Stingray Boats
Fast Families

Boating Life - Jul/Aug 2003

If performance is in your genes, you and your family will love the DNA in these boats.

You want a boat, but you're having a problem with the F word. No, not that F word. The one that identifies you as the breadwinning head of a happy household: Family.

Logic dictates a family-friendly craft with room and amenities for the kids and all their toys, but your emotions are guiding you toward yet another F word: Fast.

You can see yourself at the helm of a snarling, high-powered speed machine, racing across the water in a blur of neon-bright racing graphics. But your speed dreams are leaving your family at the dock and your boating hopes on the rocks.

Boatbuilders understand your dilemma, and have responded with a new breed of runabout that blends the utility and comfort you require with the performance edge you desire.

How can you have it both ways? It's all about the technology.

Twenty-first century boatbuilders use a variety of techniques and technologies to put an extra bit of run into their runabouts -- everything from high-efficiency engines and drives to drag-reducing hull designs, all wrapped up in a bold new generation of graphics and styling. The boats we found this season prove there's hope of reconciling both the eye-patched pirate in you and the mentoring parent you want to be.

How do boatbuilders get so much performance out of boats with so many amenities? By reducing drag. Once the boat is up and running, drag becomes the enemy of speed. The faster you go, the more wind and water resistance you must overcome. Streamlining the topside can reduce some wind resistance, but it probably has the greatest effect on your ego. The underwater profile of the boat, however, can have a significant effect on speed. The trick is to lift the hull up and out of the water and reduce wetted area while maintaining control.

Years ago, ocean racers discovered that they could reduce water drag by channeling air under the hull. They did this by cutting stepped notches along the hull chines to the keel. But there was a downside. Stepped hulls were great when running fast and straight, but runabout owners found that in the hard turns that skiers and tubers need, some stepped hulls dump speed faster than a tube could dump a rider -- bad news for quick recovery of skiers.

The design team at Regal Boats came up with a system that allowed them to incorporate aerating steps that preserve performance in turns. The patented system they call FasTrac delivers speed and running efficiency even in 180-degree turns. The hull also provides predictable handling that's more comfortable for recreational drivers.

Stingray's patented Z-plane hull creates a sort of "reverse chine" that provides lift without drag-inducing strakes on the hull's surface. In all cases, today's top boatbuilders use tactics far superior to the trial-and-error modifications to plug and mold of the old days.

Any coach will tell you: If you want to go faster, lose some weight.

Ditto for your boat.

Of course, you shouldn't sacrifice weight at the expense of strength -- especially if you plan to push the upper edges of the speed envelope.

Fortunately, this is not an either-or proposition. Space-age materials and construction techniques have provided boatbuilders with ways to both lighten the load and increase structural integrity. Composite and core materials add strength to hulls by creating the engineering equivalent of an I-beam fused to the running surface. High-strength roving and resins allow builders to get more strength from less material, shaving hundreds of pounds out of a typical fiberglass lamination schedule.

Drawing from their racing heritage, engineers at Baja Marine have taken this a step further, using a computerized system of measuring stresses on their hulls that allows them to put plenty of fiberglass on the stress points and save weight by reducing material on the spots that don't need it.

Precise cutting and assembly of parts also reduces waste. Companies such as Stingray accomplish this through tools such as a computer-controlled milling machine, a water-jet cutter and a CNC router. To the buyer, these impressive-sounding processes translate into a product that fits together with greater precision and strength.

All boats tend to run well once up on plane, but even well-powered boats groan while getting there. Now boatbuilders use a number of design tricks to get their crafts up and running. The top trick here is extending or modifying the running surface in the transom area to lift the boat on plane faster and keep it on plane with less power. Crownline and Caravelle use proprietary variations on this concept, and our past tests prove they work as advertised.

Is horsepower the answer? Yes and no. Scan the test reports on and you'll see that even a 100-pound difference in load can slow a boat dramatically. Add 50 horsepower and 200 pounds for the bigger block and your new boat may go only slightly faster with the bigger engine --and burn a ton more fuel doing it.

Hitting the balance between power and weight -- the power-to-weight ratio -- is the ticket for your family's poker-run rig.

One of the most popular engines, used by both Mercury and Volvo in making stern-drives, is the GM Vortec 5.0-liter block. In fact, it's the engine Baja slips into the sporty 202 bowrider to hit the 60 mph mark.

Impressive at the time of its introduction years ago, this small-block V-8 is more powerful today thanks to new cylinder heads that enhance combustion efficiency and a better intake manifold that increases air flow through the engine. But these don't affect the weight of the engine, so we talked to GM's Dave Garrett, the manager of Customer Engineering Support, to find out why this engine is so popular among boatbuilders pushing performance.

"The most significant change in the GM Vortec block is the multiport fuel-injection system. It's much more efficient and increases the horsepower of the block without adding weight. In fact, people are happier with the 5.0-liter small-block V-8 than they are with the 5.7-liter carbureted engine."

Garrett says the block gets 250 to 270 horsepower in Mercury or Volvo stern-drives.

"We raised the power-to-dollar ratio instead of the power-to-weight ratio," Garrett said.

In truth, 21st-century speed and power are achieved through superior engineering and increased efficiency -- and most of that is due to the computerized efficiency of the engines' fuel-management systems.

OK, then. Boatbuilders and engine makers are producing faster and more comfortable products -- but so does Lincoln with its Town Car. That's not the image that's going to peel your teenager away from the Xbox or, for that matter, make you sneak that black patch over your left eye.

It takes that "bad boy" look to get on the fast track, too. Whether they're appliques with checkered flags or stripes and flames, or bold colors splashed along the hull in carefully laid gelcoat, we want some stripes on the freeboard that flaunt the power under the engine cowling. Fortunately for us, those graphics are much less expensive today than they were years ago, and that's thanks to digital technology.

What else could a boating family want in a runabout? One more F word: Fun! That's a concept everyone can understand.

Pierce Hoover
Boating Life Magazine


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