The boating industry is chock full of the most interesting of people -- hard working, dedicated individuals and families who have often put their life’s savings and full-time energies to fulfilling their dreams of creating the boats we know and love.
These are their stories.
Very few high-performance boaters likely recognize the name but, Allan Brown, affectionately known as “Brownie,” has likely had more impact on the brands in this tightly knit segment than any other person.
Brown’s first foray into the boatbuilding business had nothing to do with high-performance. He was involved with the building of the first two PT boats at Miami Shipbuilding, then later assisted Willis Slade in the late 1950’s in the tooling up for the first Hatteras, Knit Wits.
Challenger Boats in South Florida is generally credited with being among the first to utilize fiberglass in its hull construction. As a young man, Brownie started learning the boatbuilding business at Challenger. Following several years working his way up, plus a couple of years serving in the U.S. Navy, he became General Manager at Challenger.
Legendary Don Aronow created Formula Boats in 1959 and built his boats in the relatively unknown and deserted NE 188th Street in North Miami. One of Aronow’s first and most successful boats was the Formula 233, designed by fellow offshore racer Jim Wynne, who is generally credited as the inventor of the sterndrive.
The 233 featured a slightly modified version of the relatively new deep-V hull design of C. Raymond Hunt while retaining what has become the trademark of offshore high-performance boats -- a deadrise of 24-degrees for a smoother ride coupled with high horsepower to break it loose and give it speed.
In 1964, Don Aronow sold Formula Boats to Alliance Machine, then owners of Thunderbird Boats, thus creating Formula Thunderbird. Aronow almost immediately formed Donzi Marine. Utilizing the basics of a small offshore design that Jim Wynne had created, the first Donzi 16, later to be known fondly as the Sweet 16, was born.
This is where the story turns. Allan “Brownie” Brown was lured away from Challenger to become Aronow’s Sales Manager at Donzi. With Brown working the boat shows, the Donzi 16 became an instant success. Jim Wynne drove one to a second-place finish in the November, 1964 Miami-Key West race.
A Donzi 28 was quickly conceived and launched. In the second running of the Sam Griffith Memorial Race in early February, 1965, a grueling 145-mile round trip from the Miami Government Cut and around Cat Cay in the Bahamas and back to Miami, five Donzi 28’s placed in the top ten finishers including 1st, 3rd, and 4th place.
The winning Donzi 28, Broad Jumper, powered with twin 550 HP diesels with V-Drives, was owned by new Donzi customer and relatively new offshore performance boater, industrialist Bill Wishnick. Brown did most of the driving while simultaneously teaching forty-year-old Wishnick the driving and throttling dynamics of offshore boat racing. Brown’s teaching must have been good as Wishnick would go on to win the US National Championship in 1970 and was crowned World Offshore Powerboat Racing Champion in 1971.
With Allan Brown commanding both the sales and racing helms of Donzi, the Donzi 28 Blue Devil powered with twin 530 HP Holman Moody engines with V-Drives won the 1966 Hennessy Long Island Marathon, a rough water circumnavigation of Long Island, New York. Another 28 Donzi, Donzi Baby powered with twin 561 HP Holman Moody with V-Drives set a new record in winning the 1967 Miami-Nassau Race.
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After a couple of years, Aronow sold Donzi to Teleflex while Brown stayed on as General Manager. Brown, however, was not particularly happy under the new ownership and in 1968, with financial help from Bill Wishnick, left Donzi and founded Nova Marine, a little ways down and across the street from Donzi on NE 188th Street in North Miami. NE 188th Street was starting to acquire a reputation for high-performance boats and soon carried the title "Thunderboat Row."
Noted designer Dick Cole, who had helped Brown with the design of the Donzi 22, once again collaborated to put together some of the best from Formula and Donzi to create the Nova 24. It was just shy of 25' LOA on an 8'2" beam along with perhaps the deepest vee hull of any boat at that time. The deadrise was just shy of 25-degrees!
The Nova 24 was primarily intended for family use as well as for racing and for family safety in rough water, almost all interior surfaces were upholstered and cushioned. Safety grab handles and rails were placed throughout the cockpit and a cushioned sunpad adorned the motorbox cover. A cuddy cabin featured stretch-out cushions on each side. Teak trim was utilized freely throughout. Standard power was from a pair of 235 HP Holman Moody engines with V-Drives.
