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A new approach to the old compromise

Augusto “Kiko” Villalon views boats from the perspective of a lifelong sailor, designer, marine engineer, accident investigator, and someone who for 20 years ran a company that built the tooling for some of the biggest powerboat brands in the business.

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That’s the shorthand version of his credentials. Suffice to say, Kiko knows boats. And like most of us, he has his share of opinions about what makes sense and what doesn’t.

During a seminar at a boatbuilding conference in Florida earlier this fall, Kiko (as he is known to those in the boating industry) outlined his vision for a fuel-efficient semidisplacement boat built along the lines of a Maine lobster boat. He believes the current economic downturn provides an opportunity to produce a powerboat that will help redefine how many people take to the water at a time when fuel prices are likely to remain volatile.

This design would serve as a counterweight of sorts to the trend that has shaped planing powerboats for the last 25 years that Kiko describes simply as “speed, speed, speed.”

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“When I came here in 1962, the biggest outboard was 100 horses,” says the 77-year-old Cuban-born Villalon. He contrasts those small, easily powered runabouts of yesterday with a contemporary 36-plus-foot offshore deep-vee powered by a trio of 350-hp 4-strokes burning somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 gallons an hour at wide open throttle.

“Is that the only way to boat?” asks Kiko, who in the mid-1970s founded Marine Concepts in Cape Coral, Fla., which may have been the boating industry’s first complete tooling business, offering everything from design and engineering to prototyping and tooling.

Kiko’s goal today is a boat that will cruise at 16 knots and get close to 4 miles per gallon, rather than 4 gallons per mile. The change Kiko is promoting has as much to do with changing the faster-is-better mindset as it does anything else.

“The ideal boat is the Maine lobster boat,” says Kiko, who owns a Brewer 44 and has cruised to Maine several times. “They don’t go 60 mph. They go 16 knots or 20 knots. And when it gets rough, they go 12 or 14.”

The formula for a successful semidisplacment boat: a long keel, straight stem to increase waterline length, a flat bottom and a sharp entry.

The family express boat Kiko Villalon has drawn (shown here) is 34 feet with a 12-foot beam and a displacement of about 12,000 pounds. Power is provided by a single 315 Yanmar diesel. (Kiko chose a diesel for reliability.) “Why keep putting in two engines,” he asks, “when we only need one to move?”

For a drive, he likes the Geared Up system (, which essentially turns a single-engine boat into a twin-screw boat. The designer has restyled the topsides of the venerable Down Easter, making it more contemporary in an effort to broaden its appeal. And he has added a molded spray rail and hard chine to provide more hydrodynamic lift.

“It would be a great cruiser,” Kiko says.

As we move forward, I suspect we will see more semidisplacement boats on our waterways. Having said that, deep-vees are not going to disappear. They do what they’re designed to do better than just about anything else on the water — they run fast and smoothly in snotty water. The penalty they pay is in horsepower and fuel.

We’re also likely to see more modified-vee hulls, which can be driven with smaller engines and, therefore, operate more economically; the trade-off comes in the quality of the ride in choppy water. Big sportfishermen aren’t going away either, although I suspect the trend toward running offshore in boats that are smaller, more efficient but still seaworthy will continue. And displacement hulls, of course, remain an attractive option for those who believe the journey and sea- kindliness is more important than the destination itself (see On Powerboats, Page 40).

Experienced boaters know well the pros and cons of displacement, semidisplacement and planing hulls. There’s no one right or wrong answer or solution. To use an old cliché, all boats are compromises. It’s up to each of us to decide what we’re willing to trade off in terms of efficiency or more speed or a better ride — and what we’re not.

Kiko Villalon can be reached at or (239) 283-1111.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.