purchased his first Skater cat, a pre-owned 38-footer, this spring. “Great boats, great weather, beautiful water. What’s not to like?”
In from New Jersey, Chris LaMorte, who owns a 36-footer, agreed. It was his third Skaterfest happening and the second for his wife, Quinn.
“Have you ever been to anything like this?” LaMorte asked a reporter during the Saturday night dinner. “It’s awesome.”
Enjoy more images from Skaterfest 2021 in the slideshow above.
“It was a great day, for sure,” said Szolack. “But the best thing about it? Everyone came home safe.”
That Skaterfest 2021 was a hit is beyond question. But a larger question, one bandied about all weekend, still looms: Will there be a Skaterfest in 2022?
“Look at the name of my boat,” he said, then chuckled, as he kicked backed in his living room after an incredible weekend on and off the water. “That should answer the question.”
Final Final, the name of Szolack’s current 46-footer, foreshadows the future of Skaterfest.
Look for a complete feature story Skaterfest 2021 in issue No. 4 of Speed On The Water digital magazine.