FOUN­TAIN’S QUEST FOR A KILO RECORD

Foun­tain builds a boat to break a world record.

Boating - - FRONT PAGE - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY CHARLES PLUEDDEMAN

It will only take about 12 sec­onds to set a new UIM/APBA Un­lim­ited Vee Bot­tom (UVB) speed record. You can travel 1 kilo­me­ter in 12.09 sec­onds at 185 mph. Not a blink of the eye but prob­a­bly not long enough to break a sweat. Rip off a 12-sec­ond kilo, then turn around and do it again in the other di­rec­tion, and see your name in the record book.

Hold­ing that record will be a halo for the Foun­tain brand, an in­di­ca­tor that we are se­ri­ous about re-es­tab­lish­ing Foun­tain as a pre­mium per­for­mance brand.”

The record book is what Iconic Ma­rine Group had in mind in Au­gust 2017 when it em­barked on a mis­sion to bring the UVB speed record back to Foun­tain Power­boats, tak­ing it from the cur­rent holder, Outer­lim­its Off­shore Power­boats. More than a year later, af­ter the in­vest­ment of un­told man­hours and a moun­tain of money, that 12-sec­ond kilo re­mains elu­sive. We made two trips to Wash­ing­ton, North Carolina, home of Iconic Ma­rine and also the site of the mea­sured kilo course on the Pam­lico River, to watch this process un­fold. Turns out, go­ing very fast is chal­leng­ing and ex­pen­sive.

The cur­rent UIM/APBA Un­lim­ited Vee Bot­tom record of 180.464 mph — the av­er­age of back-to-back runs — was set on the Pam­lico River in 2014 by Brian Free­hand in a 43-foot Outer­lim­its SV 43. That ef­fort shat­tered the 171.88 mph UVB speed mark set on the same course in 2004 by Ben Robert­son Jr. and Reg­gie Foun­tain in a Foun­tain 42 Light­ning.

At that time Reg­gie Foun­tain still owned his name­sake boat brand. That busi­ness did not sur­vive the re­ces­sion. In 2016, Kansas City busi­ness­man Fred Ross pur­chased Baja Ma­rine LLC and the Foun­tain, Baja and Donzi brands. He hired 33year ma­rine-in­dus­try vet­eran Joe Cur­ran as COO to re­sus­ci­tate these leg­endary per­for­mance boat brands un­der the apt name Iconic Ma­rine Group.

“Go­ing af­ter the speed record was Fred’s idea,” Cur­ran said in Fe­bru­ary. “He asked me about it three times be­fore I re­ally took him se­ri­ously. Hold­ing that record will be a halo for the Foun­tain brand, an in­di­ca­tor that we are se­ri­ous about re-es­tab­lish­ing Foun­tain as a pre­mium per­for­mance brand.”

AS­SEM­BLING A SPEED BOAT

The foun­da­tion of the boat that the com­pany is call­ing the Foun­tain 40 Race­boat is a dou­ble-stepped running sur­face bor­rowed from the 42 Light­ning, the same sur­face used to set the 2004 record and also the same as the production 42 Light­ning. Un­like the 2004 record-set­ter, this boat is a cut-down ver­sion with about 10 inches re­moved from the top edge of the hull. This am­pu­tates most of the bow flare that tends to gen­er­ate a lot of lift and drag at high speeds.

Robert­son, a 63-year-old racer and boat dealer from South Carolina with more than 30 tun­nel-boat cham­pi­onships and 12 speed records on the wall, says the cut­down 42 is now 39 feet long and weighs 9,600 pounds dry. It’s the first hull Iconic laid up us­ing com­plete vinylester-in­fused com­pos­ites. The area be­low the fore­deck holds bat­ter­ies, oxy­gen bot­tles for the crew, and a 38-gal­lon bal­last tank.

