60 Summers Throwback: Flight to Portugal Hoax Made Real

Hand holding toy airplane with sun behind it
Photo: iStock

Sometimes when the news in the Hamptons got boring, I’d spice things up by writing a hoax. One April, after a long winter, I wrote about the annual “Flight to Portugal” event.

Dick Cavett joined the Flight to Portugal
Dick Cavett joined the Flight to Portugal

Local teenagers would take their souped-up cars out to the grounds of the Montauk Lighthouse, where a big but crude wooden launching ramp had been built. One at a time, the kids would race their cars up the ramp to arch out over the cliff and splash down into the sea. The one that got the farthest would get a six pack of beer and a laurel wreath crown.

This preposterous story actually became real. I got a letter from the Portuguese National Tourist Office in Manhattan, offering the winner a one-week all-expenses-paid vacation for two in Portugal, including airfare.

So we had to hold the event.

A Flight to Portugal contestant
A Flight to Portugal contestant

For starters, to buy time, we announced a postponement of the annual event until August, so that the kids could have a warmer ocean. Then we organized it, not with cars but with rubber band-powered balsa wood gliders that entrants would throw off the cliff.

Fifty-five people entered on the appointed day. Grumman Aviation donated surveying equipment to determine the winner.

The U.S. Coast Guard had a ship hover offshore to pick up debris. We had a band, a barbecue, a few celebrity entries—Dick Cavett, for example—and in the end a couple from Stony Brook won the prize and enjoyed the week in Portugal.

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