I wouldn’t normally expect to find inspiration for an article on performance boats on Facebook, but when Reggie Fountain III posted recently that he and his dad Reggie Fountain would be building a 43’ performance V-bottom at their company, Real Fast Marine, I casually asked if they were going to follow the multi-step approach that some companies have been taking.
To paraphrase, his response was, “No, all you need is two if they’re applied correctly.”
Then, as often happens, a Fountain fan asked if they were going to put some big engines in the boat and go after the speed numbers that Outerlimits had recently put up at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout. It’s a legit question. After all, no one has been better at setting kilo records and promoting them with P.T. Barnum-like hype than Reggie Fountain when he owned Fountain Powerboats.
I let other people hijack the thread and profess their loyalty to both brands of boats but I couldn’t get one question out of my head—Could you run those speeds in a twin-step pleasureboat or would the size of the steps needed to provide the required lift make the boat unmanageable?
To refresh everyone’s memories, at the 2013 Shootout, Outerlimits president Mike Fiore ran a top speed of 150 mph in an open cockpit SL 52 that his company had recently built with Mercury Racing 1650s. Remember this is a 52’-long boat with a full cabin. He also ran a canopied SV 43 with Mercury Racing 1350s to 152 mph with longtime friend and in-cockpit partner Joe Sgro. Years ago, Fountain ran 179 mph in a canopied raceboat that was smaller and lighter than the two aforementioned Outerlimits pleasureboats with twin Sterling Performance 1,500-hp engines.
The Outerlimits models have five steps but don’t have a pad in the V. The theory is that having more steps evenly distributes the lift across the running surface. The Real Fast design has two steps, but rides on a pad and its flared bow could also provide some lift. When stepped hulls are running at wide-open, most of the steps aren’t in play at all.
I purposely chose not to interview the Fountains or Fiore for the article in the name of objectivity. Contrary to the belief of some go-fast manufacturers, I am not biased towards or against any manufacturer of any performance boat. I consider the Fountains and Fiore friends.
Instead I talked to some of the most respected designers and boat operators I know. Following are their thoughts on the subject.
John Tomlinson, owner of TNT Custom Marine and holder of more world and national offshore championships than anyone else I know, has admittedly spent more time in fast catamarans than V-bottoms. He did, however, pilot the twin-stepped canopied Cigarette 42’ V-bottom during the company’s assault on the speed record. He also ran Doc Jansen’s 42’ Fountain Poker Run Edition, Saratoga Stampede, powered by Mercury Racing HP1100 SCis at 140 mph during tests for Powerboat magazine. I drove the same boat with throttleman Jeff Harris when we tested the boat for Performance Boats magazine. Based on his experience, Tomlinson thinks a twin-stepped boat could reach the speeds the Outerlimits hit with similar power.
Peter Hledin, the owner and president of Douglas Marine, has a different viewpoint. On the Skater 399 V-bottom, he uses a similar approach that he employs on the Skater 36 catamaran, alternating taller and shorter steps along the boat’s running surface. “The smaller individual steps really get the big steps unglued,” he said.
Perhaps some of the strongest words on this subject came from noted performance- and raceboat designer Michael Peters of Michael Peters Yacht Design in Sarasota, Fla. “Would a 44’ V-bottom benefit from multiple steps?” asked Peters. “Yeah, it probably would.” His catamaran designs that produced some serious speed numbers in kilo runs were two-step bottoms. But Peters acknowledged that there’s a big difference between monohulls and catamarans. “You get into a V-bottom, the only lift you’re getting is what you’re getting from the bottom,” Peters explained. “With a racing catamaran, the bottom becomes more irrelevant because it’s out of the water.”
Peters also explained that when you’re dealing with a V-bottom running at seriously high speeds, there’s a trial-and-error element that he hasn’t experienced. “We never tried to do what Outerlimits is doing or what Reggie Fountain has done with the 150, 160, 170-mph V-bottom,” he said. “V-bottoms are so twitchy that if you’re not running it yourself, you can’t perfect them.”
After watching the Outerlimits boats run at Lake of the Ozarks, John Cosker, president of Mystic Powerboats, said, “I’ve always been a two-step person but seeing the strides Mike’s [Fiore] made with these new V-hulls, it’s got me questioning.” In addition to designing some of the fastest catamarans in performance boating, Cosker has also worked with center-console V-bottoms including Contender and he’s always gone with twin steps.
“I think it’s a question of how big of a step you can get away with,” said Cosker when referring to twin-step designs. He did acknowledge that the Fountains also generate lift with the pad bottom. He also mentioned that Outerlimits uses construction techniques that are far ahead of its competition. No other V-bottom builder employs epoxy resins and autoclaves to post-cure the boats to achieve the ultimate combination of light weight and high strength.
“Is Mike going faster because the boats are lighter or is the handling better so you can drive it faster?” asked Cosker.
More than likely, the Outerlimits advantage is a product of all those things, but to answer my original question, I guess we’ll have to wait until Real Fast Marine builds its first 43-footer. Let the games begin.
Eric Colby has spent the entirety of his 26-year career writing exclusively about the marine industry. He was the Senior Technical Editor at Boating Magazine and is a former Editor-in-Chief at Powerboat Magazine. Eric has won numerous awards in the Boating Writers International Annual Writing Contest and is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design. A former offshore racer, Eric holds the “unofficial” title of fastest journalist on the water having run 172 mph in the 36’ Skater, Flight Club, at the 1000 Islands Poker Run in 2008.