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The Quiet Innovators in Boating (Part 2)

In Part 2 of The Quiet Innovators, I want to introduce only two individuals this time who have, somewhat like the four quiet icons in Part 1, arguably introduced products or services which have revolutionized, to a greater or lesser degree, the pleasure boat industry and who are largely unknown to even some boating aficionados.

1) Art Carlson

Some will claim Art Carlson to be the one of the most gifted, influential, and most forward-thinking pleasure boat designers of all time. He started in the over-the-moon power-crazy and graphics-crazy and lifestyle crazy California in 1961 with Carlson High Performance boats, rigging and racing as well as designing and building boats.

Later in the 60's, the quality of his work and his unique designs were recognized quite accidentally by Bob Hammond, founder and manager of Glastron Boats of Texas, then one of the manufacturing giants in small family pleasure boats. Hammond recognized the value of marketing and promotion and standing out to get attention, and he believed Carlson to be the right man for the job.

Recognizing a trend in the market for bling, flash, and speed, in 1969 Hammond enticed Art Carlson to head up a new line of upscale high quality boats named Glastron-Carlson. This new division in Anaheim, CA would also make under license the Molinari tunnel hull race boats and high performance pleasure boats.

From 1969 through 1982, Art Carlson created some of the most standout, forward thinking, attention-grabbing sport boats ever seen to that point, and arguably even to this day.

From 15 feet to eventually 27 feet, his boats set the pace and a tough standard to meet in sport boat design and production. They brought unparalleled attention to parent company Glastron, which during the earlier part of this period was the largest manufacturer of pleasure boats in the world.

Because of their trendsetting design and popularity, a GT-150 was chosen as a chase boat in the 1973 James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. It became known as "The Flying Boat" and set a Guinness World Book of Records of 110-feet for a boat jump.

Then in 1979, a specially modified CV-23 HT allowed James Bond to escape his enemies in the movie Moonraker. This boat featured a bulletproof electrically raising rear screen. It also had a single rear-firing torpedo tube, a pair of rear-mounted mine launchers, and an emergency escape mode which folds out a paraglider when the hardtop roof is released.

Perhaps the boat that many aficionados will best remember and the boat that may be the one most associated with Art Carlson is his 1980 Glastron-Carlson 23 Scimitar. It certainly was the most advanced sport boat of its time, with removable T-top roof panels just like a Corvette and an automobile-style windshield, dashboard, and steering wheel. The Scimitar just may be the closest a boat ever got to replicating a car.

By then, Bob Hammond was long gone from Glastron and had started his own boat company. Glastron-Carlson closed up shop in 1983. Art Carlson continued to design and consult for many boat builders right into the new millennia. He passed away in 2014.

2) Larry Smith

Quite likely you have never heard of Larry Smith, but I would bet the farm that you have heard of Scarab. SoCal engineering graduate Larry Smith’s passion was offshore racing. In the mid-1960’s he partnered on a 23-foot Formula and won the very first sanctioned US Offshore Championships. Smith worked in his family’s heavy construction business in California but true to his passion, in 1974 designed a 30-foot Deep-V boat he called a Scarab after his friend’s famed race cars.

President of Wellcraft Marine at the time, Dick Genth, along with his talented team who produced over 20 models at the time, saw the potential in the Smith design, and in 1976 produced it as the Scarab 300. It immediately won APBA Production Class offshore racing championships. Smith soon came to a licensing arrangement with Wellcraft where his west coast Team Scarab would build race boats and Wellcraft could build and market worldwide the pleasure boat versions of the already proven race boats.

I vividly remember a few 30 Wellcrafts on our local waterways in the late ‘70’s replete with their full surrounding teak windshield headers and a pair of 454 MerCruisers with TRS outdrives. Part of Smith’s deal with Wellcraft was that he would be the outside engineering and design house for the company. Some likened this arrangement to that of the famous Skunk Works R&D division of Lockheed Aircraft.

Come the late 1970’s, Smith had designed and built a 38 Scarab KV for the World Champion KAAMA Offshore Race Team of Betty Cook and legendary throttleman John Connor. They won many championships into the 80's. Smith specially prepared one to challenge the 1100 mile long Mississippi River New Orleans to St. Louis speed record. The original record run was made in 1870 by the almost 300-foot long, 86-foot wide, 8-engined steamboat, Robert E. Lee. It had taken almost four days. The most recent record was almost ten years old at the time in almost 27-hours.

Larry at first sought out multi-time World and National Offshore Racing Champion and grandmother Betty Cook, whom he had raced with in the early 1970’s, to take the helm of his Scarab for the record run. The boat was diesel powered with a pair of the new Arneson surface drives. Betty would have loved to, but the Arneson drives conflicted with her own development of KAAMA surface drives.

As an aside, In the late 1980’s, Betty took myself and my fellow BoatBlurb contributor, Captain Bill Jennings, for a ride during the Miami Boat Show in her 30 Wellcraft Scarab with KAAMA surface drives. A few years later, Betty very enthusiastically agreed to my invitation to be the guest speaker in Toronto at the inaugural meeting of the Performance Boat Club of Canada, for which I was a co-founder and inaugural President. She was brilliant.

