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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 5)

"I see the offshore market moving into bigger and bigger boats; that's what men of power want these days," insists Theodoli, proudly talking about her 70-footers, all "overbuilt" with layer after layer of Kevlar and sporting interiors by Pininfarina, the Italian firm that designed the Ferrari 308 GTB.

Soon leaving her plain office in Thunderboat Alley to show off a Bestia 50-footer docked beside her factory, Theodoli turns on the turbo-charged diesels and flaunts another selling point of this beast. Instead of the customary engine roar that drowns out all conversation on a smaller, gasoline-powered deep-V (on fully rigged race boats all communication is through headsets), diesel power, operating at lower RPMs than gas engines, packs a quieter wallop.

"My boats are heavier and beamier than Cigarettes, loaded with comforts, and far smoother to ride," says Theodoli. "The King of Spain went from Genoa to Palma in very rough waters [in a 50-foot Bestia], and later said my boat was 'extraordinary, no pitching, no lurching.' While I'm always thinking safety, and not 100 mph, my boats can still outrun the paparazzi. These aren't boats; they're beasts."

Off on another high-speed romp in the Mediterranean, the King of Spain couldn't be reached for comment. Yet 88-year-old entertainer Victor Borge says of his 50-footer, the fifth Magnum he's owned in 20 years: "Just as I have a favorite piano, Katrin makes perfect music with her boats. At my age I need to get to places fast, and Magnum's quality is unsurpassed."

Or you can forget about a mere 100 mph. If you have big enough balls, and want to leave mono-hulled V's in your wake, a 120- to 160-mph catamaran, or "cat," is the only way to go.

The badass of offshore boats, with a reputation for flipping over and laying upside-down in the water, these smokin' winged-type cats with two hulls (called sponsons) and a tunnel running between them are not for the faint-hearted (and arguably not for the entry-level buyer).

Catamarans are said to be less forgiving than V's since each hull can respond to waves differently in rough seas. Air rushes under the hulls and is compressed in the tunnel, giving the boat extra air-lift. While going airborne is exciting, the inexperienced driver can easily launch or hit the water at too precipitous an angle. Which is why Beline describes a cat's rocket-style kick as "a ticket to the jaws of hell."

Recalling the catamaran crash that claimed the life of Stefano Casiraghi, the husband of Monaco's Princess Caroline, off the coast of Monaco in 1990, Beline says, "Cats are just too radical a boat for the beginner. They don't handle rough water well and don't right themselves after tipping over, forcing the occupant to swim out and up. Cats are simply too dangerous."

Cruising at 100 mph, cats still offer the ultimate thrill on water: head-turning speed, especially in a top-of-the-line Douglas Skater, a 46-footer with four gasoline turbines selling for $700,000.

This is the machine for those who want to wreak havoc--and maybe lose some friends en route. "Pit this baby against an Apache, a Cigarette, any deep-V, and you annihilate them," boasts Douglas Marine owner Peter Hledin. "The only drawback to owning a cat is intimidating your friends. They hate you, for once you open a cat up, their V-bottoms are ancient history."

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