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New powerboat amazes during trials

Jan 1, 2003

The next time you're cruising the Straits of Florida and, when scanning your radar, notice a faint target moving at about 60 knots, it will likely be one of Robert Perette's new creations: a 27-foot fiberglass catamaran that has taken the world of super-fast powerboats by storm and surprise.

Perette, until recently an unassuming auto-body shop owner from Hingham, Mass., is now holder of several patents on powerboat hull technology that the U.S. government is eager to put to work for drug-chasing customs agents. Perette is entirely self-taught in the mechanics of naval architecture, but his craft, the Night Cat 27, has impressed every government official who has experienced the kick of driving it, including DEA agents and Navy SEALS.

"People ask me, 'Can it do this; can it do that?' and I answer, 'Get in the boat,'" said Perette, who modestly compares his skill in hull design to an artist's ability to see things others do not. "I see watersee what it can do, how it can flow."

Since Perette likes to sit back and watch his vessel at work in the waves, he convinced his bookkeeper, Amy Baker, to be the vessel's test operator. Before her association with Perette, Baker explained, her boating knowledge consisted of pleasure excursions on the Massachusetts coast. She can now be considered one of the most skilled operators of these vessels in the country, especially since completing a course in high-speed boat operation that was normally reserved for elite government agents.

All agree that the most incredible aspect of the NC 27 is the boat's stability in turns and its comfort at high speed in rough conditions. In a turn at 65 miles per hour the vessel pulls three Gs (one G is the pressure of one's body weight on the Earth's surface), and the vessel can turn 43° in one second. The feeling one has while enduring this pressure can best be described thus: fearing that your brain, as it sloshes inside your skull, will explode through your ear. But it's a thrill, like experiencing the most intense centrifugal ride at a carnival.

And the speed: no other boat in existence can endure the seas that the NC 27 can at high speed, according to Perette and an exhaustive government report on the vessel. Other boats, high-powered racing catamarans and cigarette-type monohulls, either flip during turns at high speed or beat the operator and crew senseless in a moderate chop, breaking vertebrae and causing extreme fatigue. It would reportedly take one of these boats 1 1/2 times the size of Night Cat 27 (just over 40 feet) to get the same comfort and stability.

The comfort factor of the Night Cat, however, can be deceptive. Only by checking the speedometer will one realize that the boat is cruising comfortably at 65 miles per hour. But to warn unsuspecting passengers of the vessel's purpose and capabilities, a sticker mounted on the dash features a crying baby covered by a red X. A phrase above the illustration admonishes: "No crybabies."

The catamaran hull is effective at providing stability and comfort because, according to Perette, the inside "tunnel" is tapered at the stern, which builds pressure at speed and keeps the hull in contact with the water at all times. Furthermore, the hulls' sharp entry allow the boat to slice through the water, as opposed to skimming the surface. Other high-speed craft tend to become airborne when seas get rough because they are lifted out of the water by air scooping under the hull.

Perette hopes that, by year's end, he will secure a deal with the government to produce several of the 27-footers. The boats can be equipped with a pair of either 250- or 300-hp outboards, modified only with camouflage paint and snorkels that suck air from the vessel's bilge to prevent the engines swamping by waves breaking on the stern.

The prototype Night Cat 27 is currently in Hingham, enduring the last of a set of speed and stability tests. Boaters in the area who see the sleek-looking craft underway typically ask, "What is it?" In response, Perette and Amy Baker just smile and wave.

Perette is currently at work completing a design for a 40-foot version of the Night Cat.


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