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Smoke On The Water

High Speed Powerboats Offer Thrills--and Chills--to Adventurous Boaters and Their Wallets
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

Jumping off such offshore race boats as "The Exciter," "Demented" and "Bad Attitude," a dozen blondes and brunettes in skimpy bikinis parade into Shooters, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, bar on the Intercoastal waterway.

Each 20-year-old Miss Bountiful bobs and sways, flaunting Perfect 10 equipment. Cheers ring out, drowning the roar of 1,600-horsepower deep-V Apaches, Cougars and Cigarettes riding in the water.

Yet the beauty show is still the perfect accompaniment to the thunderclap of these 110 mile per hour "bay-busters," boats with an attitude. For the women--along with those needle-nosed superboats, designed to fly out of seven-foot seas, to softly reenter and to launch back out--all scream fun in the sun.

"They're a rush, a dangerous, yet still exhilarating adrenaline high just like sex," says Ron Beline, a V-bottom builder and driver on the Nightmare Racing Team. "There's nothing like standing a boat up, going as fast as you can on top of waves, launching, jamming, winning races and pushing the envelope."

The machines of choice among drug smugglers, royalty, police and plain speed freaks, these mean V's foster all sorts of spirited dreams. To the scanty thong set, a joyride on an ear-splitting powerboat with three 600-horsepower motors surging under the hatches means life in the fast lane, entry into the Gold Coast glamour circuit.

Other wanna-bes, dubbed "land trawlers" by more serious racers, cruise bars like Shooters, hoping their deep-V's with sharp-angled hulls will be their limitless ticket to fast and easy sex.

But for Beline and his boat-building competitors in this fuel-injected, supercharged world, where surviving 120 mph crackups is the ultimate badge of honor, the dream is far more complicated.

They, of course, want to design--and race--the perfect hull, discover that cutting-edge mix of plywood, foam and fiberglass. In the late 1980s and early '90s, these dreams turned into nightmares, as the boat market took a dive because of the federal luxury tax. But now the tax is gone and buyers are back, and outrunning a competitor means Miami Vice-styled thrills, money, fame and the imprimatur to succeed the legendary Don Aronow, the king of offshore performance boats.

Competing with this aura of greatness is heady stuff, for Aronow, the 1970s pioneer of the 35-foot, aptly named "Awesome" hull (which is still the industry standard), gave these machines international cachet. From designing the first Cigarettes, to building such companies as Magnum and Donzi and selling boats to such celebrities as fugitive financier Robert Vesco, the Shah of Iran and George Bush, the wheeling 'n' dealing, no-holds-barred Aronow personified deep-V's flamboyance. He was the Man.

It's easy for scores of modern-day boat builders--and average Joes-- to buy into the Aronow mythology. They all dream of going fast, faster, fastest, writing one more installment of man's conquering the sea.

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