Howard Arneson is a man that won’t take no for an answer. Beneath the congenial smile and easy-going manner is a determination as strong and forceful as the power boats he races. Spending a day pith Howard Arneson is a lesson in patience, perseverance and ingenuity. They began at 9:30 at Loch Lomond Marina. Howard introduced me to Lorry Azevedo, his racing mechanic. They were to take the "Sea Sweep" out in the bay for a test run. The "Sea Sweep" is the goat Howard planned to enter in the March off-shore race at Newport. Specifically designed by Howard and Dan arena, the Sea Sweep is an impressive coat. I had seen it in the shop and was awed by the power and force of its sleek missile-like design. This is not a mere boat. It is a presence that somehow dwarfs the large shop where it is being worked on. Climbing up the ladder to the cockpit, one is reminded of ascending the stairs to a temple. It is an experience.
But the design of the boat is not the point Arneson is trying to prove. The principle feature of the "Sea Sweep" is its prop design. The props are half in and half out of the water, a new concept in off-shore racing. These props need turbulent water. A calm sea is not their forte. And this particular day the waters at Loch Lomond are without a ripple. This presents a problem. The boat will not get up out of the water. Howard and Lorry have a solution. Attach stainless steel pipes near the props which will draw air from the atmosphere through the pipes to the props creating cavitation.
Steve Agnos arrives. He is a special engineer and mechanic who has worked with Howard on the boat, designing special parts, including the instrument panel which resembles that of a 747. Lorry is under the boat attaching the pipe. There is a wrong valve on a tank. Lorry leaves to get the right valve. Next problem: they don't have the right tool. Steve goes back to the Arneson Pool Sweep plant.
Watching the three men work together one becomes aware of the team effort. You know they are used to working together. Each one knows what to do. They are familiar with problem-solving as a team. They do it with determination and calmness.
By 11:30 the problem is solved. Howard drives the "Sea Sweep" over to the special gas pump he has at Loch Lomond and fills the four tanks of the "Sea Sweep." Aviation fuel is used. While the tanks are being filled we go over to the coffee shop. Danny Arena, nephew of Howard's friend Dan Arena, joins us. He is to take Steve and me out in the bay to watch the Sea Sweep in action. When the boat is ready the three of us hop aboard the Reinell and head out through the channel to the bay. The water is exceptionally calm. We wait for the turn of the motors and eventually hear the roar of the "Sea Sweep." She approaches us through the channel. Howard and Lorry are suited-up with crash helmets and wave to us. They circle the bay. We approach the small isles that dot the north bay.
The piping device is not working.
The "Sea Sweep" is sea-born - prow zooming out of the water, proudly skirting over the bay, rooster-tail following behind. It is worth the wait, time spent, to see her in her glory.
The day with Howard demonstrated the inventiveness and adaptability of Howard Arneson. The ability to take a problem in hand, seek an answer (perhaps by unconventional means), and come up with an answer.
His patience and ingenuity again were tested the following Saturday when he raced the "Sea Sweep" at Newport. The scene is one of excitement and tension. 15 boats are competing in the first of a series of races in the unlimited class of off-shore boats. The "Sea Sweep" and her crew are ready: Howard, the pilot, Lorry, the mechanic, and Chip Saale, the navigator. There are no seats. The three must stand through the grueling 199 mile race. And usually not all boats finish. The mortality rate is tremendous. Only one third of the boats that start the race will complete it. , mechanical breakdowns, the tremendous beatings that the boats take. Last year's world champion in the U.S. off-shore power racing was in ten races and was beaten nine times. He earned the number one title because he accumulated the most points. The race is tough to say the least.
Thousands of spectators are gathered in the channel at Newport Bay. It is hard to believe so many boats can be assembled in one place. Rubber rafts, dinghies, rowboats, Lasers, ski-boats, cabin cruisers. Every type of sail and power boat imaginable. As the entrants make their way out to the starting point, they are surrounded by thousands of boats. One wonders how they can get through. Occasionally the high powered boats must stop their engines to avoid a water accident. At about ten o'clock, the car ferry that transports cars across the channel makes its run. All traffic stops. Eventually the boats maneuver through the spectators and reach the starting point.
