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Powerboaters' rally puts safety on display
By Dwight Ott Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Sun, Jun. 02, 2002

ATLANTIC CITY - Leaning forward, Dave Patnaude grabbed a handle of the 42-foot boat as it cruised offshore, spotting for the driver.

"Go ahead, dude, you're good!" he shouted above the roar of engines to boat driver Peter Mazzo, who lowered the throttle.

The long, yellow boat dubbed No Discipline growled as it hunkered down as if to grip the ocean. It bucked a little and then began a wind-rushing, sea-spraying flight across the water at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour.

Less than a week after a high-speed boating accident claimed the lives of three Gloucester County brothers, members of the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club gathered to demonstrate that their sport involves not only speed, but safety.

Yesterday, the 300-member club staged a "Poker Run" from Toms River to Trump Marina in Atlantic City with one group traveling on the ocean and the other along the intracoastal waterway.

The object of the game involving 63 sleek, muscular speedboats was not speed, but to collect enough winning cards at different stops along the way to trump the other teams.

Overshadowing the event was a Memorial Day powerboat tragedy, in which a $400,000 twin-hulled catamaran, Bad Kat, skipped across the waves and flipped at what police said was at least 80 m.p.h. A search off Sea Isle, where the accident occurred, has yet to recover the bodies of the three Malia brothers - James, 40, of Williamstown; Jeffrey, 35, of Glassboro; and Joel, 32, of Gloucester Township.

Powerboat drivers such as Patnaude, of Toms River, were concerned yesterday that the public might come to perceive powerboating as an unsafe sport, full of reckless enthusiasts.

Patnaude, 33, the club's president, expressed his concerns at the kickoff of the Poker Run before a group of about 100 club members at the Lobster Shanty in Toms River for the 50-mile ride.

"In the wake of the tragedy, a lot of people think we're reckless yahoos," Patnaude told the group. "We want to get the real message out and let people see what we're about and show that we're not some of the crazy people we've been portrayed [to be]."

He added: "If anything happens or anyone gets reckless, this is the last Poker Run."

The number-one goal was safety, he said. "Number two, but a close second, is fun."

While acknowledging that the state requires no license or formal training for powerboaters over age 16, he said his group would not hesitate to support licensing. And, he said, he knows of no one behind the wheel of an expensive powerboat who has not had some training.

The boats, ranging in price from $30,000 to $700,000, can reach speeds of more than 140 m.p.h.

While the boats were expensive, the owners span from blue collar to white collar, Patnaude said. The oldest member is 67. "It is a family sport," he said.

Mazzo, 43, of Toms River, driver of No Discipline, said he keeps a car seat in his boat for his 5-year-old son.

According to Patnaude, he and many other members of the group had met the Malia brothers at a recent club event in Philadelphia. They had intended to join, he said.

He said no one knows what caused the accident on Memorial Day.

Members said the brothers had purchased their boat only last year and were not that experienced with a catamaran. Patnaude said the Malias had one of the best speedboat instructors around.

"I met one of them, the oldest," said Charles Amorosi, 58, of West Orange, who drove a 36-foot catamaran similar to the Malias'.

"They wanted to go fast," he said. "They bought it last year and only used it two or three times... . They may have just used bad judgment."

John O'Loughlin, 38, of Long Island, added: "It would have been better if they had been wearing life jackets."

"Catamarans are very light, and they have twin hulls and air gets under them," said Robert Christie, 48, of East Windsor, as he displayed the 21 dials that must be observed on his single-hulled boat. "Catamarans are very rough. They get waves, and they bounce a lot."

Said Vinny Rifice, 37, of Long Island, who drives a 32-foot catamaran: "The cat is a 143-mile-per-hour rocket ship. You really have to know what you're doing."

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Wow ! They just had an item on our local 5pm news about this and the small craft that Jeff and Karen was talking about in the Feedback forum.
Very rare to hear about boating in your area reaching us in the midwest, especially on local news.
Looks like they're trying to drive the SAFETY aspect of it home !!!
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