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Mercury Outboards On the Bayou



Florida Sportsman Editor Jeff Weakley attended an exclusive media event hosted by Mercury Marine on May 20-22, 2013. Boats were docked at Bourgeois Charters in Lafitte, about 45 minutes outside of New Orleans. All indications are that Mercury is gearing up for a big season in advance of its 75th anniversary in 2014. The company recently made a $15 million investment in testing facilities, hired 70 new engineers this year and has committed to rolling out new product every 6 weeks. Some spicy tidbits we gathered: Mercury will be unveiling “affordable racing” engines; increased applications for high-speed diesel power; greater emphasis on user-friendly, customizable displays and controls, and of course, a renewed push to develop and expand fishing boat applications for Mercury outboards—which was our primary area of interest. 

 

Shearwater 26 LTZ with Mercury 300 Verado

First engine I tested was a Verado 300. The Shearwater 26 LTZ is a new model for 2013. I'd been looking forward to putting this boat through the paces, after talking with fellow editor Dave East, host of the upcoming Florida Sportsman Best Boat TV series. East raved about the Shearwater, after testing it among a small fleet of bay boats in Stuart, FL.

The 26 LTZ is one big, beautiful bay boat. She has a step hull with 20-degree deadrise at the transom, somewhat sharper than the 17-degree deadrise found on the other Shearwater models (including the 24).

The Verado 300 produces the highest output in the Verado 6-cylinder family, sharing a powerhead and most components with the 200-, 225-, 250- and 275-horsepower models. (A high-performance 350-hp Verado is also available under the SCI racing marque.) These are 2.6-liter, 4-stroke powerplants weighing in just north of 630 pounds, and there's a lot of proprietary technology under the hood. One chief difference between the Verado and other 4-stroke outboards is the addition of a belt-driven supercharger and an air cooler to improve combustion and maximize acceleration and low-end torque. Also, the engines feature electro-hydraulic steering, eliminating any pull you might feel on the steering wheel. All controls—shift, throttle and steering—are electronically actuated. The same powerplant is used in Merc's Pro-series Four-Stroke engines, but the Verado offers, among other things, a larger gearcase.



Speed I expected out of this package—with three of us on board, and a half-tank of fuel, we topped out at a little over 55 mph at 6,450 rpm. That was pushing the rev capacity (5,800-6,400 rpm) and suggested that with a higher-pitch prop (test boat had a 19” Mirage) we'd make 60 easy. What was most impressive to me, however, was the fuel efficiency at speed.  The best I could make, according to the Mercury gauge, was 3 mpg. Okay, you're not impressed.  But what if I told you that figure came at 39 mph? For a lot of bayboat packages out there, that's close to top end. Crazier still, at WOT the Verado 300 wasn't sucking in a whole lot more petrol, making just under 2 mpg. This is a boat-motor package for the angler who wants to get somewhere fast.  And with 130 gallon fuel capacity, that somewhere might be a long way from home! Mercury recommends 92 octane fuel for the Verado, but the engines are “compatible” with 87 octane. Performance suffers to some degree with the lower-octane fuel, as the engines' knock sensor backs down the power to avoid predetonation.

Something else about the bayboat installation of the Verado: These engines are built with dual water inlets—including low-water pickups at the nose of the torpedo. That's comforting for an angler planning to take advantage of a hydraulic jackplate, such as the Bob's Machine Shop model on the transom of the Shearwater 26LTZ. 

 Sundance FX17 Spyder with Mercury 60 FourStroke BigFoot



It's not often you get to test identical hulls with different power plants side by side. Thanks to Wally Bell and the crew at Sundance Boats, we got to run a pair of FX17 Spyder skiffs on the Intracoastal Waterway. One was rigged with the Mercury 60 BigFoot; the other, a Yamaha F70. We raced these boats to see which was quicker to plane. Each had a man at the wheel, a passenger on the console seat. We didn't notice much difference. Talk at the dock among Merc staffers indicated the 60 BigFoot sells for $2,000 less than the Yamaha, but the Yamaha has a 1 mph advantage (an edge so minor it could be offset by a few bags of ice).  Of course a buyer has lots of other considerations when looking at engines, but I was very happy with how that Spyder ran with the 60 BigFoot. The engine mates an inline 4-cylinder 995 cc powerplant with a 2.33:1 gear ratio. Forty- and 50-hp versions are also available.

