Behind the scenes of the Vision Marine electric boat speed record

On August 4, 2023 a freshly built catamaran from S2 Racing outfitted with two e-Motion 180E electric outboards from Vision Marine Technologies went into the water in Lake Mead Florida. Twenty three days later, on the waters of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, it hit a speed of 116 miles an hour, setting a new world speed record for electric boats.

I was lucky enough to be there that day, to get a glimpse behind the scenes and talk with some of the people involved, including Vision Marine CEO Alex Mongeon, and the two men who make up the ’S’ in S2 Racing – Sean Conner and Shawn Torrente.

Getting an electric boat moving faster than any other in history was an incredible accomplishment for these three groundbreakers and their team of talented and dedicated men and women. And the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout was the perfect place for it to happen.

The Lake of The Ozarks Shootout

Almost a century ago, in 1929, the Lake of the Ozarks (LOTO) began to take shape when the Bagnell Dam was constructed to harness the waters of the Osage River for an eight generator, 240 megawatt hydroelectric station.

The dam created a 92 mile long reservoir that snakes through the valleys of the Ozark Mountains and is known by some as the Magic Dragon because of its appearance from above.

It is barely a mile across at its widest point, and has a 1,150 mile shoreline that is longer than California’s and has 70,000 homes and 180,000 boats. With the dozens of straightaways available, it was almost inevitable that some of those boaters would set up impromptu races.

Thirty five years ago those informal competitions led to the organization of a friendly Saturday morning ‘shootout’ at a local watering hole, Captain Ron’s in Sunrise Beach. That has now grown into The Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, the largest unsanctioned charity boat racing event in the USA.

It attracts 100,000 people over a weekend who come to see hundreds of boats racing in 70 classes – everything from weekend boaters with stock 22 foot runabouts to full time professionals with ethanol-fuelled racing rockets.

The first electric boat appeared at the Shootout in 2018.  Randy Vance, an Editor at Boating magazine, took a Calypso Caribbean style boat out for a 25 mph run and, that being the first ever, was the speed record. The next year Randy piloted a Volt 180 from the Canadian Electric Boat Company, powered by an 80 kW (110 hp) Torqeedo Deep Blue 80. That moved the record up to 30mph / 48kmh.

Vision Marine Volt 18 breaking electric boat speed record
A Canadian Electric Boat Company Volt 180 with Torqeedo Deep Blue 80 set the record in 2019

A Poker Run chance encounter

A couple of years before that, Alex Mongeon, founder of the Canadian Electric Boat Company (CEBC), was participating in a combustion boat Poker Run on the St. Lawrence River when he noticed a distinguished older gentleman on the docks of the host yacht club who gave him ‘a look’.

It was a look that stuck with Mongeon. After he hauled his 46 footer onto its trailer and before he started to get ready for the evening’s charity dinner, he went back to the dock and found the gentleman. “I asked him if I did something wrong,” says Mongeon. “Did I go too close to your boat? ‘No, no, he said, nothing wrong’. Then he asked me how much fuel I had burned that day.”

“I was the CEO of an electric boat company, so I was a little bit ashamed to tell him, but I did. He gave me his business card and said ‘If you want to see a nice boat drop by my office on Monday.’”

It turned out that the gentleman was Ian Bruce, a legendary boat designer, two-time Olympic sailor and recipient of the Order of Canada – the country’s highest honour – which was awarded to him for his service to sailing in Canada and internationally.

Electric boat speed record being set by Vision Marine Technology Bruce 22 boat

The boat he showed Mongeon was a 22 foot powerboat with an inboard electric drive. He took Mongeon out for a spin and the CEO’s wheels started to spin.

In 2020 the LOTO Shootout was a smaller event for reasons we all know, and there was no electric class, but the Canadian Electric Boat Company would probably not have been there in any case.

Vision Marine Technologies hits the NASDAQ

Mongeon had been working throughout the pandemic year to transform the CEBC from a private company building slow moving displacement boats for the rental market to a public company with a 180 kilowatt high power electric outboard system that would give boaters the speed of a gas boat with the environmental and other advantages of an electric boat.

On December 20, 2020, he stood up to ring the bell at the opening of the NASDAQ Stock Exchange with the successful IPO of the new Vision Marine Technologies.

At the 2021 Shootout Patrick Bobby,  Mongeon’s long time business partner and Head of Performance & Special Projects at Vision, strapped the new motor – christened the E-Motion 180E – onto the hull of the Bruce 22 and set a new electric boat record for Lake of the Ozarks: 49 mph.

It was a big jump from 30 mph, and good enough for the Shootout, but still a long way from the world electric boat speed record of 86 mph set by Jaguar Racing on Lake Coniston in the UK  early 2019.

Making a mark with the new electric motor

Like all successful entrepreneurs, Alex Mongeon knows that promotion is a key part of growing a company. He figured a promotion that would really get people talking about his electric motor would be to set the world speed record.

