Go Big Or Go Home
Intrepid’s Ken Clinton is no shrinking violet, and the boats he builds—including the 375 Center Console with 557-horsepower Seven Marine outboards—are an extension of his personality.
The very first time I ever heard Ken Clinton’s name, it was out of the mouth of a marine industry veteran, and what he said was this: “Have you met Ken Clinton? That guy is a badass.”
Very little about the man dispels that initial assessment.
Clinton stands 6-foot-2 and is solid throughout. He’s got a textbook Fu Manchu and moves with the lazy grace of a big cat that just ate and doesn’t feel like hunting at the moment. He looks like he could have been Keith Hernandez’s backup on the ’86 Mets—or like the guy at the end of the bar you don’t want to mouth off to. Which he essentially is, considering he was a national judo champion in his teens, and had dreams of making the Olympic team until he got dumped on his head during a match and nearly broke his neck. Now he gets his kicks ripping around on a custom-made Harley.
Hailing from the sticks of Connecticut, Clinton grew up the son of a man who worked in a factory building parts for submarines. And when he became a man himself, that’s exactly what he went and did, spending long, blue-collar days in a factory learning how to make things sink.
But Clinton was never quite satisfied with his Springsteen-song existence. When he was 19, he married his first wife and went to Tampa on the honeymoon—the first time he’d been anywhere remotely tropical in his life. He took one look at the palm trees and turned to his new wife and said, “Why do we live in Connecticut?” They moved before the year was out.
In Tampa, Clinton soon signed on with Triumph, telling his interviewer there that he figured the best way to build a boat was to do everything the opposite of building a sub—so that it floats. After a short stint there he low-balled his way into a job with Intrepid. He came on at the very bottom of the totem pole, but within a month he was the lead guy at “Station 1,” a spot where a platoon of workers were in charge of prepping hulls, glassing in liners, and installing fuel tanks, among other duties. A job as a line supervisor came shortly thereafter; then he became plant manager, then vice president of manufacturing, and then COO. About six years ago he was made president of Intrepid, where he remains to this day as a self-described “boat rat with a fancy title.”
It’s Clinton’s bottom-to-top education in the factory that makes him one of the very best, and most successful, boatbuilders in the world today. And it’s his penchant for laying it on the line that led him to get involved with Seven Marine, the Wisconsin-based builder of giant outboard engines that is shaking up the center console and performance boating scene. Seven Marine has a monster engine with 557 horses—that’s 207 more than its closest competitors. And with a width of just 32 inches, the engines can fully articulate on a typical transom or bracket while also packing a serious whomp.
Last fall I tested an Intrepid 375 Center Console, with twin 557s, in South Florida. Besides her revolutionary power package, she is notable for her lines. Traditionally, Intrepid has built boats with straight sheerlines, but this boat is a little sexier, with a snarling S-sheer, not to mention a charming bit of tumblehome aft. At the docks, at least three different people strolling by stopped to ask questions about the boat and her engines, including one teenager who insisted on having his picture taken with them.
Out on the water, the Seven Marines—which have the same V-8 you’ll find under the hood of a Cadillac CTS-V by the way—are truly something else. The boat accelerates with panache and in a straightaway in calm conditions is said to have reached 61 knots (we got her up to 57 in a truncated section of the ICW). However most of the test didn’t take place in calm seas, but instead in chopped up and confused 4-foot waves off of Ft. Lauderdale. Once on plane, the boat’s single-stepped hull with 66 degrees of deadrise at the bow and 22 degrees at the transom sliced right through the whitecaps. And when you push the throttle down and the 557s get above about 4000 rpm, the sound, my goodness the sound is like no other boat engine I’ve ever heard. It’s not a rumble, and it’s not a throaty roar—it’s a high-pitched whine like you’d hear coming from a performance motorcycle, or maybe an angry mosquito pinging around inside your skull.
What’s more, heading back to port, the Intrepid’s slow-speed maneuverability was top-notch thanks to a ZF joystick system and Vetus bow thruster, and we needled the boat into a tight slip without so much as a close call.
After we docked the 375 I had a chance to poke around and check out the level of customization that has always set Intrepid apart. (For his part, Clinton calls it “tricking out your ride.”)
The 375 was equipped to fish, with a 6-foot fishbox to port and a 40-gallon livewell underneath the cockpit sole. Another 55-gallon, glass-fronted livewell built into the back of the leaning post can light up like an aquarium at night, a pretty cool trick that will keep onlookers drooling.
A head with (a coincidental?) 6 feet 2 inches of headroom in the console has a mirror and a pullout shower—essentially everything you’d need for a moment’s privacy.
Elsewhere, Clinton has ensured durability by doing things like replacing rubber latches on stowage compartments with rugged cable systems. Those systems won’t wear out anytime soon, and they keep the compartments snug and secure.
But it was one strong point—in a few different ways—that really caught my eye. The 375 has a starboard-side dive door, which, unlike many dive doors, opens inward so as not to bump up against docks or other boats. The hullside around the door is reinforced with a variety of structural members to make sure that what could be a weak point is actually one of the most impregnable parts of the entire hull.
That hull is built by infusing high-quality vinylester resin into a quad-ply laminate. Up until 2012, Intrepid was known for using polyester resins and a variety of laminates, including Kevlar. However, since then, they have been building exclusively using the quad-ply system, as they have found that the vinylester resin bonds very well with the quad-ply laminate, which has fibers woven into it going in four directions.
When talking to Clinton, it’s pretty clear that he takes pride in the 375, though not surprisingly for a guy who’s come so far so quickly, he’s got his eye on the future. “The main question at Intrepid is ‘How do we make the next boat better?’” Clinton says. “And really a lot of times it’s our customers who help us with that. They’re the real designers of these boats. I’m just a high-tech redneck, man. I just apply their ideas.”
Modesty. It’s as refreshing to hear as it is surprising, coming from a guy who’s got every reason to be immodest, considering Intrepid’s popularity and success. But then again, if you talk to a Navy SEAL, he’ll likely be the last to brag about the things he’s done, and the missions he’s accomplished.
In that regard, modesty might just be the most badass trait of them all.
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Noteworthy Options: Vision livewell leaning post ($9,750); fiberglass T-top ($12,000)
Better Boat: Big Engines, Bigger Plans
Seven Marine has been on the scene for four years now, and ever since its inception it has been making gearheads’ eyes pop… and its competition sweat. But the company is only getting started. With highly maneuverable, super-powerful, and relatively easy-to-maintain engines in its quiver, Seven Marine is officially on the prowl. The company’s vice president Brian Davis had this to say about the future: “Seven Marine is really excited to establish its business in the marketplace as the premium offering in the outboard segment, and our goal is going to be to continue our leverage. We want to continue to apply what we’ve patented as far as engine architecture, and supply what the market is asking for. We think there are a lot of needs out there that our technology is going to address, particularly in the case of improved engine efficiency and horsepower density.”
What that somewhat clandestine quote means specifically is anybody’s guess, as Davis is cagey about giving too much away. “We have all sorts of plans for the future, trust me,” he said, “but we can’t put them out there just yet.”
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 93ºF; humidity 75%; seas: 4'
Load During Boat Test
140 gal. fuel, 20 gal. water, 3 persons, 100 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/557-hp Seven Marine outboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF, 1.75:1
- Props: 15 x 27 Inertia 5-blade
- Price as Tested: $460,000
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.