Sunsation: Inside an Extreme Performance Boat Company

When high-performance powerboat builders in the United States, where the majority of go-fast V-bottoms and catamarans are built, describe their creations as “some of the last truly handmade products” in America, they’re not exaggerating. High-performance boats are laminated by hand with materials ranging from fiberglass and vinylester resin to carbon fiber and epoxy. They are rigged with engines, the majority of which are built by hand at Mercury Racing, the largest producer of high-performance marine engines in the world. They are painted by hand with custom designs, often in ornate and often extravagant detail, with airbrushes in the hands of talented artists such as Mitchell “Mitcher T” Tolan at the Mitcher T Paint Shop.

Miss Geico can run more than 200 mph.


As it happens Mitcher T does most of his fine work for Sunsation Performance Boats in Algonac, Mich. Founded by Wayne Schaldenbrand, who runs the outfit with his brothers Joe and John, Sunsation builds semi-custom V-hull performance boats from 28 to 43 long. Most recently, the builder introduced a new 36-footer that immediately set order records for a new Sunsation model.

In the video below, Jason Johnson, the editor of Powerboat magazine, catches up with Wayne Schaldenbrand to see what makes the company so good at what it does—producing top-shelf performance boats.

Of course, regardless of how exquisite the finished product might be, a top-flight go-fast boat looks best when it’s trimmed perfectly and running flat-out. What you see in the video below is a pair of Sunsation models—a 28-footer and a 32-footer—doing just that on sheet-glass water. In the latter part of the video, you’ll see a Sunsation 32 Dominator making short work of the rough stuff. Breathtaking, graceful and most definitely extreme.

Poker Runs: Pleasure Boating Extreme

What’s better than running a high-performance powerboat in open water? Running side by side with a group of high-performance boats, heading toward some exotic destination for the weekend. That’s the big appeal of “poker runs” in the go-fast powerboat world. Sure, participants collect cards at various stops on the way to the final destination and they “play their hands” during a Saturday night awards gig and party like rocks stars (off the water when the boats are safely tied up), but the real draw is running in a fleet—the largest of which to date is 190 boats at this year’s Desert Storm Poker Run on Lake Havasu—with other fast boats.

How fast is fast? These days, poker-run catamarans that top 150 mph are common, and cats that can top 180 mph are not unheard of. And keep in mind, we’re talking about pleasure boats, albeit pleasure boats with huge horsepower, a four- to six-seat cockpit and no cabin.

So were definitely talking extreme when it comes to poker runs, and no outfit does a better job of putting them on than the Florida Powerboat Club of Pompano Beach, Fla. The club, which was founded and is run by Stu Jones, puts on about ten runs a year. The club’s top run? Well, it’s arguable of course, but the annual Miami Boat Show Poker Run, which happens the weekend after the Miami International Boat Show. Still, seeing is believing. So check out the video below.

Featured in the video is a collection of some of hottest go-fast boats in the world for Cigarette Racing Team, Marine Technology, Inc.—if you watch closely you’ll see Bob Christie’s “Speed Racer” MTI catamaran—Douglas Marine/Skater, Nor-Tech Performance Boats, Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats and others. Pay attention and you’ll see NFL All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in his “Pure Evil” 44-foot-long MTI catamaran. And check out the fleet when some of it, though by no means all of it, is “rafted off” for the lunch stop at Gilbert’s. No doubt, an impressive collection of extreme aquatic hardware.

Offshore Racing: Turbine Extremes

The world of offshore powerboat racing can be difficult to understand. There are so many classes, not to mention an alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies including APBA, OPA, OSS and SBI. A word to the wise potential fan who just wants to see something cool and most definitely extreme: Don’t get bogged down in trying to figure it all out.

Instead, focus on the turbine class and within that class on one boat in particular—Miss Geico. Watch this 50-foot Mystic catamaran with 4,000-hp worth of turbine engines (they’re taken from helicopters and marinized) run even for a moment and you’ll quickly realize you’re looking at something truly remarkable, and truly extreme in the world of high-performance boating. In the video below, you can check out Miss Geico (in classic Geico green), which can run more than 200 mph

The last video (below) isn’t as action packed, but it’s every bit as interesting as the first one because in just a few minutes—thanks to elapsed-time video—it shows all that goes into getting a turbine-powered offshore race boat onto the water. Before driver Marc Granet and throttleman Scott Begovich hop in the cockpit, there’s a whole lot of preparation that needs to be done. And though this video captures the boat’s maiden sea trial, that never changes.

Diehard offshore racing fans will notice that the cat in the video is not the latest Miss Geico. That one is so new that the Geico team does not yet have video of it.

Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final story in our "Going to Extremes" series.
Read Going to Extremes: Personal Watercraft and Wakeboarding
Read Going to Extremes: Sailing
Read Going to Extremes: Fishing