The saga of the Outerlimits SV29 V-bottom is so compelling that it captured most of the attention for the Bristol, R.I., custom high-performance boat builder this year. And why not? It’s a great story.
After being introduced at the 2012 Miami International Boat Show, the much-awaited 29-foot stepped V bottom—the builder’s first single-engine boat and smallest model to date—rolled over in a turn during a demo run with company principal Mike Fiore at the helm. (See Rolling With it at Outerlimits.)
It didn’t matter that Fiore and company determined a mechanical issue, rather than a flaw in the hull design, caused the incident. As far as future sales were concerned, the SV29 was done. That was the buzz, at least, especially online.
But a funny thing happened on the way the scrap heap: The Outerlimits clients who ordered their SV29 models, mostly with Mercury Racing 565 engine power, didn’t cancel their orders. In fact, by early summer the builder reportedly had sold out 2012 production for the new model. And in the fall, Snowy Mountain Brewery, an SV29 owned by noted offshore racer Michael “Doc” Janssen, earned a world title in the Super Boat International Super V Light class.
“That was more important for me as a designer, really, than anything else,” said Fiore. “Every time that boat has hit the racecourse nothing has even run close to it.”
But while the SV29 was grabbing all the glory for Outerlimits, the company was quietly taking orders for and building its biggest boats, the stand-up cockpit 52 SL and the new sit-down, lower-deck version of it, the SV50.
“We have six orders right now, three for the SV50 and three for the SL 52,” said Fiore. “All of them have been ordered with twin Mercury Racing 1350s—that is such a great engine package. The little boat [SV29] is still doing well. There are three in production now, one with a 565 and another with an Ilmor 725 engine going to a buyer in the U.K. But the big boats are driving our business now.
“This is the busiest we’ve ever been at the end of a year,” he continued. “We also have two SV43s and one SL 44, all with 1350s, in production,” he continued. “We also just sold our first 44-foot catamaran, which is a shorter and wider version of our 48-foot catamaran.”
Outerlimits’ roots are in “full-size” offshore go-fast V-bottoms. The company’s first model was a 37-footer. Mike Fiore is the son of Paul Fiore, who founded the famed Hustler line of offshore powerboats. In addition to the boats created by his father, Fiore cites the hefty Apache line of V-bottoms as partial inspiration for his big-boat passion, as well as starting Outerlimits. But where the conventional V-bottom, resin-and-fiberglass Apache models were anything but fast, the stepped-hull, epoxy-and-carbon-fiber Outerlimits offerings are just the opposite. And that, combined with the Mercury Racing 1350 and 1100 engines, is the key to what’s happening at Outerlimits now.
“I attribute it to us being kind of the ‘last man standing’ for buyers who want a V-bottom that can go over 120 mph safely and efficiently,” said Fiore. “There aren’t a lot of choices left. And if you want to go over 145 mph—we’re building a boat for a buyer overseas right now that can do that—there are no other choices.
“We’ve settled into a niche, we’ve settled into a ‘steady gallop’ of doing what we do best, which is build fast, efficient, and safe V-bottoms,” he added. “We enjoy doing it, and we’re good at it.”
Despite that Outerlimits is “basically sold out in production for most of 2013,” according to Fiore, the high-performance powerboat market remains tough. The profit margins are tighter—the not-so-funny joke among go-fast boat builders still doing business is that wholesale is the new retail—and buyers are fewer and farther between. Builders are doing more with less, and that primarily means less labor. Fiore, who started in the boat business at age 13 rigging wiring harnesses, still rigs wire harnesses if that’s what needs to be done.
“You do whatever you have to these days,” he said. “Whatever makes sense for your business, whatever you need to get the job done, you do.”
To that end, Fiore is opening a West Coast extension of Outerlimits in Fresno, Calif. The facility will specialize in re-rigging, repowering, and upgrading of not just Outerlimits models, but in models from other high-end custom builders.
“We’re not going into the oil-change and routine service business—there already are plenty of good shops for that,” said Fiore. “I’ll bet there are at least 25 Outerlimits out West right now. Ideally, what we’d like to do is specialize in repowering boats with Mercury Racing 1350 and 1100 engines. There’s a pretty slim number of people who are certified by Mercury to do that, and we’re among them. In a perfect world, we would do re-rigging for all our existing customers, as well as owners of other high-performance boats.
“This allows us to expand our horizons,” he added. “And that’s something we’re always looking to do.”