We travel to Lake X as Mercury Marine celebrates their 80th Anniversary in 2019

Legendary Lake XBy Andy Adams

The scene on February 1st, 2019 at Lake X included a fleet of boats with cool new engines and equipment. In the distance doing a video interview is David Foulkes, Brunswick Corporation CEO and Mercury President John Pfeifer was on hand as well. The famous Lake X observation tower is in the background at the edge of Lake X.

Just like the 1950s outboard horsepower race, a new race is on to bring a revolutionary range of advanced technologies to boating. Canadian Yachting magazine was invited to Mercury Marine’s historic Lake X last February for a first hands-on trial.

The event was part of the celebrations for Mercury Marine’s 80th Anniversary in 2019, a celebration that actually kicked off in Canada at the Toronto International Boat Show in January.

It was exciting to be invited to Lake X and Mercury had assembled a great fleet of boats and equipment for us to experience first-hand.

For our Canadian Yachting readers, we spent extra time with the amazing Boston Whaler 350 Realm that was equipped with Mercury’s new 400 hp Verado engines, the highlight of the event was the Boston Whaler DockSense boat with AI assisted docking, then there was the amazing Harris Crowne pontoon with a suite of new Power Products electronic equipment and we spent some delightful time with the Tracker 12 Topper equipped with the new Mercury 5hp Propane fuel engine – a great choice for your kids boats, fishing and dinghies. But first, a little background on Mercury and Lake X on their 80th!

It all began on January 22, 1939, when E. Carl Kiekhaefer purchased a bankrupt engine manufacturing plant in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Although Kiekhaefer had other plans for it, the company had gone bankrupt when their outboard boat motors were rejected by a big department store chain. Kiekhaefer quickly figured out the problem, fixed the engines, contacted the buyer and soon, the department store was happy and ordering more engines.

Now, 80 years later, the business that emerged from those modest beginnings, Mercury Marine, is a company with 7,000 global employees that is heralded as the world’s leading manufacturer of marine propulsion systems, as well as marine parts and accessories.

“80 years ago, Carl Kiekhaefer had a vision for Mercury and that was based around product innovation and technology – and it’s that vision that built the foundation for us to continue to innovate today,” said John Pfeifer, Mercury Marine president.

Mercury has invested more than $1 billion globally since 2008 in the expansion of research, development and manufacturing capabilities. In 2018, Mercury successfully launched its largest engine platform in its 80-year history with an incredible 19 new V6 and V8 four-stroke outboard engines covering the 175-300hp range.

1957 Lake X 50000 Miles Run Lake X was the site for one of Mercury’s most famous PR events that took place in 1957. A 50,000-mile endurance run, featuring two boats running continuously on a closed 5.8-mile course, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, made marine industry history. The boats had to be re-fueled while running!

MERCURY MARINE PRESERVES ITS HERITAGE WITH A RETURN TO LAKE X

As a boy, the magazine ads for Mercury outboard engines made a lasting impression on me, and the most magical parts were the scenes at the secret proving grounds at Lake X. This was a facility designed and built by Carl Kiekhaefer in 1957. He planned it to be the most secluded marine testing facility in the world with 12,000 acres of land and 1,440 acres of water. He was very concerned about industrial espionage and staying ahead of his competitors.

Lake X itself is roughly three miles long, one-mile wide and nearly six miles in circumference.  Since 1957, Lake X has long been used for performance tests of Mercury-powered boats, R&D, new product testing and endurance validation. Mercury Marine occupied Lake X until 2004 when it chose to not renew its lease.

Preserved by Mercury over all those years, the Lake X Property is one of the most unique tracts of land in all of Florida. But eventually, priorities had changed.

Kenneth Kirchman purchased the Lake X property from Mr. Kiekhaefer in 1984. Having grown up in Florida on Lake Okeechobee, Mr. Kirchman knew the value and importance of preserving the natural beauty of Lake X and set a goal atypical of most landowners: to keep Lake X the same as it was 100 years ago.

Since 1984, the Kirchman Foundation has created a unique and rich educational experience for all individuals, and especially children. People visit the facilities regularly, but there is still time and space for Mercury’s activities and in 2018, the decision was made for Mercury to again lease the use of the property.

After some clean up and repair, we were invited there this year. Lake X makes an ideal setting for media events as well as product testing and I suspect the facility will continue to be used and supported by Mercury Marine, especially through this 80th Anniversary year.

