Stevens Aeromodel WaterBoard Review

Take the plunge with Steven AeroModel's first aquatic offering! It's the WaterBoard, the airboat that has everyone talking!

Splash

Introduction

Ah, the summer. The warm weather, the calm winds, the time to bring out all those winter projects to the field, the time to go to the lake. And this summer, there's going to be an extra faithful companion at the local pond for me.

STEVENS AEROMODEL WATERBOARD

Length:21"
Beam:7.25"
Weight:16 oz.
Servo:One Hitec HS-82MG
Transmitter:Spektrum DX7 Special Edition
Receiver:Spektrum AR500 full-range receiver
Battery:Hyperion CX 2100mAh two-cell LiPo, capable of a 5C charge rate
Motor:Suppo BL400 2200kV brushless motor
Speed controller:Suppo 30-amp brushless ESC
Manufacturer:Stevens Aeromodel
Available From:Stevens Aeromodel
Price:$49.99

I usually go for the R/C models of the winged variety, but I like to dabble outside of my comfort zone every now and then. Bill Stevens of Stevens Aeromodel notified me of the release of the tongue-in-cheek-named WaterBoard (tongue-in-cheek motto: "enhanced entertainment"), and I figured I would give it a try. After all, what's the worst that could happen? Having to jump into the water to rescue a balsa boat? Probably so — but even with the potential for such embarrassment, I figured it would be worth the try.

So, let's see what this WaterBoard is all about. If it's anything like the previous Stevens Aero kits I've reviewed (and I've done my fair share, believe me), this should be a far cry from torture.

Kit contents

The last thing one will find opening the box is a plastic hull — or anything that comes close to being considered an ARF. True to Stevens Aero tradition, balsa and plywood is where it's at. Here's what I stumbled upon.

  • Balsa and plywood: Most sheets are on the chunky side (of up to 1/8" in thickness) to ensure rigidity as you skim across the waters.
  • Neoprene: A few laser-cut gaskets will prevent your electronics from getting wet.
  • Hardware: There's not a lack of it, either. In two separate bags, I found basswood for the leading edge, antenna tubing, music wire, aluminum and silicone tubing, EZ connectors and a variety of screw, among other findings.

There's a good bit you'll need before you let the WaterBoard sail away, both for building and in terms of electronics. Here's a shopping list:

  • Glue: You'll need a variety of thick and thin CA glues (and I opted for Mercury Adhesives' XF100 as well), along with slow-curing epoxy.
  • Balsa filler: Remember, this is a boat. We don't want holes. Got it?
  • Lacquer wood finish, both in can and spray: I used the recommended DEFT brand. These will be your sealing utensils, along with baby powder (which will get mixed with the sealer).
  • Lacquer-based color spray: I also used the recommended Design Master Color Tool ones, usually available in the floral department of your local craft store.
  • Sanding blocks: You'll need your fair share of them, so get ready to apply elbow grease.
  • Tools of the trade: Screwdrivers, hex wrenches, hobby knifes, masking tape and whatever else suits your fancy will certainly come in handy.
  • One servo: For the rudder, I went with the recommended HS-82MG from Hitec.
  • Three-channel receiver and appropriate radio: You don't need to use a pistol-grip transmitter, and in fact I used my beloved Spektrum DX7SE. I also used a full-range AR500 receiver to go along with it.
  • Power system: Stevens Aero supplied a Suppo pack, made of a 30-amp speed controller and a 2200kV brushless outrunner. Attached to the motor was a 7x3.5, three-blade propeller from GWS.
  • Battery: I bought the recommended Hyperion 2S 2100mAh 25C LiPo from Stevens Aero, and a nice perk about it is that it can be charged as high as 5C, putting you back in the water in no time. That said, I also used some 1300mAh packs without much of a problem.
  • Extra 16AWG wire: You'll need it to route the motor wires down to the speed controller.

<font size=-2>Spektrum AR500 full-range receiver</font>
Spektrum AR500 full-range receiver
Frequency: 2.4Ghz DSM2
Number of channels: 5
Voltage range: 3.5 - 9.6V
Weight: 7 grams
Dimensions: 21.6 x 30.1 x 12.3mm
MSRP: $59.99

<font size=-2>Hitec HS-82MG servo</font>
Hitec HS-82MG servo
Gear type:Metal
Speed:.12 /.10 sec @ 60 degrees
Torque:39/47 oz. in. (4.8v/6v)
Weight:.66 oz
Size:1.17"x.47"x1.16"

