Most trends in the high-performance powerboat world are cosmetic. A few years back, for example, a slew of go-fast V-bottoms with cut-down decks—meaning lower profile and no cabin—and sit-down cockpits—meaning bucket seats in place of stand-up bolsters—were everywhere to be found at the annual Miami International Boat Show. OK, you could make a minor case that with the lower decks a few models picked up a little speed and that the bucket seats were super comfy, but for the most part it was all about looks.
A few years before that at the Miami event, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a go-fast catamaran more than 36 feet long that didn’t have some kind of cartoon theme or mural, which ranged from classic to classless. But again, it was a cosmetic trend, and cosmetics are about fashion. To borrow loosely from Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
And a few years before that, just about every go-fast V-bottom went from a conventional hull to a stepped-bottom hull. However, in most cases—key phrase for sure—that was about function rather than form.
So what will it be for the high-performance world at the 2012 Miami International Boat Show, Feb. 16-20? Center consoles. Just about every major custom and semi-custom high-performance boat builder (I leave out production go-fast boat builders because at this point none of them is doing much building.) And you know what? This trend isn’t about style. It’s about adapting to current economics and what buyers, go-fast and pleasure boat, are demanding. It’s about maintaining at least a semblance of go-fast boat performance while expanding versatility.
Check in with Cigarette Racing Team and you’ll see the company’s new 39’ Top Gun Open, which was unveiled at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October 2011 and is what Skip Braver, the Opa-Locka company’s owner, calls “a true performance center console.” The 39’ Top Gun Open rides on the same hull as the 39’ Top Gun (the company’s best-selling model), is offered with twin or triple 300-hp Mercury Marine Verado outboard engines, and is the sistership to the 39’ Top Fish, the angling-oriented V-bottom that actually kicked off the center console craze in the go-fast world when it was released several years ago.
Wander over to Nor-Tech—they’re usually outside of the convention center near the big white tent—and you’ll find not only the company’s 390 center console, but also its most recently added 34-footer. I had the pleasure of driving the 390 during the final one-hour leg of a run to Key West in November 2011, and the boat was nothing short of sensational. Efficient with fuel, gentle in the rough, easy to handle, and enough space to accommodate a herd.
In years past, Statement Marine presented serious big-buck hardware, including a 50-foot turbine-powered catamaran with a spa tub aft of its air-cushioned cockpit. While the lovely spokes-models sipping champagne in the tub will be missed (at least by me) this year, Statement will have a few center console offerings on display in the form of 38-, 37- and 34-footers.
Acquiring existing boat companies Sonic and Spectre instantly put Frisini Motorsports on the go-fast boat map a couple of years ago. While the semi-custom builder has made keeping down prices a priority—a very smart move in this economy—it, too, has joined the center console party in Miami. Sonic will unveil its new 36-foot center console at the show, as well as its retooled 38-foot “Super Sonic” performance boat. The company might also display one of the custom creations from its Vendetta line, but that was unconfirmed as of this writing.
Two go-fast builders who will release center consoles this year but won’t have one on display in Miami are Marine Technology, Inc., and Sunsation Performance Boats. To his credit, MTI principal Randy Scism said his goal of getting his new ultra-stylistic 42-footer ready in time for the show was “highly optimistic” from the beginning. And in fairness to Scism, he’s been tied up not just with producing high-end custom catamarans from 36 to 55 feet, but becoming a Sunseeker Yachts dealer.
On the Sunsation side of things, Wayne and Joe Schaldenbrad, the brothers who own the company, never said they would have an “actual model” on display. Instead, they said they would most likely display a scale model of their new 34-footer, which will be the first in a series of Sunsation center consoles. The project, which includes an expansion of the company’s existing facility in Algonac, Mich., is so ambitious and time-consuming that Sunsation will not display at the show this year.
So what if all this center console business holds no interest for you, the high-performance powerboat purist? What’s the hottest ticket at this year’s Miami Boat Show? For that, you’ll have to head to the Outerlimits display to catch the SV29, the company’s first single-engine V-bottom and the most eagerly awaited debut in that class in recent memory. With a single Mercury Racing 525EFI engine—the first boat actually will have 600SCi engine—the 29-footer reportedly tops 90 mph. (Check out the summer issue of Sportboat magazine for an exclusive story on the SV29). Of course, you still won’t be able to escape the go-fast boat center console mania, because displayed right next to the SV29 will be a new Outerlimits 38-footer.
And as you’ve probably guessed, yes, it’s a center console.
-- Matt Trulio