Fountain 37: Fire Eater

First on the scene.

You're zipping along at 60-plus mph, in a fishboat, no less. It feels great. The boat's running extremely smooth and stable, staying perfectly on track. Hmmm. Ever wonder what would happen if you cranked the helm hardover?

I've never had the guts - or the boat - to try such a maneuver, but we always push the envelope during a test for BOATING Magazine. So I grabbed the wheel and threw it all the way around, carving a 180-degree turn so fast my stomach couldn't keep up. Unbelievable. The boat? The new Fountain 37 center console with a stepped-bottom hull.

Warning - do not attempt this maneuver in your boat. We were in a controlled situation, with safety gear and a well-trained crew not commonly found on Mom's Mink. But do consider the results, which give you some insight as to how well the Fountain 37, the company's newest go-fast fishboat, handles. In short, I've never been on a boat this size that was so responsive, so tight feeling, or so comfortable to drive. The difference between running this boat and other large center consoles is like the difference between driving a BMW and a pickup truck.

FIRM GRIP. What's the big deal about turning a 180 at 60 mph? Don't forget that the steps on the hull of a high-speed powerboat ventilate the bottom, mixing air with the water it travels over. This gives the boat a light, floating feeling, and in high-speed turns, sliding sideways over the water or even spinning out if the drives are trimmed in too far are possibilities. These problems may be pre-empted if the boat leans over and a prop sucks in the hull's aerated water, which will reduce your speed. I expected the sideways skittering feeling, the air-eating prop, or at the very least, a boat that leaned so far over that passengers and gear would get tossed across the deck. But none of these things happened.

THE HIGHS: Handling that puts most boats to shame. The helm station would impress Chuck Yaeger. Padding on the console allows driver to comfortably lock into position.** **

THE LOWS: Triple outboards and a large transom make for a long reach when a fish is on the line. Those three outboards drink a lot of fuel, too. Cabin door does not secure open.

What's the deal? First off, a notch in the transom makes sure the props enjoy a constant flow of clean, bubble-free water. And leaning is minimal because the 37, unlike many other go-fast fishboats, is not ramrod thin. The beam tapes out at 10'6". Powerplay's 38CC ($298,247 with triple 300-hp outboards) is only 8'6" wide, and its manufacturer claims a cruising speed of 70 mph. Palmetto's 360 Open ($160,000 with twin 300-hp outboards) is 9'4" wide; it tops out just under 60 mph. The only comparable wide-beam boat is Intrepid's 377LT ($200,826 with triple 225-hp outboards), which measures 11'6" across. But that may be almost too wide for a comparison here. With the same powerplants as our test boat, the Intrepid tops out at 57.7 mph compared to the Fountain 37's 61.7.

But there's more to the story. Just look at the Fountain 37's transom. The triple outboards on our test boat weren't put there just to post high numbers for the test; they're the recommended power on the 37, which carries an outrageous maximum horsepower rating of 900. Juiced to the max, Fountain claims the 37 will top out near 72 mph. Anybody wanna drag race for pink slips? I didn't think so. The downside? Naturally, three motors burn more fuel than two, which accounts for the relatively high fuel burn of 31.8 gph at a 4000-rpm cruise. Still, you'll be getting 1.4 mpg while making 43.8 mph, which is pretty good. Thank god for the Optimax's stingy fuel burn - with old-tech carbureted two-strokes, we'd be looking at an economy of less than 1 mpg.

EAT WAKE. Speed and sporty handling aren't the only things that set the 37 apart from the competition. Finishing detail, styling, and comfort also play a role. The 37's finish is as good as you'll find on any modern production boat, be it a fishing boat, a go-fast, or as in this case, a bit of both. Hatches are formed in two-piece molds, so they're flawlessly finished on both sides. Hinges are flush. The helm station looks like it came straight out of an F-16, with more finely polished gauges than I've ever laid eyes on in a fishboat. Eye-catching color-coordinated coaming bolsters ring the cockpit. That may be nothing new, but check out the bolsters on the console. They're at knee level, so the driver and passenger can wedge their legs against the console when the going gets rough.

