A jet-propelled export business

16:00, Dec 12 2009
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Konrad Scott has been in the jet-boat business for 30 years.

Two weeks ago at a race meeting near Melbourne, New Zealand jet sprint racer Peter Caughey sealed the world championship title in the superboat class, taking his tally of championships to six and two for his navigator Karen Marshall.

The event featured more than 50 competitors. All but one were propelled with jet units made by a small company called Scott Design & Manufacture in the tiny town of Winchester, where SH1 north of Timaru meets the junction for Geraldine.

"If you want to go jet sprinting and be competitive, you've pretty much got to start with a Scott jet," says Caughey, whose company, Sprintec, uses specially tuned Scott Waterjets for its high-performance racing boats.

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When Peter Caughey won the world jet sprint championship, almost all the craft at the event were powered by NZ-made jet units.

Scott Design's managing director, Konrad Scott, has been in the jet boat business for 30 years, starting out as a 15-year-old apprentice mechanic before becoming a keen jet sprint racer.

"We raced the Hamilton [Jet] product for a number of years and really pushed the boundaries with that," he said. "But we got to the stage where we couldn't extract any more performance from the jet and that's basically where our jet started, with a bigger, higher-flow jet. And because I was racing myself initially we were mixing with all the customers and it was quite easy for us to get in and engineer the products and test them ourselves, and really keep them ahead of the opposition."

Scott's waterjets have evolved, through competitive racing, into brutal beasts. A prototype of its latest and biggest jet, the 952, powered by a 2000hp engine, has been clocked accelerating a boat from zero to 130km/h in 2.1 seconds.

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"The acceleration is at the rate where the driver is almost blacking out," said Scott. "It's insane!"

While Scott himself no longer races – "it became a little bit of a conflict racing against our customers" – racing is the test bed for constant development of his company's products, which include complete jet units, impellors, nozzles and hulls.

Using Motec data logging equipment, Scott can analyse performance data from his own test boats and those of racers he sponsors, allowing every iteration of a prototype to be minutely assessed.

"The jet sprint scene is very hard on the jet so if we can get a jet to work in a jet sprint boat, it's phenomenal in a normal water craft. So jet sprinting initially was the main focus and we developed the jet sprint unit first. The spin-off from that was we developed a range of leisure jets and then commercial jets as well."

The racing scene now accounts for just 10% of Scott's business and the company is beginning a thrust into exports, particularly to North America, tailoring its boats to the larger sizes demanded in the market. The recession slowed demand but this was an opportunity to refine the development and he expects the market to pick up from March.

Another project under way involves jet propulsion units for seaboats, with Otago boat maker McLay beginning to offer Scott jets as an option. The key innovation was a trim capability, which stops "porpoising" and allows the boat to get up on the plane with different passenger loads.

"Over the last three years we've been developing a trim nozzle system which gives us the same trim control as a stern leg or an outboard. That's allowed us to take the jets into the sea boat market and really compete head to head with other forms of propulsion."

Like many in the boat business, Scott is flat tack in the run-up to Christmas and he's looking forward to a couple of weeks' boating in the holidays. Even then, it won't be total recreation.

"It's actually quite difficult to get away boating by ourselves because generally, if you go to a lake or the river, you run across customers and everybody either wants to go for a ride in the boat or have a chat."

Sunday Star Times