About Matt Trulio

Matt Trulio is the co-publisher and editor in chief of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site with a weekly newsletter and a new bi-monthly digital magazine that covers the high-performance powerboating world. The former editor-in-chief of Sportboat magazine and editor at large of Powerboat magazine, Trulio has covered the go-fast powerboat world since 1995. Since joining boats.com in 2000, he has written more than 200 features and blogs.

Roar at the Shore: Poker Run Bargain

This isn’t huge news, but I sure like the direction of it. Bargains of any kind are much appreciated in a down economy.

So file this under “Another Bright Idea from the New Jersey Performance Powerboat Club:” A $199 “recession buster” entry fee for its Roar at Shore Poker Run on Saturday, August 7 in Toms River, N.J.

Roughly half to one third of the cost for the average poker run, the fee includes breakfast before the event and a barbecue beach party after the run is over.

“This was called the Barnegat Bay Poker Run for many years, and it was $299,” explained Dave Patnaude, president of the NJPPC. “We had a full-blown breakfast buffet in the morning at the Lobster Shanty, and then a full-blown white tablecloth dinner at night.

“We started to see the numbers drop off year after year so we then re-invented the event as the Roar at the Shore Poker Run, and the $199 price-point was key,” he continued. “We scrapped the fancy breakfast for a Continental Breakfast at Typhoon Service Center in the morning, and then scrapped the fancy dinner for a barbecue party at night.”

The bad news? The Roar at the Shore Poker Run is limited to 40 boats. At this price, expect it to fill up quickly.

Bob Leach on Eliminator: “It’s Actually Picking Up”

To borrow—and bastardize—from Mark Twain, reports of Eliminator Boats’ demise have been “greatly exaggerated.” That doesn’t mean things have been easy for the Perris Valley, Calif., builder of West Coast custom performance boats. Far from it. For the past two years, Bob Leach, the founder and owner of the company, has been working seven days a week, despite that annual production of Eliminator boats has gone from hundreds to handfuls.

I caught up with Leach a few moments ago via telephone. Here’s what he had to say.

Let’s get right to it. Is Eliminator going out of business?

No, no. Why do people start those rumors? Some idiot got on line the other day and said we were closed. Maybe he went by our other building in Mira Loma (Calif.). Everybody likes to say negative things. Nobody likes to say positive things. I don’t know why.

So how’s business?


It’s actually picking up. I just got an order from Bruce Bullock (principal of Bullock Marine) for a 34’ Eagle that’s going to the Ivory Coast of Africa. Stoker just ordered a boat. We’re building a 27’ Daytona for Boost Power. And we’re just finishing up the deck tooling for the new 27’ Daytona Speedster. I have two of those on order with deposits. We have huge interest in our 27’ Daytona Speedster, which will be less expensive and more economical than our twin-engine 28’ Daytona. The interesting thing is that our suppliers gave us the materials for the tooling of 27’ Speedster at no charge. They must think we’re going to be around.

What we need to get out there is not just that we’re picking up, but that 50 percent of the customers who walk in the door are saying that their businesses are picking up. That’s something that the media needs to get out there.

What it’s going to take to bring back the performance-boat market on the West Coast?

Consumer confidence. It will come back when consumer confidence comes back. I think the Gulf Oil Spill has wounded consumer confidence a little. It’s like, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t even fix this?” Then again, the stock market was up 247 points yesterday and we had four groups in the showroom. We actually needed help in the showroom.

What would you suggest to performance-boat owners who are feeling the pinch—and then some—of the economy?

Go to the river, tie up and raft off with your friends. Save a little gas money. You can go to the river and do that, and have just as much fun as you would making 15 trips up and down the lake. Tie off and just have fun with people.

Statement Cat Moving—Center Consoles Coming

Though they’re not as omnipresent at poker runs and offshore races as they were last summer promoting their then-new 42-foot-long V-bottom, Todd Werner and Nick Buis at Statement Marine in St. Petersburg, Fla., are definitely keeping busy. Their brand-new 50-foot-long catamaran, which finished first among pleasure boats at last month’s Bimini Offshore Challenge, is getting its final set-up tweaks.

 

Buis said that they’d hoped to campaign the cat on the poker circuit, though on a much smaller scale than they did with V-bottom last summer. However, the first Statement catamaran has a buyer, as does Statement catamaran No. 2.

 

Not bad, considering the 50-footer starts at $1.3 million.

 

“We’re working out the details with the buyer of the first cat so we can use it for giving test rides,” said Buis.