The Nova 24 was an almost instant commercial success. In race trim, it captured several 1st and 2nd place class wins in major offshore races including 1st place in the 1969 Miami-Nassau Offshore Race. Once the Nova 24 was settled, “Brownie,” possibly recalling the success of the Donzi Sweet 16, put together the Nova 19 with higher freeboard than the Donzi 16 and with a safety wraparound windshield top coaming.
The Nova 19 was also intended to be family friendly and was outfitted accordingly to be comfortable and safe. With its 8-foot beam, standard power was offered as a single inboard V-drive. Allan Brown was apparently not a fan of sterndrive power. The Nova 19 also had a significant deep-vee like its big sister Nova 24. But, times were tough in the boat business and, in the early 1970s Brown sold the rights to the Nova 24 to Wellcraft Marine. It soon became one of Wellcraft's biggest selling models and its first true performance boat. It was renamed the Wellcraft Nova.
After Don Aronow sold Donzi to Teleflex, he quickly formed Magnum Marine in 1966 near the start of NE 188th Street. Situated in a large building that practically hid the Donzi building next door from view to passerby on Biscayne Blvd/ Highway A1A, Magnum was front and centre. By this point, Aronow was an offshore racing champion and, together with Jim Wynne, put their ideas and experience together to craft a new 27-foot offshore race boat subsequently named the Maltese Magnum.
The 35-foot Magnum offshore race boat soon joined the 27-footer and both enjoyed huge success on the racing circuit. Thanks in part to the resulting publicity, in 1968 Aronow sold Magnum Marine. Shortly thereafter, Allan Brown left Nova and headed up the street to Magnum Marine as Chief Engineer, a position he held until the mid-70s. Once again, remembering the commercial success of the Donzi Sweet 16 and the Nova 19, Brown soon added a 16-foot family waterski boat named the Magnum Marauder.
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Cougar Marine is a British company officially started by Clive Curtis, Chris Hodges, and James Beard in the late 1960s. Clive had been designing, building, and racing boats under various companies and with different partners since he was a teenager. His emphasis had been mostly on outboard-powered tunnel hulls. With the new partners, however, offshore racing became the goal and they began building both V-bottom and wooden catamaran race boats for UIM Class II and III.
Cougar Marine experimented with many designs while winning on the European offshore circuit during the first half of the 1970s. In 1977, Cougar was commissioned to build a Class I catamaran. Named Yellowdrama III, and even while nursing one of its engines, it won what is considered the world’s roughest offshore race -- the famous Cowes-Torquay-Cowes offshore race. It also set a Class I speed record. By this time, the United States offshore community was taking notice of Cougar Marine.
After another win in spring 1978 and another speed record, American racer Rocky Aoki bought Yellowdrama III and renamed it Benihana after his chain of restaurants. It later raced to be U.S. National champion. Famous U.S. racing grandmother, Betty Cook raced her Cougar KAAMA to Class I National and World offshore championships in 1979. Throttleman Bobby Idoni raced his Cougar cat, Fayva Shoes, to US-1 National championship. As speeds increased and race courses took their toll on plywood-constructed catamarans, Cougar Marine added aluminum as an optional construction material.
The first aluminum cat was built for American racer Joel Halpern in 1980. Named Beep-Beep, it won the World Offshore Championship. During this period, Cougar Marine was having difficulty keeping up with orders. Still in 1980, offshore racer and head of the Toleman Group, Ted Toleman, purchased a 60% percent stake in Cougar Marine. That quickly coincided with his winning the British and European offshore championships in a new Cougar. That same year, Michel Meynard drove his 38-foot wooden Cougar to the Class I World Offshore Championship title in Australia (The UIM Class 1 category is called Open Class in North America).
With all of the new business, especially in America, Cougar Marine opened a facility on NE 188th Street in North Miami. Allan “Brownie” Brown was hired to run it and was named President of Cougar Marine’s North American operations. Cougar had already built a V-bottom Class I (Open Class) racer for Popeye’s Chicken magnate Al Copeland, but Al wanted something bigger and faster for the new Superboat class, an offshore racing class exclusive to North America.
