Howard Arneson, who made a fortune with the
invention of the pool sweep-----and made himself a high performance
boating legend through his obsession with turbine engine powered
catamarans-----turned 80 in May. But forget chronology, because if age
really is a state of mind, then Arneson is pushing 16, maybe 17 tops. He
still has a teenagers love of machines and lust for speed. The lust
fueled the invention of his patented surface drive. The lust drove
Arneson to set a new Orleans to St. Louis on the Mississippi River in a
turbine powered skater 32' nearly 11 years ago. We caught up with
Arneson during his 80th birthday party at his shop in San Rafael,
Calif., not too far from San Pablo Bay where he routinely boils the
waters in his 4,800hp turbine Skater 46. And we're delighted to report
that the outstanding octogenarian showed no signs of slowing down.
PB: Happy Birthday. How are you feeling
PB: What occupies the bulk of your time now?
HA: I'm out on the boat as often as I can be. I'm doing a lot of Research and development work in it.
PB: What are you working on?
HA: If I told you that, I'd have to kill you.<laughs> No, I've been working on the propulsion end, on the Arneson drive, something in the prop area. I've been working on it for 9 years. I already have a patent that's been issued, and its very exciting, and I think it's going to be revolutionary eventually. We're all getting dialed in.
PB: How often are you out on the water in your Skater 46?
HA: It depends on whether weíve got it running and together or not, you know, but sometimes weíre out there two or three times a week. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks between sessions. We get out there quite often.
PB: When was the last time you raced?
HA: Thereís no class for my boat, but theyíve allowed me to run in exhibition classes, so I raced with the fellas. I donít take anything away from them so they let me run, but Iíve quit doing that. Sometimes weíd lap the field and that was fun for me, but not for them.
PB: Why are you so attracted to turbine powered engines?
HA: Once you get a taste of turbine power youíre ruined for life, believe me. Itís just so smooth. Thereís so much power available in such a small package. Itís amazing, really, and you can run the heck out of it without worrying about rebuilds.
PB: How fast have you gone in the water?
HA: Iíve had this boat (motions toward the Skater 46í in his shop) up to 180 mph.
PB: And whatís that like?
HA: Itís pretty spooky. When youíre in a race, youíve got helicopters above you, and youíve got medical people, and youíve got divers and everything. Iím out there testing all alone. If something were to happen, hell, nobody would even know it. So itís kind of goofy to be going those speeds out there.
PB: What are you thinking about at those speeds?
HA: Itís a vacuum cleaner of the mind, believe me. You know what I think happens really? You say ďOh, to hell with itĒ, and just let it go and hope that nothing happens.
PB: Are you ever afraid?
HA: Oh hell yeah----youíd have to be crazy if you werenít. The thing I fear most out there, really and truly, is sneaking up on the wake from a freighter or a ferry. Thatís happened a few times and, boy, it gets your attention in a hurry. Thereís nothing you can do. You just have to ride it out and hope that the boat comes down right.
PB: Can you imagine giving it up?
HA: No, no, no. Iíll never stop.
PB: There have been some pretty wild claims about how much time youíve spent in boats running more than 100mph. So whatís the real story?
HA: I would like to say that Iím probably getting close to 100,000 miles at more than 100mph, and Iíve got a lot of this documented, because of my new test program and the stuff Iím doing. Iíve run over 30,000 gallons of fuel in testing these various concepts, and everything's over a hundred mph.
PB: What would you like to accomplish between now and your 90th birthday?
HA: What I would like to do, and Bob Nordskog (Powerboat Magazine Founder) and I were planning this before his untimely passing, is to try to set a record that he now holds, San Francisco to Los Angeles. Iíd like to do that.
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