Key West world championships

Powerboats to roar back into Key West waters

As many as 55 fast and loud powerboats — some reaching speeds well over 100 miles per hour — will race this week in the Key West World Championships. The fleet will compete for world titles in eight classes on an often bumpy, treacherous 6.2-mile course that starts and finishes in Key West Harbor.

Three races will be held daily on Wednesday, Friday and next Sunday beginning at 10 a.m., with Sunday’s final requiring double the laps and awarding double the points of the previous two days.

The most-watched class is Superboat Unlimited — the largest and fastest boats in the fleet. Sheik Hassan Al-Thani and crewman Steve Curtis will defend their Unlimited title aboard their 41-foot Victory, Spirit of Qatar.

Last year’s worlds went off with no major injuries, but the 2011 event was marred by the deaths of three racers in two separate accidents. The tragedies prompted John Carbonell, president of Super Boat International Productions — which puts on the race — to beef up safety protocols.

“We’re on top of it,” Carbonell said. “We’ve got medical doctors out there, choppers flying, and ambulances waiting.”

Best viewing is from the Race Village at the Truman Waterfront, located at the foot of Southard Street, where race boats pass within 50 yards of the grandstands. Other popular spectator sites are Mallory Square and adjacent waterfront restaurants.

Although many racers say Key West is their favorite venue, the championships could relocate to Florida’s Gulf Coast next year. Carbonell said the mayor of Clearwater — the site of the national championship last month — told him his city wants the worlds. And Carbonell said Sarasota also has expressed interest. He said he would talk with representatives of both cities, as well as Key West, after this week’s event and make a decision soon.

“Whoever gives me the best deal, we’ll go from there,” Carbonell said. “I’m looking at what’s best for the sport, best for the racers, and best for me.”

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