The race begins. The "Sea Sweep" stands out from the rest of the entrants with her clean, sleek design and roostertail. She is stunning as she rounds the markers. The race continues, but problems develop. Both engine-wise and with the hull. The "Sea Sweep" begins to delaminate and is unable to complete the race.
Most people would throw in the towel at this point. Not Howard. He has already decided to try another design boat, making the decision to abandon the new hull design. After all, what he is out to prove is not a new concept hull-wise, but a propulsion system. He has bought a Scarab which he is adapting for off-shore racing and he is determined that the new boat, also called "Sea Sweep," will be a winner.
The fact that Howard Arneson won't take no for an answer is the reason for his success in both business and boating. The founder of Arneson Pool Sweep Company, he is a man who sees everything as a challenge. Even the berthing of his boat. He designed a special hydraulic lift to hoist the boat in and out of the water, using tinker toys to construct a model of his system.
How did Howard get involved with boats? "I always liked boats. I always had boats. I've had boats when I couldn't afford boats." He used to race hydroplanes and was almost killed in one when he flipped "end over end" going 92 mph. When things started becoming successful with pool sweeps, he got into the cruiser field.
"I went from a 30 footer to a 34 to 47 foot diesel cruiser, which was a beautiful boat. It was like a floating apartment. But it really wasn't right as far as I was concerned. The biggest thrill was backing it out of the berth and docking it.
"We were on a trip to Florida. I saw a particular boat called a Magnum that was a 28 foot. A fast, sport type boat. I just fell in love with it. I bought it while I still had the other one. So I came back and sold the big boat. After getting a taste of that one, I wanted something bigger, so I bought a 36 foot Cigarette. (Bill Wishnick's world Champion BossA-Nova.) But we didn't race it. The particular boat that we bought had just won the world's title and Bill was going to retire from racing. So I bought the boat and we converted it into a sort of pleasure craft with a little cabin. I ran it for six years."
What about racing? "I was tempted to get into racing. I've been closely involved with it. I've been a race chairman for the race here on the coast and I've been pace boat for many of the races down south and up here ...but all the boats were the same. Same engines, same boat, same drive system. It was a turn-key operation."
Then he met with Dan Arena and they discussed a new concept. In researching the idea with others in Europe, he became intrigued. "The reason I want to do it is because it is different. It is a different boat, a different concept. Most of my friends in racing told me it wasn't going to work."
Again the challenge appealed to the man who won't take no for an answer. The innovator and inventor plans to change the whole racing concept, "or we're going to be a total flop. I can almost promise you it's not going to be total flop."
Howard is careful to give credit to those who have had an important role in his project: Phil Rollo, an engineer from Lugano, Hugh Gilgenbach from Mercury Marine, and Harley Opp, who did the construction for Dap Arena. They have all done their homework with thousands of hours of planning and changing, testing, debugging. A set of engines were worn out in the testing.
The staff at the Arneson plant has followed Howard's boating career with keen interest. Just before the start of the Newport race they sent Howard a good luck telegram signed by each of the staff. It is obvious they regard him with warmth and affection. One person who was involved working with him on his Cigarette boat, "Nauti Eve," commented, "Howard has the rare ability to maintain that balance where he has both the respect and affection of his staff."
The conquering of the ocean is probably the ultimate challenge to Howard. He has a "tremendous amount of respect for that water," and finds it "incredible." He believes one must "understand boats, driving boats, water and water conditions. You can't be foolish. I think you have to have an extreme respect for the ocean and the water. I think that everybody doing this has that respect and I think a certain amount of fear of the ocean. I know I have."
So the man who is going to conquer the ocean is going to do it by proving a point his colleagues said couldn't be done. He will be competing with the best in the world and he is determined to prove his point. The man who won't take no for an answer "will keep on on trying `til the best is best enough."