CLEARWATER — Sleek, fast boats will be racing at speeds up to 140 mph off Clearwater Beach this fall when an offshore powerboating race comes to town.
The race on Sunday, Oct. 4, will be free and open to the public. Boats up to 50 feet long will race from Pier 60 north for about 2½ miles and back, doing multiple laps around the loop.
They'll probably race 200 to 300 yards offshore, "close enough for everyone to see them," said John Carbonell, president of Super Boat International, the organization that's running the race.
He said he expects 30 to 35 boats to compete in two races. He said the powerboats and their pit crews will set up beginning Friday, Oct. 2, in Coachman Park, where the public can get a closer look at them. The plan is for them to launch from the nearby Seminole Boat Ramp.
Because tourism is Clearwater's No. 1 industry, city officials say they're pleased to be hosting an event that could draw visitors to hotels and restaurants in October, normally a slow time for local tourism. That's the main reason why the city hosts an Ironman triathlon in November.
"We all know what a wonderful destination Clearwater Beach is," Mayor Frank Hibbard said Tuesday at a news conference for the event. "To add this in October to Clearwater's menu is a wonderful thing."
Former Mayor Brian Aungst, who has been tapped to be a volunteer chairman of the race, said he once helped broadcast a powerboating race on Virginia Beach and was struck by how many families came out to the beach for the weekend.
"People flock to these boats," Aungst said. "Everybody loves speed on the water."
The races feature 50-foot boats with F-16 jet canopies and 4,800-horsepower engines. During races, they reach speeds of 100 to 140 mph, depending on weather conditions.
Super Boat International is one of several organizations that run powerboating races. Carbonell said it has been staging races for 30 years and is perhaps best known for its annual races in Key West, Sarasota and New York City. It recently struck a deal with CBS to broadcast the Clearwater race and seven others.
A different group, the American Power Boat Association, held races in Tampa Bay from 1997 to 2001. It left after St. Petersburg refused to provide $60,000 worth of free city services and buy $50,000 of advertising on the event's broadcast. When it tried to return to the bay in 2003, it had trouble getting a federal permit because its boat-launching area was populated with manatees.
For the Clearwater race, the city isn't providing any free services, said Kevin Dunbar, the parks and recreation director. Instead, the race organizers have agreed to pay for things like extra police officers and marine patrols.
As for wildlife, Carbonell said spotters in helicopters watch for manatees and sea turtles, and will stop a race if necessary. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium will be assisting. "You can't race in Florida unless you do what's required of you," he said.
Super Boat International says it has applied for a race permit from the U.S. Coast Guard, and it expects to get one.
The race organizers were lured here by the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce and local restaurateur Frank Chivas, who saw a Key West race and thought the event would be a good fit for Clearwater Beach.
Some proceeds from the race will benefit the Clearwater Community Sailing Center.
Super Boat International plans to run nine races this year. The first was last weekend in Miami, where only 10 boats competed.
Carbonell said racing teams are traveling less because of the poor economy, but he expects dozens of boats to compete in the Clearwater event because it'll be a crucial race for boaters trying to win the organization's championship.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.