Our Evolution

In the Beginning

It was the summer of 2014, and offshore racer and Smart Performance Marine owner Chris Schoenbohm had been carefully modifying the running surface of his 32’ Doug Wright catamaran to get through the turns faster. After a year and a half of refinement, he was finally right where he wanted to be. The boat leaned predictably into turns and had less tendency to slide or skip than the other Stock-class cats he was competing against, allowing him to carry significantly more speed.

But he was still getting out-accelerated in the straights. With a 57-inch-wide tunnel, his boat, SOS Venezuela, simply couldn’t pack in as much air as the newer wide-body boats with their 63-inch tunnels. The additional air underneath the wide-body boats served to lift their hulls upward at lower speeds, reducing wetted surface and drag.

Smart Performance Marine founder Chris Schoenbohm

So, as the Super Boat International (SBI) National Championships approached that September, Schoenbohm did what any rational person would: he cut his state-of-the-art race boat in half, right down the centerline, and widened the tunnel to 63 inches. It worked, but Schoenbohm still finished second behind The Hulk, which he’d been chasing all year, slowed this time by a fuel pressure issue.

A little over a month later, though, at the World Championships in Key West, it all came together. With Schoenbohm driving and Gary Ballough on the throttles, SOS Venezuela won in dominant fashion, accelerating as well as any boat on the course and beating them all through the corners, exactly as Schoenbohm had worked to achieve.

Contact Chris Schoenbohm for pricing and design options

It was a victory that had been a long time coming. Schoenbohm had been seriously racing powerboats since buying his first offshore race boat — a 30-foot Skater catamaran — in 2003, but he had been involved with the sport as a crew member for even longer. And before that, as a kid growing up in the Virgin Islands, he had raced anything that would float, including Sunfish and Hobie Cats competitively.

Chris Schoenbohm with checkered flag
Smart Performance Marine sport cats

The Birth of the Phoenix

In the wake of the World Championship win, Schoenbohm decided to have a new race boat built, incorporating his modifications to the running surface of SOS Venezuela. But the builder didn’t want to make changes that significant and said, essentially, “If that’s what you want, you’re going to have to build it yourself.” It would prove to be a turning point for Schoenbohm and Smart Performance Marine.

Undaunted, he went to work on an old 1988 Maelstrom catamaran hull he had sitting in his shop. Designed by Michael Peters, it wasn’t intended to be a race boat, but at 32 feet long with a 63-inch tunnel, it just happened to fit right into the SBI Stock class. So Schoenbaum crafted a new running surface for the old hull based on the modifications he’d made to SOS Venezuela and built a new race cap to replace the Maelstrom’s pleasure boat deck.

The result, a kind of prototype known as a “running plug” by boat builders, actually served as Schoenbohm’s race boat — under the names Smart Marine and then Patriot Vapor — while he fine-tuned the design. Then, when he had the running plug dialed in to his satisfaction, he made a mold from it with the intention of going into business building race boats for other racers. He quickly had orders for two Phoenix race boats, which he built, but then a friend suggested he consider building a pleasure boat version.

Soon after the first Phoenix hit the water with the new pleasure boat configuration, Fountain Powerboats approached Schoenbohm about purchasing the design and tooling to build in their North Carolina facility. Ultimately, the company leased the tooling rather than buying it, bringing Schoenbohm along to train staff and oversee the production process. The result, the successful Fountain 32 Thunder Cat, was introduced in 2018 and later replaced by the 34 Thunder Cat.

A Clean Slate

Now, with all Phoenix tooling back in house, Smart Performance Marine is producing the third generation of Phoenix catamarans according to Schoenbohm’s exacting standards. The lineup includes a 32-foot, no-compromise race boat designed for Stock-class racing at the highest levels; 34- and 37-foot poker run/pleasure boats; and a 37-foot center console sport boat.

All models are built around the unique, patented Phoenix Variable Speed Running surface, which consists of three distinct bottom profiles: one forward of the front step, a second between the steps, and a third aft of the second step. Each is optimized to deliver a superior driving experience in the speed range where that section of the boat meets the water first.

Also characteristic of the Phoenix platform are a slight but distinctive drop in the shearline near the bow, and a tunnel roof that transitions from convex forward to flat aft, helping create additional lift and maintain a flat running attitude. Patented brackets manufactured for SPM by Latham Marine handle the power — Mercury Racing 450Rs or 500Rs.

What’s next? Aside from building customer boats, Schoenbohm is building a new race boat, the first he has ever built for himself as opposed to modifying an existing boat. The plan is to debut the new boat at Cocoa Beach in May 2024 and ultimately, to compete again for a world championship.

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