For the guys at Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats, setting a new V-bottom kilometer speed record was a big, big deal, but it was also a wholly improbable one.
Just four months before he died during surgery after a spectacularly brutal, 180-mph accident on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, Mike Fiore, founder and president of Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats, stood on the verge of what friends would later call his finest hour. Granted, the boyish-looking 44-year-old had not actually seized the prize yet, but he was close. And the road he’d taken to get to this spot—a sandy, scrubby beach on North Carolina’s Pamlico River, on the morning of April 28, 2014—had been a long one.
Mike shot a glance off towards a fleet of watercraft filled with volunteers, some from the nearby town of Washington and some from elsewhere, all out there on the river, combing the course between the traps, looking to remove every last stick, tree limb, milk jug, or hunk of lumber that might obtrude. Such trifles, after all, are problematic for the average boater. But they’re anathema to those who brave the mad, mad realms of hyper speed.
“Think you’ll be able to do it?” asked a journalist before shoving a microphone Mike’s way.
“I hope so,” he replied with a grin, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans, “I think we should.”
As usual, Mike’s father Paul, who’d been schooling his son in the wiles of high-performance boatbuilding for decades, was not far off, his gaze inscrutable behind a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses. Some years before, the elder Fiore had sold the speed-demon enterprise he’d founded in 1979, Hustler Powerboats, but he was still very much a player. A good guy to have along, as they say. And he was solidly behind the morning’s focus—an attempt by Outerlimits to blast to smithereens a V-bottom kilo speed record of 171.88 mph set by Benny Robertson and Reggie Fountain on this very same stretch of water back in 2004.
Whooooommmmm! World-champion race driver Brian Forehand of Marker 17 Marine in Wilmington, North Carolina, cranked an engine, one of two monstrous, 1,650-horsepower motors built by the high-octane engineers of Mercury Racing. All eyes ashore turned to watch as Brian cranked the other monster and a towboat began pulling the centerpiece of the event—a canopied Outerlimits SV43 owned by speed-lovin’ Joe Sgro—off toward the broad expanse of the Pamlico. The sight was a rather improbable one, for two major-league reasons.
Five Freakin’ Bottoms
The first was complicated. Without doubt, creating a boat that rockets across a body of water—even a fairly smooth one—at speeds approaching one football field per second, demands a great deal of engineering sophistication from a boatbuilder. So it’s quite understandable that modern Finite Element Analysis (FEA), with its reliance upon differential equations, matrix algebra, and other esoterics, often plays a part in a given project’s development, as do cutting-edge materials, like top-tier epoxies, carbon fibers, super-resilient foam cores, and E-glass.
Moreover, equally advanced tools and techniques may be called for, like a giant autoclave, say, to promote post-cure perfection or a laborious process called “blueprinting,” whereby a running surface, no matter how complicated, is vetted in exquisite detail to ensure the absolute precision of every angle, dimension, and curve.
Outerlimits made use of all the aforementioned specifics when building Sgro’s SV43 raceboat in 2011, some three years before he or anyone else had even thought about making a record kilo attempt in her. And, of course, the company relied upon something else as well—the hard-won trove of institutional knowledge that resided in the minds of its riggers, laminators, mechanics, and test drivers.
“But still, there was always this one big issue,” Sgro explains. “Just think! By the time we’d finished setting the boat up for the kilo we’d put five freakin’ bottoms on her. One on top of the other! And we’re talking complicated bottoms here, with a whole bunch of steps [five], each with different dimensions and different angles on the trailing edges. So you’re lookin’ at weight—each new bottom puts on another two-, three-, four-hundred pounds.”
Outerlimits made dozens of modifications to get beyond the problem, validating most of the lot with both FEA magic and the collective intuition of its work force. Step positions, angles, and heights were changed and changed again. A pad was designed and fitted. Engine placement was shifted. And, with an assist from Forehand and the seasoned crew at Marker 17 Marine, who put the boat through weeks and weeks of sea trials on the Cape Fear River near their shop in Wilmington, all sorts of additional, proprietary tweaks were incorporated.
“When she was finished,” Paul Fiore adds, “the boat tipped the scales at well over 10,000 pounds, which is not light—not compared to the other SV43s we build. But hey, we had her dialed in—I mean, she’d go!”
The Other Issue…Bean Counters
Back in the mid-2000s, Erik Christiansen, a sharp young engineer who was working the Verado project for Mercury Marine, began devoting his lunch hours to something a little different—a monster big-block V-8 that would substitute a proliferation of super-aspirating valves, dual-overhead cams, twin turbos, and a wicked torque curve for the push-rod-driven, radical-displacement technology that characterized race-boat engines of the day. Eventually, his efforts got the attention of the top guy at Mercury Racing.