“Brownie” went to Copeland’s home in Louisiana and came back to Miami with an order for one of the biggest, fastest, and most visible boats on the offshore racing circuit. It was a 46-foot bright yellow Popeye’s/Diet Coke aluminum catamaran powered by four 700 HP MerCruisers, the first 4-engine build for Cougar Marine.
Clive Curtis’s young son, Steve Curtis, along with his friends wanted a boat they could have fun with. “Brownie” had a full-size Cougar cat proportionately reduced to 10 feet, named it the Cougar Cub, and displayed it at the 1983 Miami International Boat Show. Orders for twenty Cubs were taken right at the show. Sales took off and by the end of 1985 they had sold some 1000 Cougar Cubs.
Allan “Brownie” Brown eventually moved on from Cougar Marine. Meanwhile, Aronow had a non-compete clause when he sold Magnum to prevent him from building boats, but that didn’t stop him. Aronow had another boat designed and built in his friend Elton Cary’s facility. He named it the Cary 28 and had some of them finished and rigged at Allan Brown’s Nova Marine facility.
Once the non-compete clause was finished, in 1969 Aronow returned to NE 188th St. in North Miami to set up Cigarette Racing Team down the road from Magnum and Donzi and across the street from Nova. The Cary 28 became the first Cigarette.
At some point after his stint at Cougar Marine, “Brownie” rejoined Aronow at Cigarette Racing Team as Director of Product Development. Cigarette developed into perhaps the best known and most respected high-performance offshore brand. Their success continues today under new ownership.
Aronow sold Cigarette in 1982 and quickly set up USA Racing Team. Their premise was to build 39-foot Blue Thunder catamarans for use by the U.S. Customs Service to chase drug smugglers. However, Aronow was murdered in February, 1987, while sitting in his Mercedes sports car in front of the Cigarette facility.
Next stop, Allan “Brownie” Brown helped set a transoceanic speed record. By the mid-1980s, Hawaii developer Tom Gentry was a highly respected race team owner and driver. He was well-known for forever changing and adding boats and engines in his quest to seek perfection in several different racing classes. Gentry was a multi-time champion racer and holder of several offshore speed records.
At that time, the record-holder for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by boat was held by British billionaire, Richard Branson. Gentry wanted to return that record to the United States. “Brownie” Brown came on board to help manage the project. An all-aluminum superyacht of 112-feet in length on a 24-foot beam with a moderate vee of 18-degree deadrise hull was designed and then constructed in England.
Powering the Gentry Eagle was a pair of massive MTU turbo diesels of almost 3,500 HP each feeding into jet drives along with a single Textron Lycoming turbine developing 4,500 HP centered between the two MTU diesels and delivering its power through an Arneson surface drive. If you’re counting, that’s about 11,500 horsepower total. Top speed was 63 knots or over 72 mph, a figure unheard of for a boat that size.
The record run was made in July, 1989 in 62 hours and 7 minutes, which included a mid-Atlantic stop to top up with 10,000 gallons of fuel. It shattered the old record by several hours. The Gentry Eagle went on to claim other speed records including winning the famed Chapman Trophy for the fastest time from Miami to New York.
By 1992, Tom Gentry had his Gentry Eagle converted into a luxury pleasure yacht while still retaining the original engines. I had the pleasure of being invited aboard when it was docked in the wet pits of the Key West World Offshore Racing Championships. I was thrilled to have a lengthy chat about the boat with its skipper and their world-renowned throttleman, John Connor.
Tom Gentry and his family toured widely in the refitted yacht including the Mediterranean and up and down both coasts of North America. In 1994, his 40-foot Skater cat raceboat flipped upside down in the harbour during the Key West World Offshore Championships. It was right in front of where I was watching the race in the media section. Tom never recovered and was in a coma until he passed away in 1997. The Gentry estate tried to sell the Eagle to no avail. It was eventually torn apart and sold for scrap in 2022.
The incredible journey of Allan “Brownie” Brown through the annals of the high-performance boat scene of the 1960’s through to the 1990’s is unparalleled. He was an influence in so many ways, and made major contributions with many of the other, and perhaps better known, racers of his time. Brown, offshore racer, builder, and Hall of Fame inductee, celebrated his remarkable and memorable way in 2018 by publishing a book entitled, “Tales from Thunderboat Row." #culture #innovatorsinboating