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Wed 16 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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Auditioning the X-factor

The MasterCraft X-2 is the rockstar tow boat that wins the public vote. Craig Barnett rolls with it in Doha.

The MasterCraft X-2 is the rockstar tow boat that wins the public vote. Craig Barnett rolls with it in Doha.

It is no accident that the choice of towcraft for wakesport enthusiasts worldwide bears the legend ‘MasterCraft' down the hull; many of their staff are past champions in the world class competitions the company supports.

Whether the remarkable growth in the towboat sector is due to the company riding the wake of unprecedented popularity in action watersports, or MasterCraft themselves generating this popularity by providing a product, culture and lifestyle that is totally in tune with current demands, is actually a valid topic for debate.

In the hotbed of wakesports, Orlando, Florida, you're never further than a swish of a saltwater croc's tail from a MasterCraft; as waterside living grows in the Gulf, the same could soon be true here.

To compliment our Tow Sports Special feature, we travelled to Doha to test the MasterCraft in a wakeboarder's paradise that will soon rival any available in the USA.

Stepping onto the craft at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Marina, Amr Selim, distributor for MasterCraft in the Gulf quickly added to my comments regarding the X-2 being "a specialist wakeboat."

"It's important to realise the MasterCraft Saltwater Series is so much more than this," he insisted. "The Saltwater Series is certainly a top of the line towcraft, but it also a fun family sportsboat for inshore cruising and entertaining friends on."

After producing craft for generations of waterskiers that were predominantly used on freshwater lakes, MasterCraft released it's Saltwater Series in 2005 when they recognised that more and more of its inland customers were relocating to the coast.

On the SS models all corrosive parts were replaced with stainless steel fittings, the engines run on closed loop cooling systems, power steering was fitted, zinc anodes and a flushing kit installed. This resulted in a more versatile boat that demanded less maintenance.

Despite going straight to the top of MasterCraft's best-seller list on its launch in 2006, the X-2 is still going through an evolution process. Not because the craft wasn't complete when it was released, but because the company are constantly upgrading their models.

Once the ordering of an ‘additional extra' on a model reaches a pre-determined rate, the company adds that feature to their next model year.The result is a standard craft that's spec far exceeds premium models in most other manufacturer's ranges.

All craft are also pre-wired and fitted to readily accept any of the optional extras available on MasterCraft's list; meaning the retro fitting of an upgraded sound system for example, requires no hull cuts and wires are simply plugged into connectors.

The 2008 model year X-2 comes with a bewildering array of features as standard; MasterCraft's VDIG (Video Digital Gauge) makes reading fuel, temp, speed, depth, air temp, water temp, ballast levels and other information easier to view and digest.

It also comes with a stunning 76 cubic feet of storage, an oversized boarding platform, a wakeboard tower, rotating board racks and an intelligent hard tank ballast system; hidden in the floor it doesn't steal away deck space.

Where the X-2 is concerned, space really was the final frontier. Aided by its sci-fi 'Superfly', or pickle fork bow, the craft is almost Tardis-like with a capacity rating for eleven people! Where most 20 foot sportsboats offer a capacity for around six individuals, the MasterCraft allows the whole party onboard.

Easily accommodated in the cockpit's deep cushioned wrap-around bench seats, passengers also benefit from a sunken sole - which means knees aren't tucked under the chin.

Bow riders also have more room to stretch as the unique Superfly bow design provides an additional 30 percent space in the forward seating area.

With so many passengers on a 20 foot craft, one would usually become seriously concerned about stability, but on the X-2 you'd be more concerned about having eleven guests in your lounge.

The X-2 owes its stability on the water, and solidity to touch, to the hull design and triple laid construction. Weighing in at almost one and a half metric tonnes, the X-2 is no lightweight, and joins the rest of the company's offerings in carrying between 250 to 450 kilograms more than equivalant craft by other manufacturers.

Contributing to its impressive mass is the bi-lateral stringer system, which makes the hull incredibly strong and stiff, and the combination of hand crafting and CAM techniques that are employed during production, with all fibreglass cloth cut to matching patterns, rather than just cut from a roll.

For a uniform finish the gel coat is measured to within 0.005 percent using laser measuring equipment. So confident is the company in the quality of its hull construction, it offers a lifetime guarantee on them.Pulling out of the marina and heading into the channel that leads to Doha's West Bay development, the deeply satisfying tone of the 350hp Indmar gurgled below the deeply cushioned aft sunpad.

Lifting the engine cover, after discovering the two cavernous storage lockers either side, I discover one of the secret's behind MaterCraft's success.

Having built a special working relationship with Indmar over the years, MasterCraft now have a three year exclusivity contract on the MCX powerplants they develop together.

By the time the engine becomes available for their competitors to fit, MasterCraft are staying ahead of the chasing pack by bolting the next generation into their hulls.

