POWERBOATS ARE COMING BACK TO MARATHON IN 2023

For the first time in seven years, powerboats like the ones seen here competing in Key West’s World Championship races will tear through a high-speed course in Marathon in early 2023. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTOS.

For the first time since 2016, powerboat racing is set to return to Marathon in 2023.

The announcement comes courtesy of a June 21 press release from Race World Offshore (RWO), the same organization responsible for Key West’s popular powerboat races, announcing the inaugural 7 Mile Offshore Grand Prix on April 28-30, 2023.

As an officially sanctioned race in the American Power Boat Association’s (APBA) National Series, the race will be the first of the 2023 season, which will return to the Keys for its conclusion in Key West in November.

Although some boats are known to stop in Marathon during poker runs and on their way to Key West for the annual races, Marathon has not hosted an official offshore race since 2016’s Super Boat International Marathon Super Boat Grand Prix.

“I’ve lived in Key West for 30 years, and I have to tell you, of all the stuff we put on Facebook and all the things that we do, we’ve gotten the most comments and most everything for this event than anything we’ve done, which is unbelievable,” RWO president Larry Bleil told Keys Weekly. 

Though RWO has looked to return to Marathon for several years, the completion of the Old Seven Mile Bridge finally provided the possibility for a new near-shore viewer-friendly course. According to RWO, it has obtained permission to set up VIP tents and viewing areas along the old bridge.

“I didn’t really want to do it until we could have a good spectator area,” said Bleil. “Now that that’s done, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Though course details have yet to be finalized, Bleil says the general idea is for the boats to run east along the north side of the Seven Mile Bridge from Pigeon Key before eventually making a 180-degree turn off of Tranquility Bay resort and heading back toward the center of the bridge in a prolonged all-out straightaway.

In addition to securing course permits from the U.S. Coast Guard, race organizers will coordinate with the city of Marathon for land-based activities. As they do in Key West, RWO plans to coordinate with Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti to survey the course from the air and make sure it is cleared of turtles and other wildlife that could be harmed by the high-speed races. Depending on their class, Bleil expects most boats to reach speeds of 120 to 165 mph if the race days yield calm conditions across the course’s longest straightaways.

Locations of dry and wet pits for the racers will be announced in the coming months, along with sponsors and a host hotel for the event. If the social media frenzy around RWO’s press release is any indication, the event should draw a large crowd of locals and visitors in Marathon.

“We’re excited to see the races come back,” said Marathon city manager George Garrett. “Economically it will be a boon to the city’s businesses, particularly the hospitality industry and everything associated with that. … We’d love to have the powerboat races become another signature event for the City of Marathon.”

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Bleil. “I thought, ‘Man, once (the bridge) is finished, we need to do a race along there.’ … It’ll give a new perspective as people can stand on the bridge and sort of look down onto the boats. … It’ll be just a great, great view.”

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.