Chairmen of the Outboard

A 50-year-old Biscayne Bay institution builds a dock to the 21st Century

For some members politics was as much a passion as boating. And the MOC's patch of Watson Island offered an excellent vantage point for viewing two of the most bizarre events in Miami-Dade's political history. Coincidentally both occurred in 1985.

One of them erupted over a plan to make the spoil island a tourist destination. That idea was not new, of course. In the Seventies and early Eighties, then-Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre campaigned repeatedly for a theme park on the island. "When Ferre wanted to build that big project we put out a bumper sticker that read 'Save Watson Island for boats, birds, and blimps,'" recalls Armando Gutierrez, a political consultant who has been an MOC member since the Seventies. (He owns a seventeen-foot Mako.)

But a new-and-improved 1985 concept for the rustic isle gained enough steam to win the city commission's backing. Developer John K. Meyer's proposed $130 million, Arquitectonica-designed complex that would include a boat-exposition center, a 300-room hotel, two restaurants, and docks for 300 boats. It also called for the MOC and the Miami Yacht Club to merge into one building. Among Meyer's associates was lawyer (and future City and County Commissioner) Arthur Teele. The investors included Cuban American National Foundation honchos Jorge Mas Canosa and Pepe Hernandez.

But then-Commissioner Joe Carollo, who cast the sole vote against the project, sent the scheme into disarray by disclosing that a company with dealings in communist countries was among the twelve investors. A war of words followed and Mas Canosa challenged Carollo to a duel with guns or knives. The commissioner suggested water pistols. In the end there was neither a shootout nor construction. "They are running like chickens," Carollo bragged to the Miami Herald after Mas Canosa and other CANF investors pulled out.

Another bizarre drama unfolded that year in and around the MOC's Happy Room. On August 22 an FBI undercover informant met with then-County Mayor Steve Clark and retired Miami zoning officer Kevin "Waxy" Gordon. (Clark was a club member.) Agents were probing two claims: 1) longshoremen were involved in racketeering at the port; and 2) Gordon was involved in a zoning scam in Hialeah. The FBI later reported that Clark had offered political help, but nothing overtly illicit.

Six months later Clark and Gordon were again at the MOC. Now Gordon was wearing an FBI wire; agents had snared him in a drug deal several weeks before the encounter. According to a transcript of the chat, then-federal Judge, now U.S. Congressman, Alcee Hastings warned Clark to stay away from Gordon. Hastings was privy to the federal investigations because he had authorized the wiretaps. (Disclosing such information is illegal.)

Here are some highlights of Clark's barely intelligible exchange with Gordon at the MOC:

Clark: I remember saying, "Hello, judge," and he comes to me saying, "Stevie, I want to tell you something.... Don't get near Kevin.... Kevin Gordon is involved in some zoning in Hialeah and don't, I'm just telling you don't, don't [go near him] ... just walk away from it." ... How in the hell would he know that?

Gordon: I have no idea.... Here's what I did. I made one call....
Clark: To a commissioner?
Gordon: To a commissioner out there....
Clark: How, how in the fuck would the judge know about this?

Gordon died of a heart attack a month later. The FBI eventually dropped the investigations and the U.S. Senate impeached Hastings for plotting to take a bribe, but acquitted him of charges he leaked word of the wiretaps to Clark. (Hastings denied warning Clark and a federal judge later ruled the impeachment invalid. The affair was the subject of a July 13, 1988 New Times feature story, "Undercover.")

The episode is now a dim chapter of MOC lore. "We never figured out what really happened," concludes commodore Gonzalo Planas, an electrical contractor who lives in Hialeah.

Clark sailed on and so did the MOC. The extent of Clark's advocacy for the club, which paid the city $13,000 in yearly rent, is unclear. "Clark didn't attempt to do their politics for them, that I know of. He was just the guy in the background," concludes John Brennan, who chairs the city's Waterfront Advisory Board. "I think it was sort of like having a shotgun in the closet. They didn't have to open the closet, but you knew that they could get serious if they had to."

By 1988, MOC's 50th anniversary, it was clear the club had forged a grand Anglo-Cuban alliance. Proclamations commending the motorboaters' public service were issued by Cuban-American mayors across Dade County, including West Miami's Pedro Reboredo (now a Miami-Dade commissioner), Sweetwater's Isidoro Cuevas, and Miami's Suarez.

Through all the politics, the MOC's purpose remained as stated in its charter: "for the furtherance of outboard boating in all of its allied activities ... to foster a spirit of helpfulness and good fellowship ... [and] to enable the boatman to fully enjoy the use of his outboard-powered craft."

Speed is not the only factor in this year's regatta. As in a scavenger hunt, crews locate clues, figure out the answer, then travel to the next stop. Members hide out in various parts of Biscayne Bay dispensing hints. Commodore Planas stations himself at the edge of Bicentennial Park with the first clue. The last stop is at a boat just off Virginia Key. The winners take home a coveted prize: a bottle of booze.

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