<font size=-2>Suppo BL400 2200kV brushless motor</font>
Suppo BL400 2200kV brushless motor
Type:Brushless outrunner
RPM/Volt (kV):2200
Weight:1.82 oz.
Cells:2S-3S LiPo
Maximum current:22 amps
Maximum output:220 watts
Connector:3.5mm bullet connectors included
Price:$15.99

<font size=-2>Suppo 30-amp brushless speed controller</font>
Suppo 30-amp brushless speed controller
Maximum current:30 amps
Maximum voltage:3S LiPo
Weight (without wires):28g
BEC:1.5 amps
Connector:3.5mm bullet connectors included
MSRP:$19.99

<font size=-2>Hyperion CX G3 2S 2100mAh LiPo</font>
Hyperion CX G3 2S 2100mAh LiPo
Capacity:2100mAh
Cells:2
Weight:112 grams
C Rating:25C
Size:105x34.1x14.9mm
Price:$29.99

Assembly

Putting together the WaterBoard is a one-morning affair, let there be no doubt about that. It snaps together in true Stevens Aero fashion, and it will look like it was intended to in no time.

Finishing it, on the other hand, is a more time-consuming ordeal. Sanding, sealing, painting, re-sealing if needed, sanding again and so on and so forth will undoubtedly be the bigger hassle. But no worries, as it is something that can be done little by little, evening by evening.

Hull

There's not much more to this boat that a big hull, a motor mount and a rudder, so suffice it to say that the first item is going to take up most of the time. It all starts just like one would start building an airplane wing: A rib here, a former there, the edges come next, and next thing you know, you have a grid-shaped hull, just like that.

Afterward come the battery tray, roughly in the middle of the hull, followed by a plywood sheet to which the battery hatch and motor mount will later be attached to. Attach the leading edge and you're done.

A bit of sealing comes next (and it's going to become common along the build process. It's important to tape the ribs and formers beforehand, or otherwise they won't take the glue as easily afterward. A few coats of spray sealer around the electronics bay and motor mount area should do the trick.

The bottom of the hull, made of thin plywood, goes on next, and it's a process that needs to be done slowly. I found it easiest to tape part of it in place, glue it with some CA, then move on to the next part and repeat. For the more stubborn parts, I opted for a couple of drops of CA kicker to set it in place instantly. I also found that Mercury's XF100 (reviewed by yours truly in here) worked best in these areas, since it adheres best to plywood.

More sealing comes along next, and this time it involves running small fillets of medium CA all along the insides of the formers, mainly where they intersect with the plywood hull. And, not to be outdone, the transom gets its fair share of epoxy-glue fillets along the way — it is, after all, where all the electronics will reside, and that means that water is off-limits in this area.

Finally, it's time to put a top on this thing. It's up to one's mood and preference whether to build the top deck first and attach next, or to build put it into place one half a time. I opted for the latter, but either method will work just fine. The main things to worry about it making sure everything aligns just fine (and the tabbed notches do help in that regard) and that one uses slow-curing CA or epoxy during this step. It's that simple — and after a bead of CA along the edges for yet more sealing, the work in the hull is all done.

Sealing the electronics bay might be one of the more important things one can do over here, for obvious reasons, and so thinned epoxy comes to the rescue. Diluted with either a small amount of rubbing alcohol or by merely giving it a little warm-up with the heat gun, roughly an ounce of the liquid concoction goes down below the deck. Swish it around a bit, warm it up some more if it starts to set too quickly, and in no time there will be a fancy — and waterproof — glassed floor at the bottom. Perfection.

The motor mount and the battery hatch are simple, one-step builds — grab from balsa sheet, put together the puzzle, glue, fill with balsa, admire your creation. Easy enough.

Finishing

Now, after this brief warm-up of balsa-building and spray-sealing, let the real work begin.

To get things started, the hull's edges, both top and bottom, get a healthy amount of sanding. And, to figure out the correct amount of beveling, Stevens Aero includes a handy radius gauge so you can keep track of how much you have removed thus far.

So, armed with a dose of patience, a sanding block and the handy gadget, I sanded away, checked, sanded away, checked and repeated 2.5 gazillion times. A good while later, the WaterBoard had sleek, rounded lines all throughout.

And so, with that done, the trying part of the WaterBoard experience begins: sealing.

I wish I could say this was fun, but even for someone who could pull an two back-to-back all-nighters covering a plane for the fun of it, this felt like a necessary evil. Mild torture it was, one could argue.

The process starts by whipping a mysterious elixir: sanding sealer and baby powder, in equal parts by volume. Crazy? You betcha. Effective? Mostly — and surprisingly — so.

You will need to apply at least two (preferably three) even, not-too-thick coats. The best way to apply it is with a foam brush or roller. In no more than an hour, it should be dry and ready for the next coat — but a quick sanding might be in order.

