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Avalon Pushes The Performance Pontoon Edge

Proving there is a first time for everything, a 27-foot Avalon Excalibur tri-toon paced the catamaran and V-bottom raceboat fleets during the 2019 Roar Offshore Fort Myers Beach in Southwest Florida, the final contest of the six-event American Power Boat Association Offshore National Championship Series. Powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R outboard engines, the tri-toon model was more than up to the job, so much so that a new edition of the same model—with the same power package—paced the Roar Offshore fleet in 2021 and was in the mix at the Roar Offshore Poker Run a week earlier.

Powered by Mercury Racing 450R outboard engines, this 27-foot Avalon tri-toon turned heads during the 2019 Roar Offshore powerboat race in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Both boats were ordered by Bill Forenski, the owner of WMF Watercraft and Marine, a Delaware-based dealer of Avalon and Tahoe pontoon boats. A longtime performance boat fan who has a second home in Southwest Florida, he purchased an MTI 390X sport catamaran last year. Before that. he owned 42- and 38-foot sportboats from Cigarette Racing Team. But he’s made it his practice to order one big-power, customized Avalon model a year.

Forenski is now and forever a two-boat man. And one of those boats always will be a pontoon.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” said Forenski in an October 2021 interview for a speedonthewater.com article. “If we’re going on a poker run, we take the MTI cat. The Avalon is for Sunday cruising with friends.

“But everyone I take on the pontoon cannot believe the performance and ride quality in rough water,” he added.

A family-owned company, Avalon builds up to 7,500 pontoon boats a year across several model lines at its home in Alma, Mich. Though far from the largest pontoon-boat builder—that distinction belongs to Bennington—the company is among the largest buyers of outboard engines from Mercury Racing in Fond du Lac, Wis.

During the inaugural Tiki Lee’s Shootout and Poker Run in Sparrow’s Point, Md., Forenski ran his latest Avalon beauty dubbed Absolut Madness to 76.9 mph, a record-setting speed for the model and the entire Avalon brand.

“My goal was to show what a fully loaded Avalon, exactly how it can be purchased, can do performance wise,” he said.

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Last year’s Roar Offshore Fort Myers paceboat was provided by Avalon dealer Bill Forenski.

Forenski’s adventurous, no-limits pontoon-boat philosophy dovetails with that of Jim Wolf, the president, chief executive officer and part owner of Avalon. Wolf is on his third 27-foot Excalibur tri-toon model powered by Mercury Racing 400R outboards.

But Wolf, who has no shortage of pioneer spirit or mariner grit, takes faith in the pontoon platform to an even higher level.

Since 2004, he has embarked on an annual multi-day Avalon pontoon-boat adventure with friends. His first trek was from Baltimore to Key West, Fla., which he followed up a run from Chicago to Mackinaw Island. In 2005, he and his buddies followed the trail of Tom Sawyer on the Mississippi River. Subsequent adventures included jaunts from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, Key West to the Dry Tortugas and a Pacific Ocean/California Coast trek from Los Angeles to the town of Avalon on Catalina Island to San Diego. In 2017, Wolf and company ran from Clearwater, Fla., to Cuba.

Wolf’s most recent adventure? In 2018, he and his cohorts followed the course of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan and back where the famed ship sank in 30-foot seas in 1975.

One year after the ore ship became plummeted to the bottom of Lake Superior, Canadian folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the doomed vessel in a song of the same name. It was an instant hit. Some 40 years after that song made the airwaves, Wolf heard a local singer perform it live in a Put-in-Bay, Ohio, watering hole. The idea for his SS Edmund Fitzgerald course-re-tracing adventure was born.

“I have done eight of these runs now,” Wolf said. “The next one I want to do is Alaska.”

Wolf’s most recent Avalon tri-toon adventure took him and his friends on the fateful path of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior.

With the introduction of a third aluminum hull tube decades ago, Wolf explained, tri-toon pontoon boats achieved better buoyancy and, as such, were better suited to bigger power than their two-tube predecessors. His current ride is a 27-foot Avalon Excalibur tri-toon painted “Porsche purple” to match his sportscar and is powered by twin Mercury Racing 400R engines.

“I have been around powerboats my entire life,” he said. “I would take a pontoon boat over a V-bottom any time. They cut through the seas and give you a very stable ride. And with today’s power, you can bang across the lake at 70 mph if you want.”

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