So he turned to his friend Randall Truesdale, who is widely respected in the boating industry for his integrity and enthusiasm and has built a wide network of contacts. One of those is speedboat pilot Shaun Torrente, a three time world speedboat racing champion who holds “I think seven or eight world records.”

Torrente says “Alex called me a couple of times, to see if I was interested in an electric boat record,” says Torrente “but I was skeptical about electric, and also I was busy with my offshore racing and building the raceboat business I have with Sean Conner.” Mongeon is nothing if not persistent, though, and Torrente agreed to meet him at the boat industry IBEX show in Florida.

Three-Time World Speedboat Racing Champion Shaun Torrente

“I was still very leery,” says Shaun, “I was like, okay, he wants to set a record, I know from experience what that’s going to require in not only manpower but capital… and to be completely honest, Randall told me what boat they picked to use. And I was like, that’s gonna make it even harder.”

“Alex and I spoke for about an hour at IBEX, and I was gonna go back home – I live a couple of hours from the show – and then he convinced me to go for dinner with him and his team.”

“I’m glad I did, because that’s when I realized that number one, they were serious. And also Alex is a lot like me, if he says he’s going to make something happen, if he has an idea, he’s going to do everything he can to see it through. So…I said…let’s do it!”

Do it they did. The boat they eventually worked with was a Hellkats 32 foot Widebody catamaran with twin E-Motion 180E systems. They shocked the boating world at the 2022 Shootout.

That Hellkatz hit 106 miles per hour – more than doubling the previous year’s 49 mph and becoming the first electric boat in the world to go more than 100 miles an hour.

‘Let’s go faster’

Sean Conner, Torrente’s parner in S2 Racing, picks up the story from there. “As soon as that event ended Sunday, Alex said he wanted more, he wanted to go faster” laughs Conner. “Shawn was on board with that, but he wanted a safer boat, with a covered cockpit. Shawn and I were already working on one for our own S2 program. When we brought that up with Alex, he jumped on it and we formed a great partnership.”

Over the next few months the Vision and S2 team worked together on the new boat. They each had loads of experience and data, both the technicians and engineers that specialize in hull design and construction and the power train and battery experts from Vision.

With everyone trying to put together a boat that had never been built before, there were some inevitable setbacks and delays and before they knew it the big race was only a few weeks away.

“Everything works great on computer models,” says Torrent “but we were putting together the real thing.” They got the real thing in the water in Florida and all the tests and verifications went well, but the clock was ticking down quickly – just 23 days to go.

Sean Conner says “Probably the biggest thing is that we knew we needed to run it in the Lake of the Ozarks as much as we could because the water can get really rough really quickly with the winds in the mountain passes.”

They rented a couple of houses at LOTO, trailered the catamaran up there and set up a headquarters compound to get down to the nitty gritty of fine tuning everything.

I asked Conner if they had been concerned about having enough time to fully prepare and be ready to beat their own record. “Well, it was tight but that’s just what we do. We work with however much time we have, and just decide that we’re here to win races, we’re here to set the record,…and all the guys put in however many hours are needed to get it done and get it right.”

He also mentioned that “We were running the boat right up to sundown last night just to make sure of where we’re at.”

Saturday at the Shootout

Saturday morning at the Lake Of The Ozarks Shootout is like the beginning of any big sporting event. The waterfront and docks along the shore next to Captain Ron’s were buzzing with activity and jammed with hundreds of boats of all sizes, their drivers, technical teams, interested fans taking a look, autograph seekers getting in the way.

The actual race course is about a mile from Ron’s and around a point. From Sunrise Beach you can barely see the finish line, so there were large TV monitors set up for everyone to be able to view the races.

I pulled up a seat at one of the monitors and was surrounded by a group in matching racing livery that were obviously competing in one of the professional classes. One of the things you learn when you work with electric boats is that there are some combustion boaters who are interested in finding out more about electric, some who are unconvinced and some who are, well, a little more aggressive with their opinions.

So when they asked what I was there to see, I was a little bit unsure of what the reaction would be. It could not have have been better. Everyone was aware that Vision Marine and S2 would be trying to break their own record and they were rooting for them all the way.

People like speed

“I think they’re like me,” Shaun Torrente said later. “They like speed. People will always ask, well, ‘how far does it go and what’s the range and this and that’, but this is a 3/4 of a mile race. They don’t ask how far American Ethanol (an offshore racer that runs on an ethanol blend) can go on a tank of fuel.”

“It’s got four engines, it’s 6000 horsepower. It holds about 150 gallons on each side. It ain’t gonna go very far! Not to mention the engine won’t last too long. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it went 214 miles an hour today. It’s the same for us. We’re building something to go fast. We’re not building something to go far.”

