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Veteran looks for Key West title

After more than a decade of trying, Nigel Hook has high hopes for this year’s Key West World Championship

For more than 10 years offshore powerboat racer Nigel Hook has endeavored to win a world championship in Key West. But something always went awry.

In 1990 spectators at Mallory Square gasped when his boat rolled over in front of them.

In 2004 Hook’s Lucas Oil was struck by another race boat at the first turn buoy, during the first race. The impact resulted in a large gash in the side of the boat.

Other years there have been mechanical problems, while a few world championships, such as in 1995, have seen Hook miss a title by just a few seconds.

But Hook hopes his Superboat Vee-class performance for this year’s Key West World Champonship, set for Nov. 5 to 12, will be different.

“After taking three first places in 2006 national races, we’re hoping this year will be our number,” says Hook, 50, who runs a business technology consultancy based in San Diego. “We’ve been testing different setups recently in races with Key West specifically as our target.”

Hook is teaming up with throttleman Rich Turmel of West Palm Beach, Fla., in a recently built 39-foot Skater with two 525-hp Mercury engines. The boat’s top speed is 114 mph, Hook says. He anticipates his stiffest competition will come from last year’s Super Vee world champion Yachts Fountain, piloted by Frenchmen Michel Karsenti and Michel Allegre.

Key West features a unique racecourse and is considered one of the top offshore powerboat racing venues in the world, especially for spectators, says John Carbonell, race director and president of SBIP.

“It’s a triangular course and each leg is different, with ever-changing waters,” Carbonell said. “Racers understand that they have to have good equipment and be in shape to run this course.”

The route incorporates Key West Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. Usually conditions in the harbor are calm and racers easily can achieve speeds in excess of 125 mph as they thunder by spectator areas so close the noise is almost deafening. But, away from the harbor, a strong northwest wind can kick up seas on outside legs of the course in excess of 6 feet.

“In rough seas it can be like hitting a brick wall,” says Carbonell, who piloted his own boat on the APBA circuit in the 1980s.

More than 10 classes are to be divided into three separate heats during three days of racing: Nov. 8, Nov. 10 and Nov. 12. Action is slated to begin at 10 a.m. each race day.