Powerboats up close: sensory overload

Grand Prix Festival showcase of contestants keeps drawing this fan year after year

Harriet Cuthbert. Contributed photo

Who doesn’t love the experience of ogling a beautiful, sleek, fast powerboat, especially if one is making the observation from the comfort and safety of the shore?

It was another stunning Sarasota day — blue sky, sun breaking through the clouds, just enough of a breeze to cool us off. As has been my annual ritual for the past five years, the day before the Suncoast Powerboat Grand Prix races were to take place, I headed over to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall parking area in Sarasota so I could be up close and personal with these stunning objects of art.

OK, maybe shiny boats with names of sponsors — as well as themes, a la bumper sticker-style sayings — imprinted on them are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I appreciate them for what they are: pop art (see Andy Warhol).

I arrived at Centennial Park area before 10 a.m., just in time to hear the first notes of the very cool Chili Caribbean steel band. The performers were on a large stage, facing the bay on one side and the beer tent on the other.

My first boat stop, as always, was the GEICO area, because it is the largest and the “showiest.” Usually, it features three boats of different sizes, a gigantic truck, tables, chairs and lots of people proudly wearing GEICO T-shirts and willing to chat. Miss GEICO is entered in the “large” boat group and usually wins first or second place (estimated speed — 175 mph).

The primary purpose of that day’s event was to get the boats into the bay and let them have a trial run, sort of a tune-up for the following day.

The Miss GEICO team participates in the 2012 powerboat parade in downtown Sarasota. File photo

The crowds started picking up: many families with young children; people with their smartphone cameras poised for shots; and old-timers who just love boats of any kind, especially when the vessels are all lined up around the bay, waiting for their big event.

Suddenly, it began: The Sarasota Police boat slowly glided over; the helicopter landed nearby; the crowd grew very quiet; and a gigantic crane began to lift each boat from the back of the parking area into the bay. And then, while the music volume was rising, each boat turned on its multiple engines and meandered away from the dock and into the bay. The incredible roar eased to a barely perceptible purr. The magnificent sight of five of those man-made masterpieces of speed was definitely sensory overload.

Who wouldn’t prefer being up close and personal with the boats, their pilots and maybe even sitting in the cockpit? I know I would.