Skater At 50—The Cat Man And The Engine Man

Skater At 50—The Cat Man And The Engine Man

At any given offshore powerboat race, such as last weekend’s event in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Peter Hledin moves through the pits three feet at a time. That is how often the Skater Powerboats founder gets stopped by offshore racers, fans of the sport and performance-boat lovers who appreciate what he’s brought to the high-performance catamaran world. A private man by nature, Hledin grudgingly has learned to accept his semi-celebrity role during the past five decades, and he is good at playing the part.

But like any other public figure, he needs escape from it.

Though they tease each other relentlessly. Peter Hledin and Mike D’Anniballe have a long established friendship based on mutual respect. Photo by Tom Newby copyright

So last Saturday night found him enjoying dinner at the Florida Fresh Grill with his 35-year-old son, Michael, and Sterling Performance Engines owner/founder Mike D’Anniballe. The trio enjoyed adult beverages outside while they waited for their table at the booming Cocoa Beach eatery. A few folks from the offshore racing world stopped by to say hello, but for the most part they went unnoticed.

Few people know Hledin better than D’Anniballe. Skater lore has it D’Anniballe showed up at the company’s headquarters in Douglas, Mich., some 40 years ago with a pair of his engines “next to two hay bales,”—as Hledin described it in a 2022 article—in the back of a pickup truck.  

“I thought they were going to be a disaster,” Hledine said in the story.

D’Anniballe chuckled at Hledin’s recollection.

“I told Pete that I knew how to build an engine for a boat but I didn’t know to build all the stuff around one,” D’Anniballe said, then laughed again. “He said, ‘Just do whatever you think you need to do.’

“The first boat with Sterling power went 20 mph faster than it ever had with anything else,” he added. “So I guess it worked out OK.”

That was hundreds of offshore racing catamarans and engines ago. Skater catamarans, such as the 388 currently dominating the Super Cat ranks, have been the raceboats of choice since the first 24-footer changed everything. As often as not during the years—regardless of the racing class—those boats have been powered by engines from Sterling Performance. The winning combo goes back to the 1980s with the then-fledgling Dubai-based Victory team.

The Skater-Sterling combo is a proven winner in offshore racing. Photo by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

Hledin often directs good-natured abuse at his close friends and D’Anniballe, by nature gentle and soft-spoken and a frequent target, is glad to take it. Such digs are an honor. They mean you’re part of the catamaran builder’s most-inner circle. They mean he likes and respects you.

In fact, Hledin likes and respects D’Anniballe so much that he introduced the engine-man to Skater customer Connie Cushing more than 20 years ago.

“Connie had owned a few Skaters during the years,” Hledin recalled several years after Cushing and D’Anniballe married. “And I thought they would make a good match.”

Hledin was right. Like the cat man and the engine man, Cushing and D’Anniballe are a good match.

Captured here at Skater headquarters, Mike D’Anniballe and Connie Cushing are among Hledin’s closest friends. Photo by Brad DiMaggio copyright Scrapyard Media

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