Don’t look now—a group of undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton University that specializes in building and racing electric boats is looking to break the American Power Boat Association (APBA) kilo record for an electric-powered boat. With support from a slew of partners, including Princeton University, Cigarette Racing Team, Flux Marine and Danecca, Princeton Electric Speedboating (PES) recently announced the inaugural Gold Technologies Inc. and Iowa Dental Group Electric Records Event is going to take place at Lake Townsend in North Carolina on October 26 at 8 a.m.
The electric speed record race continues later this month with the student-led Princeton Electric Speedboating’s APBA-sanctioned kilo run in North Carolina. Photos courtesy Princeton Electric Speedboating
According to Andrew Robbins, a Class of 2025 Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering undergraduate and the captain of the team, PES has been hard at work preparing Big Bird, a 14-foot Pro-Outboard hydroplane the team purchased last year, for its first APBA event with the team. The goal is to break marks that were set officially and unofficially, and with guidance from a couple of decorated boat racers, the team is confident it can do just that.
The official electric-boat kilo record is from 2018 when the Jaguar Vector Racing team’s single-engine V20E recorded an average speed of 88.61 mph across the two legs of England’s famous 1-kilometer course on Coniston Water. That record was presumably shattered by the Vision Marine Technologies-powered, twin-engine S2 Power Boats catamaran driven by Shaun Torrente at the end of August during the inaugural APBA kilo record event at the 35th annual Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Central Missouri. The run data, which was initially disqualified due to a failure recording the team’s first run, is still being collected and analyzed to determine if the 32-footer, which reached 116 mph the previous day on the Shootout’s one-way, three-quarter-mile course, pushed the record into the triple digits.
“It’s not an official kilo record, but the mark is Vision’s 116 mph, which subsequently takes the Jaguar record,” said Robbins, a Michigan native who grew up around performance boats—his dad, Bill, currently owns a twin-engine Cigarette 42 Tiger V-bottom. “We know the boat is capable of 120-plus mph in the kilo, now it’s a question of how much we want to push it.”
The team was fortunate to acquire its latest hull in 2022 from Jim Dernoncourt of Detroit, following his full restoration of the raceboat designed and built by the legendary Ed Karelsen. When Dernoncourt heard about the project, he was all in, Robbins said.
Adorned in Princeton Tigers colors, the14-foot Pro-Outboard hydroplane used to be painted all yellow, hence the Big Bird moniker.
Designed for a 700cc or 1100cc outboard motor, the canopied raceboat has been rigged with a three-phase AC permanent magnet motor that weighs just 65 pounds. The motor is powered by a 400-volt battery pack with an energy capacity of 24 kWh. Nathan Yates, the team’s head graduate advisor and founder, said the package will produce in excess of 200 horsepower.
On top of the aforementioned top-tier and event partners and a lengthier list of sponsors, the Princeton team is not going at this alone. The students are working closely with alumni, partners, faculty and APBA members, and they’ve connected with veteran racers and world record holders J.W. Myers and John Peeters, both of whom enthusiastically agreed to advise the team.
“J.W. and John have been integral to helping us source parts, set up the boat and a whole number of other things,” Robbins said. “We would not be where we are without their guidance and support.”
For the kilo record attempt, Big Bird is going to be driven by Peeters, a 60-time world and national record-holder hydroplane driver from Arlington, Wash.
Driver John Peeters (in the boat) is excited to be involved with Andrew Robbins (foreground) and the rest of the Princeton Electric Speedboating crew.
“We’re hopeful this is our big entry—a way to get a lot of interest in the team and get more partners onboard with the PES vision so we can take it to the next level.” Robbins said. The team captain, who used to work for Tyler Crockett Marine Engines in Clyde, Mich., said PES was founded by Nathan Yates in 2020 to compete in the Promoting Electric Propulsion race hosted by the American Society of Naval Engineers. In April, the team won the race in Portsmouth, Va., with a boat three times faster than the competition.
Although it only started pushing toward the goal of breaking the 100-mph barrier for an electric boat in February 2022, in a matter of weeks the stage will be set for the team’s attempt on Lake Townsend Watershed Park.
“There’s a lot of excitement heading into this event—we’re about as prepared as we can get,” Peeters said. “A lot of things came together to make this happen. The only thing left to do now is to go out there and try to break a record.
“The energy these students bring to the table is addicting,” he added. “There have been a lot of defeats, but it’s been a learning experience for them as well as for me and J.W. It’s kind of funny because they are so smart but have pretty limited knowledge about boating, especially when they first started. J.W. and I are on the flipside; we’re not very smart but we’re very knowledgeable when it comes to boat racing.”
Myers, who got in touch with the team through retired boat racer Mike Schmidt, said he was immediately drawn into the record-attempt project as well as the students. Initially he was living in New Jersey when he connected with PES and now he resides in Winston-Salem, N.C., which is how he found and secured the location for the Gold Technologies Inc. and Iowa Dental Group Electric Records Event.
Thanks to a long list of sponsors and veteran racers J.W. Myers and John Peeters, PES is ready for the upcoming kilo run.
“Lake Townsend appears to be a perfect place for this event,” Myers said. “The scary part, at least from my experience, is that the city is 100 percent on board with this. That’s definitely not normal when it comes to us boat racers looking to put on an event.”
Myers laughed and said this is the second-coolest boating “project” he’s been involved with—the first was a 2013 J Hydro Stock racing program with junior racers in Doha, Qatar.
“When I saw the Princeton program and its short- and long-term goals, I thought this could be really cool for the entire sport,” said Myers, who has driven Big Bird to 130 mph when it was a 700cc gas boat and assisted on a previous electric record attempt with Ron Jones, Jr. “These kids are for real. I call them ‘kids’ because I could have kids their age, but seriously, these kids are so (expletive) smart and so (expletive) dedicated and work so (expletive) hard that they deserve all the (expletive) credit they get.
“They’ve also had a lot of failures, some (expletive) astronomical ones, and they just power through it,” he added, needing just one descriptive f-word in that sentence. “It’s been super gratifying to be a part of this deal. I can’t wait. We have some knick-knack stuff to finish when the kids get here that week, but we should be ready to go.”
And based on new student interest and Robbins’ statement about a next “in-progress” boat, this record attempt appears to be just the beginning for the PES team.
“The founders, the mechanical and aerospace engineers who started this, are all advising as alumni now and we’ve got students from every class represented,” said Aidan Walker, a sophomore who serves as the team’s financial planner. “There are a handful of underclass students who have gotten pretty involved with the team. We’re also coming off a new recruiting round this year so we have a lot more freshmen interested, especially since we have a ‘real’ boat to show them. I feel like we’re establishing a good base to be able to continue this and pass it on to future generations.”
The Princeton team was all smiles after dominating the Promoting Electric Propulsion race back in April.
Robbins added that there are many established racecar college teams, some of which are two or three decades old, so he sees no reason why the PES team couldn’t continue for 10- or 20-plus years.
For now, Robbins and the rest of Princeton Electric Speedboating and its supporters are focused on the record attempt planned for October 26.
Editor’s note: Follow princetonelectricspeedboating.com for further updates on race information and look for future stories on speedonthewater.com.
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