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Boating: Drop-Top Dream

Fluto Shinzawa

Marcel Shears, director of Australian boat maker Cabriolet Royale, recently received a phone call from a customer in St. Petersburg, Fla., who was thrilled that he had hit 74 mph in his new Cabriolet Royale 34 fiberglass speedboat.

“Why don’t you push it a little harder and do your age?” Shears asked.

“I just might,” replied the customer.

While two fuel-injected, 250-hp V-8 engines give the Cabriolet Royale a top speed of 50 mph, the St. Petersburg owner had fitted a pair of optional 415-hp motors to his boat to give it a boost. He ran the boat out of the water like a jet runner, taking advantage of its racing hull and powerful motors to come within 11 mph of his age: 85.

That is one side of the Cabriolet Royale. With a push of a button—and after easing off the gas—you can transform it from a growling, open-air speedboat to a mild-mannered soft-top in which you can cruise gently around the bay. According to Shears, the Cabriolet Royale is the only fully automatic convertible boat on the market. So even if you are a thrill seeker used to top-down speeding, you can also host nine of your friends on the boat and close the top when the sun gets too hot. “The vessel is designed to perform like a sports car but have the luxury of a Bentley,” Shears says.

It took the company more than two years to perfect the automatic top. First, Cabriolet Royale spent 18 months working on the boat’s electric windows, which you can raise automatically to fend off any waves that would otherwise splash into the saloon. Then the company looked at high-performance automobiles when designing the top. But what worked on cars did not translate to the speedboat. A convertible automobile, says Shears, uses about three yards of material for the top. The Cabriolet uses 15 yards, which can present some challenges when you are trying to open and close it at sea. Consider trying to raise the roof of your convertible while driving 20 mph. “It needs to be able to deal with the wind when you’re at sea,” says Shears. “One of the most difficult things is with a stiff breeze running, a top on a boat can fall apart and crumble. When the wind hits 15 yards of material, a top becomes like a sail.”

Cabriolet Royale used a sturdy tri-laminate material for the hood, enabling you to open and close the top without damaging the material. Using the same mechanism as the Porsche 911, the top folds out of a small trunk and automatically clicks firmly into place—in only 17 seconds—giving you an air-conditioned enclosed saloon.

For cooler weather, the Schmidt leather seats are heated. “It’s great if you’ve got a boat on Lake Michigan and want to go for a dusk run,” says Shears. “You want to watch the sunset, but it gets chilly.”

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