Once powerboating gets in your blood, it's hard to shake the addiction. So when I called an ex-boat racing buddy to set up a lunch date, he suggested we travel by water. "We'll buzz over to Tampa," said Michael Allweiss, the former head of the American Power Boat Association's Offshore Racing Division. "We'll be there and back in 90 minutes." Boating from St. Petersburg to Tampa can actually be quicker than driving. You don't have to deal with traffic, red lights or state troopers on the interstate. You just put in, take a compass heading and off you go … just be mindful of the sandbars and sea grass beds.
Allweiss, a St. Petersburg attorney, raced a variety of watercraft before he took the helm of the sanctioning body that brought more than 100 race boats to The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg in the fall of 2000.
For two or three years, offshore powerboat racing had something of a renaissance before bitter infighting tore the sport apart.
Today, the 47-year-old seldom gets to drop the throttle down unless he is racing across Tampa Bay for a chicken Caesar salad.
Old boats rule
Allweiss has owned dozens of boats over the years. A fan of both catamarans and V-bottoms, he recently took possession of a 15-year-old Corsa, a 26-foot, single-engine race boat that once won both national and world championships.
Racers tend to recycle their powerboats. They might change the name and the paint job, but the hull is still the same.
"I love this boat," he said through his headset as we whizzed across the water on a calm summer day. "It has got a lot of history."
The disadvantage of owning an old boat, however, is that you have to pay close attention to maintenance. Skipping across the waves at 60 mph has a way of shaking things loose. It pays to carry a good repair kit and have friends who don't mind dropping what they are doing to tow you back to your dock.
On a weekend, there is no shortage of boaters out and about willing to offer a tow. But on a Wednesday, there was nobody else on the bay. We were on our own, which is just as well when you feel the need for speed.
Take a midweek boat trip and you won't have any trouble docking for lunch. We made it all the way across the bay to Jackson's Bistro on Harbor Island before we ran into any other pleasure boaters.
"Can we dock here?" I asked the driver of another boat.
"I don't see why not," he said. "You could tie a yacht up here."
I thought about it for a second. The seawall at Jackson's usually has at least one million-dollar yacht tied up at the dock. Come by on a busy weekend and you have to wait in line for a space. But today, we owned the wharf.
Sitting in the shade, sipping iced tea as we nibbled on a sushi appetizer, we both decided that skipping out of work for a lunch cruise probably did wonders for the soul.
"We have to do this more often," Allweiss said.
But time was slipping away. The afternoon breeze began to kick in, and that could make our return trip a little bumpy.
So we left a fat tip and hit the water. Once we cleared the channel, we turned the bow west and got ready to punch it across the bay.
That's when we heard the thud.
"That didn't sound good," I told my friend.
"No, it didn't," he agreed.
"Do you have Sea Tow?" I asked.