I woke up on Friday, July 10, filled with excitement. I marked the box for July 10 in my planner with colors and stickers back in March. It has been 7 years since a day like today happened. Notoriously early for things, I eagerly packed my bag with water, sunscreen, my journal, some snacks, and my camera, and was showered and ready by 8:45 am. I kept looking at my watch and kept thinking, “10:30 am will never get here.” In a way, I didn’t want 10:30 to arrive, because that would mean my day will have started and it would be over sooner than I’d like.
Finally, it was time to leave. I loaded the truck with my bag and my beach chair, and I was off to experience what I now call “my perfect 4 hours.” Thankful that I didn’t have to find a parking spot, my husband dropped me off on time, right at 10:30 am. I exited the truck, lugged my chair and bag towards the wall, and set up what would be my little zone for the next few hours.
I sat looking to the north, with the salt water rushing in and out of the Inlet, Manasquan on the other side, Carlson’s Corner on the left, the surfing beach entrance and pavilion on the right. I was surrounded by people who were fishing, to the left and to the right of me, hauling in nothing but masses of sea weed and an occasional short fish, which would be thrown back into the water. Other people were standing around too, talking with friends, watching the fishermen. In a way, we were all, as Otis Redding so simply put, “Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away…”
The Inlet has always been a special place for me, as it is for many people who grew up here. In high school, we were allowed to leave school for lunch, and when we were old enough to drive, many a lunch period was spent getting our food and eating in our cars at the Inlet. Every time I went away, for school or trips, one of the first places I’d go when I got home was the Inlet. I wish someone would figure out how to bottle that sweet smell of salt air and make a candle or a room freshener with it, because that’s the smell of home, and there’s no other smell in the world like it.
I’ve probably taken over 5,000 photographs at the Inlet: so many types of boats, the jetty, the mouth end, the west end, the rocks, the graffiti (unfortunately) and the landscape; in wind, sunshine and rain; at sunrise, at high noon, at dusk. The most difficult photos I ever took was about 3 weeks after Superstorm Sandy, when the public was finally allowed back into the one-way circuit to see the devastation first hand. I’ll save that post for another time, for that’s a story in itself.
Anyway, by know you might be wondering, “What was so special about Friday, July 10?” and why I was filled with excitement.
Some of my most vivid and happy, summer memories from being a kid are the yearly powerboat races (while the race name changed over the years, locals affectionately refer to the powerboat races as the “Benihana”). My brother and I would go with my uncle to see the boats up close on land in wherever “Race Village” was held that year (and I remember the Clydesdale Horses would occasionally make a visit). We’d watch the parade of boats down Arnold or Ocean Avenues. And we would stand shoulder to shoulder at the Inlet to watch the race boats go out to and return from their respective races on the ocean. Even when we weren’t able to attend the races, we could hear the boats in the distance from our house.
Due to sponsorships and schedules, the races eventually moved on to other locations throughout the USA. For years, there were no area races, then a race would be scheduled here and there, but nothing turned out to be a yearly tradition. The last race I remember was the Miss Geico Grand Prix in September of 2008.
Well, on Friday, July 10, 2015, the Offshore Powerboat Association sponsored the 2015 Manasquan Veterans Offshore Grand Prix. And back in the cold months of winter, when I saw the race announcement, I was excited like a little kid, and the same excitement that filled me all day on race day. There were two races scheduled, one at noon and one at 2 pm.
My excitement was fueled by nostalgia and by anticipation.
During the first few minutes at my Inlet zone, a few crew/course boats made their way out to the ocean. It was easy to tell these from regular boats, as they each flew a flag of some kind, and most people on the boats wore neon yellow shirts. I tested my camera settings on these boats, and was ready for the onslaught of powerboats that would soon appear for the first race, scheduled at noon.
Not long after arriving, another photographer sat by me and we talked about the old races. Then, who comes up but my uncle, the same uncle who took me to all of the powerboat events as a kid. It was so fitting that he was there to share this experience with me.
More spectators arrived on both sides of the Inlet, and a few gentlemen behind me were talking about the old Benihana races. As I turned and looked around at the crowd, I wondered how many of these same people were here many years ago, year after year, waiting for the boats then as they waited for the boats now. A big difference, though, was the amount of people waiting. Back in the heyday, people would honestly stand shoulder to shoulder, 4-5 rows back as they waited for the boats. Now there was plenty of room to stand and catch a glimpse of the boats en route to the course.
We all kept checking our watches, and finally, it was NOON. The scheduled time of the first race. With my camera in hand, I jumped onto the sea wall and looked west. I could hear the engines in the distance, and knew they were making their way to the Inlet. I saw a number on a black boat, and then the neon yellow of the Geico Caveman pace boat through the crowd of other vessels.
It was coming! They were almost here!
A Coast Guard boat turned on its light, sounded its siren, and then………here they came!