A flotilla of boats stretches all along the 3/4 mile Shootout course

Indeed the Vision Marine S2 went fast. In the morning run– the first of two for the day – it clocked a top speed of 111 miles an hour – two mph better than the previous year’s mark. The team was definitely looking to get more in the afternoon, though.

Between races I visited the HQ compound where dozens of people from Vision and S2, along with gearing specialist Weissman Marine and battery partner Octillion Power Systems, were discussing ways to improve.

‘We’re moving stuff an 1/8 of an inch’

The ‘war room’ in the middle of the house had computers everywhere with data from the boat’s multiple sensors. Pat Weissman was particularly engrossed in scanning through the millisecond by millisecond data sheets to see what could be tweaked with the propellers and gears.

I asked him how much of a difference it could make in speed. “When you get to this level it gets harder and harder to make big leaps in performance. But if you can improve from the morning to the afternoon by 3 or 4 per cent – that means 4, maybe 5, 6 miles an hour depending on the water conditions – and you’ve got yourself another new record. It’s all about continuous improvement.”

“Last year we improved eight miles an hour between run one and run two,” said Sean Conner, “so it’s there. But when we say fine tuning, we’re moving stuff an eighth of an inch, maybe three eighths, we’re changing gear ratios, we’re tweaking propeller pitches, so it’s very, very small changes that add up.”

As the time for the afternoon run arrived, we headed out from the headquarters in a trio of electric boats. Two were the prototypes of the electric pontoons Vision Marine has just introduced in conjunction with Wired Pontoons.

I was in a third electric boat, with Nick Harvey, Brand Director of Four Winns, one of the first major manufacturers to adopt the Vision Marine system. Nick was in the captain’s seat of a 22 foot Four Winns H2E, the  first all-electric, series production bowrider on the market. Also on board were a couple of local Four Winns dealers.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in electric boats,” one of them told me, “but people still want to know that they’re for real. So something like this speed record could really validate things and get a lot of attention with our customers.”

The Four Winns H2e with one E-Motion 180E on the back and the S2 Racing catamaran with two

It always seems strange to me with motor racing – both on land in on water – that the best seats in the house are actually in your own house in front of the television or computer screen where cameras cover everything happening. In real life you just get a fleeting glimpse of what is going on.

That was even more true at the Lake of the Ozarks. The race route was lined with more boats than I had ever seen before, three quarters of a mile of a massive flotilla that looked as if there were a boat from every one of the 70,000 houses on the lake.

Hundreds of boats lining the entire course

The closest we could get in the H2E was a spot near the finish line buoys, but when the official run began it was good enough for us to see the S2 Speeding along the course with rooster tails flying. It was also easy to spot because it was followed the entire way by a helicopter with an ESPN crew.

At race finish we had to rely on cell phone calls to the others back at HQ who were watching on the official LOTOS channel for the results. But even as we were talking to them, people on the boats around us were shouting out ‘you did it!’ ‘one hundred and sixteen’ and ‘thats’s the electric one? Wow!”

Shaun Torrente had his own gauges in the boat to tell him his speed, but he still needed official confirmation.

Watching him open the cockpit of the S2 catamaran and climb out in his race suit with the ESPN helicopter overhead looked like the splash down scene from Apollo 13, and when someone shouted out the official results to him he had a smile and thumbs-up that could light up any movie screen.

Later that day, back at the compound, it was time for the popping of champagne and presentation of gifts to some of the key members of the record breaking team. It was nice to see that those weren’t just the high profile people, but also some of the support staff that are so crucial to any achievement like this.

Torrente said “With a world record, there’s no such thing as a small role. Every little contribution counts, even fetching the coffee and donuts for an all night work session. The record itself is just a symbol of all the work and the things that everyone has done together. It’s not the piece of paper, or the medal, or trophy, it’s all those memories that are attached to it.”

One symbolic moment was when Mongeon and Torrente brought out a poster celebrating their 2022 record, grabbed markers and together crossed out ‘109 mph’ and put in ‘116’.

That speed is, incredibly, almost five times bigger than the first Shootout electric record in 2018. It also shows how high power electric motors are closing in on the combustion versions.

“I don’t know if you saw it today,” Alex Mongeon said to me, “but there was another twin outboard catamaran today, same length as ours, 32 foot, gasoline, it won for its class. It went 117 miles per hour. So we’re very close, we are one mile away from the guys who have racing crews working months, even years on the settings of their boat. We were able to be just one mile per hour shy of that, with a boat that we started testing three weeks ago. We are pretty proud.” As they all should be.

I don’t know if Mongeon and Torrente had the same conversation after this year’s record as they had after last year’s, but I am pretty sure they both want to go even faster. We’ll see next year, on August 24, 2024, at the Lake of The Ozarks, Missouri, at the next edition of the Shootout.

Vision Marine Technologies 

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