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On board with John Ruiz, owner of the Cigarette Racing Team

2 September 2021

Youthful aspirations have fuelled this high-power attorney’s passion for boats, and his recent acquisition of the iconic Cigarette is a dream fulfilled

John Ruiz, yachtsman, inventor, trial attorney and pioneer in healthcare data analytics applied to the field of law, has just powered into a new career as a performance boat manufacturer. In May, he acquired Cigarette Racing Team, the iconic brand from his native Miami, with investment partner Lionheart Capital.

Ruiz’s first Cigarette was the 1,130hp 11.5 metre Top Gun
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

It’s a dream a long time in the making. As a youngster he watched powerboats from Miami’s Collins Avenue beach and dreamed of being there himself. “I was enamored by the speed and the sound – the freedom it conveyed,” he says. When he watched the 2018 movie Speed Kills, a biopic starring John Travolta as the founder of Cigarette, Don Aronow, a particular scene called out to him – Aronow squints into the sun as he watches the young guns out on speedboats getting ready to race. He grimaces and then nods knowingly as if to signify “game on.”

Don Aronow, who founded Cigarette
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

This scene, Ruiz says, brought him back to the way he felt as a 15-year-old watching boats speeding across the shimmering bay. He couldn’t afford to buy a boat, so he decided to build one. He started saving up, and when a schoolmate introduced him to Pantera Boats, another of Miami’s performance boat brands, he decided to buy one of their 7.3 metre hulls and decks. He learned quickly how to pull a deal together, drawing up his contract, and when he realized that for a little more he could buy an 8.5 metre Pantera, he opted for the bigger model. He worked out a financing deal for two Evinrude engines and, wheeling and dealing, it took him a year to have his boat built and outfitted. He still remembers the day he finally got to launch it and the feel of the ocean beneath him. “It was amazing and exhilarating,” he remembers. “I stayed out all day long and came back only when it got dark.”

The AMG Cigarette
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

This scene, Ruiz says, brought him back to the way he felt as a 15-year-old watching boats speeding across the shimmering bay. He couldn’t afford to buy a boat, so he decided to build one. He started saving up, and when a schoolmate introduced him to Pantera Boats, another of Miami’s performance boat brands, he decided to buy one of their 7.3 metre hulls and decks. He learned quickly how to pull a deal together, drawing up his contract, and when he realized that for a little more he could buy an 8.5 metre Pantera, he opted for the bigger model. He worked out a financing deal for two Evinrude engines and, wheeling and dealing, it took him a year to have his boat built and outfitted. He still remembers the day he finally got to launch it and the feel of the ocean beneath him. “It was amazing and exhilarating,” he remembers. “I stayed out all day long and came back only when it got dark.”

“I like to get where I’m going so I choose boats that allow me to do that"
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

Ruiz says he inherited his work ethic from his immigrant parents, who came from Cuba. They were forced to leave all they had behind and worked hard to build a new life while raising a family in Miami. “I’m a workhorse,” he says. “And I’ve instilled that in my kids, just as my father did with me. That’s what is so beautiful about the US – capitalism – you can work hard and earn things.”

That contract he negotiated for his first boat laid the groundwork for the rest of his career. After earning a BA and law degree in South Florida, he started a law practice that grew through several large class-action suits to become one of Miami’s biggest law firms. One high-profile case involved the Florida Department of Agriculture and more than 30,000 state residents. Citrus canker threatened Florida’s valuable commercial groves and the department thought they’d nip it in the bud by cutting down private trees. The problem was that the hired contractors entered private property without warning in many cases, and homeowners weren’t compensated for their losses. Ruiz and his co-counsel won what he described as a “clear-cut case” under the state constitution, and the state legislature eventually approved a compensation fund. More recently, he has applied big data to help recover unpaid claims, particularly in the field of medical care.

It was performance and speed that attracted the Miami native to the Cigarette brand
Getty Images

By 2002 he was able to fulfill his youthful dream with the purchase of his first Cigarette performance boat. “I still had my Pantera, but the boat to have was a Cigarette 38 Top Gun – it was the Ferrari of the ocean,” he says. Again, he saved his money – this time $100,000 – and found a good deal through a broker. The boat’s previous owner felt the boat was just too fast for him. “I got my 38 Top Gun. It ran 80mph with twin Mercury 575s and was a dream come true. I kept that boat for over 10 years.”

During another high-profile case, involving the crash of an aircraft, Ruiz made 30 trips to Bimini, traveling the 50 miles from Miami to the Bahamian island by boat. By then he had a 15 metre Hustler Powerboat because he had wanted something bigger, and he took it to Bimini a few times. However, 19 times, he traveled across the notoriously rough Gulf Stream in his Top Gun. “It ran better than anything else,” he says. “It was a great feeling in an open boat – nothing handles rough water like a Cigarette. I only took a bigger boat when I needed to travel with more people.”

Boating is one of Ruiz's passion
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

By 2002 he was able to fulfill his youthful dream with the purchase of his first Cigarette performance boat. “I still had my Pantera, but the boat to have was a Cigarette 38 Top Gun – it was the Ferrari of the ocean,” he says. Again, he saved his money – this time $100,000 – and found a good deal through a broker. The boat’s previous owner felt the boat was just too fast for him. “I got my 38 Top Gun. It ran 80mph with twin Mercury 575s and was a dream come true. I kept that boat for over 10 years.”