What about the Bimini cuddy? It's finished every bit as well, though it's a bit on the Spartan side. A simple V-berth with stowage for eight rods underneath accounts for all the accommodations, though it should be noted that the cabin is a bit roomier than you might expect because the head is housed in the center console. One thing I didn't like about the cabin - there was no way to secure the door open. When you're trying to get gear in or out in rough seas, that door will swing around, unless you add a latch or strap.

Fortunately, this is about the only knock I found on the 37's construction. Everything else you want is all there: a fiberglassed, sealed, and through-bolted hull-to-deck joint, all vinylester resin, pipework that's 1 1/2"-diameter anodized aluminum, and a molded grid stringer system. You won't find a piece of hardware that isn't 316-grade stainless steel, and the fuel tank is quadruple-welded, foamed, bolted, and glassed in place.

EAT FISH. If you want speed, hot looks, and top-quality construction, it's pretty clear that the 37 is a hands-down winner. But what about fishability? That's what a center console is all about, right? The 37 has the room you need (and then some) to keep half a dozen anglers happy all day. Again, consider that 10'6" beam. Compared to the Palmetto and the Powerplay, the 37's deck will seem a mile wide. Only the Intrepid can get you more square footage for the LOA, and that's at the cost of a few mph. However, to get you've got to give, and on this boat you do give up some fishability; between those three outboards on the transom, the large livewell, and the mechanicals inside the transom, you'd need a 9' rod to work a fish around the stern. Keep in mind, though, that the 37 was designed for kingfishing. That usually means trolling, so you'll be taking your fish over the gunwales-not the transom. But pleasure anglers targeting bigger, less easily controlled gamefish, like tuna or billfish, and those who like to anchor and chunk or chum may find this arrangement a challenge.

Regardless of what type of fishing you do, every angler will appreciate the boat's incredibly comprehensive list of standard fishing features. Not two, but three, rodholders are mounted in each gunwale, and there's a total of four macerated fishboxes in the deck. Like live baiting? The livewell in the transom holds 50 gallons - so you can carry bunker, beeliners, and ballyhoo, all at the same time. Four under-gunwale rodracks are part of the package, as are a set of halogens in the cockpit. Add into the mix six rocket launchers on the hardtop (a $3,438 option), consider the stowage in cabin, and the total number of rods you can stow reaches 24.

The one fishing advantage held by the 37 that no one will overlook is, naturally, its ability to be the first fishboat to the hotspot. And hey, if you happen to be going so fast that you accidentally zoom past it, no sweat. Just crank that wheel around and pull a fast 180.

LAST WORD. A fast, fish-fighting fortress that puts the king in kingfish.

LOA..........37'11" ****

Beam..........10'6"

Draft..........2'5" ****

Displacement (lbs., approx.).......8,300 ****

Transom deadrise...14° ****

Bridge clearance...10'0" ****

Minimum cockpit depth.....2'3"

Max. headroom...6'0" ****

Fuel capacity (gal.) ............360 ****

Water capacity (gal.)..........30 ****

Price (w/o power ) ..........$146,061 ****

Price (w/test power) ..........$179,325

STANDARD POWER: None. ****

OPTIONAL POWER: Twin or triple outboards to 900 hp total.****

TEST BOAT POWER: Triple 225-hp Mercury Optimax V-6 outboards with 185 cid, 3.60" bore x 3.00" stroke, swinging 15 1/4" x 22" three-bladed ss props through 1.75:1 reductions. ****

STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items): Hydraulic trim tabs; mechanical trim tab indicators; 3 batteries; 2 parallel battery switches; center console w/Vacu-Flush head, shower, sink, and 25-qt. cooler; pop-up cleats; compass; Bimini cuddy w/8 rodracks; 4 integrated fishboxes w/macerator; halogen cockpit lights; 50-gal. livewell; 6 gunwale-mounted rodholders; 4 under-gunwale rodracks; hydraulic steering w/tilt wheel; T-top w/electronics box, canvas, and rocket launchers.