After a few coats on everything but the bottom of the hull, it's time to apply a thorough coat (or three) of the spray sealer. Everywhere. Top. Bottom. Sides. You name it. And, after that, the paint scheme of your choosing comes next. And, after that, you guessed it: more spray sealing.

Think you're done yet? You just might be — but after a few wet sandings (or maybe a few outings in the pond) the WaterBoard might be going back for some emergency re-sealing. Hopefully your results will be better than mine, but I had my fair share of trips back to the workbench. Trial by error, one would say.

Electronics and final touches

The WaterBoard is all built up, all sealed up and all prettied up — but without some power, it will be at the mercy of waters and winds. Therefore, it's time to add some control to this unique airboat.

After adding the extensions to the motor wires, attaching the Suppo to the motor mount is a simple step, but you might need to add a bit of right thrust (when seen from the bow) to the motor. I installed the recommended 3/16" silicon-tube shims, and has served me right to this day.

With the servo in place, route all the wires to their desired destinations, then it's time to attach the motor mount to the hull with the provided screws. And, with the rudder in place, attaching it to the servo is simple a matter of bending and routing the provided music wire (hooray for included pushrod connectors, too.)

Finally, all the electronics get put in their respective places, be it with some double-sided tape or hook-and-loop tape. The antenna, should you be using an AR500 receiver as yours truly did, gets routed up the hull and mast tube. Finally, with the help of some hook-and-loop tape, the battery won't be going anywhere. Secure the electronics bay with the hatch and the included screws, add the propeller (remember: numbers face forward), and your WaterBoard creation is ready for prime-time.

When it comes to control throws, it's quite simple: More is better. That said, a hefty amount of expo is the only way to go, or else you'll be zig-zagging erratically up and down the pond. A respectable 55-percent expo was my magic number, but your mileage may vary.

And now, swim trunks in hand, canoe at the ready and with the LiPo fully charged (after all, the only thing more embarrassing than capsizing your boat is to have it die in the middle of the lake), let's see what this WaterBoard is all about that it has people talking so much.

WaterBound

I must admit my naοvetι when it comes to the aquatic side of this hobby. I've putted around with some sailboats, and I've done the powered thing a bit as well. But I also know full well about having to jump into the water to rescue a sinking ship. So, with equal parts excitement and apprehension, I checked the control surfaces one more time, made sure all the hatches were sealed and plopped the vessel into liquid territory. I bid fare thee well, for I knew not of its sure return. Acceleration soon ensued.

Maiden voyage — and beyond

After just a few low-throttle laps around the pond at my R/C club, my worst fears were realized: I had been a wimp about this whole thing, and I had been (once again) proven wrong. The WaterBoard, despite its name, is not to be feared and handles itself with much more dignity than I had expected. At half speed, it is one gentle boat, and it glides over the water with ease. It lifts its bow up along the way, as if to tell the world of its Colorado Springs pedigree, but it doesn't feel stern-heavy, either. And even at less than half throttle, rudder response is surprisingly good.

Ramming up the throttle past the halfway point, the WaterBoard does come to life in a completely different manner. It starts to rise up some more, skipping across the pond at decent speeds and leaving little wake in its path. Turns, for obvious reasons, should be done in a more gentle way, for otherwise it will truly become an airboat in the full sense of the term — in short order, too.

At higher speeds, drifting is the name of the game here. With small rudder inputs (and here's where I say "You're welcome" for suggesting the 55-percent expo for it), the WaterBoard will make sharp turns as it skims the waters and drifts horizontally like a wild thing from a foreign workbench. Throttle control is important here as well, as it becomes a good way to control how far one gets with it.

While there are plenty of suggestions and tips about how to fine-tune the WaterBoard, I did not have to resort to any further tinkering. My boat skips a little, and that's to be expected. It could be solved by installing some plywood strips along the hull, but I believe I will keep my WaterBoard the way it came into this world and not worry about adjusting the radius along the hull's edges or install a metal plate along the stern (those are some of the myriad tuning tips from Bill Stevens). It may be the beginner in me, but I like it just the way it is, and that's good enough for this fella.

Erring on the side of caution, and always hoping that I would not have to go for an emergency swim, I set the timer on my DX7SE to seven minutes. That proved to be a more-than-conservative estimate for it, and I could have easily gone for a couple more minutes with it without having to worry about the 2100mAh battery running out of juice. I also used a 1300mAh 2S pack, and that provided a decent five minutes of R 'n' R, with electrons to spare.

