By legacy, talent, or a combination of both, there are some folks who are born into this world to do what they do. Mike Fiore, the founder and owner of Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats
in Bristol, R.I., is one of those people. The son of Paul Fiore, who founded Hustler powerboats in 1978, Fiore has been working in a boat company since he was 12 years old. Just 12 years later, he started one of his own.
Today, Outerlimits remains one of the premier builders of custom high-performance boats, primarily in the V-bottom realm.
Fiore started Outerlimits in 1993. Founding the company was equal parts ambition and exit strategy. The year before, his father had sold Hustler, and while Paul agreed to stay with the company for a couple of years, he immediately began, he says, “planning my escape.”
“I learned everything about building boats—laminating, setup, basic hydrodynamics, and so on—from working with my dad at Hustler,” says Fiore, now 43. “I’ve done every job there is to do in a boat plant.”
The first Outerlimits was a 37-footer that Fiore built in a leased 2,000-square-foot industrial unit in the town of Holbrook on New York’s Long Island. Fiore had a second 2,000-square-foot unit in which he did service work “and anything else we had to do to stay alive between building new boats.” Dubbed the Stiletto, the 37-foot model was an instant hit for both its performance and construction quality, and in short order it was time for a larger model.
But to meet the demand for a substantially upsized boat, the company needed a larger production facility. So in 1995 they moved to a larger facility—roughly double the capacity of the plant in Holbrook—in Bristol, R.I.
“Our customers were asking for a bigger model,” Fiore recalls. “So we built the 47. In hindsight, we should have built the 42 before that. To date, the 42 and the 37 are our most successful models. We’ve built something in the neighborhood of 75 of them combined. The 39, 46, and 51 came after that.”
By the time all of those models were added to the Outerlimits line, the company had, once again, outgrown its manufacturing facility. Just moving the molds was, in Fiore’s words, “a nightmare.” So in 2003 the company took over the former digs of a sailboat company. The facility included a giant autoclave—large enough to accommodate all the boats in the Outerlimits line—which meant that epoxy, E-glass, and carbon-fiber hull and deck lay-ups became an option.
“In 2006, we decided we wanted to go racing,” says Fiore. “We built a new Super V called the SV 40, and that was the time we started to rethink our stepped bottoms. The SV 40 was our first five-step hull, and in that boat we had something that was fast and could turn really well. We won the APBA World Championships in that boat that year. Then came the 43 SV, which is a longer version of the 40, and we won the 2009 Powerboat P1 Championship in Europe with that one.”
Fiore says that to a large degree his experiences on the racecourse with teammate Joe Sgro translated to significant improvements in his company’s pleasure boats. Thanks to lighter lay-ups, better hull design, and better set-up—meaning drive heights, gear ratios, and propeller choices—the builder was actually able to build longer models that were significantly faster than prior shorter models.
Rethinking hull design, he says, was one of two primary factors in the performance gains. “Back when we first introduced the 37 and some of our other early models, it was just a matter of using steps to get as much boat out of the water as possible so it was as fast as it could be,” Fiore explains. “And those boats did that really well in comparison to other boats out there at the time. In the newer boats, we still let the bottom run as dry as possible but spread it out over a much larger platform for more directional stability. Today a 43 SV going 120 mph handles 50 times better than a 37 Stiletto going 120 mph, which was about as fast as you ever wanted to go in one of those boats. We’ve been 168, 169 mph in the new 43 SV [a sit-down boat; in stand-up configuration the boat is tabbed the 44SL] and it still feels really good.
“Being able to build epoxy, E-glass, and carbon fiber boats—that was as big of a quantum leap as bottom design,” he continues. “We were able to take 2,000 pounds out of our 47, for example, by going to an epoxy lamination schedule.”
Outerlimits introduced a 48-foot catamaran in 2007. Neither Fiore nor his father—who came to work for him a couple of years after he started—had any catamaran design experience, so they turned to noted go-fast cat and yacht designer, Michael Peters. To date, says Fiore, the company has built eight catamarans, some with Mercury Racing No. 6 drives and some with BPM shaft drives.
