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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"A lot of people will slam, slam a V, but Bobby sets it up, bop, bop, bop, right over the tops of waves; he never lets the motor miss a beat," Chapman says about Saccenti. "Forget his just making the sale. With him launching off waves, dropping in and out, pulling back and opening the throttle, the buyer immediately gets [excited]."
A protégé of Aronow from his days in the marinas of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Saccenti was one of the mechanical wizards-cum-hot boat riggers who helped Aronow turn Cigarette into an early 1970s racing phenomenon. Later, Saccenti founded Apache Boats and started building limited production high-performance race boats (about 12 a year). Now, after 25 years of making 1,600 horsepower "sex and speed" statements, Saccenti engineers boats such as the Renegade and an autographed 47-foot "Superboat" edition that sell for $200,000 to $650,000.
Yet the 53-year-old Saccenti, the winner of several U.S. and world speedboat championships and survivor of innumerable offshore crashes, is not just looking to market go-fast V's to thrill seekers. His dream was to win another world championship with a newly designed 36-foot Warrior this past November in Key West, Florida.
"There's no secret to speed. Anyone can make a light boat that shakes the fillings in your teeth," says Saccenti, frenetically hopping from one boat to another in his factory.
"The crucial key in boat-building is the hull's strength; laying the Kevlar by hand gives that boat resiliency. Sure, opening the throttle is life on the edge. But with all that slamming into rough water, guys torture boats. That's why we baby the lamination process along for a month. Our boats don't start coming apart in two years. Ours take the pounding, are far more forgiving."
All the builders on Thunderboat Alley want to be associated with hulls that withstand terrific punishment. In that regard, Apache has won the reputation as "the Lamborghini" of its 100 mph class.
If a buyer prefers a somewhat slower but swankier boat, say a 60- to 75-mph boat with Roche Bobois furnishings, there's the Rolls-Royce of pleasure cruisers, a diesel-powered Magnum that sells for between $2 million and $4.5 million. In these waters, where King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Agnellis of Fiat fame and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi scamper around in 70-footers, "Katrin the Great" rules.
Katrin Theodoli might seem demure in her designer silk sundresses. But she's the shrewdest of businesswomen, with a doctorate in modern literature, who revved up a company started by Aronow in 1976 and delights in mixing it up with her Muscle Boat Row competitors.
"Everyone thought a fast, open sports yacht, which could speed from Italy to Sardinia, was a crazy idea," recalls Theodoli, remembering that the wealthy only cruised the Mediterranean in slow yachts with crew during the mid-1970s. "But we [she and her late husband Fillipo "Ted" Theodoli] still felt speed could be combined with seaworthiness and comfort, with such amenities as double staterooms and guest showers.
Initially, the Theodolis only brokered Aronow's 35-foot Magnums in Europe. But the Cigarette King was only interested in speed, not bigger V-bottoms (his first boats had no passenger comforts whatsoever), so he sold Magnum to them in 1976 for $1.5 million. They subsequently designed a cross between a high-performance speedboat and a motor yacht, now ranging up to 70 feet; a military interceptor craft dubbed "The Barbarian" that will be used for Navy Seal duty; and, soon to debut, an 80- to 90-foot boat with dual 3,000-horsepower engines, which will go for approximately $4 million.
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