Watching the livestream from the start of the 2016 Catalina Ski Race last weekend, I thought back to one of the more bizarre boat modifications ever made in any type of powerboat racing. It happened in 1995 before the Catalina Ski Race when I was still the editor of Powerboat magazine.
That year, Craig Ferguson a powerboat racer from Huntington Beach, Calif., was looking for a new boat. He liked the 42-foot Fountain, but before he put down the cash to buy the boat, he borrowed a demo model from his friend and then-Fountain dealer Dick Simon and towed it to officials of the Long Beach Boat and Ski Club (LBBSC) to have it measured to make sure it would be legal for the annual Catalina Ski Race.
Beak be gone—Craig Ferguson’s modification to his Fountain 42-footer made Catalina Ski Race history and started a trend.
“They did a 30-minute measuring marathon on it,” recalled Ferguson, who owns an automotive service shop in Southern California.
Race officials declared the boat legal so Ferguson ordered the first 42’ Fountain with Mercury Hi-Performance (now Mercury Racing) HP 800 SCs and Number Six drives. He won his class in a couple of offshore races and was looking forward to participating in the Catalina Ski Race.
When the time came around for the annual event in early August, officials from the LBBSC informed Ferguson that the rules for measuring boats had changed and his boat was now too long.
After going back and forth with the officials, he asked them to come to his shop and mark the boat at the bow where it was too long. They were reluctant, but eventually marked the boat at 3-1/8 inches aft of the tip of the bow. Fountains are known for distinctive bow peak.
“I whipped out the Sawzall and whacked it off right there and handed it to them,” Ferguson said, then laughed. “I said, I guess I’m racing. It’s my boat. If I want to cut it up…”
He sealed the boat’s blunted bow. Shortly thereafter, he was informed that he needed to bring the nose of the boat with him to the driver’s meeting before the race. Ever the showman, Ferguson asked his next-door neighbor, a custom cabinetmaker, to fabricate an oak box lined with velvet. He finished it with gold hinges and hardware and even included a refrigerator-style light that shone on the piece of bow when the box was opened.
A few minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, Ferguson marched into the driver’s meeting with the piece of his boat in the box handcuffed to his wrist. He unlocked it and secured it to the wrist of one of the race officials to open up the meeting.
Ferguson won the race with Australian skier Matthew Gibbons in tow. He recalled how terrible the fog was during the event that year.
“I had maybe 75 feet of visibility,” he said. “It cleared up 100 yards before the breakwater and I looked up and saw all the helicopters.”
Ferguson won again in 1997 towing another Australian, Wayne Mawer. During the next few years, roughly a dozen teams ran 42-foot Fountains with their beaks removed.
Editor’s Note: Award-winning marine writer Eric Colby is a weekly columnist/contributor for speedonthewater.com and feature writer for Speed On The Water digital magazine.