Special aquatic performance

Let's face it: There's not a whole lot you can do with a vehicle that's supposed to stay glued to the water in order to advance. It is not meant to fly or — especially — be submerged, but that doesn't mean the limits cannot be pushed. Here are some of my favorite WaterBoarding techniques:

  • Drifting: As previously discussed, this might very well be the bread and butter of this airboat. By adding small rudder inputs while turning, the WaterBoard will slide across the pond indefinitely until you let go off the rudder and apply some throttle to make it lurch forward once again. No man should ever get tired of such maneuver.
  • Nose-dipping: In order to cool down the deck on those hot summer days, it's fun to go at full speed, then kill the throttle as you apply full rudder. The airboat will perform a quick 180, dip its nose, then return to normal. Harmless enough.
  • Fast passes: Who doesn't like speed, right? With a 2S battery and the recommended three-bladed prop, there's enough juice to get you going without a problem, but not enough to make it an out-of-control speed demon. It's a nice combination of zoom-zoom and maneuverability. Stevens Aeromodel says, however, that those who have an insatiable need for speed might want to try a 3S battery, but dropping down to a two-bladed prop might be in order. Not this guy, though — I'm satisfied with how it scoots.
  • Returning to terra firma: A flat hull such as this can only mean one thing: If you ram the throttle as you approach the edge of the pond, you'll just skid right on up — which beats having to get your feet wet. Just be careful: Shins and spinning props don't mix.
  • Going airborne: For better or for worse, this is a technique that gets seldom performed, and most often not on purpose. But for a nice "Whoa!" moment, it's possible to separate boat from water, and the results are nothing short of "Whoa!" factor. Hit a wave? "Whoa!" Turn too fast? "Whoa!" I have yet to capsize it, but I assume that will inevitably happen at some point.

One performance aspect I could certainly do without, however, is riding it around in choppy environments. I happened to do that once — because you, the reader, must be informed at all costs — and it was quite the hassle to say the least. Rough waters will make this small and light boat hop like crazy, and the only way to get around is to drive slowly. Anything beyond half throttle makes for a fun rollercoaster ride. Fast, crosswind turns will leave the WaterBoard on the edge of capsizing, and any minor wave will stop it right on its tracks. So, consider yourself warned — but hey, don't turn down a challenge either.

WaterBoarding, caught on video

Downloads

Is this for a beginner?

The WaterBoard, in itself, is not a hard boat to maneuver even for a beginner such as yours truly. It is more gentle than I expected, and it's fast but not uncontrollable. It did not require much trimming or post-maiden-voyage adjustments, and it is suitable for ponds big and small.

The assembly part is quick, self-intuitive and virtually fool-proof, but the sealing part is more intricate and requires some time in the workbench. All in all, it's not all that hard (it was my first attempt with it, and I'm still here to tell you about it), and at least it's a simple frame without any compound curves or intricacies to it.

So, in summation, it's a great first boat to play around with at the local lake, and a good first boat to build. It will certainly get you acquainted with the time-honored process of sanding and sealing, sanding and sealing, sanding and sealing, ...

Conclusion

In our hobby, it's easy to get into a rut. We all have things we like best, be they scale planes, dune buggies or tricopters. So, every now and then it's nice to get out of one's comfort zone. Such was the case with this one — and who knows, I might even try another one after this one.

The WaterBoard is a fine product, let there be no doubt — it is cleverly engineered for both rigidity and aesthetics, and the kit is quite flawless in terms of laser-cutting and hardware. It goes together easily (even if the finishing and sealing process is a bit on the convoluted side), in true Stevens Aero fashion.

A WORD OF THANKS

I would like to thank the following for making this review possible: Stevens Aeromodel for providing the kit, motor and speed controller; my good friend Andy Grose for the stellar photos; and Alabaster R/C Club member Jeff Voss for the video footage.

Down on the waters, it handles like a champ. It's surprisingly smooth for a pile of balsa sticks covered in baby powder, and it has enough top speed to keep you on your toes at all times. Drifting is as fun as it gets, and it's bound to get a few "What in the worlds?" every time you take it out in public. Contrary to my unfounded fears, I had no need to όber-tune it after the first outing (other than to reseal some areas), and the fact that I can run it for more than eight minutes on a single charge is a nice plus. It is, overall, a pleasant distraction from the routine sightings at the local R/C club.

Pros:

  • Smartly engineered, cleanly designed and amazingly rigid.
  • Performs well on the water, surprisingly stable for an airboat.
  • Recommended power system offers a good range of speeds.
  • Thorough instructions — and especially boating tips — make for a fool-proof building and troubleshooting experience.
  • Great value for such a complete kit, hardware and all.
  • Easy to operate with your existing air radio.
  • The fun factor I've had at the field and area ponds with it leads me to believe that this WaterBoarding thing is anything but torture.

