Today was a little different than most others because today I got to take a 1400-horsepower Cigarette race boat out on the Hudson River. It was not a bad day.
(Full disclosure: Boat engine manufacturer Mercury Marine invited us out to Pier 59 so we could check out a few of its boats and the onboard tech. We boated around on the Hudson for about two hours and then they fed us lunch.)
I will preface this by saying that I know almost nothing about boats, and I spend the better part of my life avoiding boats altogether because I get terribly seasick. So, naturally, I was the best person to send for the test.
Thankfully, though, Mercury’s tech was fascinating enough that it took my mind off the prospect of becoming violently ill. (Plus we were cruising along pretty smoothly, so my stomach wasn’t an issue at all.)
The first boat we took out was the Scout 320 LXF. It packs dual outboard, 350-HP, supercharged Verado four-stroke engines, which together produce 700 HP. They were 2.6-liter inline-sixes, developed in house by Mercury.
Once upon a time, Mercury used GM engines and then tweaked them a bit for marine purposes. Now, though, Mercury produces all of its own motors, which actually makes them better suited to water-use and emissions, according to Mercury’s chief of engineering David Foulkes.
Listen: this isn’t your boyfriend’s dad’s dorky catamaran that he pilots in some deeply unfortunate short shorts and boat shoes combination. It’s one of the most advanced speed-weapons on the high seas.
First, the Scout was fitted with a really simple-to-use joystick operator that lets its captain easily maneuver the boat in tight spaces. Parking a boat became a really easy task, because I could literally drive the boat sideways instead of backing it up and scooting it forward like you normally would. It was like what I imagine parallel parking to be if your wheels could turn sideways.
The Active Trim feature was cool, too. Normally, you’d adjust a boat’s trim (which causes the bow of the boat to rise or lower relative to the surface of the water) by hand. Active Trim does away with this because it will automatically adjust the trim according to how fast you are moving and to the engine rpm.
None of that is as cool as the Skyhook virtual anchor. And it does exactly what you think it does. You can “drop anchor” wherever you want (set a waypoint), and the boat’s GPS system will sync up to the autopilot system. Once that happens, the boat’s engines will power themselves to keep you in that position, facing in the direction you want. It’s super handy for someone who finds a great fishing spot or when there’s a line at the fueling station.
We cruised down past Ellis Island and to the Statue of Liberty, which admittedly is a cruise I’ve always wanted to take but just never did. Probably because it involved boats. Right before we headed back and docked, Mercury product application engineer Roy Mitchell showed me how to use the joystick operator. It was extremely intuitive and progressive; for a minute there I entertained the thought of a life of boating after this whole “car journalist” thing ended. Seemed like a natural career progression, anyway.
But then I was brought back rather quickly because it was time to take out The Fast Boat.
I love how adding power to a boat works. If you want more power in a car, you can supercharge it, turbocharge it, etc. In a boat, you just add more engines.
In this case, adding four of the 350-HP engines I mentioned above, to kick the Cigarette boat’s power up to a thunderous 1400 HP output. Everything about this boat screamed speed, especially the bolstered seats, which I had never seen in a boat before.
Our driver this time was Mercury director of product and engine integration, Daniel Clarkson (pictured above). He had the thousand-yard stare of a man who is accustomed to speed. Also, he had a fishing hat.
The first thing I noticed about the boat was how eerily quiet the engines were. They weren’t the roaring and stuttering titans you imagine when you think of a race boat. We pulled out of the harbor and headed north, casually cruising at 50 mph. I was chatting with Daniel when suddenly he hit the throttle and I swallowed the rest of my sentence.
The boat accelerated from 50 mph like it hadn’t even been moving. Both Mike Roselli, who was filming the exchange, and I were caught off guard by the burst of speed.
I watched the big digital display read 75 mph and Daniel held it there for a while. And, miraculously, it was unbelievably smooth at that speed. Sure, there was the usual amount of bumping and jostling. But at no point did I feel like I was about to be thrown out of the boat. We paused briefly so that Mike and I could move and sit up front. And that’s when we were off again.
I’m told that we were going 80 mph, which is about twice as fast as I had ever previously gone in a boat. But we might as well have been going a thousand miles per hour, because that’s what it felt like. I was dimly worried that I might lose my earrings, vaguely aware that my hair tie had been ripped loose and was probably finding a new home in the Hudson. On the surface, I felt the skin of my face being pulled back by invisible fingers. Tears were streaming from my eyes.
We were uptown already. It was the fastest I’ve ever gotten uptown. Fuck the West Side Highway, this was the way to do it.
Daniel eventually cut the speed a bit and did a few incredibly elegant donuts in the water. Mike and I staggered back to the driver’s seat, windblown and teary-eyed as all hell. Daniel, unruffled with a small grin tilting his tan face, let us drive it back.
And it was scarily easy to drive. Of course, you have basically the power of God at your right hand in the form of a pleather-wrapped lever. So there was that to keep in mind. But everything was smooth and predictable and well calibrated. I was able to avoid a large ferry heading in our direction. With Daniel coaching next to me, it felt a lot like driver’s ed all over again. Except we were in a boat with enough power to end worlds.
I have more tangles in my hair than I want to think about right now, but it was totally worth it. This is the kind of boating I can get behind: roaring up and down the Hudson in someone else’s boat that someone else prepped and fueled up and someone else will clean and put away at the end of the day.
All joking aside, I got a little taste of the boating life today, and only the best parts of it. It is speed and power on another level than what I’m used to. Mercury told us that the Cigarette boat is between $350,000 and $400,000 and that the Scout costs $320,000 with all the technology and the engines. Nobody ever said it was a cheap hobby.
Who knows, maybe if I take enough Dramamine, I’ll be able to build up an immunity to motion sickness and spend more than just a couple of hours on the water.
UPDATE: Mercury reached out to me last night and told me that if we were to buy the same Cigarette boat new, it would be in the $450,000 to $500,000 range. For, you know, when having a boat is more important than having a house.