FOUNTAIN’S QUEST FOR A KILO RECORD
Fountain builds a boat to break a world record.
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.
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.”
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).