The boat has a full canopy over the two-seat cock­pit. Robert­son and his son, en­gi­neer Ben Robert­son III, were in­stru­men­tal in the de­sign of the UIM-cer­ti­fied safety cell con­structed of Kevlar and car­bon-fiber lam­i­nate sup­ported by a cage of 1.25inch chro­moly steel tub­ing wrapped in car­bon fiber. The crew is fur­ther pro­tected by air-filled blad­ders sur­round­ing the cock­pit that pre­vent the deck from col­laps­ing un­der im­pact. Driver and throt­tle­man peer through slit­like wind­shields, which, be­cause they are a point of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, are as small as pos­si­ble. Power comes from a pair

of Ster­ling Per­for­mance 557-cu­bic-inch V-8 en­gines, each re­ceiv­ing up to 18 psi of boost from huge twin tur­bocharg­ers and fu­eled with E90 (90 per­cent ethanol), which is more re­sis­tant to det­o­na­tion than gaso­line. There are two power modes: 1,500 hp for test­ing and 1,900 hp at 6,800 rpm for the record run. E90 re­quires 35 per­cent more fuel flow than gaso­line, and each en­gine will con­sume 170 gph at wide-open throt­tle.

That power is trans­ferred to the wa­ter through

SCS crash-box trans­mis­sions and Mer­cury Rac­ing M6 stern­drives, with the op­tion of 1.15-to-1 or 1.24-to-1 gear ra­tios. The drives were blueprinted by Mark Wil­son at Wil­son Cus­tom Ma­rine in Fort Pierce, Florida, a hand-fin­ish­ing process that en­sures the outer sur­face is as smooth as pos­si­ble and the skeg true. The drives are flanked by a pair of Livorsi 1150 mul­ti­stepped trim tabs. The team has been test­ing with the two ra­tios and forged stain­less-steel Her­ring five­blade cleaver props in 39-, 40- and 41-inch pitch sizes. Each prop costs $12,000.

The first cowl de­vised to cover the en­gines is un­usual. Rather than fit­ting flush to the canopy, it’s raised slightly and open at the front and rear, with the huge ex­haust pipes pok­ing through its top like stacks. The idea, Robert­son ex­plains, was to cre­ate a Ven­turi ef­fect that would draw air through the en­gine bay to both feed and cool the en­gines.

SET­BACKS

Iconic had hoped to make its record at­tempt in early Fe­bru­ary 2018 and then tri­umphantly dis­play the Foun­tain 40 Race­boat at the 2018 Miami In­ter­na­tional Boat Show. A de­lay in re­ceiv­ing the en­gines pushed the at­tempt back to late Fe­bru­ary. Mak­ing a record run on the Pam­lico re­quires as­sem­bling a dozen Amercian Power Boat As­so­ci­a­tion mar­shals and the tim­ing crew and their gear, co­or­di­nat­ing with law en­force­ment and the

U.S. Coast Guard to close the river to boat traf­fic for sev­eral hours, and hav­ing a safety crew with divers in place. The com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive lo­gis­tics placed quite a bit of pres­sure on the team, which had only a day or two to test the boat. It was a rush job, and the boat sim­ply wasn’t ready. The en­gine cowl was an aero­dy­namic dis­as­ter, and tur­bu­lence was dis­turb­ing the props. The boat did not feel steady at speed, even at 150 mph.

“What we have done this week is not for the faint of heart in busi­ness or on the wa­ter,” said Cur­ran, an­nounc­ing the post­pone­ment of the ef­fort. “We will con­tinue this kilo at­tempt with cau­tion, in a pro­fes­sional man­ner with safety and ex­pe­ri­ence. We will an­nounce our next at­tempt at a later date, but be as­sured we will be back bet­ter, stronger and smarter.”

UP­DATES

We re­turned to Wash­ing­ton in late May 2018 and found much had changed. Robert­son, who had been bumped from the cock­pit in a bit of crew drama in Fe­bru­ary, was back at the wheel with 43-year-old off­shore cham­pion Billy Moore of St. Peters­burg, Florida, on the throt­tles. Robert­son and Moore were en­gaged in a me­thod­i­cal test­ing pro­gram.

Cur­ran brought Steve Wedde, the for­mer chief en­gi­neer at In­trepid Power­boats, to work at Iconic. In an ef­fort to im­prove aero­dy­nam­ics, Wedde com­mis­sioned a com­plete 3D dig­i­tal scan of the 40 Race­boat and used that model to com­plete a 200-hour com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics (CFD) anal­y­sis. On a com­puter screen, he showed us how the CFD pro­gram iden­ti­fied ar­eas of drag.

