All photos by Fernando Escovar
Two years ago, we proclaimed Howard Arneson's 32-foot Skater, powered by a Lycoming gas turbine engine, "the ultimate hot boat." Reliable triple-digit speed, superb rough water handling and a documented top end of 140 mph seemed ample evidence of this boat's superiority-especially after over 30,000 miles of use. We were wrong.
"I'm certainly not being cocky, but the new 40-footer makes the old boat look like a rickety old carriage," says Arneson, who has meshed penchant for mechanical problem-solving and love for performance boating to create a thrill machine that simply has no equal for reliable, sustained speed bursts, top speed and rough water capabilities.
One of 12 turbine powered boats Arneson has built-more than anyone else in the country-the latest Skater is indeed something to behold.
Power whirs from matching GE T-58 turbines,
rated at 1325 hp a piece and charged with an alcohol-water injection system
that creates another 350 hp by cooling the air charge and sealing the
compressor with a film of water, making it more efficient and hence more
powerful. Inline #8 drives transfer the power. "One of the biggest
challenges was building the gearbox," recalls Arneson. No small feat,
considering the compressor's 26400 rpm and the turbine's output shaft's
Run at 80% capacity, the turbines push the
9,100-pound package to an easy,
Fuel capacity is 6,000 pounds, and the turbines burn a mix of diesel or Jet A fuel, relatively cheap at $1 a gallon. Burn rate is 1.5 gallons per mile, and fuel consumption is rated at 240 gallons per hour at 100% throttle.
Running the turbines at 100%which yields a speed of 165-170 mph does not pose a mechanical risk. The original application for this turbine is on the Huey helicopter, commonly used in sessions of hauling logs where they're run at 100% capacity for long durations.
Aside from the increased top-end speed of the larger Skater-a hull that dominates professional offshore racing-other differences strike chords with Arneson. "The other boat had an open cockpit, and this one has canopies for four. You can hit those speeds without tearing your head off. The sensation is more like a spaceship or airplane."
"You really get a sense of the acceleration from 100 mph to 170. When you hit a certain speed, the chop feels like you're running over railroad track ties. It's a very secure, stable feeling."
Arneson isn't afraid to flex the craft's considerable muscle, but he wisely tempers his exploits with a modicum of caution. "There's so much to learn. We're playing with speeds that people have not gone in this type of boat before. It's no-man's land out there," he reflects.
Virtually every weekend, Arneson responds to requests to make exhibition passes in the boat. Eventually, he'd like to make a record run between San Francisco and Los Angeles, or another pass down the Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Louis-a distance that Arneson covered two years ago in less than 13 hours, breaking the world record by nearly seven hours.
Arneson, who invented the world famous Pool Sweep and Arneson Surface drive, installed his patented "trimmable bottom" planing aid on the new Skater, as he has on every performance boat he's owned before it. Bolted to the bottom of the boat from the transom about 2.5 feet forward, the plate can be hydraulically warped, creating hook or rocker in the bottom of the boat on command. Resembling an aircraft wing upside down, the device can be trained to a fixed position for optimum attitude. The advantage it enjoys over traditional trim is its ability to control the ride without altering the angle of the bow-thereby maintaining a boat's most efficient angle of attack.
One of Arneson's biggest thrills is to take his new boat out, alone, and blast through open water at various levels of power.
"I go out by myself a lot," says
Arneson. "I really enjoy it. I don't have to impress anyone in the
seat next to me, and if I want to scare myself-which I do, sometimes-I
can. When everything is running beautifully, ticking along,
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