Story by DinaRella / Photos by DinaRella, Tom Caruso and Fountain Powerboats
When it comes to “meeting the wants and exceeding the needs” of its East Coast boating customers – Total Marine is a paramount player in the maritime world. Established five decades ago by John Caruso in 1971, the family owned business runs a pre-owned brokerage service, and offers seasonal seafarers a full yachting facility with docking capacity for 45 vessels in the SONO district of South Norwalk, CT.
For aquatic aficionados on the Atlantic shoreline south of Long Island Sound, there are two additional dealerships at the Jersey Shore and on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland; and in 2018 a third location was opened at the home of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show inside the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. The prime Florida spot facilitates conducting sea trials year round and has become an essential part of the business making it possible to better serve buyers and existing customers based down south.
Tom Caruso: In Total Control
At present, the company operates under the direction of John’s son Tom Caruso, a name not only synonymous with Total Marine, but also professional offshore racing, from his days in Pro Stock and F2 Class. For the 61-year-old, his nautical skill-set stems back to his youth, having started out just as Bon Jovi sang it… “Tommy used to work on the docks” as a teenager lending a hand at the fuel pumps and learning the business from the ground up , until he got the calling for college and law school. Upon passing the bar, he had a professional epiphany or awakening following a short stint in the legal field – pursuing his passion over a plumper paycheck would be his destiny. Soon thereafter, the suit and tie were swapped for a Total Marine polo shirt and desk near dad (who at age 93 still comes to the office every day).
Caruso’s rationalization for his choice was simple and I understood it well, as he expressed, “Boats are fun. And the perks of being in the industry are even more fun. I wanted to bring Total Marine to the next level.” And with that said, a move to ramp up business visibility landed him in the owner/throttleman’s seat of the triple Mercury 265-hp outboard-powered 30’ Chris Cat Euromarine Special when Chris-Craft known for its superbly built wooden boats from the 1920s to 1970s, took a shot at high-performance catamarans in the 80s. Being a Chris-Craft dealer, Total Marine stood behind the brand as a proud patron. “I always read Powerboat Magazine as a kid, and when we started sponsoring the events, I was going to all the races. I thought it was really cool and wanted to get involved and be a part of it,” affirmed Caruso.
He continued with, “We were importing boats from Europe during that period and that’s where the name came from. My first driver was Charlie Jelinek , one of our mechanics and eventually Carl Saitta took over.” Succeeding several years of skirmishes hammering the sticks of the open-cockpit Chris Cat, Caruso reemerged in the early 2000s in Factory 2 Class in a 38’ Formula sponsored by Sirius Radio.
Unfortunately, the first race of the 2003 season would be Caruso’s last after witnessing a buddy barrow roll to death in the wake of the Sirius Radio Formula. Both racers ran identical boats with matching paint, were near in age, and had three young children; retirement from racing came five minutes later. Although Caruso hung up his helmet, he continued making waves with one exception… seated next to him on future voyages were his wife Robin and their three sons, TJ (18) and twins Michael and Nicolas (15).
Over the years, the only real change has been the evolution of manufacturers associated with Total Marine, and consequently which make and model craft Caruso & Co. can be spotted in cooking over the crests. Currently, four top brands are represented. The Twin Vee line is there for those in search of a smaller style vessel, and for the go big or go home crowd – Total Marine is the exclusive area dealer for Fairline, the sophisticated British line of sports cruisers and motor yachts. However, given that the dealership recently partnered with Iconic Marine Group (IMG) to carry Fountain Powerboats and its speedster-sibling Donzi Marine – today the rage revolves around the high-performance flagship and its array of eye-popping center consoles.
Fountain Powerboats: The Perfect Fit
“We had wanted to expand for awhile and during the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show is when we took notice of Fountain Powerboats exhibiting as part of the Iconic Marine Group. It really got us thinking – the name recognition and brand equity is second to none. Moreover, its line fits our market in the Northeast, especially with its customizable product offerings from fancy paint and luxurious finishes, to the more sporty fisherman-friendly options available to choose from,” commented Caruso.
The good-slash-not-so-good news with taking on such a reputable and reliable builder is trying to keep them in stock. John Herrmann, the East Coast regional sales director said, “We’ve sold every boat we can get this year (which was 12) and if the inventory was there, we’d sell even more.” And so, while Total Marine and the rest of the boating world await their autumn shipments, Caruso is blitzing around the bays and waterways promoting the center console series the best he can in his latest Fountain 39 NX pushed to the max by triple Mercury Racing 450s.
The Total Marine crew is fresh off a pair of Chesapeake Bay poker runs including: the 2021 edition of the Rockin’ the Harbor Poker Run (featured back in 2019 during its inaugural kick-off https://www.luxurycenterconsoles.com/center-consoles-make-boating-great-again-at-the-rockin-the-harbor-poker-run); and the second go-fast get-together hosted by the famous Maryland hot-spot Tiki Lee’s (coincidentally also presented in our destination section https://www.luxurycenterconsoles.com/from-blue-crabs-to-orange-crushes-where-to-chill-on-chesapeake-bay).
Besides separating the seas in Maryland, Caruso has been keeping busy closer to home too. Total Marine was one of the lead sponsors for the National Powerboat Association’s Legends Poker Run in New York City this past August, in which Caruso himself took home an award from the event’s producer Billy Frenz, in honor of his years of racing and gracing the marine industry in a professional capacity.
Fortunately, I was also attending the Legends festivities at LaMottas in Port Washington and before the marina cleared out and all the boats boogied back home as Hurricane Henri tracked northward to Long Island, I took advantage of hopping on the red and gray 39-footer Fountain center stage on the docks. I wanted a closer peek at the particulars presented on the 2021 edition; seeing that, the stepped-hull NX models underwent a modern-day facelift “stretching their lines” with zeal to appeal to the trending pleasure-performance boater market looking for that luxurious fix, instead of the conventional center console loaded with livewells, locker storage and tackle boxes for the fishermen.
Fountain’s new national ad campaign released this summer is also helping the dealerships promote the charming performance-minded machines – the Speed Meets Luxury promo sends a bold, fast and in-your-face message that the new generation continues to raise the bar increasingly higher; a feat the larger-than-life founder Reggie Fountain would be proud of.
The 39 NX delivers on all ends and comes steeped in undeniable world-champion raceboat and trophy-winning offshore fishing boat DNA, which is clearly evidenced by its muscle flexing… jumping on plane in mere seconds, gunning the triple Mercury Racing 450s up to 80 mph, or bumping back down to a mid-40 mph best cruise while spinning 4,000 rpm.
The superior level fit-and-finish is found all around, especially the double French stitching and color matched piping recessed into the cushioning, including the spacious transom seat stretched from beam to beam. Also helpful at the rear are the dual doors that open outward to the transom platform, strategically placed at the perfect height for easy on and off access at the pier.
Under the sleek cockpit, functionality and refinements are abounding. A three-inch platform has been incorporated into the helm floor to increase visibility around the curved dash constructed out of tempered glass, as well as support analyzing conditions on the electronics apps on the dual 16-inch Garmins anchoring the carbon fiber panel. You’re also closer to the joystick steering control. Hanging on tight is also a delight as all rails around the cockpit frame are powder-coated and cool to the touch. Yes even the black ones! Drains have also been added to the beverage holders so feel free to place your phone in one or stash it below in the cabin which you enter through a starboard door.
Evoking emotion, exuding charm and expanding the parameters of center consoling, the Fountain NX Series does not disappoint. To discover the limitless design options and angler amenities that await visit totalmarine.com or call Tom Caruso at 914-403-5896 and tell him what you’re looking for. You’ll be glad you did!