The marine industry lost one of its most innovative, respected and capable performance powerboat builders and operators this summer in a dramatic boat crash during a Lake of the Ozarks performance boat competition.
Mike Fiore, 44, the founder, president and CEO of Outerlimits Powerboats in Bristol, R.I., died of complications during surgery three days after the high-speed Aug. 23 crash. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Fiore was the throttleman and the boat’s owner, Joel Begin, 47, of Valley Field, Quebec, was at the wheel. Begin suffered injuries but survived.
The two were operating a newly built Outerlimits 46 with twin MerCruiser 1350s. The investigating police agency, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in its incident report said the boat “lost control at high speeds due to wind interference, becoming airborne and overturning twice before re-entering the water bow first and coming to rest end-over-end on the water.”
The late-morning accident occurred during the 26th annual Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, the largest non-sanctioned powerboat race in the country. This is the first fatality from a crash at the shootout, which has run for 26 years.
The winning boat — the “Top Gun” — hit a maximum speed of 244 mph. Fiore’s father, Paul Fiore, says the Outerlimits cat was traveling about 180 mph when the accident occurred.
Numerous amateur videos of the crash were uploaded to YouTube.
“There was a sense of outright shock because the optics themselves — what you were seeing — were so striking,” says Nathan Bechtold, who photographed the event for the website www.lakeexpo.com. “It wasn’t just a boat that kind of tumbled and hit the water. That thing soared. It flew through the air. It was just unbelievable. You never, ever expect to see something like that. There were people shouting and screaming afterward, but I could also feel the sense of everyone being stunned. There was a silence, too.”
Bob Teague of Teague Custom Marine in Valencia, Calif., was broadcasting the event for several Fox Sports television affiliates. He described the accident in one word: “sickening.”
Outerlimits will forge ahead, preparing its new boats for the Miami International Boat Show in February 2015, says Paul Fiore, the founder and former owner of Hustler Powerboats who now works for Outerlimits.
“It’s an impossible situation emotionally,” Paul Fiore told Trade Only in September. “Business-wise, we have lots to do. The business has to keep going. We have a lot of designs we have been working on. [Mike] has left a lot of ideas for us. There is a lot of work to be done here.” Outerlimits will have a new center console, a new V-bottom and a new catamaran at the Miami show.
Erik Christiansen, general manager of Mercury Racing, met Mike more than 10 years ago and the two became friends. “The marine industry isn’t what you would call ‘huge’ and the performance segment of it is even smaller,” says Christiansen. “So when you lose someone like Mike, it’s devastating for everyone in the industry. It impacts everyone, not only the families.”
Mike should be remembered as a boatbuilder who incorporated cutting-edge building methods and materials, says Christiansen. “He was always focused on producing a technically superior boat. His factory was an old America’s Cup shop.”
The elder Fiore described his son as a motivated, intelligent youngster who “always loved working with his hands.”
“I never had to twist his arm to come to work,” Paul says. “When he was in high school, he would get out of school and come right to the shop and hang out. He started out doing wiring and helping with engine installations. I taught him as we went along. He just took to it.”
Mike’s hands-on personality carried over as his career developed. “He was a guy who could do anything to build a boat — from shooting the gelcoat, to laying the glass up, wiring, installing the engines — you name it,” says Paul.
But he was also quite the businessman, his father says, describing him jokingly as a “wheeler and dealer.”
“He liked to develop new and different products,” says Paul. “And he was good at selling. He was never satisfied with whatever he built. He wanted the next boat to be better. That’s kind of the way he lived his life, always looking for the next best thing. A perfectionist.”
Mike worked for his father at Hustler Powerboats on Long Island, N.Y., before starting Outerlimits in 1993 on Long Island and later moving to Rhode Island. Paul sold Hustler and stayed with that company for about five years before returning to work alongside his son.
The roughly 30 employees of Outerlimits work out of an 80,000-square-foot building. Before the Great Recession, the company built as many as 30 boats in a year. Outerlimits now builds about a dozen annually. The custom go-fasts range from 29 to 52 feet, with prices of $300,000 to more than $1 million. Outer Limits uses carbon fiber post-cured epoxy to build all of its vessels, which include monohulls and cats.
One of Mike’s best friends, Frank Sciacca, who also serves as the family’s general counsel, says Mike always had a clear vision of his goals.
“His dream was to build the Lamborghini of powerboats,’ says Sciacca. “Not only was he creative and smart, he was a hard, hard worker. He put a lot of time and effort into his dreams and was very inspiring as a result and had a tremendous impact on the industry.”
Sciacca also points out that Mike was a skilled powerboat operator.
“He was always looking for innovative ways to make the boats better and faster,” says his father. “He tried to keep the costs under control because there is a tremendous amount of labor that goes into these boats. It would take us two or three weeks to sand the bilge before it was ready to be painted. That was always his trait, to have the best. The only guy he competed with was himself, especially in the V-bottom world.”
But he was also a down-to-earth fellow, too. “He could talk to anybody,” says Paul Fiore. “Everyone loved the guy.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue.