Issue: March 2002
Manufacturer: Lewis Boats
Lewis Boats is a company steeped in history and tradition. Its story began more than 60 years ago when the company built handcrafted inboard ski racing boats. Craftsmen dedicated to the final product built these boats from only the finest timbers.
Lewis saw each new boat as a challenge, pushing the workmen to improve on the quality and performance of the last boat built. When water skiing increased in popularity during the late 60s Lewis became one of the most sought after brands by ardent racing drivers and social skiers alike.
Lewis’s popularity continued right up to the mid 60s, when moulded fibreglass construction sounded the death knell of those beautifully handcrafted timber ski and race boats.
By the time Lewis had made the change to fibreglass construction, their dominance of race circuits had ended, leaving the ski and social markets as their sole source for production. But Lewis didn’t have that market to itself. In addition to a lot of big name companies, there were numerous backyard builders, using moulds that were often taken from timber ski boats, producing inboard ski boats for a market that was showing a lot of potential.
It was then that Steve Parker purchased Lewis Boats and set about re-evaluating, re-designing and re-building the range. Parker realised that the long-term future of any inboard ski boat lay in its design, layout and performance for the specialised role it’s called upon to perform.
But at the same time the boat had to provide all the comforts, finish and fit-out that a family man could get if he brought one of the many fibreglass family runabouts on the market that you could still ski behind.
Then, the increase in popularity of wakeboarding placed more emphasis and importance on the shape and quality of the boat’s wake.
While pulling power and consistency of the tow, combined with the ability of the boat to hold its line are prime ingredients in any ski boat design, the shape of the wake and surface turbulence now need to be considered when building a specialist ski boat. Also running costs and noise levels need to be addressed.
The Lewis Eclipse is an excellent example of what has to be done to satisfy today’s demanding market.
But this is not just another quality inboard ski boat; it is a boat of world-class standards in design, performance and finish.
The Eclipse is an inboard centremount bowrider, which has all the onboard ingredients to make boating comfortable and enjoyable. But it’s this boats on-water performance that makes it so popular with serious and social skiers alike, particularly with the wakeboarding enthusiasts.
The underwater shape of this boat holds the key to just about all of its performance and success as a wakeboarding tow-boat.
The position, length and shape of the strakes and keel plank; the overly wide, drooped chines and the concave shape created inside the chines, combine to give a ride and all-round ski boat performance that is as good as you will get from any ski boat on the market.
The wake has a clean edge that is even and clearly defined. The turbulence coming from the prop and underwater running gear does not churn up the centre of the wash too much, leaving a wake that skiers from basic novice to hardened professional will find conducive to good skiing.
Like a number of other builders Lewis have also resorted to mechanical devices to enhance the quality of the wake for the die-hard wakeboarders. This plate – called a “wake enhancer” on the option list – is fully controlled and adjusted from the driver’s seat.
The shape of the chines, the tunnels formed between them and the veed hull, make the boat extremely smooth and easy riding. It nestles itself lightly across the water, rocking the hull smoothly as it runs across any wakes or wash from other craft. The deep chines and the concave tunnels keep displaced water and spray down and away from the boat, producing a dry ride that’s comfortable for all on board under a variety of water conditions.
Those chines also contribute to just about every aspect of the Eclipse’s performance. These help with the wake shape, lift and deflection of spray and the stability of the ride. In turns, these chines seem to pull the boat down onto the water, giving a good level ride without letting the boat drift, slide, or move about.
A 270hp 5.7lt V8 MerCruiser inboard is the standard engine offered through the complete range of Lewis ski boats, but the Modern Boating test boat was supplied with the powerful 315hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI.
This 5.7lt multi-port fuel injected V8 costs around $3900 more than the standard carburettored engine, but the response and smoothness of power that results from the fuel injection and microprocessor engine management system bring this additional cost into perspective.
With the 350 MAG MPI, the Eclipse has a top speed of 45mph at 4600rpm. But top speed is irrelevant in this instance. It’s the pulling power and performance at ski speeds that are the most important.
And here the Eclipse is superb. The 315hp V8 powers the hull well through turns, not dropping off too much power as the hull settles deep into the water and the propeller is loaded.
With a little bit of extra throttle, the hull will pull evenly through the turns and accelerate. From idle, the hull pops quickly onto the plane, maintaining a flat line of trim and gives instant, even power from the moment the throttle is opened.
There is no hesitation and the power is more than sufficient to tow either single or multiple skiers. Around 3000 to 3600rpm is about all the revs needed for the various skiing speeds required between 30 to 37mph.
But there was also another interesting development revealed during this test session. The second boat that Steve Parker provided was not a different model, but another Eclipse bowrider powered by a gutsy 212hp six-cylinder Steyr diesel.
Around 12 months ago, putting a diesel engine into a ski boat was considered a joke, but today it has become a viable alternative.
Diesel engine manufacturers have made enormous gains in recent times with smaller, lighter and more compact engines. These are higher revving and consequently finding wider applications.
While the diesel produces only 66 per cent of the horsepower of the V8 petrol engine, it wasn’t too much down on top end speed; 40mph at 4200rpm, while it was barely ticking over at ski speeds between 3200 to 3400rpm. But the biggest bonus was fuel consumption. Around 12lt per hour, half of what a petrol inboard is likely to return.
Nothing is lost in pulling power. The diesel can maintain its power and efficiency throughout turns, not allowing increased loading on the prop to slow the engine’s revs down.
Also noise levels, other than at idle, are well below those of the petrol engine. Diesel power is definitely now a option for the ski boat fraternity.
Apart from a slight diesel knock at idle, the only indication of the diesel power under the hatch was a small puff of black smoke pumped out of the exhausts when the throttle was slammed open.
That puff of black soot wasn’t excessive and probably not likely to be of much concern, but Steyr engineers are working in conjunction with Lewis to minimize, even eradicate, this telltale diesel signature.
It was the Japanese ski schools that instigated the development of the diesel powered Lewis Eclipse. In Japan, where diesel is something like 50 per cent cheaper than petrol, halving fuel consumption by the use of the 212hp Steyr diesel engine, means ski school operators are recovering that extra initial purchase price of the diesel engine inside the first year of operation.
The Eclipse is an inboard bowrider ski boat that’s not just world standard, but sets a world standard. It is complete in its fit-out, but more importantly produces a wake that is just about as good as you will get for wakeboarding, without detracting from its performance as a ski boat.
Prices start from $41,670 with the V8 MerCruiser including trailer.
Story by David Toyer