Making our way through remote controlled access barriers - we headed into the network of channels that provide Doha's wake fans with perfect riding conditions almost every day of the year.

Of course the day we arrived, the unseasonably high winds conspired to produce a reasonable chop, but all the better for testing the craft's ride in anything above a glassy surface.

Dropping the billet aluminium throttle, the X-2 gathered herself slightly, before launching onto the plane with a low-down, torquey boost of acceleration.

When taking into consideration the additional weight aboard provided by full ballast tanks, two oversized 'fat sacks' and five passengers, the X-2 still proved to be no slouch - when the additional weight was jettisoned, she picked up her skirts and ran respectable sportsboat performance figures.

Cranking the sports wheel over, the heavily laden X-2 hunkers down and drives through a turn like it is carving a deep permanent track in the water. Remarkably though, there is a distinct lack of roll. Amr laughs as I raise my eyebrows.

"The hull's incredible, yes?" he says with pride. "It is the combination of the steps in the hull and the Superfly bow that prevent the roll. When the boat starts to roll, air is compressed in the hull contours; righting it. The bow was designed to stop the boat rolling when a rider pulled on the tower out wide, the space is a by-product."

Tow boat designers must have seriously rolled their eyes when the boarding generation started demanding huge ramping wakes; for decades they'd been working on flattening out the water for waterskiers.Having grasped this challenge however, the X-2's hull design makes it suitable for a whole range of tow sports.

At high displacement speeds, just before it drops onto the plane, the wake is prime for wakesurfing.

Flick the switch to draw 650 pounds of water into the ballast tanks beneath the sole, up the speed to around 24mph, and the contoured stern digs deep to throw out crisp wakeboard launch ramps.

By dropping the excess baggage and the throttle down to 28mph plus, the hull skims the surface, leaving behind a carpet of white bubbles - the kind waterskiers pray for.

Which mode you choose for inflatable rides depends upon how extreme a ride you want!

As we tied the tow rope onto the chunky ZeroFlex Flyer tower, which not only provides a sturdy pull point for riders, but incorporates swivelling board racks, stainless steel speaker cans and lights, the stereo was cranked up to get the adrenalines flowing.

Before each rider dropped in from the oversized bathing platform, they selected their tune of choice from the remote set into the transom and the shredding session got underway.

Grabbing chilled drinks from the cooler box that sits in its snug recess under the port quarter seat, cameras clicked and encouragement was shouted as the local riders tore through impressive aerial routines.

The combined ballast and fat sacks produced a dreamlike wake and the driver's job was made all the easier by dialling in the rider's preferred presets into the cruise control system.

Verdict

Since its first release five years ago, the MasterCraft X-Star with a Superfly bow has won the ‘Best Wakeboard Boat' category voted for by professional riders.

The X-Star's little sister, the X-2 has consistently been the company's best seller since its own launch. In terms of the panel and public vote then, MasterCraft have a chart topper.

If one had to find issue, it is manoeuvrability when going astern; something common in all V-drives though as the prop sits ahead of the rudder.

The incredible space and spec on the X-2 goes a long way toward justifying its price tag; but when you take into account the build quality, then the advertising strap line ‘reassuringly expensive' springs to mind. One of my favourite boats of the year.

As spectators lounged around in comfort, it was good to see the helm is more than adequately provided for.

Although the pilot seat swivels, as well as switches between bolster and traditional mode, the option of oversized rear view mirror is one well worth adding.

Behind the windshield sits a fantastically stylised dash that wouldn't look out of place on a Flash Gordon movie.

The oversized gauges sit in shiny stainless pods that mould into the contoured dash, providing the helm with clear accessible information on speed, ballast and engine performance and a whole range of other data via VDIG.

As one would expect, the throttle and steering have been positioned after attention to ergonomic detail, but the top -lit, aircraft style toggle switches are a fine finishing touch.

In all likelihood, the decision of whether or not to buy a MasterCraft, is likely to be a shorter process than choosing how you want it.

Spending an evening on the website playing with options and colour combinations of hull colour, trim, carpeting, stitching, etc. is entertainment in itself.

What this does mean is that you receive what is essentially a customised sportsboat; in a sport where is expressing yourself with exuberance is a prerequisite, MasterCraft have once again hit the nail on the head.

Apparently there are 1,900,000 different combinations available - choose one!

Specifications

LOA: 6.1 metres

Beam: 2.4 metres

Draft: 0.68 metres

Displacement: 1450 kgs

Engine: LY6 litre V8 Indmar MCX 400hp. V-Drivetrain.

Top speed: 50mph

Cruising speed: 45 mph

Ballast capacity: 650 litres

Price: Starting at $82,000 (USD)

Web: www.mastercraft.com

Mail: amrselim@alliedqatar.com

Tel: +974 5521 050

MasterCraft boats are built in the USA.

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