Leg 2: Alabama Jack's to Gilbert's
Back on the open water, the second card in my pocket, Bud once again hands over the wheel. This time there's no restricted channel, so I can experiment with the throttles. I nudge the levers forward a millimeter at a time, creeping up in speed. Sixty. Seventy. As we approach 80 mph, I glance over at Bud, expecting a reprimand. Instead, he says, "Do a hundred." Aye aye, captain. I shove the throttles all the way forward and revel in the giddy command of 2700 hp. It scrambles your brain a little bit to be in control of an object this large, accelerating this hard. You're keenly aware that there are massive forces at work to make this happen and that you're not entirely in control-it's not as if there's a brake pedal. This is less like driving a car and more like putting a steering wheel on a mudslide.
When the GPS hits 100 mph, I pull back on the throttles, at which point the Cigarette does something unexpected: it keeps accelerating. The GPS climbs to 101 mph, 102 mph, eventually hitting 104 mph before slowly creeping back down. This is what happens when you've got the momentum of a 46-foot boat moving at 100 mph, plus the rotational inertia of two huge V-8s spinning those stout stainless-steel cleavers-if you're heading back to a dock on the East Coast, you'd better chop the throttle as soon as you see land, or you're liable to dig a Cigarette-sized trench halfway to Omaha.
I'm sitting down for lunch at Gilbert's, listening to a live acoustic version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," when the SLS roars into view. The boat won again, but not by much -- a minute, maybe. The race is shaping up.
Leaving Alabama Jack's I immediately encounter a tollbooth (another dollar) for the bridge onto Key Largo. As I approach the bridge, I can see, between the trees, the boat gliding by in the canal off to the right.
On Key Largo, we're still on the two-lane road, but with other cars around we're forced to roll pretty mellow. I leave the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox in fifth and enjoy the snap and crackle on each throttle liftoff.
I contemplate my surroundings: One might think that a car whose color scheme inspired a speedboat would be the worst kind of garish, but this SLS interior-in off-white ("porcelain") and black-is actually quite tasteful. The headliner is full Alcantara, the trim accents are carbon fiber, and the instrument cluster has a brushed metal finish. Nice. The only thing that could ruin the mood is thinking about the boat whipping across the open water at 100 mph . . .