Here it is... the best boats you really should have on your 'boating bucket list'. The ones that are an absolute joy to drive, the ones that any true powerboating nut would be proud to own.
With anything up to 725hp breathing rasped gurgles through polished steel racing exhausts, you can take this boat to around 90 knots - and on a 24-footer, that feels extremely quick. The company motto is ‘Fly Without Wings’ and they build boats to do just that. The carbon fibre stepped hull is fantastically strong and rigid and the narrow beam and fine entry enables you to scream through a seascape at silly speeds in surprising comfort. In essence, this is a muscle craft, Scandinavia style. No lurid graphics of eagles and naked breasts; just a very fast, very capable and elegantly styled rocket ship.
Fletcher 150 GTO
Forget the tubby sports cruisers of the Fletcher stable. If you’ve driven a small traditional fletcher sports boat, you remember it with great fondness because, despite modest pricing, they are fantastic driving boats. The fact that they used to race Fletcher 13-footers around Britain tells you everything you need to know. My own fondest memories are of a 150 GTO but happily, the modern version of that boat (the 15 GTO) remains much the same. Spec it with the 90hp ETEC and prepare for a high-octane cocktail of the things that make an open sports boat so enjoyable.
Dale Nelson is a name that generates immediate respect among those who spend serious hours at sea - but while we tend to expect a Dale to provide a very mature offshore passage for an ex-Admiral with a penchant for classical pleasures, the Dale 23 is a far more visceral prospect. With the top-rated 265hp turbo-dieselin place, it delivers 45 deliciously engaging knots, with rapid throttle response, endless grip and a quality of ride that encourages you to drive it hard. Its lovely build and classical looks mean people often view it as a superyacht tender but as a standalone boat for the keen driver, it’s a hell of a treat.
The flagship model in ICE Marine’s Bladerunner Series is every bit as capable as it looks. Based around the company’s ‘Air Entrapment Monohull’ (AEM), with a stepped central section allied to flared sponsons which create a dramatic tunnel effect, it actually looks rather like a trihedral design - and with twin 1,000hp Caterpillar C18 inboard engines hooked up to Arneson surface drives, you can expect well in excess of 60 knots over all kinds of horrible seas. This was thoroughly proven in 2005, when it smashed the Round Britain World Record in a time of just 27 hours and ten minutes. It’s very fast, beautifully behaved and sexier than just about anything else on the water.
Yes, I know it’s rudimentary and impractical - and I know it depends upon a co-pilot to shift his body weight in order to help you steer but it still ranks as one of the most thrilling drives out there. It’s basically a pair of inflatable tubes with a central platform and a 50hp Tohatsu on the transom. But when you pop your feet in the straps and take the tiller in hand, it feels like a fight to the death with a ferociously angry bat. You can alter the boat’s attitude to the finest degree, launch from a crest with the flick of a wrist or carve through a fast turn with a ferocity of G-force that virtually no other boat can match. For well under £10,000, it’s a rude amount of fun.
The 760 from Sorcerer is a RIB with a hard sports boat cockpit and a walk-through screen. It sounds odd but it is in fact a delightful antidote to the tedium of standardisation. Sorcerer has a long heritage of race and endurance success against bigger, more powerful boats and it has achieved its glittering heritage by producing hulls that turn the average driver into a bit of a hero. Staying flat, level and quick is an alarmingly easy thing to achieve, while in the turn, the edge is as hard as you want. The company is no longer in business but if you can find one on the used market, just buy it.
By and large, those in search of driving thrills from a planing boat need to think sub 40-foot. But if you have millions of pounds available, then the laws of physics can be tweaked a touch. Yes, the Pershing 115 weighs 130 tonnes and sleeps 13 people but a pair of 3,000hp MTU diesels and a gas-turbine engine linked to Kamewa water-jets, means 60 mph is no problem. It obviously won’t feel as fast or handle as adroitly as the smaller boats here but the helming pleasure is of a different order. It is similar to standing on the conning tower of a nuclear submarine. Never will you feel more potent than this.
Windy 31 Zonda
This Norwegian sports cruiser specialist is famous the world over for unashamedly prioritising dynamic performance over opulent accommodation and in the form of the 31 Zonda, that helm-savvy know-how snaps into splendid focus. Windy calls it a “no-compromise performance hull” and it delivers with an unerringly soft ride, beautifully stable handling and the kind of poise that makes you want to thrash it like a ten-foot jet boat - so you do exactly that and, remarkably, it behaves much like a ten-foot jet boat. For those who want a decent place to sleep without sacrificing the joy of the drive, this is a spectacular solution.
Arctic Blue 29
Designed and engineered by famous Norwegian offshore race guru, Geir Arnestad, the Arctic Blue 29 is in its element running fast in heavy seas. In top spec, the double-stepped hull is propelled by 725hp of V10 grunt and the sound is every bit as good as the dynamics. As you fly through the steep, breaking crests of an angry seascape at anything up to 75 knots, you can hear the menacing war cry of internal combustion, bellowing its song from the through-hull exhausts. The fact that it also happens to be littered with homegrown, bespoke fittings only adds to the allure.
Designed to take on the mantle of the legendary Aquarama, the Aquariva is a delight (see Aquariva Super: a classic sportscar on water). In addition to the requisite mahogany, maple and leather, you also get a smooth, two-speed gearbox, which enables the twin Yanmar 380s to cruise in the 30s or sprint at 41 knots. But of course, this boat is not about speed or helming heroics. It’s simply about understanding that you are in the driving seat of one of the most marvellous open sports boats the world has ever seen. What better place to finish than that…