On February 1st 2019 as our group drove past the guard house and onto the Lake X property, the heritage was immediately in view.

The first building was a large waterside shop with huge round bubble windows that could only have been from the 1950s. Lake X might well have been the inspiration for The Jetson’s TV show – it has a unique futuristic 1950s look. The shop is in disuse now, ravaged by hurricanes a decade ago and now almost totally empty except for a travel lift for launching boats from inside, out into the concrete channel leading to the lake. At the end of the channel is the observation tower, looking very much as it did in the 50s, and also with round windows.

MERCURY MARINE AND RAYMARINE DEMONSTRATE ‘ASSISTED DOCKING’ FOR OUTBOARDS

Raymarine DockSense SystemThe Raymarine DockSense system was featured on a 33-foot Boston Whaler Outrage rigged with twin Mercury Verado engines with JPO, and with Mercury’s advanced piloting assist system.

Docking DashHere the system is activated and the driver (a Mercury engineer on the right who has let go of the controls) knows the boat will not hit the dock as indicated on the dashboard screen.

 

Number 1 on my agenda at Lake X was to experience the revolutionary “assisted docking” system. This provides a glimpse into the future of boating and it was later demonstrated at the 2019 Miami International Boat Show February 14th.
 
Integrating Raymarine’s DockSense assisted-docking is a natural “next step” for Mercury, which introduced Zeus joystick docking in 2007. Mercury introduced Joystick Piloting for Outboards (JPO) in 2013.

The Raymarine DockSense system was featured on a 33-foot Boston Whaler Outrage rigged with twin Mercury Verado engines with JPO, and with Mercury’s advanced piloting assist system. This new assisted-docking system is a core technology based on the latest aerospace control systems and autonomous-car Artificial Intelligence. Mercury’s powerful autonomous system will support a wide variety of future uses for assisted and semi-autonomous functionality, as it can be integrated with sensors like vision systems and lidar.

The Raymarine DockSense system uses advanced machine vision technology to sense and identify potential obstacles in the vessel’s path, providing feedback to the Mercury Autonomous system to allow the boat’s JPO system to autonomously respond and ensure a smooth docking process.

“Mercury’s adoption of Raymarine DockSense assisted docking solution will transform the boating experience,” said Travis Merrill, FLIR Commercial Business Unit president. “By combining FLIR machine learning and advanced sensor technologies into DockSense, we are taking the stress out of docking and making the boating experience more enjoyable for everyone onboard.”
 
While not in the market place today, assisted docking technology is poised to revolutionize boat handling in the near the future.  See the video at: http://boatingindustry.ca/featured-articles/7149-assisted-docking-for-outboards-to-be-demonstrated-by-mercury-marine-and-raymarine-at-two-upcoming-events?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2127007&utm_campaign=2019-02-12%2007:00:00

MERCURY LAUNCHES NEW 400HP VERADO OUTBOARD

Verado realm
The Boston Whaler 350 Realm is a gorgeous boat made even better with new triple Verado 400s.

RealmThe Boston Whaler 350 Realm with the new 400 Verado engines is returning from a run on Lake X.

 

 

 

 

 

Realm HelmThis is the Lake X view from the helm of the Boston Whaler 350 Realm. All three 400hp Verados are turning above 6,000 rpm and the GPS indicates about 53 mph SOG as we crank into a turn.


 

Another major announcement at Lake X was the launch of the 400hp Verado outboard engine. This is the company’s highest horsepower Verado. Mercury says that consumers have been requesting a higher horsepower Verado engine, especially for twin and triple installations. The Mercury L6SC Verado platform is compact, light and delivers big power with proven reliability.
 
Weighing just 668 pounds, the same as the 350hp Verado, the 400hp Verado is also the lightest outboard in the 400+ HP category by nearly 300 pounds. 

The triple 400hp Verados were most impressive on the Boston Whaler 350 Realm. The boat is certainly one of the most feature-rich big day boats on the market today.

It has a transom door from the swim platform, a folding stern seat to increase cockpit floor area, a dive ladder that stows under the seat and fits a port side bracket where there is a side dive door. This is great for scuba or snorkeling, or just swimming and keeping people away from the engines. Under the huge hardtop and windshield are the helm seats and a forward-facing stern seat. The removable dining table can be set up here and the companion seat can swivel to set up a dinette.