 

Statement has built two 42-foot-long V-bottoms to date, and a third is in production, according to Buis.

 

“We have someone we’re talking to about buying the second one—this weekend was a huge milestone for us,” he said. “I can’t release a name just yet, but it will be someone everyone knows.”

 

In the next three to four months, Buis said he expects Statement to produce its first center-console models, which like the V-bottom and the catamaran will have air-cushioned cockpits. Statement’s 34-foot-long center console will be available with twin and triple outboard engines. Its 37-footer will be offered with diesel inboards.

 

Without question, Statement has spent millions in the last few years—without money coming in from boat sales. But Buis explained that he Werner, who has provided the overwhelming majority of the company’s funding, are patient and pleased with their progress so far.

 

“We are not looking to build a ton of boats a year, maybe eight or so,” he said. “We started in a down-turned economy, so we don’t have the problem of trying to downsize our company in a hurry. We’re not burdened with overhead. We’re still ramping up.”

 

Statement Cat Moving—Center Consoles Coming

Though they’re not as omnipresent at poker runs and offshore races as they were last summer promoting their then-new 42-foot-long V-bottom, Todd Werner and Nick Buis at Statement Marine in St. Petersburg, Fla., are definitely keeping busy. Their brand-new 50-foot-long catamaran, which finished first among pleasure boats at last month’s Bimini Offshore Challenge, is getting its final set-up tweaks.

Buis said that they’d hoped to campaign the cat on the poker circuit, though on a much smaller scale than they did with V-bottom last summer. However, the first Statement catamaran has a buyer, as does Statement catamaran No. 2.

Not bad, considering the 50-footer starts at $1.3 million.

“We’re working out the details with the buyer of the first cat so we can use it for giving test rides,” said Buis.

Statement has built two 42-foot-long V-bottoms to date, and a third is in production, according to Buis.

“We have someone we’re talking to about buying the second one—this weekend was a huge milestone for us,” he said. “I can’t release a name just yet, but it will be someone everyone knows.”

In the next three to four months, Buis said he expects Statement to produce its first center-console models, which like the V-bottom and the catamaran will have air-cushioned cockpits. Statement’s 34-foot-long center console will be available with twin and triple outboard engines. Its 37-footer will be offered with diesel inboards.

Without question, Statement has spent millions in the last few years—without money coming in from boat sales. But Buis explained that he and Werner, who has provided the overwhelming majority of the company’s funding, are patient and pleased with their progress so far.

“We are not looking to build a ton of boats a year, maybe eight or so,” he said. “We started in a down-turned economy, so we don’t have the problem of trying to downsize our company in a hurry. We’re not burdened with overhead. We’re still ramping up.”

Porter Sees Market Upturn For Formula

Just got off the phone with Scott Porter, the chief executive officer of Formula Boats/Thunderbird Products, for a feature I’m writing about the company for Boats.com. (I’ll let you know when it publishes later this month.) Without question, times have been difficult for the Decatur, Ind.-based builder, which made its name on performance boats but expanded to offer day boats and cruisers. Three years ago, the Formula had 600 employees. Today the company has 300—and in a small town such as Decatur that hits hard. Yet Porter, whom I’ve known for 15 years and has always been candid with me, was surprisingly upbeat and optimistic—though realistic—during our interview. Here’s some of what he had to say.

The last couple of years have been tough for performance-boat companies, and particularly hard on production-builders such as Formula. How’s it going now?

You know, things have been looking up since the first of the year. I have to admit that before that, especially in 2009, it was a pretty tough sled. But in the winter boat shows this year we went from people being interesting and looking to actually ordering new boats for the season.

Is one of Formula’s model lines—FASTech, Sun Sport, Super Sport and Performance Cruiser—driving the increase in orders?

We’re seeing activity across the board. It pretty much fits with our model offerings. The cruiser business has started to come back to life, and we’re actually even seeing some life come back in the performance-boat area. It had gone pretty quiet there for a while. We’re definitely encouraged with what has gone on this spring and summer.

What’s the key to reviving the overall high-performance boat market?

Better times. I think we’re headed there. I think it will come back some. To what point? I don’t know, to tell the truth. I do think we’re serving some of that market with our Sun Sports. They may not run as fast as a FASTech, but we’ve continued to work on their styling.

Formula has a loyal customer base, but what about first-time buyers. How does Formula attract them? Is that still a major challenge for high-performance builders in general?

