Ernie Mello has come out of retirement to make a curtain call in the Rubis Around the Island Power Boat Race exactly 40 years after making his debut in the annual spectacle.
The 57-year-old is set to compete as a navigator on the 19-foot Phantom he owns along with pilot Cleveland Maybury.
“Chicken [Maybury] and I raced 25 years ago but we never raced around the island together,” said Mello, who has relinquished his role as race director in order to compete. “Chicken has over 30 years’ experience, so the two old cats are out against the young guns.
“He has been driving my boat for seven years, which is the present B class factory record-holder for Around the Island and has won its class a few times with different owners.”
Mello is making his first appearance in the race in more than two decades.
“I have owned the team for over ten years and everybody else has been driving my equipment, so me and Chicken decided it’s my turn,” he explained.
“I made the decision to race basically because it’s coming up to 40 years and I’ve been inactive since 1998. I want to take the boat around for one last time and hopefully bow out gracefully.
“I’ll probably start getting my nerves on the day, but I have been doing testing the whole time. I just haven’t been in competition and that’s a whole different ball game. Around the Island is a very tactical race, but I’m excited.
“It’s the tenth-hardest race in the world and coming through town, coming out of town and hitting on South Shore separates the men from the boys.”
Mello has very high expectations going into Sunday’s race.
“We are in it to win it,” he declared. “We are coming in as five-times national champions so it’s not something to laugh at.”
Mello’s team have come close to claiming class honours in the race on several occasions in recent years.
“We have been the bridesmaids for the last five years,” he added. “We led last year until a foot throttle broke.
“We have led a bunch of times; it’s just we haven’t been able to seal the deal.”
Mello and Maybury are competing in what promises to be the largest class in the race, featuring as many as 12 boats.
“The cool thing about our competition is that all five of the top B class boats have had multiple issues throughout the season, but we are all going to make the start line,” Mello said.
Registration deadline for the Rubis Around the Island Power Boat Race expired at 7pm yesterday.
Last year, David Selley and Matthew Smith broke a 26-year-old A Class record on their way to class and line honours. The pair were in the first group to start at Ferry Reach and, despite the rough conditions, they remained consistent to reach the last turn back still in the lead, finishing in a record time of 55min 11sec.
They broke the previous A Class record of 55:46, set in 1992 by Andrew DaCosta and co-pilot Chris Smith, the older brother of Matthew Smith.