38 SC — By George L. Petrie — June 2001
|Part 2: Fountain 38 SC continued|
Back at the dock, we took down the bimini enclosure since it creates drag that would be reflected in our speed measurements. I took the opportunity to check out the machinery space beneath the aft deck. Access was a snap, thanks to a large, motorized hatch that lifts almost the entire aft end of the cockpit. Shoulder to shoulder, twin HP 500 EFI Mercury V-8s dominate, flanked by chrome headers that worm their way back to the transom. Although the engines are close, almost everything you'd need to access for servicing is on top or in front of the big blocks. Dipsticks and air, oil, and fuel filters are all accessible from above, and there's plenty of room in front of the engines to get at belts and pumps. The only real knuckle-buster might be changing the spark plugs, since just a couple of inches separates the two inboard cylinder banks, and a centerline ram that raises the hatch restricts even that limited access.
After lowering the lid on the big V-8s, we headed back out onto the Pamlico River to measure speed, sound, and fuel burn. I was pleased to see that even without the bimini enclosure, the wraparound windshield offers excellent protection to the helm. Just high enough, the top of the windshield was above my eye level (I'm 6'2") when I was seated at the helm, so wind was deflected overhead and the frame didn't obstruct my vision. Standing, I found it easy to see over the top of the windshield while enjoying an invigorating wind-in-the-face rush.
With Fountain at the helm, we ticked off better than 71 mph at WOT. But what impressed me more than the speed was the stability and control. At full throttle with the MerCruiser XZ drives trimmed out, she tracked as straight and true as a bullet train. With the drives trimmed in, she did zig-zags and figure-eights as predictably and obediently as a show dog on a leash. And Fountain's own power-assisted steering is so effortless, you can turn the wheel with just your pinky.
By the time I finished testing the 38 SC, we'd put more than 100 miles under her keel. But with an easy 55-mph cruise at 4000 rpm, it doesn't take much time to cover that distance. Or much fuel, comparatively speaking. At that speed, the big EFI V-8s were burning just over 50 gph, getting better than 1 mpg.
We ventured far, towards Pamlico Sound, looking for waves that might pose a challenge for the 22 degrees of deadrise in Fountain's double-stepped V-bottom hull form. The best (or worst?) we found was a washboard stretch of one- to one-and-a-half-footers that the hull flattened out like a hot steam iron pressing a pair of corduroy slacks. The 38 rides smoother at 70 mph than a lot of hulls that size do at half the speed.
It was a memorable experience to have Fountain as my throttle man. The famed race-boat driver has a gift for speed, playing the trim tabs and out-drives like a Stradivarius and grinning like a school kid on the first day of summer as he coaxes another half-mph out of the hull. Like a veteran fighter test pilot, he personally tests a prototype of each hull, fine-tuning the bottom shape to get the right balance of speed and control. Later in the day Fountain told me how the ventilated steps in the hull cut frictional drag by reducing wetted surface area and by aerating the water to make it more "slippery" against the bottom. He claims steps also help with fore-aft balance, maintaining optimum running trim.
When I got a turn at the helm, I found the dash layout made it easy to fine-tune the trim tabs and outdrives. A cluster of four rocker switches permits individual control of each plane and drive, with indicators alongside the wheel taking the guesswork out of the process by clearly showing the position of each. Another pair of switches permits simultaneous adjustment of both planes or of both drives, so you can tinker with the trim without messing up the port and starboard balance. Even more convenient, there's a thumb switch for the drives built into the throttle handle on the dual-lever controls. With so many options, it was a snap to keep the 38 in proper cruising trim.
Many of the features on the 38 Sport Cruiser are a reflection of Fountain's racing heritage. The foam-cored hull is built to be strong but light, with biaxial and triaxial fiberglass laminates hand-laid in vinylester resin. The hull-to-deck joint involves a six-step bonding process, to withstand the rigors of high speed and high impact. And as racers often do, Fountain builds or rigs almost everything that goes into its boats, including trim planes, steering systems, wiring harnesses, dash panels, bowrails, convertible tops, windshields, upholstery, and joinery.
As Fountain explained to me, when you build 140-mph boats to race offshore, you have to be sure everything is just right. Compared to doing that, building a 70-mph cruiser for the mainstream is a piece of cake.
Fountain Powerboats (252) 975-2000. Fax: (252) 975-6793. www.fountainpowerboats.com.
George L. Petrie is a professor of naval architecture at the University of New Orleans and provides maritime consulting services. His Web site is www.maritimeanalysis.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.