Powerboat's Test Team had just completed an evaluation of the 38 Lightning when they were greeted at the dock by Reggie Fountain. A tester mentioned offhandedly that the company's new bolsters had a little too much padding where his tailbone met the seat.
Within moments, Fountain was on the phone with the upholstery department to make the small change to the bolsters for the new boats that come out of the Washington, N.C., plant. It's been continual tweaks like these that have helped the production builder stay ahead of the competition.
Take the latest 38 Lightning. In addition to cosmetic changes, the builder has turned the stepped-bottom boat into a performance machine. Running with production mills, the V-bottom reached nearly 115 mph. To borrow a line, this isn't your daddy's Fountain.
Fountain has been at the forefront of squeezing more speed out of its boats using relatively mellow power plants. The 38 Lightning we tested had staggered Mercury Racing HP700SCi engines and a special drive package. Fountain took NXT1 transom assemblies and transmissions and mated them to No. 6 dry-sump drives. Latham Marine supplied the tiebar.
With the drives spinning 16 7/8" x 39" five-blade propellers from Hering, the builder prepped the boat for top speed. And a remarkable number it was. Considering there was just 1,400 horsepower under the hatches, the V-bottom ran 114.9 mph on GPS during a cool day on the Pamlico Sound. Our lead test
driver believes the boat could go even faster with a larger-diameter prop.
It took awhile to get the last 10 mph out of the boat, but few stepped-bottom models felt as steady as the 38 Lightning at higher speeds. Even the crosswakes we came across on the Sound didn't upset the boat when going faster than 100 mph.
In slalom turns at all speeds the Fountain received nothing but the highest marks from our test driver. There was no slipping or hopping, which sometimes occurs in boats set up with higher X dimensions.
The effort to produce a 115-mph boat did come at the expense of getting on plane quickly. With the Mercury Racing 380S K-Planes down, the 38-footer needed 6.9 seconds to level off. Up and running, the boat took 13 more seconds to get to a cruising speed of 63 mph.
Midrange acceleration was better than average, taking just 5.6 seconds to go from 30 to 50 mph and 6 seconds for the 40-to-60-mph drill. Running from 40 to 70 mph took 9.9 seconds.
From sea strainers to windshields, Fountain Powerboats builds many of the parts for its performance boats in-house. The company believes it not only can build the parts better but it allows for greater flexibility. Rather than calling the supplier and waiting a few days for the new part, the company says it can make changes within hours.
The 38 Lightning featured a new upholstery design, which incorporated the headrests on the rear bench into the engine hatches. The updated design was also carried over into the new bolster seats. Fountain moved the switch for the electric dropout bottom from the armrest area to the gunwale. A smart move considering passengers in rougher water have a tendency to bump it.
When it came to painting the boat, The Art of Design was enlisted to do the bold graphics. Protecting the fine work was a black rubrail with a stainless-steel insert. The paint carried over to the underside of the engine hatches and onto the hullsides in the compartment.
Rigging was on par for a production boat but our workmanship inspector noted that the bilge wasn't up to the boat's overall high standards. A smoother finish would go a long way for the buyer when it comes time to clean it.
One thing our testers noticed out on the water was that the 38 Lightning didn't have any rattles. Credit goes to the workers in the factory for making sure items were securely fastened.
Pull-up cleats were appropriately placed around the boat. Black powder-coated railings on the deck and around the padded engine hatches were matched to the windshield.
As part of the new upholstery design, Fountain created three formed seats in the rear bench. Not only were they comfortable but they'll give rear-seat passengers something to hold onto when the boat encounters some rough water. In addition to the twin bolsters, the builder installed snap-in carpet with the Fountain logo in the cockpit.
The driver's spot to starboard included throttles and shifters from Livorsi Marine to the left of the Latham Marine helm. Gauges with carbon-fiber faces were in a U-shape around the steering wheel. A Mercury SmartCraft SystemView screen was centered on the dash below the Monster gauges.
The 38 Lightning featured Fountain's new single-piece sliding cabin door. The spacious cabin had a V-berth and a U-shape lounge. An entertainment unit featured Corian countertops with a stainless sink and cabinets with a rosewood veneer. Two small ice chests were included to keep drinks and food cool.
Although there were two hatches for ventilation, there was no natural lighting in the cabin to speak of. The builder, however, provided abundant lighting throughout the space.
Fountain kept the enclosed head compartment simple. There was a portable toilet and a cabinet.
Fountain Powerboats continues to evolve and the 38 Lightning is reflective of that. There are plenty of V-bottoms that run faster than 100 mph, but few are as stable as the 38-footer at speed. And rarely do they go 115 mph on production horsepower.
Reggie Fountain is really hands-on when it comes to the design of his boats. The new 38 Lightning shows he continues to have the winning touch.