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The Quiet Innovators in Boating (Part 3)

In Part 3 of The Quiet Innovators, I want to introduce two more individuals who have, somewhat like the four quiet icons in Part 1 and the two in Part 2 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.

Perhaps that’s because both of these quiet innovators are largely boat designers – those backroom engineers/naval architects cum artists who toil by a drafting table, or today by a computer screen with a CAD program and when they are done their designing and production scheduling, leave, seldom to be heard of again until the next project.

1) George Linder

Only the diehard aficionados who look beyond the brand name or model of the boat emblazoned on its hull sides may have heard of the boat designer, George Linder. George grew up with a passion for boats and designed and built his own ten-footer at age 15.

He founded the Camera Corporation of America by age 24, was the holder of 150 patents in instant photography, sold out in 1968, became a senior partner in a Wall Street brokerage firm, sold out his interest at age 38 in 1974, and then retired. Over the next several years, he became a highly respected offshore race driver, eventually settling down in North Babylon, New York, located east from New York City on Long Island. Here he set up a studio and started designing boats.

One of his first designs was the 1976, 21-foot Challenger, a sporty, flashy, speedy fun ski-boat. Linder licensed the design to several companies including the California Challenger boat company and to Bob Hammond ex of Glastron fame where it became the Hammond Challenger. Later it became the Superboat 21 and also the 21 Shadow. A tribute to the 21 Challenger design was that it was copied by several manufacturers. With its 6-inch pad keel and twenty-two degrees of deadrise, it has been recognized as one of the finest balanced and handling 21-foot boats of its kind in the world. It was awarded 1976 Boat of the Year.

George Linder with partners who included the very high profile Rich Luhrs, also manufactured the 21 Challengers in outboard and sterndrive configurations, as well as the Shadow 21. The design was licensed to Ron Mander in Canada, who manufactured them and received the rights to alter its design to produce the 18-Charger which also became a hit. The 21 Challenger was apparently the source for the 21-Apache and also the much acclaimed 24-Magnum.

Meanwhile George had designed and started building the 30-foot Shadow catamaran and took it to Chris-Craft where it became the Chris Cat 300. This gained enormous attention as the Lavin brothers champion offshore race boat Jesse James. The 30 Shadow Cat design is said to be the first multi-hull to outperform V-bottoms in both rough and calm seas and dominated offshore racing for some time.

Linder is also said to have designed, or at least had an input, in the designs of the renowned Chris-Craft Scorpion and Stinger lines of performance models. Linder left the manufacturing of Challengers and Shadows in 1983, but production continued. He continued working in boat design and was awarded Boat Designer of the Year from 1984 to 1986. He was the designer of 10 World Offshore Championship boats from 1980 through1988. He was also the designer of 11 National Offshore Championship boats from 1980 through 1991.

Other boats he designed include the 38 Chris Cat, the Conquest 30 and 38 cats, the Garwood 30, and the Tiger Cat 38. In 1995, he was appointed as Chairman of the Offshore Racing Commission (ORC) Technical Committee of the American Power Boat Association (APBA).

2) Fabio Buzzi

I have met and have briefly interviewed Fabio Buzzi, but his energy level and his mind was definitely focused elsewhere and the interview ended quickly. Such a talented man. Such a go-getter. Such a forward thinker. The builder of the first boat ever to be built from Kevlar 49.

His out-of-the-box thinking that spotted a loophole in the rules of offshore racing that led to his assisting in the development of the high speed, light weight SeaTek marine diesel that he installed in a Rigid Bottom Inflatable (RIB) of his design. The design won many of Offshore’s prestigious Class I (Open Class) races around the world , all while utilizing a drive of his own design – the trimmable Trimax Surface shaft drive. Running a RIB, he was laughed at until he kept winning.

Fabio Buzzi graduated from university in Turin in mechanical engineering in 1971. However, he had already started in offshore racing from the age of 17 when he won a race in a boat of his own design. In 1963, he became Italian class champion. When he graduated in 1971, he founded FB Design near Milan, Italy to cater to the growing market for military, leisure, and race boats.

Successful race boats would bring worldwide attention to FB Design. In 1978, he set a world speed record of 110 mph in UIM Class S4 in a three-point hydroplane of his own design he built back in 1974. In 1979, he established a world speed record for diesel engine boats at just under 120 mph.

Buzzi was the buzz of the offshore race circuit in 1988 when his diesel-powered RIB became both UIM and APBA World Champions in the most prestigious Open Class (Class I). The loophole in the rules was soon removed for Open Class RIB’s and so Buzzi designed a “normal” boat.

In the late 80's, Buzzi created possibly his most famous boat named CESA 1882 in Europe and Gancia dei Gancia in the US. It was apparently Buzzi’s most favourite boat, too, amassing 17 consecutive podiums, of which 14 were first place finishes. It met UIM and APBA rules while also winning the grueling Miami-Nassau-Miami race. Diesel engines were soon banned from Open Class (Class 1) and so Buzzi switched to Superboat Class.

In the early 1990’s, Buzzi showed up with arguably the first all carbon-fibre raceboat, La Gran Argentina with canard wings at the bow to counteract “stuffing” into a wave, an F-16 fighter jet derived capsule, and powered by four of his SeaTek bi-turbo high-speed diesel inboards totaling 4425 horsepower fed through his proprietary Trimax surface drives. This boat was three-time World Superboat Champion in the mid-1990’s.

Meanwhile, in 1994, Buzzi swept the competition and won the world’s longest and most exhausting Miami-New York race. His boat? One of his own RIB’s of course. Whatever he did, he made sure he would stand out and with a chance to win.

With his worldwide fame, Buzzi quit the offshore racing circuit in the late 1990’s and concentrated on fast military and patrol boats, along with a few pleasure boat designs. Most of the military designs were rigid bottoms with full or partial inflatable collars. Buzzi clients included army, navy, police, customs, coast guard, and special forces representing governments literally all over the world. All of the boats are of highly specialized designs.

Into the early 2000's, Buzzi became adamant that all FB Boats be made unsinkable. FB invented a new structure of boxes laminated to the deck with carbon fibre bulkheads. This produced exceptional lateral and longitudinal strength. The boxes are filled with EVA polyethylene closed cell foam. This was a revolutionary commercial design.

Buzzi continued to win individual races in Europe and in the US as well as constantly setting new speed records. His technologically superior designs, construction techniques, and use of his reliable high speed SeaTek diesels with Trimax drives continued to exceed his competitors. He collaborated with Fiat Propulsion Technologies (FPT) to develop new diesels primarily for Fiat commercial, agricultural, and construction products but once again used racing to promote FPT engines.

In 2018, Buzzi broke his own World Speed Record set in 1992 on the same Lake Como near his Milan studio. He designed a three-point hydroplane powered by a 1700 hp FPT diesel engine and created the new record at 172.3 mph (277.5 km/h).

His last record came in September, 2019 when he and three others on board set a new Monte Carlo to Venice speed record in Buzzi’s favourite La Gran Argentina superboat. Finishing the race and about to enter the harbour, the boat ran into a submerged concrete breakwall section at the harbour entrance at an estimated speed just shy of 100 mph. Buzzi and two others on board were killed instantly.

FB Design continues in Fabio’s footprints. Buzzi won a staggering 52 world offshore championships, set 56 world speed records, won the Harmsworth Trophy seven times and has won dozens of individual distance and endurance races. His designs and technology, engines and drives that are responsible for all of the above winnings have filtered over to the military and to the leisure boat markets. Don't miss:

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