Gene Racine

Founder and owner of SKV boats. Was a good friends with Nick Barron (Barron Boat Works).

Taken from:

Nice looking Sun Chariot. I worked for SKV starting early 1976 till about the end of 1978, almost two years total. They were not building this model when I started but I knew about them. Gene had changed the deck and built a more traditional day cruiser style with seats under the forward cabin. Gene Racine was originally an engineer and I believe worked for worked for Aero Jet. He was always thinking of something new, whether it was a new design boat or re-designing the hardware or motor/drive system. He wanted something different when he was designing the taller cabin version of your boat. All the other companies were adding side windows to the cabin; he added those to his design and then added a window to the front to make better visibility when riding in the cabin. The first few boats had 2 windows and he changed to a one piece window. He showed the new cruiser at the L.A. boats show in January of 1976. Later that year he heard other companies would be adding windows to the front of their day cruisers, so he did them one better. He spent most of the winter months to design and build a complete wrap-a-round window. He designed and built all the tooling to form the glass and bend the metal trim. Gene was not a follower, he always did things his way and was never was one to conform to what others did. Your Sun Chariot is a good example of his thinking. Traditionally most Day Cruisers of the day used V-drive or jet drive power. He thought outside the box and came up with a low profile direct drive boat ski boat. In1976 he came up with a new twist for the boat show. Instead of putting a jet or V-drive in the show boats, he installed OMC stern drives with 235 hp, Ford 351 engine and the 24’ had not one but two motors and drives. At the next boat show almost every manufacturer was installing a stern drive in at least one of their models. Gene was ahead of the stern drive movement in performance boats. He built a twin stern drive version of your model for a friend of his and he had a 21’ version with twin stern drives. Later he built a special twin OMC 351 engineversion of the 24’ that he used in the Catalina Ski race. For 1977 he switched from the OMC units to MerCruiser. Merc had just come out with the 250hp 350 package and also the new 454 TRS package. He built another race boat with the larger TRS drive and a turbo charged big block Chevrolet. The name of the race boat confused many people. The boat was yellow with blue trim and the name was “BigRed”. He named the boat for his daughter who had red hair! SKV also built a pair of boats for the United States Coast Guard. I did not work there at the time but I did here stories about them. One story had to do with a dispute between the Coast Guard and Gene. The build required a center pole for towing disabled boats. The Coast Guard official who came to view the boats had an issue with the structural design of the pole mount. Gene insisted it was more then adequate for the job and the Coast Guard said it was not. So to prove his point, they all took the boat to the lake to see what it would do. At first they thought Gene would just pull another boat to test the structural design.That was just not Gene’s way! Instead he tied a heavy duty rope to a big piling at the dock and the other end to the pole. He idled out till the rope was taut and then floored the throttle. The pole did not move and the Coast Guard accepted the boats!

All of the SKV models had DNA that can be traced back to the first model he ever built. The first model was a 21’ cruiser that came in along deck or short deck design. Gene named his boat “SKV” which meant “SK” design with a “V” bottom. The bottom was somewhat flat and was what Gene called a “stepV”. Most hulls have a bottom that is made of a 2 flat surfaces that come together at the keel forming the vee of the hull. The lifting stakes would be small flat surfaces added to the bottom. If you removed the strakes you would still have the flat surface the keel to the chine with no changes or upset in the surface. The step v design is multiple flat surfaces with the first one starting at the keel, extending out about a foot wide and has very little vee at the transom and changes its angle as it approaches the bow. The next surface was about an inch higher (the step) and also changed its angle as it approached the bow. The outer surface again stepped up about an inch and also changed its angle. Look at the transom of your boat and you will see the step design. The first hulls did not have a turn down for a lifting strake, those were added when your hull was designed and the vee was increased at the transom and at the front. After the 21’ came a 19’ model that was nothing more than the 21’ hull with the freeboard cut down. Next came the 24’ day cruiser and it was built off a stretched version of the 21’ with extra freeboard. The 24’ was the model theCoast Guard ordered. The Sun Chariot was next; it stated life as the 24’ cruiser and they changed to the bottom, adding more Vee and cut the sides down to make a lower sleeker design. It was now time for a new 21’ so Gene started with the Sun Chariot and cut 3’ off it. The Sun Chariot got a new, taller deck with windows and seats in the cabin. By this time the original 24’, 21’, 19’ and SunChariot had been discontinued and SKV was building only 2 models, the new 21’ daycruiser and the 24’ Cabin Cruiser. During the time I was there they added two other models to the line. First was the 21’ cabin cruiser. This was done by grafting the 24’ deck onto the 21’ bottom. It still had the cool wrap-a-round cabin window and they moved the dash forward, decreasing the size of the cabin seats. The other model was the 22’ day cruiser. It started life as the 24’ and they just shortened the hull and lowered the height of the deck. SKV made a few model changes after I left the company. The 24’ got a restyle of the deck, but retained its wrap-a-round window. Another deck was built for the 24’ bottom that was the re-birth of the Sun Chariot. The deck was not as tall as the cabin model and it featured much more outside seating area. The new Sun Chariot also lost its direct drive power and was now stern drive powered. The last model was a new 20’ ski model. Just like all other models it too started life as a current hull and changes were made from there. There was one unique version of this boat built and was used in the Power Boat magazine test. Gene cut most of the deck away, leaving only a section of the front. It was something like a whaler design with a larger deck up front. The power was a direct drive but instead of the drivers console being forward of the engine, it was at the rear of the boat like a cracker box.

It was sometime around the early 80’s that Gene was getting tired of the marine industry and was ready to call it quits. He contacted Nick Barron of Hallett boats and sold the company. Not only did Nick get all the molds but he also got one of Gene’s employees. Jim started working for SKV a year or two before me and was with Gene up to the sale of the company and then started working for Nick. Hallett built a few of the SKV models, but I think some of them were a little time consuming to build (especially the 24’ with the front window) and things were changing in the industry with the openbow cruisers becoming more popular. Last I heard Nick still had the molds but stopped build the SKV’s about a year after purchasing the company. I also think Jim is still working for Hallett.

I was only at SKV for a few years, but I came away with more knowledge then others in the industry could get working two or three times that at other companies. My time and experience working with Gene and Jim is something I valued and has stayed with me in all my other endeavors to this day. Someone once said that SKV did not build boats, they give birth to them.

I have some old magazine articles about SKV along with one of the last full line brochures. I’ll try to scan what I have and post pictures soon.