2006 - TIME OUT WITH JOHN ARRUDA

Had everything gone to plan, John Arruda would be flying jets high above the water rather than building and installing exotic turbine engines for boats that scream across it. Born and raised in Oslo, Norway, where his father - a former F-4 jet pilot - owned an Evinrude/Johnson outboard dealership, he came to the United States in 1986 with dreams of flight. Those dreams didn't pan out, yet Arruda, now 36, did end up with a pretty sweet gig as a yacht captain in south Florida.

But yachts didn't move fast enough for Arruda, who earned a yacht broker's license and got swept up in the go-fast world. After rigging and installing big-power, blown engines in performance boats for his own customers, Arruda "got bored" with piston power and set his sights on turbines. In 2000, he opened Turbine Marine, which has become perhaps the nation's top high-performance turbine marine engine installation shop. With the unfailing support of AMF Offshore Racing honcho John Haggin, Arruda has started a turbine engine program for the Offshore Super Series' new turbine class. We caught up with Arruda in his Pampano Beach, FL., shop by phone. - MATT TRULIO

How did Turbine Marine get involved with AMF?

John (Haggin) went to the Sarasota (Fla.) poker run, and saw us pull in with the 46 Skater, Hell Fire. He was there in Animal House, his 51-foot Outerlimits, and he took one look at Hell Fire, which had turbines, and thought it was the greatest thing he'd ever seen. Two weeks later I had a deposit check on my desk, and we pulled the Sterlings out of Animal House and rigged it with turbines. He raced it for a year in OPA (Offshore Performance Association).

What's your relationship with AMF?

We build and maintain all their equipment, as far as the boats are concerned. They basically want to market the turbine class in OSS, and they're going to be supporting people who build turbine boats (for the class) and pay us to maintain them so they can come in and race without any worry. Basically, we want to do what Mercury and Sterling do for their customers, support the boats they have under their banner. That's what we're trying to achieve.

We can run a whole season plus on the turbines without any work other than routine maintenance. We're trying to build an Extreme class, s and build confidence in that class.

Without John, we wouldn't be where we are now. He lets us test everything on his race boats, and that's where things are proven. He funds all the racing, and that basically gives us free reign to do what we want.

Turbine engines are mysterious to most people. What are the greatest misconceptions about them?

That they're fire-breathing dragons (laughs). We don't do that and won't do that. Everything we do is water-jacketed. There is less heat in our engine rooms than in big-block engine rooms. Turbines do use more fuel than big-block engines, but they burn kerosene-diesel, which is cheaper.

And you're currently developing a bio-fuel program.

Yes. Basically, we've been getting all of our technical information from companies in California, where it's a big thing to keep emissions down. They're strict about everything. We're the first ones, at least that I know, to try to develop bio-fuel for a racing program.

What's the source material and where do you get it?

Used vegetable oil from local fast-food restaurants, It comes in 55-gallon drums and we pick it up once a week. We filter it, add chemicals to it and dilute it with 10-percent kerosene. It's a little bit of work, but it's worth the effort. We burn a lot of fuel racing. We're trying to give something back with this program. Sure, it would be easier to just call in a fuel truck, but it's certainly worth looking at.

Are there any qualitative differences between the bio-fuel you're making and kerosene-diesel?

Some differences, yes-we're still trying to get the mixture right. We're still testing and we're not ready to start using it yet. I don't know what the long-term applications are.

What's are the biggest challenges in bringing turbine engines to high-performance pleasure boats and race boats?

Educating the customer on how to operate the boat properly is one. Turbines were meant for aircraft, and pilots generally are educated about them. We have to educate the new boat owner on what he has, but that's actually an easy thing. Turbine engines are not for everyone. They're for someone who has an idea of what they're doing. But those are the people who come to us. Building the engines and installing them in the boats, we have that down. That's not hard. The problem we're having is that we use a lot of military technology such as engines and reduction gearboxes, and those are getting harder and harder to find in surplus. If you have unlimited amounts of money, you can just pull them out of aircraft but that's expensive. So to make it semi affordable, we have to remanufacture parts ourselves.

Is there anything Turbine Marine does to make a turbine engine easier to operate?

We really can't do anything to make these engines easier to operate. They are what they are. You have to spool them to a certain percentage to start, the batteries have to be well charged to start and you have to keep them below a certain exhaust gas temperature range. But we do have warning lights and emergency shutdowns built into our electronics.

Having good gauges that work properly is important, but the big thing is to educate the customer about what the readings might mean, and what to do if they're not correct. For example, turbine engines are cooled by airflow, so they can get hot during idle If a customer knows that, he might bump up the idle to keep the engine cool.

Do you have more business than you can handle?

I have more business than I can handle with my current staff of 10, yes, but we're comfortable. We're booked up for about a year and a half. When we're not booked up for a year, we get nervous.

I have a lot of good guys who care about what they do. A company is only as good as its people.

Where do you see the OSS Turbine Extreme class going in the next five years?

I see us getting real busy. It would be nice to have other manufacturers use our staff and have their people understand how to use and service it. Right now, we service everything we build and one of our challenges is to build a service network. A good mechanic can do everything required for routine service other than go into the engines.

Turbine engines are not for everyone, but for ultra-high-performance racing I think they're the ticket and the most reliable package there is, unless you're going with a (Mercury Racing) 525EFI (laughs). They're pretty reliable, too, but not everybody wants a 525.

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