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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

(continued from page 1)

But mirroring the caution consumers should exercise when buying and handling a powerboat, today's builders must also know when to throttle back in their chase with Aronow. For nothing intimidated him, not broken boats or bones. Known as "The Animal," the fearless Aronow lived too close to that proverbial edge, pushed it way too hard. In 1987 he wound up dead, his own dreams exploding in a hail of bullets. (According to Blue Thunder, an account by Thomas Burdick and Charlene Mitchell of the investigation into Aronow's death, Mafia connections may have led to the killing.)

Coughing up dirt with each passing truck, powerboating's mecca is a short stretch of blacktop tucked between rotting hulls, weed-covered fields and a row of hangars. Located on the northern edge of Miami Beach, N.E. 188th Street, otherwise known as Thunderboat Alley, is the heart of America's powerboat industry. It has no visible reminders of the go-go history that was made here in the 1970s and '80s. There are no plaques to celebrate the coming of the Cigarette, no signs marking the site of Aronow's gangland-style execution. But the street is still famous for its hot machines--the Apaches, USA Racing Team Cigarettes and $3 million Magnums.

Anyone wanting to buy a deep-V, to hook into the high-performance, high-speed scene, must visit this street of dreams and high-octane sales talk. For this is where Aronow's spiritual descendants, builders like Bob Saccenti and Katrin Theodoli, grapple with the latest glass laminates, fine-tune hydraulic systems and, in general, blueprint one-upsmanship claims to the king's throne.

Those conflicting boasts, usually reserved for debating the strength of Kevlar, S-glass, closed-cell foam or some other composite hull, are best epitomized by Aronow's rightful heirs, his sons Michael and David. Antagonistic rivals in this keenly competitive business, each is convinced he's taking his father's designs to new glory, recapturing the magic that coupled Aronow's name to sleek, fast and sexy.

David has his 313, a 32-foot split-console recreational boat, "a variation of my dad's 27-footer, strong enough to pound through the torturous seas," he says, while Michael is finalizing plans to market a 24-footer, its drawing-board name The Legend, and featuring an engraved signature from his father.

"No one has a little Cigarette, but I plan to build a real runner, a boat my father designed yet never built," insists Michael Aronow, echoing the passion that drives builders to breathe noxious laminate fumes and to risk their lives testing boats offshore. "Now that this beauty's time has arrived, I'm going to make the most luxurious, safest, easiest handling boat in the world."

Thunderboat Alley (along with scores of boatyards scattered across the United States and Europe) also resounds with promises, beautiful brochures, all the right words pledging safety, seaworthiness, comfort and speed. So how does a buyer wade into this market of conflicting claims and distinguish between a Fountain, Jaguar or Powerplay, boats all sporting shiny gel-coat hulls, dazzling graphics and race-tested horsepower?

Gingerly, with extreme caution and a game plan. Any prospective buyer must summon up the diligence to talk with boat owners, visit marinas or showrooms, and, most importantly, be convinced that hurtling in and out of rough water at 90 mph is fun, not hellish punishment.

As the otherwise macho Rocky Marciano discovered during a Miami-Nassau-Miami race, the G-forces pounding against the body in an open cockpit boat are so intense, the bruised prizefighter left his boat in Nassau, conceding, "It's too tough. At least in the ring I can hit back."

One way to avoid embarrassment or the financial pounding of winding up with a boat that only inspires fear and loathing is to take numerous trial runs in V-bottoms. "The entry-level buyer has to go slow every step of the way, get their feet wet with a slower-class boat," urges Ron Beline. "Buying a used V the first time out also makes sense. But jumping into a superboat is crazy, for if the inexperienced buyer flips one of these babies at 100 mph, he doesn't walk away from it."

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