There are side ladders to access the hardtop where you could secure kayaks or stand up paddle boards. The bow has a large area of versatile and adaptive seating and there is a cabin with a head and sleeping accommodations too.

The new 400 Verados accelerated strongly in spite of the size and weight of the Boston Whaler 350 Realm. Quiet and smooth, the 400s can rev to 6,700 and take the 350 Realm to 55 mph. Even at top speed I could crank the wheel over and the boat responded with a tight turn, light steering and no cavitation. The Active Trim system was effortless and the boat was always trimmed right.

The Boston Whaler 350 realm was a very impressive boat that can do it all and with the triple 400 Verados, it does it all fast!

HARRIS 250 GRAND MARINER WITH POWER PRODUCTS SUITE

PHOTO #: harris dash
CAP: The helm on the Harris 250 Grand Mariner includes the Vessel View screen in the centre, the Vessel View Mobile on the left with the Fell Marine MOB+ system running on it, CZone switching for lights, sound system and accessories plus the usual steering and controls. What you can’t see is the adjustable shock-absorbing driver’s seat!

BuildingsOur group of journalists are returning to the docks past the Lake X observation tower and with the shop buildings in the distance.

Harris DockingDocking the Harris 250 Grand Mariner pontoon using the joystick piloting system; easy!

While it wasn’t intended as the main event, the Harris 250 Grand Mariner pontoon equipped with the new Mercury 300 V8 engines, joystick docking, the Mercury Vessel View 903 system and well as the Vessel View Mobile, was simply remarkable. It had everything!

Back in 2018, Brunswick Corporation acquired Power Products’ Global Marine & Mobile Business which includes a whole suite important products and brands in the power management and control area. The Power Products brands include: Ancor, BEP, Blue Sea Systems, Czone, Del City, Lenco Marine, Marinco, Mastervolt, Park Power, Progressive Industries, and ProMariner.

The company’s motto, “Powering Innovation, Connecting with Customers,” aligns with Mercury Marine’s vision of enhancing the boating experience for its customers and providing opportunities to make boating easier.

So, the Harris 250 Grand Mariner pontoon had CZone Touch switching, Mercury’s Active trim that automatically trims the engines and it also had NauticON – a system that relays information from the boat to your mobile. One more feature was the Fell Marine MOB+ wireless man overboard system. This provides greater freedom of movement for everyone on the boat (even pets) than a traditional kill switch lanyard, and stops the engine should anyone fall overboard. Up to four xFOBs can be connected to the xHUB™ at the same time, with one unit acting as the captain’s stop unit, and the additional three as alarm units for passengers.

We tried it out and the system performed very well. Most impressive though was the performance with the twin 300hp Mercury V8s. Acceleration was impressive and we saw a top speed of 56 mph. The seats and fittings were luxurious and the Power Products suite gave this super deluxe pontoon boat, all the latest conveniences.

MERCURY 5HP PROPANE FOURSTROKE

PropaneWith an expression of both determination and delight, the author puts the new Mercury Propane 5hp through its paces.

PropaneTwo other journalists discover that starting is made easy with the manual choke, which enriches the fuel-to-air ratio for fast and reliable starts, particularly when the engine is cold.

As we mentioned earlier, the Mercury 80th Anniversary celebrations actually kicked off at the Toronto International Boat Show back in January with the global introduction of the new Mercury 5hp Propane FourStroke. I see real benefits for our readers with this alternative fuel engine.

This propane-fueled engine delivers no-hassle portability, reliability and convenience running on alternative clean-burning fuel – whether it’s powering aluminum boats, inflatables or sailboats.

Starting at just 59.5 pounds (27.2 kilograms) the 5hp Propane FourStroke is light and easy to carry or transport. For those looking for a great dinghy engine, you can run a Mercury 5hp Propane on the same conventional propane you’re probably using in your onboard BBQ. There’s no gasoline to haul with the engine and there is 30% lower exhaust emissions compared to gasoline.  After seeing the engine in Toronto, we were keen to try it out at Lake X on the Tracker Topper 12.

The 5hp Propane FourStroke sports an easy-to-reach shift lever on the engine and has six tilt positions with a shallow-water drive to set the outboard where you need it. Auto decompression reduces the pull force when using the starter rope.

FINAL WORD

From the smallest products to the biggest, Mercury Marine is seeing the big picture of boating and the company is investing in the future with some great new technologies. It was a great experience to visit Lake X to see both the history and the future of boating come together!

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