South Florida shop promises ‘head-turning’ boat

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Tucked away in a south Fort Lauderdale warehouse, Bladerunner — the leisure model of a 51-foot racer that beat the Round Britain record by a stunning 3 hours, 41 minutes — is coming together for its debut at the Oct. 26 to 30 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Tucked away in a south Fort Lauderdale warehouse, Bladerunner — the leisure model of a 51-foot racer that beat the Round Britain record by a stunning 3 hours, 41 minutes — is coming together for its debut at the Oct. 26 to 30 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Bladerunner’s distinctive lines, dual tunnels and impressive pedigree should turn some heads, says Frank Crane, general manager of Mango Marine, which is finishing work on the boat for ICE Marine, an English firm owned by British racer Jeremy Watts. “It’s a unique-looking boat,” Crane says. “It’s designed by somebody with a real track record, and it’s completely different than those Cigarette-type things.”

The yacht is the offspring of an offshore racer. “This is hull No. 2,” says Mango president Damien Chamberlain. “Hull No.1 proved itself as a sprinter on rough water. This is the foo-foo model,” the luxury version.

Chamberlain says the recreational model will sell for between $1.2 million and $1.6 million, depending on options. He says Hulls 2 and 3 are already sold. Up to six boats could be built in a year, Chamberlain says.

In August 2005 Hull 1 — Bradstone Challenger — finished the Round Britain course in 27 hours, 10 minutes, shaving almost four hours off the previous record set by Italian Fabio Buzzi’s raceboat, Record, an 80-foot deep-vee powered by four 1,500-hp engines.

Watts and Bradstone skipper Neil McGrigor “absolutely creamed [Buzzi’s] record,” says Chamberlain, and they did it in a boat that was 30 feet smaller than the Italians’, with a third of the horsepower. Bradstone averaged 63.5 mph powered by a pair of standard 1,000-hp C18 Caterpillar diesel inboards — the same engines Bladerunner uses — over a North Atlantic-North Sea course notorious for its boat-busting seas. Chamberlain credits Bradstone’s performance to its hull.

Designed by Briton Lorne Campbell, whose racers have won 20 world and national championships, Bladerunner is an “air entrapment monohull.” It has twin tunnels that flare out on either side of a narrow three-step planing hull and finish in “knife-like sponsons” — ICE’s description of what Campbell has done with this boat. The tunnels create a cushion of air underneath, which improves performance in rough seas and softens the ride. The sponsons don’t provide flotation, so the boat is still a monohull, not a trimaran.

“You have the get-up-and-go of a deep V with the stability of a trihull,” says Martin Soothill, the project engineer. Crane describes the boat as similar to a three-point racing hydroplane.

M Ship Co., of San Diego, claims the hull is too much like the one it designs for recreational and military applications. M Ship in July filed suit against ICE in U.S. District Court of South Florida, alleging the U.K. company had infringed M Ship’s patent for an “M-shaped boat hull.” ICE, which developed Bladerunner and builds a 35-foot version of it in the United Kingdom, claims its design has evolved over 30 years, starting with Campbell’s Skean Dhu, a 1976 British national 4-liter champion and 1980 world offshore speed record holder. ICE developed a draft design of a boat with the specific features of the Bladerunner 12 years ago, built Blade 001 four years later and subsequently raced the boat in the European 6-liter circuit, according to ICE.

Crane says the U.S. military has experimented with air-entrapment hulls since at least the early 1940s, when it developed a landing craft for the Pacific theater that had a flat bottom aft and cathedral hull forward, and rode on a cushion of air. “It’s not a new concept,” he says. “There’s nothing new about getting air in under the hull.”

With Arneson surface drives, the 34,000-pound luxury “51” is expected to top out at 75 mph (65 knots), Chamberlain says. “She’ll be the only 51-footer on 1,000-hp diesels that can get that kind of speed,” he says. The racer version tops out at 84 or 85 mph (73-74 knots), Crane says.

Designed in the United Kingdom, Bladerunner’s hull was laid up at Vectorworks in Titusville, Fla. Mango is finishing, powering and rigging the boat.

It will have a galley, a head and shower, a circular dinette forward and small sleeping compartment for two aft. “It will be all tricked out in leather and fabrics,” Chamberlain says. He doesn’t see it as an entry in the muscle-boat market but as a high-speed yacht, perhaps a commuter, certainly a day cruiser or weekender that an owner could use to zip from South Florida to the Bahamas quickly, without a lot of pounding in the Gulf Stream. “You could be in Nassau for lunch and back in time for dinner with a minimum of fatigue,” he says.

Navatek, a Honolulu builder with Navy contracts, is offering 45- to 55-foot ICE hulls like Bladerunner’s for Special Forces, drug enforcement and anti-terrorism work. Navatek says its military version of the craft will top out at 50 knots.

Crane, who has built sailboats for the legendary Charlie Morgan and Jimmy Buffet-inspired Margaritavich sportsfishermen for Rybovich-Spencer, says Bladerunner’s hull is built of fiberglass composites — balsa core on the bottom and PVC foam core on the sides and deck.

The engines are durable Caterpillar diesels with standard warranties rather than high-performance gasoline power plants with bells and whistles that require a lot of tweaking, he says. Mango plans to build Bladerunners on a limited-production, semi-custom basis, according to Crane.

If there is an Achilles heel in this boat, it may be its ultra-slim 14-foot beam between the tunnels. “With an air-entrapment hull, the whole idea is minimizing contact with the water, which is why you have a narrow center hull,” he says. Chamberlain says that’s the compromise you make with tunnels.

“Those compromises disappear at 75 feet,” he says. “That’s the target size for our next model.”

With much roomier interior, berths tucked in over the tunnels, bigger engines and a fully enclosed cockpit, the 75-footer will be a tunnel-hull megayacht.

“It will really come into its own at that size,” he says. www.icemarine.com