“Fred Kiekhaefer really liked the idea,” said Christiansen, who would ultimately assume the presidency of Mercury Racing upon Kiekhaefer’s retirement. “But we had one big problem.”
The year was 2008 and the economy was scraping the bottom of “The Great Recession.” And although the development of the new engine—the QC4v (Quad Cam 4 valve) Christiansen called it—did not exactly threaten Mercury with bankruptcy, it absolutely chilled the hearts of the company’s bean counters.
Kiekhaefer stepped up to the plate, though. He twisted arms. Argued. Cajoled. In fact, if company gossip is to be believed, he at one point actually threatened to fund the project himself if Mercury wouldn’t climb aboard.
The bean counters relented. And, in 2010, a 1,350-horsepower version of the controversial big-block platform debuted at the Miami International Boat Show. Then, three years later, at the same show, Mercury Racing introduced a 1,650-horsepower QC4v which, as luck would have it, turned out to be the biggest, baddest production-type raceboat engine money could buy at the time. The guys at Outerlimits were ecstatic.
“So things just came together,” concludes Christiansen.
An Impromptu Postponement
The kilo attempt on the 28th was a wash of sorts. One run went smoothly—the SV43 covered the precisely surveyed kilometer-length course at a clock-timed speed of 182 mph. But the run in the opposite direction hit a snag, literally. “Oh no,” a shoreside observer proclaimed, as the boat slowed significantly. “Somethin’s wrong.”
As soon as Brian and the SV43 were back shoreside, Mike Fiore and Mercury Racing’s Christiansen began checking out her machinery spaces to see why the starboard motor was lagging by 500 rpm. When nothing seemed amiss, they quickly shifted their attention to the stern where the problem manifested in short order.
It was the running gear. Mike lay flat on his belly, his head hanging over the transom, his arms in the frigid water, using a giant ratchet to remove one of the big CNC-machined, cleaver propellers—a chunk of debris had knocked off a blade tip. The skeg on the drive was damaged as well. Further record-setting attempts would have to wait until the next morning.
A Chance Meeting
That evening a short but significant encounter took place in the parking lot of Mirabella Pizza & Grill in downtown Washington. As Mike and the Outerlimits gang headed into the restaurant they ran smack dab into Reggie Fountain who was just leaving. Reggie was gracious but the meeting served to further galvanize Mike’s determination to prevail—he and Reggie shared some history.
Ten years before, Outerlimits had ventured south to the Pamlico from its homeport of Bristol, Rhode Island, to take part as a guest competitor in Reggie’s ultimately succcessful, invitational-style kilo attempt. Mike knew he was challenging the fox in his den—both Reggie’s manufacturing facility and his residence were not far from the kilo venue—but he figured he had a V-bottom that was faster than anything else afloat.
But fate pulled a fast one. The evening before the event, engine issues precluded participation by Outerlimits, a development that soon precipitated a host of salty rumors. Mike’s boat was really, really slow, some said, and he’d had to quit the scene ignominiously, sneaking out of Washington under cover of darkness. For Mike and everybody else at Outerlimits such talk was tough to live with. It engendered resentment. And the resentment had tended to linger.
A Dozen Rippin’ Seconds
The runs the Outerlimits SV43 made between the traps on the Pamlico early on the morning of April 29th, 2014 were flat-out gorgeous, even when viewed from afar—the boat maintained her speed unerringly, exhibiting a super-efficient, super-drivable running attitude of approximately two degrees and she also evinced absolutely no appetite for chine-walking at speed, an especially dicey characteristic.
The average velocity the APBA officially recorded for the boat going through the traps was 180.470 mph (179.5 upstream and 181.44 down), almost 9 mph faster than the record set by Benny and Reggie in 2004.
As he’d done the day before, Brian both throttled and drove. And Joe Sgro rode shotgun. Somebody later calculated that it had taken the pair just a dozen rippin’ seconds to cover the distance between the traps on each pass.
“She was smooth, full throttle,” Brian synopsized afterwards, “But where it is was scary was slowin’ ’er down. I had to be real careful backin’ ’er off from that kinda speed.”
Eventually, a bunch of green bottles got uncorked. Mike shook his up immediately and, with characteristic gusto, began spraying friends, relatives, and colleagues with champagne. Mark Tuck, an Outerlimits owner who’d taken it upon himself to handle the organizational details of the wildly successful event, later remarked that setting a new V-bottom kilo record that day had seemed like one of the genuine highlights of Mike’s young life.
“We beat the old record by 9 miles per hour,” Mike told a journalist at one point, “That’s a big number—that’ll stand for a very long time.”
- Builder: Outerlimits
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.