"Would that all boat tests were thus," I marveled to myself as the Comp Air 7 Turboprop swung a pirouette in front of me and then stopped on the tarmac of Flightline's terminal on the private side of Tallahassee's Regional Airport. The Air 7 was a beaut, alright—a kit-type airplane of the sort typically sold to do-it-yourselfers with the assurance of professional assistance during completion from the manufacturer. Morning sunshine glinted on the plane's white, flawlessly finished fuselage. And her extended-nose, turboprop-style profile, fixed landing gear, and wing struts proclaimed her origins: Aerocomp, an outfit in Merritt Island, Florida. After a moment, a door swung open and out stepped a stocky guy in blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a T-shirt emblazoned with an Aerocomp jet chasing a wild-eyed Osama bin Laden.
"We got some planes in Iraq," the guy explained when he caught me eyeing the shirt, "...reconnaissance."
His name was Ron Lueck, and he'd just flown north to Florida's capital to fly me back south to Aerocomp headquarters so I could appraise the company's latest project: fiberglass power cats fabricated and sold in much the same way as the company's fiberglass airplanes, either finished or in various stages of completion. Lueck tossed my gear into the Air 7's cargo bay, ushered me into the copilot's seat, and handed me a set of headphones. Within minutes, I was on my way to sea trial the newly launched Kit-Cats PowerCat 40.
It turned out that the short, one-hour hop served as a groovy intro to the construction methods and materials used to create the PowerCat, primarily because Aerocomp employs virtually the same technology to create boats as it does to create airplanes. While dealing with radio traffic and maintaining a sweet little cruise speed of 212 knots at 10,000 feet, Lueck filled me in on the details.
Aerocomp/Kit-Cats' laminates are composed using laminating methodologies developed by Lueck himself, as well as Aerocomp president Stephen Young. While specifics are proprietary, generalities include the use of multiaxial E-glass and vinylester resins; structural members cored with a polypropylene honeycomb material called NidaCore for maximum impact resistance, light weight, and strength; a blister- and weather-resistant finish on parts featuring a pricey isophthalic/orthophthalic blended gelcoat; and windows of the flush-fit variety so popular with mainstream boatbuilders these days.
"You can do some fun stuff with an airplane like this," Lueck noted (rather ominously, it seemed) as we swooped toward our airstrip. Then, without further notice, he whomped us into a barrel-roll of such compact and revolutionary radicalism that I darn-near blasted the windshield with breakfast. "Ha...ha...ha," he hooted when we finally leveled out and began our descent, "are you okay, Bill?" I nodded wanly. Pilots are a wild bunch, I told myself. But then, so are boaters.
Our PowerCat was beached on a nearby ribbon of sand and Young was waiting on the foredeck. With his assistance, I easily came aboard with my test gear using a fold-down swim ladder on the foredeck's leading edge. In two shakes, I'd installed a FloScan fuel-flow monitor on one of our two Suzuki DF 140s, attached its leads to a battery (battery banks and two piggybacked Honda 2-kW gensets were housed in lockers at the transom), and settled into the helm seat on the flying bridge.
The ensuing afternoon was an interesting one. Among other things, I recorded a top speed of 24.7 mph—rather spiffy, considering the modest firepower in our fuel-sippin' Suzukis. For rough comparison's sake, last year I got slightly less speed (22.7 mph) out of a longer, narrower (45'7"x17'5") NauticBlue 464 power cat equipped with a couple of 370-hp Yanmar diesels. Although, at 41,527 pounds, the charter-equipped NauticBlue was way heavier than our ultra-light, airplane-inspired, 11,000-pound PowerCat.
Weight was not the only thing we had going for us, though. According to Young, Aerocomp has built a reputation over the years for highly aerodynamic/hydrodynamic Superfloats—sleek pontoons that make for exceptionally efficient waterborne landings and takeoffs. "You're riding on proprietary Superfloat technology right now," Young said mystically as I carved a tight, stable turn and then goosed the throttles.
I docked our PowerCat behind Young's house on Syke's Creek, just off the Banana River, a maneuver that emphasized both the boat's buxom width—she just fit between the finger pier and pilings of her double-wide slip—and her excellent close-quarters maneuverability, a quality mostly attributable to the leverage inherent in engines mounted at considerable remove from each other. After we'd finished tying up, Young and I did a walkthrough while Lueck returned to the shoreside airstrip to top off our Air 7's fuel tanks.
Although the test boat was a finished version with everything from electronics to bilge pumps installed, simplicity was still the theme of her interior. There were four double-berth staterooms below decks (two per hull; fore and aft, with a head in between), a bright, spacious saloon/galley/dining area as well as a large cockpit on the main deck, and a helm station with great visibility all the way around on the flying bridge. Fit and finish was workmanlike and, again, simplicity was key. For example, while the staterooms were cooled with two separate 7,000-Btu Cruisair air conditioners, the saloon/galley/dining area had an easy-to-service and -install 6,000-Btu Fedders window-type unit. Moreover, cabinetry was constructed straightforwardly of stick-built mahogany ply, galley equipment was minimalist but of good quality, and the furniture onboard was comfy and condo-esque, albeit not my taste by a long shot.
While flying back to Tallahassee that afternoon, I did some thinking on this last score. And what I came up with was accurate, I think. Certainly, the Kit-Cats PowerCat 40 is a comparatively fast, fuel-efficient cruiser, with sophisticated, lightweight laminates and a no-nonsense layout. But what really sets her apart is the fact that she's sold in various stages of completion and can therefore be finished in perfect accordance with an owner's tastes and wishes.
Almost as cool and convenient as commuting to boat tests via private turboprop airplane!
Quick anchor windlass; Bomar deck hatches; Faria and Suzuki instrumentation; Sitex CVS-106L depthsounder, Colormax 6 GPS chartplotter, and VHF; Raymarine ST6001 SmartPilot; Ritchie compass; 2/Todd helm seats; Jensen MCD9425 AM/FM stereo/CD player; Sharp Aquos flat-panel TV; Princess 2-burner stovetop; s/s sink; Magic Chef Ewave microwave oven; Blue Sea Systems electrical panels; 2,000-Watt Xantrex MS2000 inverter/charger; 2/piggybacked 2-kW Honda gasoline gensets; 2/SeaLand 711-M28 MSDs; 6,000-Btu Fedders window A/C unit; 2/Cruisair 7,000-Btu A/C units; 4 Kidde portable fire extinguishers
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/140-hp Suzuki DF140 four-stroke gasoline outboards
- Transmission/Ratio: Suzuki/2.38:1
- Props: 14x16 aluminum 3-blade
- Price as Tested: $275,000
This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.