As owner, designer, and builder of Phantom Boats, Sarasota resident Will Smith has created a performance-proven fleet with his ground-breaking designs since 1987. “It’s [all in] the mind of Will Smith,” he says. “I draw pictures on napkins for potential clients to get a project going. Other than that, I’m old school about building these boats in my head.”
So who is this on-the-edge guy behind the mind that steers Phantom Boats into the winner’s circle? Smith’s family moved from New Hampshire to a waterfront home on Siesta Key, Fla., ignited his interest for boating. “I was too young to drive, but I could get to places on the water. It opened up a whole new realm to play in,” he laughs.
Eventually, Sarasota’s mega boating event–the Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix–reeled Will Smith in. He competed as a rookie in the Run What Ya Brung Class…remembering his 1986 intro to offshore racing like it was yesterday. “The motors went in the boat on Friday, we tested the boat around 2 a.m., went to the Driver’s Meeting Saturday at 9 a.m. and took a second during the race later that afternoon.”
That race proved a real game changer. “It was a lot of fun and very exciting. But, I wanted a boat to race offshore and I didn’t have one of my own.” His marine background provided the tools to launch a pair of pleasure boats via his company, Phantom Boats. At the 1989 Key West World Championships, Smith introduced his third hull when he raced this new version of the 29-footer in Offshore B Class. It was a performance that grabbed the attention of the racing world and generated a long list of winning Phantom teams over the next several years.
Taking the world stage again at the 1995 Key West World Championships, Phantom debuted a 30’ canopied design sporting a tweaked dead rise (rather than the standard 24 degree dead rise) and ventilated step bottom. This concept became the A Class weapon of choice by dominating the fleet as it took several contenders to the winner’s circle.
As the sport progressed, Phantom Boats stayed on its dynamic course attracting teams to compete in several categories which garnered speed records, National and World Championship titles. The next generation Phantoms hit the waters redressed as 30’ and 34’ open cockpit pleasure hulls for respective Factory I and II competition rocking the offshore circuit during the late 1990s to early 2000s. This season Super Vee Light (SVL) boasts ten teams in the class lineup, although Mark Nieman and Kurt Jagel of #9 Phantom presently hold a commanding lead in the 2012 National Championship chase.
In August, one of Smith’s Phantom teams–Vee Ganjavian and Gareth Williams–captured top honors in Great Britain’s historically prestigious Cowes-Torquay-Cowes endurance race. The pair powered their 38’ Fury/Microlink PC along a 182 mile course through eight to ten foot seas to score a brilliant win by over four minutes ahead of the pack. “I’m very proud. We started out [competing in the event] three years ago taking third overall in 2010. Last year, we led til our boat nose dived [no one was injured] and this year, we beat the boat that beat us last year.”
Looking back over a storied career, Smith says at one time he had as many as 25 boats competing on the circuits. However, his non-stop pursuit of building the best boat out there constantly drives him full speed. “I love what I do and I’m pretty good at it. The boats provide a creative outlet for me. If you can’t get rich at this, then you might as well be known for what you do. My children and my boats are my legacy.”
Watching Smith’s accomplishments from the sidelines, he can’t stay in neutral for long…there’s got to be a project on the Phantom horizon. “Right now, I’m working on an exercise-in-efficiency, building a 25’ fishing boat with a pair of 120 hp diesels. I’m looking at four plus miles per gallon on wide open throttle and six to seven miles per gallon on cruise. And I’d like to build a boat for myself to race in SVL Class.” Obviously, the racer in Will Smith always needs to test his competitive skills.
Bobbye Miller Kenyon’s high performance articles have appeared in Hot Boat Magazine, along with fast-paced marine industry news in her Hot Sheet Column from 1997 – 2008. Her company, Offshore Public Relations, is a multi-faceted firm that has represented marine industry leaders and champions of the offshore racing arena. A native Miamian, she enjoys boating off the Florida Keys waters of Key Largo to Islamorada and the lakes of the Kentucky countryside.