Fountain grabbed the radio and instructed the 42 Lightning up ahead to continue on a straight course and produce a sizable wake. We're sure you've all crossed wakes in your time, but just because you got over them doesn't mean you did it right. For our first handling lesson, Fountain showed us the right and wrong ways to execute this maneuver. First, the wrong way.
Fountain guided us up on the 42 Lightning's wake at an acute angle, almost parallel to the waves, and rolled through them. There was no pounding, and this method can feel smooth at slow speeds. "Try it like this running above 30 to 40 mph," Fountain warned, "and when the wake hits the side of your boat, you can lose control." Or worse, the boat can roll up on its side and then all the way over.
Here's a math quiz: What do you get when you take a 35' boat with a 32' running surface and pack it with 940 hp? Answer: A rocket with plant-you-in-the-bolster acceleration from the bottom of the power curve to the top. The twin-stepped bottom of the Fountain 35 Lightning worked like a charm, aerating the running surface sufficiently to produce a top speed of 84.8 mph yet still be able to whip through slalom turns with the drives and tabs set at neutral. Fountain's full hydraulic steering enhances the confident feel at the helm.
From inside the cockpit, the ride remains comfortable, thanks to secure sit-down electric bolsters and an effective windshield rather than a low race-style fairing. The bolsters are quite comfortable for seated operation but come up a little low on the back for driving while standing in rough water. In classic Fountain style, all the Gaffrig performance gauges are arranged in an easy-to-see horseshoe around the wheel. Also in keeping with the manufacturer's practice, the throttles and trim buttons are set up for left?handed operation. Fountain says this is so they can be worked by the driver or a dedicated throttleman.
For strength and weight savings, Fountain builds the 35 Lightning with foam coring and a laminate of four-way directional fiberglass. The hull and deck attach in a shoebox lid-style joint that's tabbed together with fiberglass on the inside. Mold work on the hullsides and deck is flawless, and immaculate graphics are applied in polyure-thane paint.
Whether you're trying to maneuver away from the back of another boat or crossing the wake of one that just passed, Fountain stressed that the safest way is to negotiate the waves head on at a speed slow enough so that you don't launch. Before the next pass through the 42 Lightning's wake, he trimmed down the drives and trim tabs a little (about one or two points on the indicators). This set the bow lower in the water so it would slice through the wake. Next, even though we were coming up on the same acute angle as before, he quickly turned the boat so it was positioned perpendicular to the waves. "Keep the power on," Fountain yelled as we rammed through, "and hold that line as you cut the wake. After you clear it is when you should get back on course."
Remember that the closer you are to the origin of the wake, the narrower it is and the faster you can get through it - but it's at its steepest. It's here, though, that you'll find a sweet spot, the smoothest place to make your crossing. Water coming off the transom creates a hole just behind the boat, then rolls up to create a hump, which is followed by a second trough and then another hump. Just behind that second hump is where the wake will be at its smoothest - often about 100' astern of the boat creating the wake. Because of the proximity to the other boat, make sure it's maintaining its speed.