Firing their engines and led by the Coast Guard and Geico Caveman pace boat, each boat came racing through the inlet, barreling like a bat out of hell, and my camera shutter had a hard time keeping up with how many images I was taking! Some of the racers waved or gave a “thumbs up” to the crowd as the boats created quite a wave wall in the Inlet. Their adrenaline fueled my adrenaline, and the moment was quite spectacular.
90 seconds of sheer intensity and awesomeness passed, and then, the last race boat, a small yellow one, rounded the corner at the Inlet’s mouth north to the course, which was along the Manasquan beach.
I absolutely loved every thrilling second of it, and was filled with elation and pure joy.
The crowd dispersed, but a few of us stayed and took turns standing on the benches to see the boats round the south end of the course across the Inlet in Manasquan (note: if this race happens next year, BE on the Manasquan side so I can see! The boats raced right along the beach!). One or two race boats returned and headed back through the Inlet to Manasquan River Club (the race home base), seemingly having some sort of equipment problem.
After the race, the boats came back through the Inlet to return to headquarters at Manasquan River Club.. This time, the boats were a bit slower, and it was easier to take photos because they weren’t all bunched up.
The boats named Aquaholic and Typhoon each won their respective divisions, as each boat returned waving a checked flag. Spectators on both sides of the Inlet cheered for them.
Between the races, I was able to take photos of some of the party boats headed in and out for a day’s fishing, and I enjoyed talking with my new race friends. My uncle pedaled home on his bicycle to have his lunch, and returned right on time at 2 pm for the second race. Spectators on both sides of the Inlet, most of who had dispersed after the first race boats came through the Inlet, gathered again. All of us waiting, waiting, for the boats in the bigger classes to appear.
Party boats passed by with their afternoon customers, and a trawler came into port with his harvest, but activity to the west (where the race boats would come from) was quiet. Second after second passed, and still, nothing.
We realized that the boats must have caught the railroad bridge and been halted for a while as a train made its way over the waterway. When that happens, it not only holds boaters up from the closure, but creates a second delay of boaters trying to navigate through the small opening on the water from both directions once it reopens.
Finally about 2:20, I could once again see the neon yellow Geico pace boat, among others, in the distance, and I heard the revving of the engines.
Inlet traffic was stopped, and the small Coast Guard boat once again fired up its siren and light, and Round 2 began!
Behind the pace and course boats, the totally awesome Batman racing boat led the field out of the Inlet. Again, engines screaming, waves crashing, pure speed gusting through the channel, 90 seconds of power and fury, and again, my shutter had a hard time keeping up with the pictures I was shooting.
Some boats were repeaters from Race 1. My heart pounding, I again watched until the last boat rounded the corner north to the race course.
Shortly after, my body sent me signals that it was time to leave. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to my uncle and new friends, and walked up the road to wait for my husband to pick me up. I could hear the boats racing to the north, and even though I was completely content, part of me was wishing I was on the other side of the Inlet watching the boats battle it out on the ocean.
As I waited for my husband, I remembered completing an exercise recently that asked me to describe my perfect day.
I realized those 4 hours I spent at the Inlet were, indeed, part of my perfect day, and thus resulted in “my perfect 4 hours.”
I share my story with you because, for one, I want to preserve my perfect 4 hours in my memory forever, while keeping the shore tradition of offshore boat racing festivities alive.
On Thursday, the day before the race, I joined my sister in law and 2 nephews at Race Village, and it was so meaningful to watch them get excited upon seeing the race boats for the first time, just like my uncle watched my brother and I get excited when we were younger.
Those memories are precious, and the circle of tradition continues.
It doesn’t get any more perfect than the weather, the sounds, the sights, the smells, and the company of my uncle while watching the race boats en route to the Offshore Grand Prix course, so many years after we watched the boats for the first time.
Hopefully I can hand the same traditions and memories down to my nephews.
I also hope you SEA that my perfect 4 hours is most likely very different from yours, and that’s okay. I am unique and different, as are you, and while we might share some similar characteristics, each of us has different interests and passions. At another time in my life, I might have been reluctant to share such as story, fearing embarrassment by admitting that I like watching the powerboats.
But now, I am proud of my interests, because that’s what makes me ME.
My perfect 4 hours. I will forever be grateful for this experience and cherished memory.
Whatever yours might be, I hope you plan AND experience your perfect day, or few hours. Do what makes you YOU, and be proud of it.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading my lengthy and detailed post. I appreciate you sticking with me until the end. My intention in writing this is to inspire you, and I hope I have. Some links for you to check out, if you are so inclined…
If you click this link, you will see a photo taken by photographer Tim Sharkey of the Batman boat heading out of the Inlet for Race 2. To the right in the background, the man in the red shirt is my uncle, and I am standing next to him holding up my camera. http://sharkeyimages.zenfolio.com/oparacing_2015_manasquan_class_2/e4e87e6d5