When you look at Ocean Express Powerboat’s client list from the 1980’s, it is like looking at a who’s who list of elite powerboat racing teams. The list includes The Bud Light Boat, Benehana, Miss Gallo Wine, Team Chrysler, Wolverine and Frostway Express. All of these catamarans were designed and built by Ross Focht, chief designer of Focht Design and founder of Ocean Express Powerboats.
Enthusiasts of power boat racing still remember the excitement created by these catamarans as they were winning World Championships and setting speed records. But these Cats are more than a mere footnote in the Golden Era of Offshore Power Boat Racing. These catamarans are also the story about a man who followed his passion and now more than 30 years later, he is still working with the same passion. (More)
It all started rather innocently in 1975 when Ross purchased a 27 foot Magnum called “Super Banana”. The Magnum powerboat was known as a “go fast boat”. After Ross took his friend Bud Drettmann for a boat ride in the “Super Banana”, Bud caught the fever and decided that he needed a Magnum too!
Bud asked Ross to find him a used 27 Magnum that he could buy. Once they found a boat, Bud then asked Ross if he would rig the boat for racing and join him as his racing partner. This is how Active Marine and Express Racing got their start. After this modest entry into powerboat racing, they decided that their next boat had to be bigger, better and faster. Ross knew the only way they could “afford” the boat they needed, was for Ross to build it himself.
Ross designed and built his first boat, which was a deep V mono hull in 1977. It was called “Active8Er”. It was tops in its class. The “Active8Er” did not lack anything. In reflection, Ross laughs, “The only way you could have put any more money into the “Active8ER” would be to tape a fifty dollar bill to the deck”. Bud and Ross raced “Active8Er” for several years in regional races and gained a reputation as one of the boats to beat. However, during the 1979 “Spirit of Detroit Race” Ross had an epiphany.
Team KAAMA was also entered in the 1979 “Spirit of Detroit Race” on the Detroit River. As a National Champion from California, Team KAAMA was a highly respected competitor and well known throughout the powerboat community. When they came into town for the race, they stayed as guests at Active Marine’s headquarters on the Black River. Ross expected Team KAAMA to bring one of their championship V-hull boats for the race. But Team KAAMA brought a new strange looking wooden boat built by an English company called Cougar. When Ross saw the boat he wanted to laugh.
You need to remember that at this time, high performance offshore race boats were all deep V-hulls, manufactured out of fiberglass. Nobody was building high performance race boats out of wood anymore. There was another oddity about Cougar’s boat; it had two hulls. It was a catamaran. Nobody in the Michigan area had ever seen such a strange boat. It was so huge and it did not look like it could even make it to the starting line.
However, during the 1979 “Spirit of Detroit Race”, Team KAAMA smoked everybody in the field, including “Active8Er”. Ross remembers “I had Active8Er running strong with a full throttle. Then from behind me, I could see in the distance a rooster tail approaching me. The next thing I saw was this huge wooden boat just fly by me. I could not believe my eyes. I had to look at my gauges. I thought we had stopped dead in the water.” By the end of the day, Ross made two promises to himself: First, he would never build another V-hull boat and second, he needed to design and build a catamaran.
In Europe, the Cougar Company had a reputation for building fast wooden catamarans, and Ross saw first hand just how fast a Cougar catamaran could run. But the wooden catamarans also had a reputation for “coming apart” in heavy seas. So Ross decided that his catamaran would be built with new high-tech composite materials so the catamaran would be light, steady and fast. Ross was innovative, using new materials and methods never before used in the construction of a power catamaran. The result was the first catamaran ever built using composite material technology.
The first catamaran built by Focht Design was the 33’ catamaran called “Active”. It was an awesome catamaran. It was everything Ross had hoped it would be: light, steady and fast. Butch Ryan, a racing enthusiast in Michigan, bought the 33’ “Active” catamaran and had success racing in regional competition.
The next season, Butch asked Ross to design and build a new catamaran for his race team. Butch wanted a 37” catamaran that could to win World Championships. Butch wanted to enter into the top ranking of the elite national powerboat circuit. Ross went to work and created a sleek new 37’ catamaran called “Express”. The racing team was sponsored by the Frostway Company.
In 1982, with Butch at the wheel and Ross at the throttle, Butch took the Express S-30 to the Powerboat Championship in Key West, Florida. By the end of the competition, the Express won a World Championship in the Sport Class, running the fastest race ever in its class, and set the World Kilo Speed Record for the fastest lap ever run at 114!. The “Express” then went on to win the APBA High Point Championship for the year. Now that’s what you call a good year!
These were exciting times for Focht Design. Other teams would describe a Focht Designed boat as “Hard to catch and tough to beat”. This reputation did not escape the new management team at the Baja Boat Company. They had recently bought the successful Baja Boat Company and wanted to introduce a new product, a high performance catamaran.
The Baja Boat Company asked Ross if Focht Design would like to design and build Baja’s catamarans. Ross agreed to take on the challenge and created a new 33’ sport catamaran called the Baja N-Forcer. Ross built the catamarans in Algonac, Michigan and the Baja -N-Forcer was sold by Baja authorized dealers throughout the United States.
A lot has happened since the “Super Banana”. But Ross still has the same passion for building fast catamarans. He is excited every day for the opportunity to design and build innovative world class catamarans at Ocean Express Powerboats, the manufacturing company he founded in 1985. Ross does not build many race boats today. Ocean Express Powerboats now has a reputation as a builder of world class catamarans for Fishing, Sport and Poker Runs. With a twinkle in his eye, Ross will tell you that he puts a little bit of one of his championship catamarans into every new boat that he builds. Experience a championship performance in an Ocean Express Catamaran; building the best value on the water.