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Triton breaks the 30-foot mark

Also in this package: Center Consoles: Finding a middle ground

Given his background as a champion powerboat racer, avid angler and veteran boatbuilder, Triton Boats founder Earl Bentz knows a thing or two about how to make a center console run. What’s more, J.D. Power and Associates rated Triton second in its 2005 coastal fishing boat customer satisfaction rankings. (Grady-White ranked first.)

The Ashland City, Tenn.-based builder, which began production in 1996, is stepping up its bluewater efforts this year with the introduction of a 35-foot center console. The 351CC joins 160 different models of saltwater, bass, light tackle, multispecies, fish and ski, pontoon, and deck boats in the Triton lineup.   “Ninety-eight percent of our emphasis is on fishing,” says Bentz, who is 53 and grew up


saltwater fishing along the Carolina coast. “[Even] our pontoon boats and deck boats are for fishing.” 

Triton started out building fiberglass bass boats, soon after produced its first saltwater skiff, and added bigger center consoles about six years ago, he says. Today, Triton boats range from 12 to 35 feet and price from $4,000 to around $175,000.

“The 35 has opened a lot of doors for us,” says Bentz, a 1999 Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee. He says saltwater is the fastest growing segment of Triton’s business.

Bentz entered the marine industry as a teenager working in his uncle’s dealership, Jenk’s Outboard, in Charleston, S.C. When he began working at Hydra-Sports in 1975, it was a leading bass boat builder. “I was really the one responsible for getting them into saltwater boats,” he says.

Though he ran Hydra-Sports the last three years he was there, Bentz started out in research and development, which coincided with his career as a factory tunnel boat racer for Team Mercury. The nine-time national and two-time world champion racer says he’s still involved with boat testing and working with the engineers, and he has some ideas as to what makes a good center console boat.

“First and foremost, in a center console you want a smooth, dry ride,” he says, “especially in the Northeast, where it’s cold.” The boat has to be beamy enough to be stable, he says, and should have a sharp entry and lifting strakes. All Triton boats are foamed, he says, for flotation safety, and to dampen vibration and hull chatter.

Bentz approaches boat design as a fisherman, and from the perspective of a marine service worker. In addition to big fishboxes and flush-mounted cleats, a Triton will have robust components, and easy access to wiring and pumps. For example, switches are built to military specifications and sealed.

“They just don’t give trouble, and we apply that same standard to every piece of hardware in the boat,” says Bentz. “And subsequently our boats are not inexpensive, but nothing is more frustrating than having your live bait pump go out.” (Incidentally, he calls Triton’s the best live well system in the industry.)

In addition, Triton pipe welds its T-tops in-house. “The boat comes standard with about everything on it,” Bentz says of the 351. “It’s a very nice boat.”

Bentz says a lot of Triton owners are moving down from bigger boats, and the center console has some advantages over a big sportfisherman. “You don’t back down on a fish with a center console like you do with a big boat,” he says, recalling catching a giant bluefin tuna from a fighting chair mounted forward of the console of a 24-footer. “You got much better control.

It comes as no surprise that a boat built by Bentz, who started racing vee-bottom powerboats at age 16, would be fast. The 351 hits a top speed around 55 mph with twin 275-hp Mercury Verado 4-strokes, and reaches speeds in the low- to mid-60s with triple Verado 275s.

“There are very few days where you can run 65 mph in the ocean,” admits Bentz, who also founded the Stratos and Javelin bass boat companies. “You get seas 2 to 4, you don’t want to be going over them at 60 mph. I’m too old for that.” The 351 travels about 35 mph at 4,000 rpm, and that’s where it will mostly run, says Bentz, who was head of the fishing boat division of now-defunct Outboard Marine Corp.

Bentz now is back together with another former employer. Brunswick Corp. — parent company of Mercury, Boston Whaler, Hatteras and Sea Ray, among others — acquired Triton in late May. Bentz will continue in his role as president of the division, assist in fishing product development, and become a Brunswick spokesman on fishing activities, dealer development and alignment, and industry matters, according to Brunswick.

Though Bentz retired from racing in the early 1980s — a particularly dangerous period in the sport and a time in which he was moving up the corporate ladder — he was involved in a 1,200-mile river race in Venezuela last year that saw a Triton bass boat win its class.

“I still have that need for speed every now and then,” he says.

In addition to driving Tritons, Bentz gets his kicks from a Nextel Cup car he bought from Ray Childress “just to play with.” You just might find him speeding around the track at Nashville Superspeedway in his 160-mph toy.


LOA: 34 feet, 10 inches

BEAM: 10 feet

DRAFT: 2 feet

DISPLACEMENT: 8,000 pounds

HULL TYPE: deep-vee


TANKAGE: 355 gallons fuel,

8 gallons water

ENGINE OPTION: twin or triple outboards

SPEED: 55 mph top, 35 mph cruise (with twin 275-hp Verados)

ESTIMATED PRICE: $165,000-$175,000

CONTACT: Triton Boats, Ashland City, Tenn. Phone: (888) 887-4866.

Also in this package: Center Consoles: Finding a middle ground