You know, we’ve always relied on other builders to do that and, unfortunately, some of those manufacturers have had major challenges. We’ve always catered to buyers who already owned a performance boat and wanted to move up to a better product. I am not sure who is catering to the entry-level market right now.

Commentary: Phenomenon or Phenome-not—It’s All Good

Since Phenomenon, the 55-foot-long turbine-powered catamaran that was to attempt to break the propeller-driven-water-speed record of 220 mph today, made its debut in November 2009 I have written 11 stories about it for speedonthewater.com/Boatermouth.com. That does not count one I wrote for Boats.com/Yachworld.com and another I wrote for the site’s print publication, Yachtworld magazine.

My coverage plan was simple: I would check in at least once a month with the Phenomenon crew and report whatever news there was. No news, no report. In the two weeks leading up to the July 2 Super Boat International Kilo Runs in which the Phenomenon team hoped to break the record, I would check in frequently. That was my plan, and I stuck to it.

But I have to admit that as the Kilo Runs drew closer, I saw Phenomenon’s chances of actually setting a new record getting farther away. With a combined 12,000 hp behind them, the boat’s drives moved enough to crack the stern bustle, break propeller shafts and allow the props to destroy one another. If that weren’t enough, as the Phenomenon crew worked to solve those problems new headaches—in the form of issues with one of the boat’s turbine engines—emerged.

As anyone involved in any water speed-record attempt can tell you, that’s how it works. When it comes to preparing to set an on-water speed mark, stuff happens. You fix it. Then more stuff happens. You fix it, and the cycle continues. And if you’re diligent and very lucky, it all comes together on the day you go after the record. All that’s left is having the stones to take on one of the most deadly pursuits in all of motorsports.

Yesterday, they called it quits. That was a smart move. A very smart move.

Did the Phenomenon team make mistakes? Undoubtedly. But from where I sit, the biggest one was setting out a sign in front of their display at the 2010 Miami International Boat Show in February that read, “World’s Fastest Powerboat.” That was a little over the top but, more important, it implied more than a little overconfidence given the task at hand.

So maybe they were a little cocky, or maybe—and this what I believe—they were doing a little internal cheer-leading, a form of self-motivation as in, “We put it out there. Now we have to back it up.”

Regardless, the entire Phenomenon story has been, well, fun to follow. Without question, the effort was completely homegrown. There was big Louisiana money—meaning Copeland—behind the project. Most of the team hailed from the state, and the team was based in Metairie, not far from New Orleans.

With their financial resources, they easily could have hired John Cosker of Mystic to build and throttle the cat. After all, Cosker has more seat time at 200 mph than just about anyone alive. And he’s just one example of the available talent, from Jerry Gilbreath to John Tomlinson, that could have helped with the project.

But that’s not what they wanted and that’s not what they did. They stuck with homegrown, as in Scott Barnhart, who managed the project and throttled the boat and Al Copeland, Jr., who drove and, without flinching, wrote one huge check after the next.

In the end, they failed—at least when it came to today’s Kilo Runs. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. They talked big in the beginning, toned it down in the middle and displayed sincere humility in the end.

My response to the final chapter—at least for the time being—of this story? Cheers and applause to the entire Phenomenon team. It was fun. It was intriguing. It was something to look forward to.

It was Phenomenal.

Related Stories

Kilo Runs out for Phenomenon

Phenomenon Testing Today

Phenomenon on the Road for Sarasota Kilo Runs

Phenomenon Update: Waiting on Propellers

Crunch Time for Phenomenon

Inside Phenomenon: First Look

Speed Record Attempt Boat Waiting for New Props

Boats.com Gets Turbine-Boat Interior Images

First Look: Inside Copeland’s Speed-Record Rocket

Copeland Group Shooting to Set Speed Record Before Miami Show

Record-Attempt Catamaran Unveiled at Key West Worlds


Kilo Runs Out for Phenomenon

It’s been a rough day for Scott Barnhart, Al Copeland, Jr., and the rest of the team behind Phenomenon, the 55-foot-long catamaran with 12,000-hp worth of turbine engines that was slated to try to break the 220-mph propeller-driven water-speed record tomorrow in Sarasota, Fla. First, they started today’s tests on Sarasota Bay later than they wanted to because the boat didn’t arrive until early this morning.

Second, they hit a seawall when Barnhart forgot to kill one of the catamaran’s engines—taking off the tip of one of the cat’s sponsons.

Last, one of the turbine engines is, in the words of Barnhart, “all locked up” and cannot—at present—be started.