Michael Reagan -- yes, that one - the son of President Ronald Reagan, had boat racing credentials as long as your arm but last raced with Rudy Ramos in a triple Mercury outboard-powered flat bottom Rayson Craft and won the World Outboard Racing Championship at Lake Havasu in 1971. He was ready to race again, but as Co-Chairman of the Fundraising Committee for the upcoming 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, he insisted that the record attempt be a fundraiser for this cause.

Because of teething problems encountered with the first diesel-powered 38 Wellcraft Scarab, Smith prepared a second one for the record attempt, this one powered by three of the new experimental OMC (Evinrude) V-8 outboards that were intended for Open Class Offshore racing. There are dozens of sub-stories associated with this record attempt but the bottom line is: after replacing several lower units on the outboards damaged by debris in the river, including fallen trees, in 1982, Reagan and his team set a new New Orleans to St. Louis Mississippi speed record while raising a half million dollars for the Olympic fund. Reagan toured the boat show circuit with this record-breaking Scarab including being featured at the Toronto International Boat Show in the late 80's.

In 1984, the Wellcraft 38 KV Scarab became one of the most recognizable performance boats in the world as it became the conveyance of choice for Crockett & Tubbs chasing criminals on the prime-time and very popular television series, Miami Vice. Wellcraft sales expanded exponentially, as did the prominence of the show’s star Don Johnson. The show lasted for 111 episodes through 1991 carrying Wellcraft sales with it.

Larry Smith designed and Team Scarab built an all-new 43-foot Scarab powered by twin V-12 Lamborghini engines with Arneson surface drives for a run up the Mississippi to attempt to break the Reagan record. Don Johnson, with only two years of modest experience in offshore boating was to be the driver backed by experienced Wellcraft throttleman Gus Anastasi, plus a local Mississippi river guide as a navigator.

Johnson broke Reagan’s record and became the new Mississippi River champion. Larry Smith turned the manufacturing plans for the 43 Scarab over to Wellcraft which promptly made it into a pleasure boat – the Wellcraft 43 Scarab Thunder. Don Johnson liked the boat so much that he worked with Wellcraft to create a new iteration, The Don Johnson Signature Edition Wellcraft 43 Scarab.

Wellcraft enjoyed even more promotion when Team Scarab-built the newly designed 30 Scarab in bright yellow to be used by the mostly stunning lifeguards in Los Angeles and Hawaii for rescues and training exercises on the television series Baywatch which ran for 10 years from 1989 to ’99. Canadian Pamela Anderson was a regular on the show.

Larry Smith then designed arguably his most famous race boat that didn’t become a huge sales success as a pleasure boat. This was the 46-foot Scarab powered by triple Gentry Turbo engines with the brand new Kiekhaefer Surface-running outdrives. Don Johnson drove this boat in the flashiest yet toughest class to the 1988 World Offshore Superboat Championships, became World Champion and was also awarded Driver of the Year honours. Wellcraft favourite Bill Sirois was throttleman and Gus Anastasi navigator.

Wellcraft and Team Scarab were on a roll and brought Hollywood star Chuck Norris on board to drive a 46 diesel-powered Scarab with Arneson drives to break the San Francisco to Los Angeles speed record. Then Norris teamed with NFL great Walter Payton in a Team Scarab specially prepared 46 Scarab to break the Chicago to Detroit speed record. Mechanical issues thwarted both attempts. But the point is that Wellcraft Scarab boats were at the top of their game while few boaters had ever heard of Team Scarab or Larry Smith.

Nigel Hook is one of the true gentlemen of offshore racing and is still involved to this day. Larry Smith designed a 26-foot flat deck Scarab “Archer Marine” for Nigel and it dominated A Class Offshore during the 1990’s. The 26-Scarab became a Wellcraft winner. This could go on and on about winning Scarab raceboats and Wellcraft’s pleasure boat marketing of same.

Right after the turn of the century, the licensing agreement ran out, and a few years later Wellcraft purchased the rights to the Scarab name from Larry Smith and Team Scarab. The Wellcraft company was sold a few times following the insolvency of Genmar and today is part of the largest pleasure boat conglomerate in the world, Beneteau. The Scarab name adorns the sides of a line of jet boats.

Smith was an innovator in that he was one of the first to add Kevlar into the laminates and one of the first to introduce vacuum bagging to ensure equal resin quantity and distribution for strength and uniformity. He was the first to introduce ventilated transverse stepped hulls on raceboats. He believed in fine tuning hulls by adding slight rockers where needed and stepped keel pads for lift. All of this technology spills over into pleasure boats as needed.

Meanwhile, Larry Smith’s new company, Kona Concepts, has continued in California and he as a designer and consultant. Just in the past 10 or so years, Smith has been working on battery-powered boats with Germany-based electric motor builder Torqeedo. He wants to bring the price of electric powered boats in line with electric powered cars. In case you missed it: The Quiet Innovators in Boating (Part 1)

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1 Comment

Frankie Fruge
Frankie Fruge
Sep 13, 2022

The strange thing is EVERY BOAT you show on this site has longitudinal strikes which was Harry Schoell"s patent (not a design patent) and the single step is also his (not a design) and he was instrumental in the cigarette designs so all these take his patents as they expire or he doesn't inforce them and they get the innovations. Boatbuilder magazine did recognize him as being one of the top three innovators of the boating industry in the past 50 years. Harrys down fall was not sucking up to the money and corporate people. He is and always has been just Harry and he always talks and helps people in the industry without charging them. Just my take a…

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