I didn't get a good fuel efficiency read on the two Spyders; the Merc gauge was set for gallons per hour, while my brain was set for miles per gallon.  Performance wise, we got over 40 mph, which is impressive in a boat this size.

Tidewater 2200 Carolina Bay with Mercury 150 FourStroke



Under those lines is a sturdy, 2,250-pound hull that's 22 feet, 4 inches on center line and 8 feet, 6 inches in beam. Transom deadrise is 15 degrees. A lot of 22-foot bay boats are sold with 150-hp outboards these days, and I was definitely curious about how this one would perform with the 2-year-old Mercury 150 FourStroke. The engine is a 3.0 liter, 8-valve single overhead cam four-stroke weighing in at 455 pounds—not much more than Mercury's two-stroke 150 Optimax.

The Carolina Bay is rated for up to 250 hp, but with a light load (2 persons; fuel about 40 gallons out of 60 available), she performed splendidly with the 150 FourStroke. Fuel burn was a miserly 5.1 mpg at 32 mph and 3,500 rpm. At wide open, turning 5,500 rpm at 45 mph, she made just 3 mpg.

Joystick Piloting for Verado

Mercury was a pioneer in independent drives, with Axius and Zeus systems making it possible to steer an inboard or sterndrive boat laterally, forward, diagonally with the touch of a joystick. Early in 2013, the company announced it had taken the technology to its 250- and 300-hp Verado 4-stroke outboards, which was big news for owners and prospective buyers of the ever-expanding center console fleet. Docking and maneuvering large boats in tight quarters is of course tricky business.



Bow thrusters add to the cost and complexity of a rig. Mercury's Joystick Piloting does away with all that, communicating your intended direction to outboards which are independently, automatically steered and shifted. Push the joystick to port, and the port engine steers hard to port in reverse, while the starboard engine turns forward hard to starboard. The boat slips sidewise without missing a beat.

 

 

 



If you need to pivot the bow, simply twist the joystick in the direction you wish to go, adding forward thrust to one side, reverse to the other. To return to normal wheel-and-binnacle control, simply turn the steering wheel or touch the throttle. It's easy and quite fun.

The Joystick Piloting is available for twin, triple and quadruple engine boats. I tested it on a 39-foot SeaVee center console with quad 300 Verados, and a 31 Yellowfin with twin 300s.

 



One significant advantage Mercury built into the Verado Joystick Piloting system borrows from the Axius system: SkyHook.

Simply press a button on the control pad, and the system pinpoints and holds the boat's position via GPS antenna. It works, and it's very convenient when idling in a harbor, preparing lines, or catching bait. I had engaged SkyHook with the Sea Vee's formidable bow quartering upwind—a tricky place to stay put (the system is accurate enough to maintain not only position, but heading!). When I noticed the engines seemed to be shifting more than I'd like, we altered our heading so that the stern was into the wind, minimizing the forces acting on the big boat. In this attitude, steering and shifting were minor.

Moreover, Verado Joystick Piloting can be enlisted for defacto autopilot duty, allowing the captain to automatically maintain a course heading or sequence waypoints. I could immediately see utility for a boat like the Sea Vee, which would likely be pressed into duty as a kite-fishing platform on windy seas, or as a trolling vessel navigating over deepwater hotspots. 



The SeaVee was equipped with Merc's latest multifunction touch-screen “Vessel View” instrument, a 7-inch screen reporting on up to 30 vessel parameters, including fuel level and range, oil temperature, and depth. All that data can be networked to a MFD (such as the Simrad plotter on the SeaVee) as well as a wireless tablet device.

 

For a short (1:20) video clip showing the 390 SeaVee with Mercury Joystick Piloting manuevering near a dock in Louisiana, watch below:

http://youtu.be/7k7okwZYfzQ

Making a Statement for Diesel Power



That's a diesel-powered Statement 38SUV IO roaring up the ditch in Lafitte. The powerplants are twin 4.2-liter, V8 TDI Diesels with Axius stern drives. The boat is built in St. Petersburg, FL.

 

 

 

 

 

No longer working with Cummins, Mercury is producing its own Mercury Diesel engines now in conjunction with automotive partners. Milking 350 horsepower out of one of these powerplants is a breeze; emissions are minimal; and with the Axius functionality (including Joystick Piloting), expect to see more stern drive boats out there with this power configuration. We'll bring you more on this topic in the months to come. Until then, visit www.mercurymarine.com.

 

 



 

 

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