“The best we saw out there today was 185 mph, and we were in the process of turning up our motors from 2,600 hp to 3,200 hp,” said Barnhart. “But this boat cannot run on three motors.”

What that means is that unless Phenomenon’s engine issue miraculously resolves itself, the catamaran is out for tomorrow’s Super Boat International Kilo Runs.

“I think we were really close, we just needed more time,” said Barnhart. “We’ve boat has only been in the water eight times. It’s discouraging, but we needed more time.

“We went over a long learning curve,” he added. “We had propeller problems, we had shaft problems, we had engine problems. We did our best, but needed more time.”

Phenomenon Testing Today

If all goes to plan, the 55-foot-long Phenomenon catamaran powered by four 3,000-hp turbine engines should be testing on Sarasota Bay (Fla.) in the next couple of hours according to Scott Barnhart, the throttleman for the cat. The boat will attempt to break the propeller-driven water-speed record of 220 mph tomorrow during the Super Boat International Kilo Runs on the bay.

“We should be out there in the next hour or so,” Barnhart said.

Phenomenon arrived in Sarasota early this morning. The crew had hoped the boat would get there last night, but they ran out of daylight.

“It’s a wide load and we can’t legally tow it after dark,” said Barnhart, who arrived in Sarasota at 1 a.m. today. “We’re looking forward to getting out on the water.”

For observers onshore or on boats holding a safe distance, the catamaran shouldn’t be hard to spot while underway. First, it’s big. Second, it should produce a large rooster-tail. Third, the whine of four turbine engines should be easy to distinguish.

Look for an update on Phenomenon’s test session on speedonthewater.com and boatermouth.com this afternoon.

Phenomenon on the Road for Sarasota Kilo Runs

Talk about cutting it close.

At this moment, Scott Barnhart is getting into the truck that will tow the quad-turbine engine Phenomenon catamaran to Sarasota, Fla., for the Super Boat International Kilo Runs on Friday, July 2. A few hours earlier, Barnhart, the boat’s throttleman, and driver Al Copeland, Jr., had just finished running the cat, which will attempt to break the propeller-driven water-speed record of 220 mph during the Kilo Runs, with its brand-new set of Five Axis propellers.

“We ran it at 5:30 this morning—we sat on the ramp it was black,  and we actually waited for first light,” he said. “We ran it to 130 mph and we were still dodging pilings, so we headed back and put it on the trailer.

When I spoke with Barnhart five days ago, he wasn’t sure the 50-plus-foot, 12,000-hp catamaran would make it to the kilos. He didn’t even have all four of the boat’s propellers until yesterday morning. To make things worse, during a test-run yesterday afternoon, one of the cat’s 3,000-hp engines appeared to have mechanical issues. And in the past few months, movement of the boat’s drives had damaged its propellers and stern.

“We’ve got four motors running and the back of the boat is sound,” said Barnhart. “There are no problems whatsoever back there. I’m very happy.”

Barnhart said he called John Carbonell, the head of SBI, to see if they can do a few more test runs in the catamaran tomorrow. The cat will not arrive in Sarasota, roughly 750 miles from Phenomenon’s team’s home base near New Orleans, until late this evening.

“He said he’s going to do what he can,” said Barnhart. “We have a big parade tomorrow night with members of the Copeland family. I think there are like 43 Copelands going.

“I am so happy,” he added. “I finally have the feeling that the boat is going to be what it is. It’s a bad-ass.”

Mercury Racing 1300/1350 on Track for Fall Production

Between its coming-out parties in the Mercury Marine and Cigarette Racing Team booths at the 2010 Miami International Boat Show, Mercury Racing’s turbocharged 1300/1350 made a big splash almost four months ago. And then—nothing. The engines and the Cigarette AMG 46-footer that housed them seemed to vanish.

“That’s the traditional Racing way,” said Fred Kiekhaefer, the president of Mercury Racing, in a telephone interview early this morning. “We like to do our testing out of the public eye. Otherwise, we spend all of our time answering questions instead of testing.”

According to Kiekhaefer, who has run the boat twice, the engines in the Cigarette AMG have approximately 100 hours on them. The Mercury Racing engineering and testing team has focused on idle quality, mapping and throttle progressions.

“People are going to be amazed,” said Kiekhaefer. “The thing is just silk at the dock. And the torque? It’s right there.”

Speculation that the final testing and on-water validation of the 1300/1350 was taking longer than usual and that production would be late, said Kiekhaefer, is incorrect.

“Everything is on track and on plan,” he added. “We’ll start production next month, as planned.”