The name Formula has a long and distinguished history as the first of the late Don Aronow's go-fast companies. The larger-than-life Aronow once confided to me that he liked starting companies more than he liked running them, so there are more than a few companies still afloat that bear his flamboyant imprimatur.
Formula is arguably the most successful of Aronow's offspring, however, having been owned and well managed by the Porter family for more than a quarter of a century. Indiana may not be known as a boatbuilding capital, but Formula has grown into a powerhouse, building boats that combine a speed-for-everyman attitude with luxurious appointments.
Formula's talented John Adams uses modern technology to create new designs (Aronow's "new" designs sometimes bore an uncanny resemblance to those from companies he'd sold), and the 48 Yacht on these pages is the new Formula flagship. An update of the 47 ("On Board", December 2003), the 48 has all of the best features of the 47, along with some clever updates, but most important, it feels like it had an adrenaline injection. With a new diesel power package and an entirely new hull, this is Man O'War compared to the 47's plow horse.
Adams penned a slippery hull that is deeper and longer, but just as solid and predictable. During our testing off Florida's Sanibel Island, we easily topped out at over 33 knots (38+mph) even though the water was mirror smooth (smooth water is notoriously "sticky, since it doesn't provide the aeration that allows a hull to break free and run fast).
The Formula 48 disproves an unfortunate misconception that speed and fuel economy are antithetical, but it isn't necessarily true. In fact, at a comfortable cruising gallop of 30 knots, the Formula 48 sips fuel at just 1.5 gallons a mile.
Even better, a fast but economical speed gives the skipper a host of choices: beat the other boats to the anchorage without mortgaging the house; outrace a storm front without breaking the piggy bank; or, best of all, simply go fast without feeling guilty.
The engine package for the 48, using twin 660 hp Cummins QSM11s, is so right that they might have been created for each other. In fact, the match is so good that Formula doesn't even offer optional engines.
Grab a handful of the ZF throttles, push them forward, and the 48 comes onto plane like a boat half her size. There's none of the usually notchy feel when the turbocharger cuts in-just a smooth rush of power that brings the 48 up flat and fast.
Tuck your rear into the flip-up bolster of the double-wide helm seat, plant your feet on the tilted foot brace, and turn the wood-rimmed wheel. The 48 has Teleflex power steering, so there's no effort, yet you know you're actually attached to rudders, unlike some systems that are so limp there's no feel. The Formula 48 will bank smoothly into a long turn as if saying, "C'mon, you wuss, really crank my wheel over."
Muster up some courage, spin the wheel, and the Formula just banks a bit steeper and turns fast, both props biting solidly. I could go on about the handling but the fact is this yacht will paint a grin on your face every time you take the helm.
Our test boat had the optional hardtop, which, with full enclosure, offers you the comfort of air conditioning or heating. The cockpit makes good use of the 14-foot beam for an entertainment area aft, with twin settees, a helm deck with burled dash and double companion seating, plus behind the helm a walk-in wet bar with room for a fridge and barbecue. A walk-through windshield with molded steps and a sturdy rail leads to the foredeck.
Duck below, however, and the performance image vanishes, replaced by one of comfortable opulence. Impeccably book-matched American cherry covers the bulkheads; Ultraleather makes you want to settle into the curved couch, and a Bose stereo system envelopes you.
Even the galley is elegant, with Corian counters, a built-in wine rack and a lighted cabinet for tempered glassware. Some touches are almost invisible, like the dovetailed solid maple roller drawers, but the stowage is something to love. There's even a hidden pantry, with three portable bins for extra supplies, under the maple and ebony sole.
The master stateroom is forward, with a centerline berth that has a most unusual feature: at the touch of a button, the upper portion of the bed raises for watching the flat-screen TV or reading. Though there are drawers under the berth, it also raises on gas lifts to reveal a fully lined stowage area.
The master head is surprisingly large and has Corian counters, Vacuflush MSD, and a big cabinet. The feature I really liked, however, was the spacious round shower, which has a fully adjustable shower nozzle plus an overhead rain shower that is going to feel really good at the end of a day on the water.
Guests aren't treated as second-class citizens, and have their own den/stateroom aft. This is a perfect place for kids to get away from the ancients, and Formula has recognized this with a flatscreen TV complete with ports for the likes of PlayStation and GameBoy. For overnight guests, this area quickly converts by folding down a Pullman from the after bulkhead into a pair of single berths or, for adults, a full-size queen. There's even a private head with shower (this also doubles as the day-head), and the standard combination washer/dryer is hidden in this den as well.
Every mechanic knows that good access to the engines is crucial, and not just for doing major work. Make it difficult to check the fluids and batteries and an owner may not check them, with resulting problems. On the 48, the entire cockpit settee hinges up electrically for superb access. Inside the engineroom, there's diamond-plate flooring.
The standard boat is surprisingly well equipped, but I have to mention one item that seems to summarize the thoughtful and seamanlike approach Formula uses on its yachts. A soft-sided tool bag is provided, which holds all the specialized items required to maintain the 48, ranging from a prop wrench (with spare nut) to a pressure pump for the steering. Formula doesn't even mention it on the equipment list, but if a local mechanic doesn't have the right tool, you'll go from out in the boonies to stuck in the boonies.
Contradictory as it may sound, the Formula 48 Yacht is both fast and economical. With a luxuriously appointed interior and performance that is just plain fun, Formula has a real winner.
Contact: Thunderbird Products, (800) 736-7685; www.formulaboats.com.