Whooshing on the Water
Talk to Jimmy Cazzani and you learn that he’s passionate about many things, including speedboats, teamwork, safety, and the support of sponsors and fans. Spend more time conversing and be amazed at the complexity of superboat racing while discovering what recreational boaters can learn from a daring but cautious pro.
Serafino V. Cazzani, known as “Jimmy,” is a success in ventures on land and water. A pioneering offshore racer, he’s team principal and throttle man of a Superboat sponsored by the ALEX AND ANI brand of jewelry. Cazzani recalls that his love of speed has been present ever since he was a child, although his childhood imagination may never have imagined racing for about 30 minutes in a 42-foot vessel capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour as it zips along and above the water. He notes, “We don’t drive it, we fly it! That’s why we’re referred to as pilots.”
As a recreational boater, I was unaware of the role a throttle man plays alongside a speedboat’s driver. Cazzani explains that, among his other duties, he watches the gauges, controls the trim tabs, and regulates the speed of the boat as the driver counter-steers, keeps it on course, and monitors traffic. Though a racecourse may appear straight to spectators, there are turns that require speed reductions, and underwater irregularities to be counteracted or avoided.
Strapped into a reinforced cockpit and wearing a helmet, Cazzani must account for how wind and weather affect water conditions and visibility, and then make on-the-fly adjustments. Boating’s “rules of the road” apply on the racecourse, so it’s incumbent on every racer to avoid collision. Choppy conditions may cause other racers to disappear from view at the bottom of a swell; Cazzani recounts a time when a nearby speedboat on the course was suddenly no longer visible. He braced, and when the obscured boat popped up at the top of a wave, throttle man and driver made “an evasive maneuver” to keep from smashing into his competitor. “Things are happening so fast. We don’t call out on the radio and no one would hear a horn blast,” he says.
“As race pilots we need to get as close to the edge as possible without crossing the threshold. Pleasure boating, on the other hand, requires common sense, courtesy, and an understanding of the rules of the road.”
Cazzani’s boat has an escape hatch below. Race promoters and the U.S. Coast Guard provide precautions throughout. “We get out there running high speeds but have the whole course to ourselves. We have safety systems on board, medical personnel, rescue divers, and fire fighters watching, all ready to act,” Cazzani explains.
Monitors examine the course for wildlife in the vicinity (and will hold up a competition until the creatures move on), helicopters scan the waters, and security is in place for racers and spectators alike. Cazzani finds the provided protections “very reassuring,” but doesn’t delude himself that he’s invincible. “Racing beats us up and beats up the boat,” he says.
An average racer might feel a bit stiff and sore for a couple of days. Cazzani reassures me, “I am conditioned and withstand the abuse just fine.”
Injuries do happen, however. “Once I was hit in the head by the hatch after a race,” he recollects, “and my brow was wet. I thought I was sweating, but it was blood.”
The camaraderie on the racing circuit buoys Cazzani in many ways. Though he competes against all — especially his rival, the Miss GEICO boat — he also refers to fellow race participants as “family” and says he’s “humbled to share the water with them.”
The pro offered some of his advice for pleasure boaters. “Bays and inland waterways pose congestion and challenges. We have fast boats, slow boats, and sailboats, large and small ones in all directions. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a video game.
“It’s imperative to be aware of marine traffic for 360 degrees. Yes — eyes on the back of your head! Observe rights of way; faster boats should always respect speed limits and maintain a safe distance from traffic. Boats don’t have brakes and a steering failure could lead to disaster.”
When it comes to recreational boater safety, Cazzani has more tips, starting with having a co-pilot who may notice something the skipper misses. As “the ocean is powerful and unforgiving,” he urges all boaters to provide passengers with easy access to life preservers and invest in an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), strobe lights, and an inflatable lifeboat if you travel offshore.
Cazzani has a vessel safety check performed every year on his pleasure vessel and urges other boaters to do the same. He also advocates taking courses and acquiring knowledge, saying, “I’m surprised by how many boaters have electronics they haven’t mastered. They should learn and use them! If fog rolls in or it’s night, these navigation aids are priceless.”
Boating under the influence is a definite no-go for Cazzani. “I understand a cooler full of cold beer is a ritual for many, but in an emergency, being lucid and logical could prevent a situation and save lives if something does occur.”
The man who has to throttle a speeding boat down when faced with white caps or up when airtime causes velocity to drop says that all boaters need to stay mindful. “This past season I grounded twice from not paying attention. I wasn’t being diligent in unfamiliar waters. Once, I had to enlist some locals to tow us off. Now that’s embarrassing!”
To learn more about Scuderia Cazzani and see the superboat in action, visit http://www.scuderiacazzani.com/.
By Lita Smith-Mines