As we motored away from the dock, I remember thinking to myself how nice it would be if the engines just fell out of the boat. Then I could go back to the marina and chat about riding in the world’s fastest pleasure boat. However, the twin turbo-charged 475 horsepower MerCruiser engines held fast - and soon afterward, so did I.
Standing in the navigator’s slot (you don’t sit in these boats - they come quipped with a three-position competition bolster) I was strapped into a massive life jacket and equally enormous goggles. There’s a thin bar on the dashboard, onto which I grabbed, and then turned my attention to the gentleman who was steering.
Steve Stepp, president of Velocity Powerboats in Sanford, Florida, is the fiberglass wizard who designs and builds the boats. A soft-spoken man with friendly eyes and a deep southern drawl, Stepp was just the tranquilizer I needed. Racing since 1964, he’s set national records in Outboard Performance Class racing.
Admittedly, when he hooked the kill switches to his belt loop and explained that they would shut the motor off automatically should he become disengaged from the boat, I felt a wave of panic. But he assured me with a smile that he had no intention of leaving the boat until we got back to the dock.
At the throttles stood Gene Whipp, owner of Gulfwind Marine and a 20-year veteran of offshore racing. So with auspicious companions, I was off.
I watched the speedometer creep to 60 then 70, when I noticed the engines, which had previously generated a tremendous amount of noise, were no longer audible. The wind, roaring in my ears, had completely obliterated them.
When the little needle lurched past 80, I stopped looking. I focused my attention on the throng gathered on the seawall. Moving at 90 mph, you don’t see them for very long.
I ventured a wave, but when my hand rose above the windscreen, it disappeared behind me. The force of the wind took me by surprise and I turned around, astonished, just to be sure it was still attached to my arm.
Once my hand was back in the cockpit, I found myself beginning to relax. My legs were functioning better in their role as shock absorbers. Initially (in order to remain standing) I’d sort of locked them in place, but now my body had become more flexible, moving with the boat.
However, the reverie didn’t last long: We hit another craft’s wake and became airborne. My jaw dropped in amazement - a big mistake. The air pressure turned my cheeks into great balloons and, worse yet, my teeth were instantly bone dry. This makes getting one’s lips back over them exceedingly difficult.
Anyone watching my facial contortions might assume I was having a bumpy ride. Wrong. The boat was extremely stable at high speed, largely due to Stepp’s approach to hull design. His hull begins with a deep-V shape that flattens out in a small section, near the stern. This design, he says, offers stability when it planes.
The exhilaration you feel while skimming the water at that speed defies description. Power surging from beneath your feet acts like a drug. It takes your breath away while it sharpens your senses. It’s….terrifying. Looking skyward once, I felt the goggles shift as though they were about to be blown clear off the top of my head. I returned to earth very quickly.
When the boat finally slowed on its return to the marina, Whipp noted that we’d been cruising across Sarasota Bay at 95 mph. The legs that, until then had so sturdily supported me, turned to Jell-O.
My next adventure? Perhaps a pontoon boat …..