TREASURE ISLAND - How fast is fast enough?
Ask a die-hard king mackerel tournament fisherman and he will tell you 60 mph is the minimum to get out to a honey hole and back to the dock in time to weigh a winning fish.
But ask powerboating icon Reggie Fountain, a racer with more than 100 career victories, and he'll tell you that when it comes to speed his knuckles don't turn white until he is going two, maybe three times that fast.
"How fast can these boats go?" Fountain said after a recent post-race interview. "I don't know. ... We'll just have to keep pushing them until we find out."
Fountain, known for his champion race boats, wants to take a bite out of the lucrative kingfish market.
"The same design and technology that works on a race boat will work on a fish boat," he said. "That is why Fountains are so popular with the guys fishing the (Southern Kingfish Association)."
A 2003 survey of teams in the SKA National Championship showed Donzi and Contender were tied as the most popular boats, followed by Fountain in a close third.
"When it comes to tournament fishing, it is all about speed," said Jim Simons, whose Sports USA Marine Group just opened a Fountain dealership at the John's Pass Marina in Treasure Island. "When those boats leave the dock, it is all about who is going where and who is going to get there first."
Simons asked Fountain, a North Carolinian who Powerboat Magazine described as "a cross between Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash," to come to the grand opening last weekend and sign autographs for the fans.
Fountain and teammate Ben Robertson recently accomplished the unimaginable when they hit a top speed of 177.359 mph in a 40-foot vee-bottom race boat in a kilometer run on the Palmico River, in Washington, N.C.
Fountain and Robertson made two runs: the first pass registered 166.407 mph; the second 177.359. The two runs averaged 171.883 and shattered the existing world record held by New England's Outerlimits by 10 mph.
"I think this boat has a lot left in it," Fountain said at the time. "If we have it trimmed out properly, I think we will be able to hit an average speed well over 180."
In the summer of 2003, Dave Scott and John Tomlinson broke a barrier many thought unbreakable when they hit a top speed of 200 mph in an offshore catamaran. In general, cats are considered faster than the vee-bottom boats, which can become unstable and rock back and forth, or "chine walk," at high speed.
"I think the boat would have rolled over with anybody else at the controls," the vee-bottom's driver, Robertson, said of Fountain's skill at the throttles. "At that speed one little mistake will cost you."
Simons, whose company also runs 65 big-game tournaments on the World Billfish Tour, said he hopes Fountain's success on the race course helps sales at his dealership.
"We'll carry all three of Fountain's lines - the fish boats, the cruisers and the sport boats," he said. "The 34-foot center console and the 38-foot tournament edition both can both come with triples (engines), which should make them very popular with anglers."
At a time when many manufacturers are reducing sponsorships, Simons said his Sports USA Marine Group will field 10 tournament teams on the SKA Division 6 circuit in 2005.
Sports USA Marine Group also will sponsor a race team on the American Power Boat Association and Super Boat International offshore circuits next year.
"Speaking of racing, we plan to host a race in Ft. Lauderdale in March of all the center-console fishing boats," Simons said. "We will invite Contender, Yellowfin, Donzi and have two classes, over 40 (feet) and under 40 (feet), for a 100-mile open-ocean race. Then we will really see who is the fastest boat."
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