Boat racing returns to Jacksonville after 25 years

Organizers say event safer than it was in 1980s

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - You can see something on the St. Johns River this weekend that has not happened in 25 years: boat racing.

Jacksonville's Grand Prix of the Sea will be held Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Boat racing was a fixture downtown for awhile until the late 1980s, when a deadly accident occurred and new manatee protection zones were implemented.

Now the races are back. They will not be downtown but close by.

There have been a lot of changes since the '80s, and now organizers say it's a lot safer.

Racing has not always been fine here, though. One man died when his boat flipped during a race downtown in 1987. Races continued the following year but then were stopped.

"So we move it outside that area to an open part of the river off Memorial Park," said Joel Lamp, of Jacksonville's Sports and Entertainment Office.

The city checked with the state, and during the races manatee watchers will be in place. Both the St. Johns Riverkeeper and race staff will be keeping an eye out. Races will be halted if manatees are spotted.

The races will take place in the middle of the St. Johns River past the Fuller Warren Bridge. A good viewing point is Memorial Park in Riverside, but onlookers can see the races from San Marco as well. As for safety, the city says these boats are much safer than those in the past.

"They top out at 80 mph," Lamp said. "They are built to spin, not take off."

For Jacksonville's boating community, this is a good sign, because not only is the race set for this weekend, but there are a number of charity boating events that are also taking place.

"There has not been any boating event in the St. Johns River since 1989," said Buddy Haskell. "It's very important for the boaters. It's very important to showcase the river, and it's very important for the city."

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