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'Low Altitude': The 4,000-HP With Turbine Power & A Few Tricks Up Its Sleeve

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Low Altitude at the 2015 Shootout
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photos courtesy of PJ Arnaud, Shannon Hamilton and Sarah Christine–

What does it feel like to be strapped in behind the bow of a 50-foot catamaran at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour? Have you ever felt that kind of hair-raising, heart-stopping rush beneath a warm summer sky? According to Low Altitude owner Shannon Hamilton, his boat is so fast and stable, it’s almost… boring. 

“When you’re in a smaller boat, you’re running on a ragged edge, especially if you’re navigating along rougher waterways that the Lake of the Ozarks can oftentimes have,” Hamilton said with a smooth Southern accent. “In Low Altitude, this boat is so large and so safe, and it runs so smoothly, that 200 mile per hour speeds on the Lake of the Ozarks feels more one hundred. It’s crazy.”

Hamilton, a boat enthusiast and thrill-seeker at heart, seemingly revels in living his life on the edge. During our brief phone conversation, he was in Miami, admittedly looking at boats.

“I’m a drag racer, and I talk a lot of talk while putting money on the line,” Hamilton said. “This is something that I’m trying to bring into the boating community. I like to poke around and stir things up a bit. From showing up at the Lake of the Ozarks in a 36-foot Nor-Tech at last year’s Shootout to purchasing Low Altitude the following month, I’ve had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people along the way.”

With his port of call located in Gainesville, Ga., Hamilton frequents nearby Lake Lanier and the Florida Keys in his turbine-powered 2011 Mystic 50-foot catamaran, aptly named, Low Altitude. With twin blackened turbine engines running at 1850 horsepower each, some spectators and race participants alike have wondered whether Hamilton’s boat could possibly be the newest rival to American Ethanol, 2019’s Shootout Top Gun winner for the fifth consecutive year.

“I don’t know about all of that,” Hamilton laughed. “We are already at a disadvantage by running with turbines and with how the Shootout classes are set up. It takes turbine engines a while to get going and with having to come in at 40 miles per hour through the Start Box, our plan is to just have fun and do the best that we can, and see where that takes us.”

Since purchasing the boat in September of 2019, Hamilton says that he and his crew have a few tricks up their sleeves for optimum speed potential in the 2020 Lake of the Ozark Shootout.

“When we first bought Low Altitude, we weren’t originally planning on running it in the Shootout,” Hamilton said. “But when we told everyone that we were coming in with the boat, folks around the Lake of the Ozarks seemed very excited about it. We had a lot of interest and a lot of people were giving us a thumbs-up. Everyone told us, ‘You’ve got to run in the Shootout, you’ve got to run in the Shootout,’ and I thought, why not? So, here we go.”

Hamilton stated he had intended to run Gunslinger, a 36-foot Nor-Tech, at last year's annual Shootout event, but that his plan had come to an abrupt halt following mechanical failures which had prevented him from participating.

“We are making several modifications and we have a couple of improvements in the works for this years’ boating season with Low Altitude,” Hamilton said. “Aaron Williams with Turbine Extreme was the original builder of Low Altitude’s engines in 2016, and he is our magic man. We’ve been working with him on a few surprises, but I can’t let all of my secrets out just yet,” Hamilton laughed.

Another factor that can impact a turbine boat’s optimum speed potential, Hamilton stated, is by spraying pressurized water beforehand. With gas turbines, water is sprayed and/or injected into the incoming air or fuel-air mixture, or directly into the cylinder to cool certain parts of the induction system where “hot points” could produce premature ignition.

“You spray the water/pressure wash to it before the run, and it adds another 150 horsepower or so,” Hamilton said. “With that, you’re looking at about 4,000 total horsepower in the boat.” 

As with every Shootout race participant, it truly takes a village. Hamilton is the owner/throttle operator with PJ Arnaud driving the boat. They have also had a great support network and loyal sponsorship from fellow boat enthusiasts along the way, from Greg Wingo of Unknown Customs, Russell Clay of Clay Motorsports, AJ Zurzolo of North Atlanta Custom Detailing, and, of course, ‘magic man’ Aaron Williams of Turbine Extreme, Hamilton said. 

“Regarding our modifications, we can’t let all of the cats out of the bag just yet,” Hamilton said in closing. “Low Altitude isn’t just a race boat, it’s a pleasure boat. We’re out here to have fun with the boat and we’re coming to the Lake of the Ozarks for two reasons: to drink Corona and whip some ass...

...and we’re all out of Corona.”

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