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November 05, 2012

Spencer 87 – Betsy

Exploring the 87-Foot Quad Caterpillar Powered Spencer

In the biggest boat Spencer has built to date, he has accomplished exactly what he set out to do.


Four 1,150 hp Caterpillar engines, coupled to ZF pod-drives with dual counter-rotating props, power this 87 (it actually carries a 91-foot LOA). And that just scratches the surface of the innovative technology that Spencer spoke of incorporating in his boats. The captain slid this leviathan sideways into the Intracoastal from its bulkhead slip and idled us out to sea via the Hillsborough Inlet near Pompano, Florida. Seas ran 3 to 4 feet out of the east. Betsy hardly noticed the nasty little chop.

We experienced little bow rise when rising onto plane, because the thrust from the props runs parallel to the water’s surface, rather than angling down as standard props and shafts do. It planed in a mere seven seconds and hit top speed (just over 40 knots) in 40.

A comfy cruising speed of 34 knots came at 2,022 rpm while burning 160 gph. And remember, that’s with four engines. It will also cruise comfortably at 25 knots (1,500 rpm) on just two engines and at 30 with three.

In addition to having four pods that allow you to move the boat handily in any direction, Betsy also sports a hydraulic bow thruster. Perhaps in a stiff crosswind or foul current, you would need to augment the pods (though I doubt it). What it does do is allow this substantial hull to spin like a Bertram 31, especially in SportFish mode. Cruising along at 32 knots, I turned the wheel hard over, and the Spencer reversed course in an astounding two boat lengths — with hardly any loss of speed! Bottomfishermen in particular will appreciate being able to press a button and have the boat stay in place and on heading automatically.

Engine Room

The engine compartment feels a bit strange with four engines, and yet there’s still more than enough room to work around each power plant. Twin     38 kW Northern Lights generators sit at the forward end of the cavernous space. On centerline, you see a deployable 360-degree scanning sonar by Furuno. The system connects to the GPS, so if you exceed 12 knots with it deployed, it automatically withdraws into its tube.

The Spencer 87, with its beefy ZF 4000 pod-drives, qualifies as the first boat in the world to sport four such units. The carbon-fiber shafts that connect the pods and engines weigh a third of comparable metal shafts. And since four engines require a substantial supply of air, Livos air handlers deliver plenty of it — and remove any salt mist in the process.

Two Neville ice machines hide in the aft tunnel. One supplies a large box under a mezzanine seat, and the other dumps into a large container abutting a cockpit fish box.

Paul Spencer’s innovative trim-tab design boasts quarter-inch stainless-steel plates that will never break, and he mounts the electric actuators inside the hull to let you swap one out without having to jump into the water.

A new fire-suppression system called Pyrogen — an inert, nontoxic solid developed from rocket-fuel technology — protects all interior spaces. This compound remains stable until it is electrically or thermally activated. Pyrogen is not a gas, liquid or solid; it produces extremely fine potassium crystals that act as radical scavengers, inhibiting the combination of hydrogen and oxygen in the flames. This stops the fire at the molecular level and actually cools the fuel. Unlike some other systems, your electronics or turbochargers will suffer no thermal shock if you have to activate this system.