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ON THE WATERFRONT

Time-Shares Give Speedboat Fans $200,000 Thrill for $2,000 Price

June 17, 1989|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Since Don Johnson rode to fame in a sleek and sexy speedboat on "Miami Vice," the mega-horsepower vessels have become hot items. But while many viewers may dream of skimming the waves full throttle aboard a racy speedboat, few can afford the $200,000 price tag.

Now, you don't have to buy the boat to go for a thrill ride. If you've got $2,000, you can buy a ticket--in the form of a time-share--that entitles you to five days in a high-performance racer with a top speed of 70 m.p.h.

Bob Long, a Huntington Beach boat dealer, is selling time-shares in Cigarette racing boats, a popular speed boat similar to the Scarab boat that Don Johnson piloted on television.

Long says the time-shares--which are actually a type of package charter in which you don't own a part of the boat--make sense because high-performance boats like the Cigarette, a sleek speedboat manufactured in Florida, are so expensive and impractical.

"You figure a boat like this costs $200,000," he says. "Then your insurance runs $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Your maintenance runs another $10,000 to $15,000. Your dock fees run about $6,000. And with a boat like this you blow one engine a year. So that's another $12,000."

All that adds up to nearly $250,000, Long points out, and yet the average boat owner uses his vessel only a few times a year. It is far more practical, Long insists, to buy one of his time-shares.

A $2,000 minimum time-share buys use of the boat for five days and includes insurance, slipfees, maintenance and a licensed captain. (The $2,000 yearly minimum buys off-season days. Summer days and holidays cost extra. For example, a time-share that would include five holidays costs $3,750 a year.)

"I don't care how much money you have," Long says. "I have some customers who could write out a check for the full purchase price of the boat, but you really have to justify throwing money away. But we have figured out a way to make the most impractical boat practical."

One of Long's first customers was Bob Krueger, a Laguna Beach real estate agent, who recently spent one of his five days aboard the 35-foot "Cafe Racer," one of three time-share boats available through Long's Sundown Marine in Huntington Beach.

"This was always a dream of mine," Krueger says, from the cockpit of "Cafe Racer" as the boat pulls into the dock to pick up passengers at Woody's Wharf in Newport Beach. "And being in real estate I am familiar with time-shares. With this I can go out, have a good time with no liability and no maintenance. It makes a boat like this realistic. There's no downside to it."

Krueger, who grew up in Newport Beach, has more than 20 years of boating experience in everything from Sabots to 110-foot ocean-going yachts. But he says there is a romantic mystique about a high-performance speedboat. "It's the thrill, the speed and the idea of getting out in the ocean," he says. "There is just a mystique to having a boat like this. It's romantic." He pauses and adds: "But I have got better things to do with $200,000 than spend it on a boat like this."

Since Long began selling time-shares about three months ago, he says the response has been good. So far he has about a dozen customers. Although Long points out that time-shares are new to the boating industry, the concept is very much like chartering. "But it would cost about $1,000 a day to charter a boat like this," he says. "The time-share concept cuts that in half and you get your selection of days. You can take them one at a time or consecutively. The primary difference is that with a time-share you are obligated to five units (of time) and with chartering you are obligated to one unit," Long says. "A time-share would be a package deal rather than a one-night rental."

Time-share falls under the same rules as chartering, says Eric Norton of the Coast Guard licensing center. As long as passengers are taken out by a licensed master, "there is no problem," Norton says.

Len Harris, the time-share coordinator for Sundown Marine who also serves as skipper aboard the boats, is himself a former Coast Guard petty officer and holds an appropriate license, according to Long.

"Having a professional operate the boat is the way to go," Long says, "because it takes a while to get used to these boats. I've raced boats since 1974, and it took me a month and a half to feel comfortable operating a Cigarette."

And, although the boats are capable of going 70 m.p.h., "we try not to run them over 50," says Long.

But on the open ocean with the wind in your face and a mild chop on the water, it feels much faster. And if you aren't careful, such a ride will whip your sunglasses off your face and send them flying. Passengers are cautioned to hold on tight because a high-speed lurch over an ocean swell can send you flying too. At its worst such a ride can be a bumpy, bone-jarring endurance test. At its best, it can be an intoxicating taste of pure excitement.

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