OPAJEFFERSON – The powerboats will be cruising along Lake Hopatcong, jockeying to line up as the starter in the pace boat waits for the right moment to set them loose. The water slaps at the sides of the sleek craft as their several wakes roll and collide, the eyes of each driver on the starter.

The moment arrives and the signal is given.

With a roar of their powerful outboard motors, the boats seem to leap from the water, their bows rising above the wave crests, cutting through water easily, then settling on the lake surface like dancers before racing off and leaving behind a rainbow plume.

That is the sensation Jay Muller said viewers will see from the Lake Forest Yacht Club from May 10 to 12, when the club hosts the first-ever Lake Hopatcong Grand Prix.

The local races will be the first races of the 2013 season for the Offshore Powerboat Association.

Muller, who has won seven world championships as a throttle man, said the offshore powerboats are unlike the small hydroplane races once held on Lake Hopatcong. They are larger and more powerful.

This style of racing has been seen at Atlantic City, and in the 1970s, at Point Pleasant when the Jersey Shore town hosted the Benihana Offshore Grand Prix, known as the Indy 500 of offshore racing, according to the OPA’s website. 

“This should be an exciting weekend,” said Ray Calogero, commodore of the Lake Forest Yacht Club. Besides attracting a local audience, the races will be broadcast on television.

The club is renting its facility to Muller’s organization for the event. The weekend-long event has been a topic of discussion among the club’s board for sometime, he said.

It’s an opportunity to promote the lake community and support local businesses, he said.

Among the partners for the event are the Mason Street Pub and Marina in Jefferson, the Courtyard by Marriot and Holiday Inn Express in Mount Arlington. Besides the races, the weekend will feature race and powerboat related displays by vendors, food and nightly after-race parties.

According to the schedule, boats will begin arriving Friday, May 10. They are lifted by crane into the lake, and on Friday and Saturday will be tested on the lake course.

The pre-race days also include training sessions for volunteers, and safety and security sessions for participants.

Muller said visitors would be able to speak with race crews, examine the boats and watch the preparation. The yacht club will take on carnival atmosphere with the boats, teams campers and the food carts, he said.

The organizers are in the process of securing permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the lake, a state park, through the Division of Parks and Forestry, the Marine Police division of the New Jersey State Police and Jefferson Township.

Kerry Kirk Plugh, the DEP representative to the Lake Hopatcong Commission, said the organizers need a special use permit.

The review examines such topics as the size of the boats, the impact upon the lake and other lake users, and environmental concerns including the impact on fishing, she said.

The size and top-speed of the boats can be limited, she said.

Jefferson Township Administrator James Leach said the Township Council recently tabled, at the request of Police Chief Kevin Craig, discussion on permits needed for the event until Craig could complete a review of the safety and security plans. They will need an outdoor permit from the township, which is still pending, he said. The applicants will need a one-day liquor permit to serve alcoholic beverages at the event.

The township has no jurisdiction over activities on the lake, which is governed by the state, Leach said.

The council expects to take up the application once Craig has completed his review, Leach said.

Plugh said the 2,500-acre lake is filling up again, after the recent 26-inch winter drawdown, and has reached an 8-foot depth. She said they are able to meet the 12-cubic-feet per-second required outflow into the Musconetcong River. The state targets a 9-foot depth for Lake Hopatcong in the summer.

Brad Garie, president of the Knee Deep Club, said the membership is very concerned about the races and the potential impact on the lake.

The chief concerns are the impact of noise on the wildlife, especially bald eagles which have been sighted around the lake, increased water siltation stirred up by the high-speed boats, shore erosion possibly caused by high wakes, and fuel spills, Garie said.

“We need to look at the possible environmental impacts,” Garie said.

He said the club wonders how the lakeside residents or weekend visitors will be able to get around the lake with the race events ongoing.

Muller said up to 40 boats could be competing during the event. Speeds can range from 70 mph to 115 mph.

The 2.8-mile course will be set up so that the races can be viewed from the Lake Forest Yacht Club, which is located in the northeast section of the lake across from Liffy Island.

The races are broken down by class of boat but on May 12, race day, several races could be taking place at the same time, Muller said.  The races are expected to be between 40 and 60 miles, with 15 to 20 laps per race. The drivers are professional racers, he said.

“This will be spectacular,” said Muller, who was drawn to the excitement of the sport as a youngster visiting the Jersey Shore.

According to the OPA, there are 10 classes of offshore powerboats, ranging in size from 17 to 22 feet, to the “extreme” class, which are 36 to 50 feet long.

Some of the classes are for boats with canopies and others with open cockpits.

The smaller class boats run with a single outboard and reach a top speed of 60 mph. The middle classes, with length limits of 26 to 30 feet, can run with a single outboard or a twin motor and reach tops speeds from 70 to 115 mph.

The extreme class boats can reach 135 mph. For information on the races, visit www.lakehopatcongrace.com.

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