By BoatTEST.com staff
Quick! Think of a high-performance boat builder. Which one comes to mind? Chances are, it's not Formula. More likely, it was one of the brasher muscle machines, known for rattling silverware at dockside restaurants and ripping up and down flat-water bays at break-neck speeds. When you think of Formula, you probably think about the company's high-end line of express cruisers. But in fact, Formula's been in the high-performance boat business for 30 years and its presence there is strong but not as well known. With the introduction of its new FASTech series of performance boats, Formula's expects to increase its market share in high-performance boating, but in a low-key way. In brief, Formula is a company lets its boats, and not their exhaust pipes, do the talking, and its new 312 is a good example of that.
FASTech is an acronym for Formula's Advanced Steering, Stability, and Structural Technology, and the company recently developed this new hull with two primary purposes in mind: get more speed from the same horsepower, and increase stability in all directions. After comparing the FASTech hulls with the company's existing SR-1s in a variety of models, Formula says it achieved the goal--a FASTech hull runs from five to eight mph faster than its predecessor with greater stability. The secret is in the design itself, developed by Formula's John Adams.
The deep-V FASTech hull has a single vented step amidships that effectively decreases wetted surface at speed and thus, reduces drag. Stability comes from hard chines that get progressively wider aft, and a second small step or "notch" just forward of the outdrives delivers what the company calls "good water flow" directly to the propellers. The result is quicker hole shots and better efficiency, according to Formula.
To test these claims, I set out with Formula's president Scott Porter on a perfect day for sea trials. The wind in Miami had been blowing onshore for days, so we ran the 312 both inshore in one-foot chop, and offshore in a confused four- to six-foot seaway. The results were impressive.
Hunkered down in a bear-hug thanks to the McLeod bolster seat, I got my first real sense I was about to take charge of a high-performance machine (there are no flaming-eagles or air-brush paint jobs to remind you). Dropping the electric footrest down to a comfortable level, I eased the Kiekhaefer controls forward as Porter gave me tips on how to use the inhandle drive-trim control. We decided beforehand to set the tabs to "3" on the mechanical tab/drive indicator, and once up on plane I'd retract the tabs and trim the drives out to "5". Sounded kinda tricky to me.
But it wasn't. With a two-mile stretch of open water beckoning like a drag strip, I shoved the throttles forward and we took off. Time to plane without tabs was 5.25 seconds. Tabs in the "5" position shaved a half-second off that.
Now up and running in the 40-mph range at 3000 rpm (the 312's best cruise), I discovered the benefits of the inhandle trim and the boat's inherent stability. You have to take your eyes off the water to check the position of your tabs and trim, but the 312 is such a stable performer you're never worried she'll do something stupid or unexpected during those brief seconds. After a few minutes of experience, you learn to trust the boat.
With growing confidence I trimmed the drives out, advanced the throttles, and her twin Merc 454 Magnums responded with good power bursts in each 500 rpm segment throughout the range. You can even feel the power in the normally "dead" zone between 4500 and WOT. While the inhandle trim does an approximate job of moving the drives together, you still need to use the individual switches at the dash to fine tune them.
At this speed (72 mph) you don't just crank the wheel over and start spinning doughnuts--you're rocketing along straight, like you're on rails. And thankfully, the 312 showed no tendency to porpoise or chine walk in cross waves at wide-open throttle--she deliver a rock-steady ride with no surprises.
Her design naturally keeps the nose down, and to further demonstrate her abilities, Porter took over and put on a little show. At 50 mph we were approaching the large wake of an oncoming sportfisherman, and Porter wasn't about to let up on the gas. Over in the navigator's bolster seat, I assumed the crash position. And for no good reason, it turns out. Rather than launching into the ozone layer, the 312 shot through that wake like a waterskier at Busch Gardens. There was no jawbreaking landing. We just kept on going and never missed a beat. You learn to trust the boat.
Heading offshore, we quickly realized you'd never go out in seas like these unless you were a) caught in them, b) doing a boat test, or c) not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Since two out of three applied, we headed out.
Stability here came in handy as I wove a serpentine wake across the tops of breaking beach waves. Running in the beam sea, I was able to maintain a fairly comfortable ride at 25 knots, and her external Latham steering is so fast you can pick your opportunities and change or refine a turn in a split second. This is critical when running in big seas. While we did manage to launch the 312 a few times, that was mainly due to inattention on the throttles. They also have lightning-fast response, so if you don't want to be flying with the birds, just work the throttles and you'll get home safely and with good speed.
Though there are only two bolster seats on the 312, guests seated on the aft bench seat are not left hanging--there are at least two grabhandles per person within easy reach. This seat pulls forward and flips down to reveal stowage and beneath that, batteries in separate, finished lockers. Aft, the spacious sunpad for three--with a stainless steel rim rail and separate head rests, no less--raises electrically with a single strut to reveal the powerplants. A step leads down to the space, but there is no appreciable room to move between them. That's why it's a good thing you can reach all fluid-related items--power steering, drive oil, engine oil, dipsticks, filters--by leaning in from the aft bench seat. All electrical wiring, ducting, and hydraulic tubing are well-wrapped and secured by not labeled. Way aft, the 312 has a molded platform and rugged stainless steel swim ladder integral with the hull.
While the 312 is a high-performance day boat, naps or even an overnight stay are not out of the question. The cabin is a sit-down only affair, but attention to high quality is apparent, with UltraLeather facing lounge seats, a V-berth fully forward, stainless steel sink, optional Norcold dual-voltage refrigerator (door correctly opens aft), and carpeting throughout. While there's no separate head, ordering the fixed toilet--appropriately hidden--with macerator, holding tank, and shoreside pump out is an attractive option over the portable alternative. Other neat touches include an optional Kenwood CD system with "stealth" faceplate that make it look like its been removed, and powerful speakers hidden behind valances.
In sum, the 312 FASTech is not--nor will she ever be--a screaming, firebreathing-dragon of a boat. Her graphic styling and Imron exterior paint schemes seek to attract, not shock, and yet with a top end of more than 72 mph she can run with--or run past--the best of them. So loudmouths, take note--the FASTechs are not only coming, they're here.
For more information contact Thunderbird Products. (219) 724-9111. Fax: (219) 724-1103. http://www.formulaboats.com/