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A power catamaran with jet propulsion

Arnie Gemino has put a pair of jet fighter engines in a 55-foot power catamaran to create the world’s most powerful pleasure boat.

Arnie Gemino has put a pair of jet fighter engines in a 55-foot power catamaran to create the world’s most powerful pleasure boat.

The Thriller F-4 Phantom II Jet Boat will roar across the water with a pair of F-4 J-85 jet engines. With afterburners, the engines generate 25,000 hp — way more than enough to go very, very fast.

Gemino, CEO of Thriller Powerboats, of Fort Pierce, Fla., makes no claims for how fast the boat will go. He doesn’t really know, and he’s not going to try to find out. He added 6,000 pounds of aluminum and stainless-steel stiffening to the big fiberglass catamaran’s normal 15,800-pound weight, fitted the boat with a system that can pump 3,000 pounds of water into ballast tanks in the hull, and designed “water brakes” — giant trim tabs at the stern that can close the twin-hull’s tunnel, all of which work together to slow the boat down.

He says veteran car and hydroplane racer Dick Rosberg, who helped design the boat, as well as a jet-powered land dragster, the Thriller F-16 Viper Jet, will have a steep curve to climb learning to control the afterburners — the part of the engine where super-hot exhaust gases from the first fuel burn mix with vaporized jet fuel to produce explosive thrust and double the engines’ horsepower.

“We’ll never find out [how fast it will go] unless someone wants to pay $5 million for the boat,” he says. “Then they can push it to the wall.”

Gemino, an Army pilot in Vietnam, isn’t really building the boat to break any records. He’s building the boat (and car) to raise money to help war veterans integrate back into the workaday world.

Gemino plans to showcase and demo the speedsters at powerboat and NASCAR races, boat, auto and air shows and other events, and use them to raise money to help veterans and their families. He says he’ll solicit donations through corporate sponsorships, souvenir sales, event fees, and $5 memberships in his U.S. Military Support Group. Gemino plans to raise $3 million over the next three years through this “Sound of Freedom” campaign. He says the proceeds will benefit the National Veterans Foundation, an organization led by its founder and president Shad Meshad, a former Army captain and mental health officer who served in Vietnam. Meshad is one of the pre-eminent experts on post-traumatic stress syndrome. He started the post-Vietnam-era NationalVeteransCenter network for the U.S. Veterans Administration. His 22-year-old NVF operates a national counseling hotline for war veterans and their families from Los Angeles.

Gemino, a former commercial pilot, is building the jet boat and car through two of his companies, Thriller Powerboats, a builder of high-speed 55-foot catamarans for the tour industry, and Tradepower International, a specialized yacht refit company. Gemino and partner John Mansour, a real estate developer, keep an eye out for interesting projects. Tradepower’s most notable refit is the Bart Roberts, formerly the 265-foot Canadian icebreaker Narwhal, which Gemino re-fitted as a luxury exploration yacht in pirate-ship décor.

“A fun boat,” Gemino describes it. “I try not to get bored,” he says.

The $35 million Bart Roberts, or “Black Bart,” is in the Middle East now, in service as an Arab businessman’s private yacht, Gemino says.

Thriller started building the Coast Guard-certified SuperCat 55-footers for the tourism trade in 1997. Gemino says 15 of the 43-passenger catamarans are in service in vacation destinations around the world, including Alaska, Barbados, the Black Sea, the Cayman Islands, Miami and Clearwater, Fla., Ocean City, Md. and Labalie, Haiti.

The F-4 Phantom II Jet Boat is the first in a series of adaptations of Thriller’s Lennet Edstrom-designed catamaran hull to the consumer market. Gemino has started building the “55” in a Poker Run version for high-performance thrill-seekers (the Jet Boat is a spin-off of that model); a fishing boat with flybridge for sportfishermen, and a 20- to 30-passenger sport commuter with a sliding canopy for the super-wealthy. Gemino expects the sport commuters to go into service as private “limousines” to shuttle passengers to luxurious island homes. He says he sees a market for it in places like Dubai and the Caribbean.

Base price of the Poker Run model is $750,000; the sportfisherman, $795,000; the commuter, $1.25 million, and the tour boat, $660,000.

Gemino is making some changes to accommodate his new line-up. He’s building a new showroom at the Fort Pierce facility and converting part of it to a high-end rigging shop for his Poker Run customers, who want a custom product.

Thriller has been building SuperCats at VectorWorks in Titusville, Fla., but is moving all construction to Twin Vee Catamarans, a Fort Pierce company that builds its own cats up to 36 feet. Twin Vee will build and rig all Thriller models except the Poker Runs, which will be built at Twin Vee and custom-rigged at Thriller. Recognizing that the market is down this year, Gemino expects to build 10 to 12 boats in 2008, including three or four SuperCats.

Gemino says the Poker Run was designed to accommodate twin jet engines. That means it can take a big conventional power plant — anything from a pair of standard 750-hp gasoline engines to big twin diesels, four small diesels, even a pair of gas turbine engines.

“This has one of the biggest engine rooms in the industry,” he says. “It gives the owner some unbelievable options.”

Vietnam vet Gemino flew small-plane sorties marking targets for air strikes and flying intelligence missions. He learned about Meshad and his work in a television special that told the story of a Vietnam vet who couldn’t get help, then became violent and took hostages. Meshad talked the veteran into surrendering and getting help.

Meshad says the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are scarring returning vets in different ways than in previous wars. Ten percent of combatants are women now, and some are coming home without limbs and with traumatic head injuries from roadside bombs. Many troops are National Guardsmen and Guardswomen who — though they support their families with other jobs — are called back overseas for multiple tours. “I’ve talked with some who are going back for their fourth or fifth tour,” he says.

Meshad says NVC is trying to head off problems years down the road by encouraging returning vets who need counseling to get it now.

“Arnie Gemino, being a vet himself and being an entrepreneur, came up with this idea to raise funds, and we’re hoping it does,” he says. “The pubic likes exciting things. They like boats and sports. This [Jet Boat] he’s building is unbelievable.” He expects many will pay to see it.