During another high-profile case, involving the crash of an aircraft, Ruiz made 30 trips to Bimini, traveling the 50 miles from Miami to the Bahamian island by boat. By then he had a 15 metre Hustler Powerboat because he had wanted something bigger, and he took it to Bimini a few times. However, 19 times, he traveled across the notoriously rough Gulf Stream in his Top Gun. “It ran better than anything else,” he says. “It was a great feeling in an open boat – nothing handles rough water like a Cigarette. I only took a bigger boat when I needed to travel with more people.”

John Ruiz: "You are in control of the ocean instead of the ocean being in control of you"
Courtesy of John Ruiz

“I’ve owned a lot of boats since then,” he says. “Boating is my passion. But I like to get to where I’m going, so I choose boats that allow me to do that. This way, you are in control of the ocean instead of the ocean being in control of you.” Among the boats he owned were several Ocean Yachts sportfishers, which he liked for their speed, comfort and ease of operation. “In the mid-2000s, the sportfish was the boat to have,” he says.

There were a few gaps in his boating history. When his three children were growing up and playing competitive sports, there was not much time for boating. But when his oldest son opted for law school over a shot at Major League Baseball in 2019, Ruiz felt he was ready for a bigger boat. “I knew the Azimut brand and felt it had good resale value, so I bought a 35 metre Azimut and used it to cruise around Miami and to the Bahamas,” he says. And then one day, a crewmember asked if he had noticed the yacht next to them at the dock. It was a 42.6 metre, three-deck, steel-hulled Mangusta. One phone call later he was on board. “Wow! I had never seen a boat so well finished,” he says. “I called and made an offer.” Three days later, the deal was closed.

Courtesy of Salty Wings 500px via Getty Images

The 2017 Mangusta Oceano styled by Italian designer Alberto Mancini was a natural fit for Ruiz, who says  he likes to combine comfort and aesthetics with performance. The five-cabin yacht has a pool, beach club and balconies, and it can reach 16 knots. Hence, when Mangusta came up with the next Oceano, a 50 metre vessel, he was intrigued. “I wanted something bigger and was considering a 60 metre yacht, but since where I live the depth is three metres, I was limited by the draft.

“I love the brand and the new 165 is an amazing boat – a little bigger and beamier – I love it!” he says. So he ordered hull No 2. Since the builder had started it on spec, Ruiz will take delivery in 2022.

He takes pride in driving his boats, and though he has a captain for his Mangusta, he could handle it too. That is in addition to the Azimut, 20 metre Hatteras sportfisher, 13 metre Contender, 9.7 metree SeaVee and fleet of Cigarettes – a 17.9 metre Tirranna, 12.8 and 15 metre performance hulls and a 12.4 metre centre console. He frequently sends the yachts ahead and either flies or drives one of his Cigarettes to meet them wherever they are. For this, his 15 metre Marauder is a favourite. With its twin Mercury Racing 1,550hp engines, it can easily reach 128mph, but 105, 106mph is Ruiz’ comfort level. “That’s why it’s nice that there are no speed limits on the open ocean,” he says.

One of Ruiz's biggest joys is to drive his Cigarettes
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

Ruiz uses time on the water as an escape. “When I am boating, I disconnect; it’s like the freedom of going on vacation.” When he works, he wakes at around 4am every day, pondering new business ventures and inventions. He has come up with the technology behind an illuminated channel marker to facilitate navigation and emergency response. And of late, he is working on the idea of an interactive mobile trailer (Cigarette branded, of course) that could help teach people to navigate and drive powerboats.

For a pleasure escape, he may jaunt to New York or Las Vegas, but the call of the sea keeps him in his “home waters” of Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. He entertains clients on his yachts, but weekends are for family. Favourite destinations include short runs to a sandbar by Elliott Key south of Miami or to his family’s weekend house in the Florida Keys. Summer vacations are often in the Bahamas, where the Ruiz family and friends frequent Harbour Island, Atlantis and the Exumas, which don’t seem too far by powerboat. “On the way to Harbour Island, I [once] had 24 people on the Tirranna from the helm back,” he says. “I don’t let anyone ride in the bow.” The 176-nautical-mile trip from Miami on the Cigarette flagship took three hours and 15 minutes.

Ruiz has expanded his fleet with a Mangusta
Image by Maurizio Paradisi

That combination of power and seakeeping made him a loyal customer, and now he gets to own the company. He has big plans, shaped by his long, happy experience on the water. Already in the works is the development of a bespoke Cigarette-branded personal watercraft to complement the bigger vessels planned, which include a 36.5 metre newly branded Cigarette Yacht. “The yacht will have a European look, fine lines and details – it will be extremely exciting,” he says. “I think people are ready for Cigarette to enter the yacht realm. They want style, luxury and performance in one boat, and we can accomplish that because of our experience.”

"The Ferrari of the ocean”
Courtesy of Cigarette Racing Team

Cigarette has already engaged “the right people,” he says, such as Italian superyacht designer Giorgio Cassetta, who helped bring the Tirranna to the market. Ruiz is also consulting with Mancini, whose style he appreciated on his Mangusta. And a Cigarette-built fishing boat is also in production for early 2022, but will carry a different name, the Maverick. Ruiz says the boat will be a contender in the big power centre console fishing market and he plans on replacing a few of his current boats with Cigarette-branded boats. The son of Cuban immigrants is now the owner of one of the most iconic names in boating. It’s the American Dream personified.

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