Cons:

  • Finishing/sealing process is a bit complicated, and sometimes will require a trip back to the workbench for a second application. (In hindsight, glassing the boat with finishing resin would be a good — and shiny — alternative.)

Last edited by Angela H; Jul 08, 2010 at 08:20 AM..
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Old Jul 08, 2010, 08:51 AM
helifryer is offline
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"I Am The Animal!" in training
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i want one so bad!
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Old Jul 08, 2010, 09:11 AM
dee-grose is offline
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This is one fun little boat. There was zero arm-twisting involved when Napo asked me to give it a try. What a hoot! As that little boat zipped this way and that on the pond, all I could do was giggle and offer up numerous yeehaws.

Seriously, though, very nice job on the review, Napo. The pictures are really great!

Andy
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Old Jul 08, 2010, 09:28 AM
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See now you won't need those hip waders to retrieve your float plane.

-Bill
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Old Jul 08, 2010, 08:36 PM
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Helifryer: What's stopping you? I think you'd enjoy the heck out of it. A fun change of pace for sure.

Andy: Thanks again for all your help! Good times for sure!

Bill: You talkin' 'bout these?

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Old Jul 08, 2010, 10:41 PM
helifryer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spackles94 View Post
Helifryer: What's stopping you? I think you'd enjoy the heck out of it. A fun change of pace for sure.

- currently saving every penny i can scrape together for a 30cc giant scale pilot yak 54 - im almost there!

- also, currently working on my own boat project. a scratchbuilt deep-vee type speed boat that im making with my dad - 31cc weedwacker engine! here: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1249106

-I have a girlfriend! so any other $$ gets spent pretty quick. lol

...maybe next summer ill get one though. i already have a 2200kv outrunner, and a 30A ESC , and servos/rx/lipo. so all i need is the kit. im just busy right now.


NICE WADERS! haha

Heli
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Old Jul 09, 2010, 07:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spackles94 View Post
Bill: You talkin' 'bout these?
[/IMG]
Yep. Good times.
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Old Jul 09, 2010, 01:20 PM
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I think the waders are actually part of Napo's parenting protection gear for changing his daughter's diaper.
Looks like a fun little product.
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Old Jul 09, 2010, 04:25 PM
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Nice job Napo!

Why can't I get the words to the song "Slip Sliding Away" out of my head after watching your video?

"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away"

Don't even think about putting strakes down the middle of the boat. It looks like it's a lot more fun the way it is!

McD
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Old Jul 10, 2010, 07:20 AM
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I ordered one last night before seeing this review. We just spent most of a week camping at a lake. They have airboat rides at the campgrounds, so I thought it would be fun to get one of these to tease the Captains.

It looks like I made a good choice.
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Old Jul 11, 2010, 12:51 AM
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That thing looks like some good fun.
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Old Jul 11, 2010, 05:36 PM
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Kingsflyer, that's how I got my 'Slider' nickname many years ago ! Frozen iced walkway at work and carrying a tray of meat pies. The whole thing was a newbie prank and they sang that song as I did indeed slip and slide along the walkway.
Perhaps, i'd have done better if I skidded about like this fascinating boating contraption

Great review, fun read and the video had me laughing in admiration, with how well it behaves when cranked around.
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Old Jul 12, 2010, 12:23 PM
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I built their Edge 540 and love it, think I may snag one of these to build next.

- chad
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Old Jul 12, 2010, 01:56 PM
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I feel the need!
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Old Jul 12, 2010, 02:19 PM
Tony H is offline
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These should be a hoot for class racing

A really neat design very well implemented.

Back in the 60's several of us built air boats based on the Dumas kit. They were cut from foam and powered by 25's. The most fun was racing with 2-3 other boats using simple course pylons on a shallow pond or section of the lake.

There was lots of bumping and collisions and we learned to reinforce the hull edges. To keep it competitive we all used the same engine and hull.

Recently a three of us rekindled the idea and had a great time racing each other. I didn't have an OS 25 and used my Norvel 25 instead. Bad idea ... when it was properly broken in it was much faster than the other two. And twice it tried unsuccessfully to do an airborne loop when it hit a ripple at full speed. Purchasing an OS 25 put things right.

Keeping in mind ours were probably heavier and faster than these boats, we found they could sometimes trip in turns if they hit a ripple. We solved this by adding non trip chines on the aft ends of the hull (the attached picture is of my current boat with the non-trips added).

So FWIW I'd build them all the same and go have fun racing. And I'd make sure there was some sort of boat handy if one gets upside down.
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