1999, June; Parramatta River: Combining a modified version of one of the best Australian ski boat hulls with the extra versatility of a bowrider layout, the Lewis Outback makes good sense for family skiing.
If you’ve been into skiing or boarding for a while, you’ll no doubt have heard about Lewis boats. With a long tradition of proven performance and quality construction, the Lewis fleet covers quite a few different models so you can choose the one that best suits your own needs. I recently had rather a super morning on the river testing three of the models from the Lewis range, and this one is the bowrider-style Outback.
The “classic, top-of-the line” Lewis design is the Prestige with which I’ve always been impressed. It’s a very attractive ski boat with unique undersurfaces that work exceptionally well to deliver a super wake, soft ride and marvellous handling. Many of the other Lewis models retain the Prestige running surfaces (as they work so well) and combine them with different decks and interiors.
The Outback takes this general approach too, although it has a wider beam (at 2.32 metres versus 2.03 metres for the Prestige and Millennium) for extra room onboard. The underneath of the hull is still essentially Prestige with a fine forward entry leading back to a quite complex combination of a moderate vee centre, aft planing pad and tunnels either side effectively formed by angled chines. For the Outback, the tunnels are more rounded as the design is “spread” to provide the extra width. The modification works well with retention of a soft ride, a good wake shape and virtually flawless handling.
Whilst other Lewis hulls have a single turn fin, experience has shown that the Outback can get loaded aft to kick up a bigger wake for boarding, and that can result in the fin lifting partially out of the water with the potential to reduce tracking precision. To ensure that this doesn’t affect the boat’s handling, a second fin has been fitted.
The very noticeable difference with the Outback compared with other Lewis models (and with most other ski/wake boats) is the transom, and the way the rear of the cockpit has been set up. The external shape at the back of the boat is quite sensual with a smoothly rounded transition from the sides to the transom rather than the more common sharp-edged angular look. A quite large boarding platform gives plenty of room for boards, and it can be taken off if the extra length makes stowing the boat a challenge.
Perhaps to match the transom shape, on the inside the rear section of the cockpit doesn’t have the usual full width lounge, but instead has two curved quarter lounges that can be easily removed if you’d rather have more floor space and an uncluttered area to work with skis or boards.
A clever idea is the provision of an aft-facing seat on the back of the engine hatch. It gives somewhere different to sit and you can stretch out your legs in comfort, have a great view aft as you’re cruising along and, so long as you’re towing your water sports enthusiasts from the transom and not from the forward mounted ski pole, you could sit there and watch all the action back on the wake.
The effect of the extra beam is quite obvious with more room to move around than in most ski boats. The passages beside the engine hatch are roomy, emphasised even more by the absence of any sidepockets, although there’s plenty of space to lay items along the hull sides under the gun’l.
Opposite the helm position is a comfortable observer’s lounge that, like the back of the boat, is sweetly curved. The lounge base lifts to show storage below, and the back of the lounge hinges inwards for access into a large storage locker under the portside screen console. The flat area in front of the lounge under the screen could hold a few casual items, and there’s a convenient couple of drink holders there too.
The screen has a flowing curve and rake with a centre-opening panel across the passageway leading to the forward cockpit. Braces either side keep everything nice and taut. Up front, the seats are beautifully upholstered, and all three seat squabs lift out for carpeted storage below. Bearing in mind that the Outback is very much a “true” ski boat, the forward cockpit is surprisingly roomy and matches most “social runabout” bowriders in this regard. There are grab handles either side so you can keep a safe hold while enjoying the ride up front, while drink holders in the seat bases just in front of the screen will keep the liquid refreshments handy at all times.
Standard power for the Outback is the trusty 5.7 litre MerCruiser Competition Ski V8, but we had the extra 40 ponies (300 hp vs 260) of a 350 Magnum MPI in our test boat. Neatly installed under the hatch, the Merc V8 sang its usual song of easy power, with loads of torque to sweep the boat out of the hole and haul a couple of heavyweights on lines astern. Driving through a Borg Warner FNR 1:1 transmission, the Merc was spinning a custom built 3-bladed 12.25 by 12.625 (diameter by pitch in inches) LT2 prop that the Lewis crew had developed in conjunction with Dave Porter. Over a six month trials period, it was found that a prop with more diameter and blade area, but with a bit less pitch, gave the best results. The props are made from bronze manganese and each is blueprinted with an emphasis on performance rather than show - it being felt better to spend money on the blueprinting process rather than on polishing which tends to last only for the first couple of runs in the water anyway.
This power train combination had the Outback rocking along in fine style and well established on plane at 2,500 rpm with 45 kph on the speedo. The latter was a bit optimistic, as our Garmin GPS 48 was using data streams from multiple satellites to more accurately record our velocity at 41 kph. Mid-range acceleration was hefty and we quickly saw intermediate speeds of 48 and 56 kph at 3,000 and 3,500 rpms before opening the throttle further sped us up to 62 kph at 4,000 and 70 kph at 4,500 rpm. Wide open throttle had the Merc correctly in its optimum power band at 4,800 rpm with the GPS digits settling at 72.9 kph for a quite handy top speed.
Because of its extra beam, and the impression of additional length from the big boarding platform, the Outback looks as though it would carve a larger wake. Whilst the wash did in fact look to have a good shape and height for boarding, those modified-Prestige undersides were leaving a wave pattern that would be fine for just about any skiing style - with the usual variances at different speeds.
From a driving perspective, the Outback displayed the same traits I’ve come to expect from Lewis with precise placement and impeccable response. Through a few wakes, the ride was gentle and stable, and the tightest of turns and full-reverse-lock figure-eights failed to unsettle either prop or hull. Low speed manoeuvering was just as pleasing, whilst more usual curves and turns were faultless. Lateral balance was good, and forward visibility was retained as the bow came up over the hump from rest on to plane. The Outback accelerated in a straight line with no noticeable torque on the wheel, and hauling off the throttle produced the same result as the boat rapidly slowed.
The driving position proved to be a winner with an excellent layout of gauges and controls. The seat held me firmly and comfortably (it would be good for long sessions I reckon), and I could slide it fore and aft to get the right distance for me from the wheel. The screen gave thorough protection from the slipstream yet did not restrict my all-round vision.
The gauges were contained in a carbon-fibre style panel that looked rather high-tech and positioned all the dials so that they could be easily sighted above the wheel rim (which had a smart carbon-fibre finish too). The gauges, by Faria, were attractive and very easy to read with white markings and pointers on a black background. A GME stereo radio-cassette unit was mounted behind a splash-proof panel to the right of the wheel, with a small bank of turn-style (rather than click up/down) switches to the right for the bilge pump, blower, navigation lights (there’s a combined unit at the stem), and so on. A padded arm-rest helped me feel even more comfortable.
All the interior was very nicely finished with quality materials and good workmanship. Hull and deck construction uses bi-axial sewn cloth for strength with encapsulated timber stringers and floor.
Like every Lewis I’ve driven, the Outback was perfectly behaved and good fun. It’s a first class social ski/board boat with the added space and flexibility of a good-sized forward cockpit.
Length: 6.71 metres
Beam: 2.32 metres
Fuel: 112 litres
Power as tested: MerCruiser 350 MPI V8 300 hp
Price as tested: $34,000 on trailer, ready to go.
Top Speed: 72.9 kph