A few months ago, Outerlimits completed a 52-foot V-bottom with four 560-hp Fiat diesel engines that can cruise at 100 mph for 500 miles. The boat will be used overseas for endurance racing. Most recently, the company built a canopied catamaran for Luca Fendi and Giovanni Carpitella to campaign on the Union International Motonautique Class 1 offshore racing circuit.
“Building a boat for Class 1 was like nothing we’ve ever experienced,” says Fiore. “It takes a whole new mentality to build for Class 1—these guys are very serious about what they do. The only part that was consistent was the carbon fiber. I couldn’t use any of the parts I use in my pleasure boats—every one of them was custom-engineered and machined.”
According to Fiore, Outerlimits built 28 boats—with an average price of more than $750,000—in its best year. Three years ago, demand dropped, as it did across the board in the industry, and Outerlimits saw its production fall by more than 50 percent. And that meant hard choices for Fiore, who had to lay off half his peak work force and is now down to 35 employees.
Fiore says Outerlimits likely will build 12 boats this year. By the end of the year, he hopes to add a 28-foot V-bottom to the line.
“I’ve heard the early 1990s were bad in the boat business with the luxury tax, but I was a start-up so I didn’t know any better,” he says, and laughs. “This is way worse than that. This is the generation of flexibility and survival. The business model we had doesn’t exist any more. Before, we were in the land of excess. It didn’t matter what anything cost. It was irrelevant. I didn’t have anything on my option sheet that was less than $4,000. I didn’t sell anything for less than $750,000. If it took 4,000 hours to build, it didn’t matter. You had enough margin.
“Now you have to sell a fully finished, great-running boat for $400,000, and even that’s out of reach for most people,” he continues. “I have to take $200,000, or at least $150,000, out of the cost of a building a boat. But anyone can just go on a cost-cutting mission. We don’t just have to build it less expensively. We have to build it better.”
To that end, Outerlimits took a hard look at everything involved in the construction of its products. In years past, the stringer systems, bulkheads, and cabins for the company’s boats were “stick-built,” meaning fabricated out of wood by hand—in essence carpentry, which is neither cheap nor efficient.
Outerlimits replaced stick-built stinger systems, bulkheads, and cabins with carbon fiber monocoque grids that incorporate all stringers, most of the bulkheads, and even fuel tanks. The monocoque grids are bonded and glassed into the hulls in one piece. Even the bilges are molded, so they require none of the hours of grinding and buffing that was once required to produce a smooth bilge surface. Rigging pathways for the engine compartment are hidden in the grid, so all the viewer sees when he peers into the engine compartment are the engines themselves.
“What we’ve ended up with is a much more efficient, stronger, and consistent build process,” says Fiore, who recently hired a new production engineer to help implement additional lean manufacturing processes.
At the recent Miami Boat Show Poker Run, an Outerlimits 43 SV with twin 725-hp Ilmor V-10 engines captured as much attention as any of the million-plus-dollar catamarans at the dock. A study in understatement, as least for the go-fast world, the sit-down boat had elegant lines and a simple gray and white paint job.
“That boat retails for $650,000, which used to be a ‘cheap’ boat for Outerlimits,” says Fiore. “I think that’s going to be a lot more typical of the kind of boats we build—a good value. Of course we’ll have one or two outrageous boats a year, but people want simple and reliable, and they don’t want to overspend.
“The reality is that I don’t think we will ever see times in our lifetime like they were—and that’s OK,” he continues. “Efficiency, value, and quality will drive the market. We can’t just sit back and throw a fancy paint job on a boat with huge power and every option and call it a million-dollar boat. That’s just not reality anymore. I have a couple of boats of that magnitude being produced, but we are not foolish enough to think that’s normal.”
Matt Trulio is the editor at large for Powerboat magazine. He has written for the magazine since 1994. Trulio’s daily blog can be found on speedonthewater.com, a site he created and maintains, which is the high-performance arm of the BoaterMouth group.