“We ap­plied the CFD from the hull sides up,” Wedde ex­plained. “It was ob­vi­ous that we needed to seal the en­gine canopy and get rid of the ex­haust stacks.”

A new ex­haust sys­tem ex­its at the tran­som. A new en­gine cover fits flush to the canopy and has side-mounted scoops. The af­ter­deck was re­shaped to elim­i­nate small ar­eas of tur­bu­lence, which Wedde said re­duced drag by 8 to 9 per­cent, a sur­pris­ing re­sult.

What we have done this week is not for the faint of heart in busi­ness or on the wa­ter.”

Robert­son mounted a Garmin Virb cam­era un­der the tran­som to see how tur­bu­lence from the wa­ter pickup was af­fect­ing the props.

“The first pickup was 2 inches in di­am­e­ter and fed by a 30-inch-long tun­nel in the bot­tom,” Robert­son said. “It would lift the tran­som and push down the bow, and caused tur­bu­lence. Now we have two 1-inch pick­ups, one on the first step and the other at the tran­som, both flush with the bot­tom, and the lift and tur­bu­lence is­sues are gone.”

Robert­son and Moore are now pleased with how the boat feels at speed, and on the day we vis­ited, they were fo­cused on fine-tun­ing props.

“We need to match the props and the gear ra­tio to the torque curve of the en­gines,” Robert­son said. “We have a 3-mile run up to the start of the mea­sured kilo, and we want to be able to time the run so we are ac­tu­ally ac­cel­er­at­ing through the kilo, to come out faster than we enter. When the boat reaches peak ve­loc­ity and stops ac­cel­er­at­ing, the props free­wheel and the boat loses a lit­tle sta­bil­ity.”

On a bench, Moore and Robert­son showed us two sets of the Her­ring props that had been sent to Mark Wil­son for fine-tun­ing. Wil­son ground off about a quar­ter-inch from the tip of each prop blade.

“With the tips sharp, the props lift the boat too much, and we had to add 50 pounds of bal­last to com­pen­sate,” Robert­son said. “Round­ing the tips re­duced that lift, and the boat feels set­tled with no bal­last. We also re­duced the tip speed of the props, which was at the point of caus­ing cav­i­ta­tion.”

Prop slip of a lit­tle less than 10 per­cent is ac­cept­able. Robert­son frowned and stud­ied a prop slip app on his smart­phone.

“In the­ory, with the 41 prop and 1.24-to-1 ra­tio and our power, we should be running 185.9 mph,” Robert­son said. “So now we are won­der­ing if we re­ally have 1,900 horse­power, or if the en­gines need work.”

From a Donzi cen­ter­con­sole on the Pam­lico I watched with Cur­ran and Reg­gie Foun­tain as Robert­son and Moore ripped up and down the river to test a set of props. Their speed was not re­vealed, but the boat looked much smoother and cleaner in the wa­ter than it had in Fe­bru­ary. Ev­ery test run takes a lit­tle life out of the highly stressed en­gines.

“We have al­most 14 hours on the en­gines,” Robert­son said. “So we de­cided to pull them be­fore they fail, and have them gone through and fresh­ened up for an­other run at the record.”

Cur­ran ex­pects to take an­other shot at the speed record in Oc­to­ber, when the air is cooler and there is less boat traf­fic on the Pam­lico. All it takes is 12 sec­onds. Twelve per­fect sec­onds.

Reg­gie Foun­tain II brings decades of ex­pe­ri­ence and eter­nal op­ti­mism.

The Mer­cury Rac­ing M6 stern­drives were blueprinted by Mark Wil­son at Wil­son Cus­tom Ma­rine in Fort Pierce, Florida. The Her­ring five-blade cleaver pro­pel­lers, tested in three pitch sizes, cost $12,000 apiece.

Power comes from a pair of stout 557 cid V-8 Ster­ling en­gines that can pro­duce 1,900 hp at 6,800 rpm dur­ing the record run at­tempt. The en­gines each burn E90 fuel at a 170 gph clip.

Dig­i­tal anal­y­sis iden­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant aero­dy­namic is­sues caused by the original en­gine cowl and aft deck (top) dur­ing the run in Fe­bru­ary, which were ad­dressed with a fresh de­sign we saw on the wa­ter in May (above).

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