I was having lunch at the 15th Street Fisheries, in Fort Lauderdale the other afternoon. I was romancing the future Mrs. Brownie (can’t remember her name), and we were sitting on the dock area of the restaurant, outside, which afforded an excellent view of the passing boat traffic. The state of the boating art has blossomed in many ways, I must say. Most all the new boats are built in robot-tooled, infusion capable molds. They are slick, true, strong, light, fast, and expensive as hell. I have a vision in the back of my head of a robot, like Robo Cop, with masking tape on his pant cuffs, zooming around the shop, shouting in Spanglish, with multiple shiny spinning things on his appendages. Not like that at all. The robot is a gantry crane that runs up and down some foam blocks with a little computer guided spinning tool, about the size of a marble, shaping the foam blocks into a boat shaped mold. The most boring process I have ever seen. No lunch breaks, beer, vacations, sick days, masking tape, mistakes, unintelligible foreign languages. Nothing but a quiet hum, usually 24 hours a day.
Just as I was about to enjoy my first Heinekin since breakfast, a guy pulled up to the fuel dock with a Cigarette type boat, about forty feet long, with four Mercury Verado outboard motors. I hadn’t paid much attention to this scenario, and excused myself from what’s-her-name and moseyed over to the boat. When it comes to boat stuff, I am accustomed to having rose petals strewn before me as I walk down the dock, having been able to out-live the real key players in the boat business. I accosted the boater, who was pumping hundreds of petro dollars into his boat. I said “I would like to speak to you about your boat”. He didn’t turn around, and said “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody wants to see my boat. I am busy here”. Me: “I just came over to tell you to go **** yourself”. He turned around quickly, and was loading epithets to be expelled at me, when he said “Brownie! I didn’t know it was you! Do you remember me? I bought one of the first 38’ Top Guns that you developed”. Me: “Yeah, you were a pain in the ass then, too. What’s with the outboard thing?”
“Well, for openers, my neighbors don’t hate me anymore. When I would start up the Top Gun, my neighbors give me the bird, and ‘accidentally’ squirt the garden hose on me as I passed their docks. The outboards are totally silent. I can take a dozen of my friends in the outboard, listen to concert hall stereo, and, if they want a fast ride, go 80 miles an hour!” “That’s amazing”, I said. “What do you find amazing about that?” “That you have a dozen friends!” He went on to relate that he would never, ever, have another stern drive boat. We finally agreed on one thing. I have always considered the aluminum stern drive an instrument of the devil…
Apparently, there is a ‘feeding frenzy’ of how big can we make an outboard boat, and how many outboard motors can we squeeze on the transom? Unfortunately, there is a big downside to all this. When I started racing offshore in the very early 60’s, the average top-of-the-line overall race winner topped out at maybe 50 MPH. When the stern drive debuted, it went to 60, and stayed there for a couple of years. In 1967, Johnny Bakos, my good pal on the Mercury Team, had a 31’ Bertram with 3 small block Chevy-Mercruisers that went 70, and we all worried about Johnny’s wellbeing. I have “swapped ends” in a 19’ Donzi Hornet, that hit so violently that the old Pearce-Simpson 45 Watt radio split its metal case, came out, and stuck in the fiberglass on the side of the boat! This at 65 MPH! Now, visualize a 40 foot multi outboard with a dozen or so drunks, bathing beauties, etc. No helmets, probably no life jackets, few convenient hand-holds. Just had brunch at Sunday’s with lots of Mimosas. “Hell, it is a beautiful day! Let’s run back to Lauderdale up the ocean!” No longer contained in a bolster, passengers are much less safe just standing around. Cruising at 70MPH, a spin would certainly make the papers. Worse than that, a ton and a half of outboards sitting on the transom raises the roll center, compared to two or three 1,000 pound motors in the bilge. So far, so good. Let’s hope it stays that way.
The outboard engine manufacturers have outdone themselves, with motors to 650 horsepower. I recently saw a picture of a 63 foot boat with five of those giant outboards with a reported price tag of way over a million bucks! I recently read an article about a 35 foot Magnum owner who replaced the two inboard, vee drive gas engines on his 35, and replaced them with three 350 HP Suzuki outboards. He more than doubled the top speed and quadrupled the miles per gallon. I can’t imagine where this ends.
I just bought a lottery ticket, and if it hits, I will get Doug Wright or John Cosker to make me a 60’ center console Cat with four of the turbocharged Cadillac outboards. Heck, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!