Smoke On The Water
High Speed Powerboats Offer Thrills--and Chills--to Adventurous Boaters and Their Wallets
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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Workers turn out hundreds of V's yearly, and for the boat buyer that means speedy delivery. Yet a mass-produced boat will have numerous clones, and among glitz seekers, it's become popular to disguise their factory V's with the graphics of a more exclusive machine, like the Indian warpath regalia of an Apache. That same general look of a stock V, especially if it's dressed up with motors to go 80 mph such as the award-winning Fountain 38 Fever, still has certain resale value.
"Once you have all those fancy colors you have to find someone who wants that same look, and that can lead to your getting burned" in a resale, says Curtis Chapman. "With a production boat, everyone knows what it looks like, what the gauges and seating are like, and that often makes selling it a lot easier."
So don't be misled by roaring big engines and shiny trappings. The keys to buying a production boat are: 1) above the waterline, the sides of the boat must be straight without any waves or bulges; 2) except for pricier offerings, many production V's come without thick coring in the hull, so make like Mike Tyson and punch the hull sides to judge whether they feel solid; 3) budget manufacturers just slap the hull and deck together like a shoebox top, so inspect the screws or bonding agents used on the joints--a fiberglass sealer is the preferable choice; and 4) the windshield must be solid, without any dangerous rough edges, and as for deck hardware, navigation lights are a must.
As for the power package and its setup, Powerboat magazinerecommends making sure that: there's a latch to ensure that the engine hatch doesn't fly open at high speeds, the batteries are tightly secured, the motor mounts are firmly bolted (vibrations on offshore V's are intense) and you have an expert check the wiring. Remember, getting stuck on the highway is one thing. Drifting helplessly offshore is quite another.
Reggie Fountain will argue that fine workmanship can be found on a production boat. Yet dream teamers on and around Thunderboat Alley insist there's only one way to buy dependable V's that make "kick ass" statements--buyers must spend the extra $200,000 to $400,000 and go custom.
Ron Beline argues against that approach for the first-time buyer, insisting, "He has to get some experience on a less expensive boat,otherwise he'll make mistakes, not knowing what he really wants or needs in a boat."
Yet if a buyer is dead set on this course, Beline's injunction is "to only work with a very competent builder, a guy who'll steer you away from radical motors and other costly add-ons that just serve to attract bimbos in bikinis."
In boat-crazed south Florida, where there's a plethora of highly regarded builders (most quick to bad-mouth each other), choosing a yard is no easy task. Dan Weinstein at Powerplay Marine has been building quality 25-, 28- and 33-footers since 1982. Curtis Chapman, also a builder, says the Cherokee boat line "is an up-'n'-comer ready to bust out." And then there's Beline, who is teaming with expert craftsman Jack Clark of Jaguar Marine to build a line of family pleasure V's with so-called S-glass hulls.
Standing in Clark's Hollywood, Florida, factory, amid those rolls of fiberglass cloth that are slowly wrapped around a foam core to give the S-glass lightweight hulls extra strength, Beline says, "Our building motto is: When in doubt, rip it out. On a production assembly line, the workers are in a hurry, and use weights or clamps to push the [hull] lamination down. But here, no matter how time-consuming it is, we vacuum-bag [or compress] every inch of the panel. That way there can't be any air bubbles in our hulls, which very easily can lead to catastrophic failures."
Less talkative about his hull's fiberglass composition (the exact combination of Kevlar and other laminates remain "a trade secret"), Apache's Bob Saccenti, the Legend of Thunderboat Alley, rarely needs to discuss engineering specifics. His racing fame speaks volumes, and if a potential buyer needs any further coaxing, there's always one of his 100 mph offshore performances.
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