Summer School In Fond Du Lac

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The owner and founder of Grant’s Signature Racing in Bradenton, Fla., and an accomplished offshore powerboat racer, Grant Bruggemann has taught plenty of private clients how to pilot high-performance catamarans. But his 23-student roster last week in Fond du Lac, Wis., included some big names likely well known to high-performance marine industry fans including Stuart Halley, the general manager of Mercury Racing, Steve Miller, Mercury Racing’s director of sales, marketing and service and Daniel Clarkson, Mercury Marine’s director of product development and engineering, customer care and test facilities.

Bruggemann (left) guided each student through one-on-one driving instruction.

As Mercury Marine and Mercury Racing leadership goes, hitters don’t come much heavier.

Incorporating classroom and on-the-water training using an MTI 340X catamaran powered by twin Mercury Racing Verado 400R outboard engines for one-on-one instruction, the Mercury Marine/Mercury Racing group was the largest student body Bruggemann has ever led. Ace setup man Mike Griffiths, a respected product applications manager at Mercury Racing, organized the event.

Each day began with a classroom session.

“As you know, we’re a certified Mercury Racing dealer so I deal with Mike and the other people there a lot—and Mercury wanted us to teach some of their guys to drive,” said Bruggemann, who is busy this week readying the Cleveland Construction raceboat for the upcoming Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix. “So we were up there a whole week.

“Mike organized it,” he continued, then. “It started with eight people, then grew to 15 people. When I was getting on the plane, he called me and said, ‘We have 23 people now.’ I said, ‘Stop. That’s enough.’

Among the Mercury Marine driving students was Daniel Clarkson, the company’s director of product development and engineering, customer care and test facilities.

Each day started with a four-hour morning classroom session, followed by individual instruction on the water for each student. Initially, Bruggemann drove and throttled with the student in the co-pilot’s seat. Then he transitioned the student to driving while he throttled. Once they both felt comfortable, Bruggemann had the student driving and throttling in what for the most part was one- to two-foot, wind-churned chop on Lake Winnebago.

“They all did really well,” he said. “They all have been around boats for a long time.”

“At first, they’d tread lightly,” he continued. “I guided them, step by step, through the process of turning the boat at low and high speeds, throttle and trim control and evasive maneuvers. By the end of the course, they were running the boat to its full capability.”

Though Bruggemann likely will return to Fond du Lac at some point as demand for his driving instruction services dictates, that won’t happen anytime soon as the offshore racing season is about to get busy for him and his shop already is. But when the time comes, he’ll be more than happy to return to a new class of Mercury Marine and Mercury Racing students.

“You know, some of the guys in last week’s class have been with Mercury 20 to 30 years and have been around a lot of boats, but never had the opportunity to learn to drive a boat like this one,” he said, then laughed. “They learned and seemed to have a great time. I don’t think any of them realized you could turn a catamaran that hard.”

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Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.

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