Fountain 33 Lightning

It's how you play the game.

September 8, 2008

Most entry-level offshore go-fast boats lack something. Some barely run 70 mph. Others lack the hardware you need to run offshore, such as heavy-duty trim tabs, hydraulic steering, or mechanical trim indicators. Others are built like the runabouts that many first-timers want to step away from.

Then there’s the Fountain 33 Lightning. It runs 82.9 mph on a pair of 425-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG HO Bravo One X stern drives, which can be purchased with a warranty of as long as five years. The standard equipment list includes all the aforementioned goodies, plus this boat is built with the same materials and techniques that Fountain uses on its larger go-fasts and raceboats. In other words, the 33 Lightning is ready to rock your world.

With the same power, Sunsation Powerboat’s 32 S runs nearly identical speeds and retails for $172,000, including K-planes, IMCO hydraulic steering, and a McLeod Design Group interior. You’ll get a bit more speed with the 496 MAG HO Bravo One Xs installed in the Velocity 322, which I ran at 87.6 mph. It also comes with K-planes and hydraulic steering for a price of $204,120, but it doesn’t have quite the polish or amenities that Fountain offers.


All the Right Moves

You know the 33 Lightning rides on a proven bottom because it has the same twin-stepped design as the 35 Lightning, which exceeds 100 mph on a pair of staggered 500-hp Mercury Racing HP525 EFI Bravo One XRs with SportMaster 2″ short gearcases and Hering propellers. There’s a keelpad at the 33’s transom that tapers into the V as it runs forward. Inner strakes end at the first step, and the outboard pair runs full length to the notched transom. Its deck lines are cut down a little bit, which gives the 33-footer a more aerodynamic profile.

I may have enjoyed driving the 33 Lightning even more than the 35-footer. The 33’s handling was as predictable as it was docile. I made slalom turns starting at 40 mph and increased by 10-mph increments through 60 mph. At 70 mph, I made a wide sweeping arc and the boat tracked like a slot car. During midrange acceleration tests, the combined 850 horses provided ample punch, thrusting me from 40 to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and from 50 to 70 mph in 9.8. Any time less than 10 seconds in either test is quick.


Strong at Heart

The smallest boat in Fountain’s sportboat line, the 33 Lightning is built just like its larger siblings, with a hand-laid laminate comprising vinylester resin, multidirectional woven fiberglass cloth, and high-density foam coring in the bottom and deck. Stringers are marine plywood encapsulated in fiberglass, and the hull-to-deck joint is fully bonded with fiberglass tabbing around the perimeter. A white plastic rubrail caps the joint in a clean installation.

Fountain chose a traditional engine installation for the 33 Lightning — the motors are bolted in side by side rather than staggered. The center stringer is thickened with extra layers of plywood so that the inboard L-angle-style aluminum motor mounts can use each other as backing plates when the bolts are driven through to accept the backing nuts. The outboard mounts are conventional L-angles supported on the inside with backing plates. You’ll find the trim pumps forward on the firewall bulkhead for easy refills. Strainers are forward of the motors in easily reached locations. Rigging is a step above production but not quite custom, and the arrangement could be cleaned up where the hoses and cables run forward under the starboard gunwale.


You won’t find the batteries in the engine compart-ment, a common spot for them. They’re in the cabin galley to port. This is done to help counter-balance the weight of the driver and the private head compartment. It results in a long battery cable run, which might rob some power, but the loss is probably negligible. Also in the galley is a drop-in cooler, and the main distribution panel is easily accessed from the cockpit.

To starboard, there’s headroom for a seated adult on the commode. As long as the sliding cabin hatch is closed, you can access the dash rigging.

Forward in the cabin, the V-berth looks small for adults, but Fountain addressed this. The forward cushion in the horseshoe-shaped lounge between the galley and V-berth rises on a hydraulic lift, extending the V-berth by about 3′-by-2′. However, a 7″-wide cushion runs along each side of the V-berth, making it a tight squeeze for two adults who want to stretch out.


In the cockpit, the aft seat consists of three separate bucket-style bolsters with stowage and jumper-post access in the base. There’s additional stowage in gunwale trays, which have sliding acrylic hatches.

At the helm, the 33 Lightning is all go-fast with Livorsi Marine Monster series gauges and a SmartCraft SystemView screen in great sightlines. The Livorsi controls are to port, which may not be the best choice for the first-time high-performance boater. Most are used to throttling right-handed. But then again, when boat buyers can get everything the 33 Lightning has to offer, they’ll happily get used to it.


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