Without question, center consoles commanded center stage in the high-performance powerboat market in 2012. Cigarette Racing Team added two of them—the 39’ Top Gun Open and the 42’ Mistress—early in the year, and the latter model was of the company’s biggest sellers. Nor-Tech Hi-Performance Boat finished its 34- and 29-foot center consoles and sold out its entire 2012 production before summer.
At the end of summer, vaunted catamaran builder Marine Technology, Inc., trotted out its prototype SV42 center console—the company’s first V-bottom—and will unveil the first official version of the 42-footer at the 2013 Miami International Boat Show this year. That’s also where Sunsation Performance Boats will pull the sheet off its much-anticipated 34-foot center console.
You get the idea—center console fever ran rampant in the go-fast boat world in 2012, and looks to continue that way in 2013. And yet to simply call 2012 “The Year of the Center Console” would be far from the complete story, because there was plenty of big go-fast boat news beyond the center console realm.
What follows are the five hottest stories of the year. While the order of this list is highly subjective—as is the order of all such lists—we’re pretty sure you’ll recognize at least a few of them.
As it happens, the biggest story of 2012 happened near the end of year in December when Fred Kiekhaefer announced he would be departing the world’s leading builder of high-performance marine engines. Kiekhaefer led the company as president for more than 20 years, and under his tenure the Fond Du Lac, Wis., outfit produced a number of standard-setting engines including the 525EFI, the supercharged 1075SCi and—most recently—the world-beating turbocharged quad overhead cam 1350 and 1100.
Kiekhaefer will work as consultant for Mercury Racing this year and next, and Erik Christiansen, the brilliant young engineer who led the quad overhead cam 1350 and 1100 engine projects, will take on the role of general manager for the company. But as Christiansen knows, he has big shoes to fill. Under Kiekhaefer’s leadership, innovation wasn’t optional at Mercury Racing, it was expected. He leaves behind a line of the most reliable and best-performing go-fast powerboat engines in history.
If you own a television or a radio, you can’t escape insurance giant GEICO. A smooth-talking British lizard, an ear-splitting rhapsodic pig, a pudgy witch in a broom factory and even—where the hell did he come from—comedian Gallagher—all are the stuff of one of the most ubiquitous and, arguably, hilarious advertising campaigns in recent memory. Yet for high-performance powerboat lovers, GEICO meant offshore racing’s Miss GEICO, at least it did until late June when the 50-foot, turbine powered Mystic catamaran burned to the waterline during a practice session. In a matter of minutes, the sport lost its most popular and recognizable race boat and while the team did replace it with another 43-foot cat with piston power, it just isn’t the same. And it never will be.
Beyond the boat’s demise, the loss of Miss GEICO presents a huge setback for the turbine class of offshore racing, though critics have long argued the class never had a chance for any number of reasons. The impetus for the soon to be completed Spirit of Qatar turbine-powered 50-foot Mystic cat was to compete directly against Miss GEICO. There are other turbine-powered offshore racing cats out there, but none of them consistently show up at races as the GEICO cat did.
With new and pre-owned go-fast boat dealers becoming an endangered species during the past five years, this super-merger on the eve of the 2012 Miami International Boat Show in February made perfect sense. Pier 57 was the dealer to go to if you wanted a new Cigarette V-bottom or center console, or a new Marine Technology, Inc., catamaran. Shogren was the place to go for a new Nor-Tech or Checkmate, and a pre-owned anything. The merger meant sticking with the Pier 57 name, dropping the Nor-Tech and Checkmate lines, and moving the entire operation to Illinois.
But it meant more than that. At the end of what was a banner year for company principal Scott Sjogren (Pier 57 founder David Woods still sells Cigarettes and MTIs but is not involved in day-to-day operations), Pier 57 moved into a new facility a few miles down the road from its old digs to develop what Sjogren calls “a boutique dealership.” In the process, the company created a blueprint of what all dealers need to do—provide unparalleled services and maximize every moment of the customer experience—to survive in today’s economy.
In early August, former offshore racer Hayim teamed up with current offshore racer Tomlinson in a 42-foot MTI catamaran with twin Mercury 1,350-hp engines to shatter the existing 270-mile round-trip record time by almost an hour. Conditions were perfect, for sure, and Hayim and Tomlinson had roughly twice the horsepower of the Outerlimits V-bottom that in 2011 broke the existing record set by Hayim and throttleman Joey Imprescia in the late 1980s. Still, Hayim and Tomlinson delivered the significant offshore performance of the year.
And in a larger sense, it was even bigger than that. In a year that saw dwindling offshore racing fleets, the loss of the sport’s best-known raceboat, and diminishing fan interest, Hayim and Tomlinson sparked interest in the foundation of the sport—running hard offshore—and reportedly raised $65,000 for cancer research.
Journalists—at least this one—are suckers for happy endings, and no new-model story had a happier and more impressive ending than that of the Outerlimits SV29 V-bottom. The 29-footer, the smallest model in the Outerlimits line and its first model, was introduced to great fanfare at the 2012 Miami International Boat Show and even made the cover of Sportboat magazine. It made its first on-water debut during the Desert Storm Poker Run, and was the fastest V-bottom at the annual event’s top-speed shootout, in late April on Lake Havasu.
And then, during a test run near the builder’s home base in Rhode Island, the boat rolled. Despite the builder’s determination that a mechanical failure rather than a hull flaw caused the incident, it was a giant setback. The SV29 appeared to be, literally and figuratively, dead in the water, though according to company principal Mike Fiore none of the customers who ordered the sold-out-for-2012 model had a change of heart.
Still, there were plenty of naysayers, all of whom were forced to shut their pie-holes when the SV29 crushed its class in the Super Boat International Key West Offshore World Championships in November. The now-proven SV29 has become the showcase for Mercury Racing’s 565 engine, also released in 2012, and has raised the bar for single-engine V-bottom performance.