Several years ago, more than a few “industry insiders” scratched their heads when Cigarette Racing Team introduced its 39-foot Top Fish center console model. After all, what did the Miami-based builder of iconic high-performance V-bottoms know about the fishing-centric center console segment? Neither hardcore anglers nor diehard go-fast boat enthusiasts would give it a second look, or so the thinking went. There was plenty of sniggering among the cynics about what Cigarette’s risk-taking owner Skip Braver thought he was doing.

The Nor-Tech 340 center console was inspired by the company’s successful 39-footer.

Turns out that Braver and his team at Cigarette had the last laugh, because the 39-foot Top Fish has been one of the builder’s leading sellers since it was introduced.

“Yeah, that one turned out pretty good,” says Braver.

What Braver knew—and the “insiders” should have known—was that the high-performance powerboat community is aging, and that the industry has done a fair to miserable job of bringing in new blood. As buyers get older, their needs and tastes change. So where a 39-foot Top Gun that runs more than 100 mph with 700-hp engines might be the right call for a childless couple and their posse, a more-versatile 39-foot Top Fish with triple outboards that tops out at 75 mph and has bountiful open space makes more sense for a young and growing family, or owners who simply want to do more socializing on the water.

The other thing the pundits flat-out missed? The value of brand loyalty. Performance-boat owners are fiercely brand-loyal. Offer them something that meets their changing needs in a brand they know and love, and they’ll go for it in second over a similar product of another brand.

That’s a particularly big deal in today’s economy. Where once a center-console might be a go-fast boat owner’s second ride, now even well-heeled buyers are choosing between one or the other.

Without question, Cigarette started a trend: Go-fast boat builders like Nor-Tech, Sonic by Frisini and, most recently, Sunsation Performance Boats have all added center consoles to their lineups.

Here’s a look at some of the latest—and soon to come—center-console offerings from high-performance builders.

Two Winners from Nor-Tech

Two years ago, exotic high-performance catamaran, V-bottom, and yacht builder Nor-Tech unveiled its 390 Center Console at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Like Cigarette, the Cape Coral. Fla., company discovered it had an instant hit on its hands. The 39-footer quickly rose to become the company’s top seller.

“We had several people approach us at various shows after introduced the 39, especially after it proved to be so popular,” says Terry Sobo, the company’s director of sales and marketing. “They said things like, ‘If you made a smaller one, I’d probably buy it.’”

That spurred Nor-Tech to introduce a 34-footer, dubbed the 340.

In the fall of 2011, the boat with twin 300-hp Verado outboard engines completed its first sea-trial and reached 68 mph—the same speed the 39-footer tops out at with triple Verado 300s. The 390 with triple outboards lists for approximately $400,000, while the 340 with twin outboards rings in at about $300,000.

In addition to this 36-footer, Sonic by Frisini has several wide-body center consoles planned.

Sonic by Frisini Goes Wide

In early 2012, Frisini Motorsports will release larger “wide-body” versions of its versatile Sonic SUV center console. A 42-footer with a 12-foot beam and a 36-footer with a 10-foot, 6-inch beam are planned. At present, the company offers narrower-beam 26-, 32-, and 36-footers. The 36 is the company's most recent center-console offering.

“We are also in the process of building a new 39-foot SUV with a 9-foot, 6-inch beam,” said John Cunningham, who co-owns the company with Tony Frisina.

A pair of new 36-foot SUV models recently arrived at Arrow Marine Services in Toms River. N.J.

Base price for the Sonic 36 Center Console with Mercury 225XS outboard engines is $228,888. Base price for the 32 Center Console with Mercury 225XS outboard engines $198,888.

Slated for release in early to mid 2012, Sunsation’s 34-footer will be the first in a series of center consoles the company plans to offer.

New Sunsation

Algonac, Mich., home to Sunsation Performance Boats, isn’t exactly the heart of center-console country, but that hasn’t stopped company owners Wayne and Joe Schaldenbrand from getting into the game. They, too, understand the value of brand loyalty and the reality of the maturing performance-boat audience. So the Schaldebrand brothers are adding center consoles to the lineup, starting with a 34-footer.

“We are starting with all brand-new, CAD-based designs,” says Joe Schaldenbrand. “We have some consulting help, but most of the design work is being done by us in house.

“Wayne (Schaldenbrand) and I have had to educate ourselves tremendously on the center console fishing market,” he adds. “We are not going after the hardcore fishermen. We are going after the more recreational sport fishermen.”

After the 34-foot model is complete in early to mid 2012, the company will begin tooling 38- and 29-foot offerings. With twin 300-hp Mercury Verado outboard engines, the 34 should retail for $180,000 to $190,000, according to Schaldenbrand.

Of course there’s more, notably a 37-foot Statement Marine center console with an air-cushioned cockpit. And more yet: At least three other well-known go-fast builders contacted for this story indicated that they would be releasing center console models in 2012, but weren’t ready to “go public” yet. When they do, they’re hoping for the same reception Cigarette got with its 39-foot Top Fish. In fact, they’re banking on it.

For more information, visit the boat builders’ websites.

Matt Trulio