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Crunch Time for Phenomenon

No one said breaking water-speed records is easy. The history of such endeavors is littered with busted hardware and broken hearts, as more than a few people have died chasing speed on the water during the years.

You don’t have to tell that to Scott Barnhart, who says he still plans to throttle the 12,000-hp, turbine-powered Phenomenon catamaran with Al Copeland, Jr., at the wheel during the Super Boat International Kilo Runs July 2 in Sarasota, Fla., despite a time-crunch forced by ongoing mechanical issues.

For the record, so to speak, the propeller-driven water-speed mark Phenomenon is chasing—at least the one in the American Power Boat Association record book—is 220 mph. Dave Villwock established that record in the Miss Budweiser Unlimited hydroplane. (Propeller-driven powerboats, notably drag boats, have indeed gone much faster—more than 280 mph in the liquid quarter-mile—but Phenomenon is after the 220-mph mark in the two-way pass, measured-kilometer format.)

To date, the quad-engine 50-plus-foot catamaran, which was unveiled in mid-November 2009 at the SBI Key West Offshore World Championships, has been on the water seven times. And after each run, the Phenomenon crew has found something to fix or replace, from prop shafts to propellers.

“We’re making so much power that are drives flexing one full inch” Barnhart told me this afternoon. “We can’t use a tie bar because we have no place to attach one. We’ve been through six sets of propellers at $6,000 a piece. But in the runs we’ve made, we couldn’t be happier with the way the boat performed.

“We have stuff rolling,” he continued. “Bigger propeller shafts are being cut, and we’re getting new propellers made for them. We won’t have them for two weeks and that will only give us two weeks to test. It’s going to be close, but we’re coming (to the July 2 SBI Kilo runs) no matter what.”