Mercury Racing Service Manager Scott Browne Passes

A highly-respected technician, performance engine and boat builder and waterski racing champion.

The Mercury Racing family regrets the passing of colleague Scott Browne, who served as a Service Manager for Mercury Racing and Mercury Marine in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific region. Browne, age 49, died unexpectedly in January.

“Scott was energetic, knowledgeable and passionate,” said Anthony Brown, Mercury Marine marketing manager for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. “Scott had a positive effect on each and every one of us.”

When Browne joined Mercury Marine in 2001 he brought with him two great loves – spending time on the water and working with engines. He had the knowledge to answer questions and the passion to ask them. An expert mechanic, fully trained on race engines and with plenty of experience working in a dealership, Scott knew the business from all sides.

Browne also had a huge impact on the waterski-racing fraternity in Australia. A popular motorsport in the region, waterski racing pairs a high-performance boat and an expert skier in competition against other teams, either on a closed course or in a point-to-point or timed race. Boat-and-skier speeds in the top classes can top 100 mph. Browne, highly regarding in the waterski-racing community, participated as a skier, a mechanic and boat builder, a driver, and a fervent supporter of the sport.

His waterski racing career started in 1994, when he teamed with his brothers Paul and Craig. His achievements are too many to list, but some of the highlights will clearly show the legacy he leaves.

Running a boat powered by a 6.0-liter engine Scott built, the trio’s first race was the 1994 Robinvale 80. Their boat The Sting caught fire after five minutes but the three persisted and with Scott doubling as team mechanic and number-one skier they ended up holding all three Victorian river records in their class. A record the Browne brothers set at the 2001 Mildura 100 race stood for 10 years.

Scott’s next boat, Quicksilver, wasn’t just quick, it was revolutionary. The 1850 Bullet was powered by a triple-rotor Mazda 20B rotary engine fitted with a turbocharger, which sparked more than one heated debate, as it regularly hit speeds near 100 mph. As a skier, Scott won the Southern 80 in 2001 and 2002, collected victories at the Mildura 100 in 2002 and 2003, and went on to win at Robinvale in 2004. After hanging up his ski, Browne continued to build and drive championship-winning boats, claiming the high-points titles at Murray Bridge in 2008 and Robinvale in 2012.

Browne’s involvement and enthusiasm went well beyond pure racing. He once skied behind a 29-foot Scarab more than 300 miles from Tasmania to Port Phillip Heads in southern Victoria, Australia. In 2010 Browne claimed a silver medal in the veteran men’s class at the 62-mile Catalina to Long Beach ski race off the California coast, perhaps the most-prestigious waterski race in North America. He generously donated his Haines Hunter boat when he heard Mercury wanted to form an all-female ski race team.

Scott Browne was an amazing family man, friend and colleague. He will be sadly missed by all of us who knew him at Mercury Marine, and our most-heartfelt sympathy goes to his family.

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An Intro to Hydrodynamics

There are two basic ways to increase the top speed of a powerboat: add power or reduce drag. Adding power is the obvious path and the easiest to understand, and nobody understands power like Mercury Racing, home of the Mercury Racing 450R outboard and the Mercury Racing Dual Cal 1550/1350 sterndrive engine. Finding a reduction in drag can have a surprisingly significant impact on speed, and basic physics tells us why.   

Drag is proportional to the square of speed – so going twice as fast requires that we overcome four times the drag. To make a simple math example, to increase boat speed by 10 percent, say from 100 mph to 110 mph, will require overcoming about 21 percent more drag (1.1 x 1.1 = 1.21). However, the power required to overcome that drag is proportional to the cube of speed. So to use the same example, increasing boat speed by 10 percent will require approximately 33 percent more power (1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1 = 1.331). To create a real-world example, if a boat powered by a pair of Mercury Racing 1100 QC4 engines (2,200 total horsepower) can reach a top speed of 125 mph, pushing that speed to 135 mph (an increase of 8 percent) will require approximately 26 percent more power, or 2,772 horsepower – a pair of Mercury Racing 1350 QC4 engines would do the trick. This assumes no increase in prop slip, losses to drivetrain friction, or significant change in air density, among other factors. 

This formula works backwards as well, so any reduction in drag translates into more speed if the available power remains static. A fast boat experiences both aerodynamic and hydrodynamic drag. At high speed, most performance boats have very little hull in the water, so much of the drag to be overcome is aerodynamic. The two key points of hydrodynamic drag that concern Mercury Racing are at the gearcase and the propeller. The engineering challenge lies in finding ways to reduce drag while retaining real-world practicality. For example a very slim gearcase might be hydrodynamically efficient but unable to contain gears with a practical ratio, or gears large and strong enough to offer acceptable durability. Improving gearcase hydrodynamics may have a negative impact on water flow to the propeller, decreasing prop efficiency. Chasing hydrodynamic improvement can be a complicated game of compromise, but is always a worthwhile effort because any reduction in drag is like gaining horsepower. And horsepower is expensive. 

Modern engineering tools like computational fluid dynamics (CFD) allow engineers to study in detail the flow of air, either through and engine intake or around the hull and deck of a speeding boat, and to identify areas of drag. But those tools are much less reliable in the study of hydrodynamics, making years of experience and on-the-water testing vitally important. In future columns we’ll look at ways hydrodynamics influences the design of Mercury Racing propellers and gearcases as we support your quest for a Wide Open life at speed on the water.  

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Mercury Racing Employees Help in COVID-19 Fight

Three home-bound Mercury Racing employees are using personal 3D printers to support community efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. When Steve Wynveen, a development engineering manager at Mercury Racing, learned that Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee had posted a pattern and instructions for home sewers to create cloth face masks, he discovered a way to pitch in.

Steve Wynveen (and his assistant) with 3D printer

“One of the more time-consuming parts to sew in this plan is folding bias tape in half and stitching it together to form the strings that loop over your ear or behind your head,” said Wynveen. “Bias tape has a bit of springiness to it because of the 45-degree weave angle. The tool we are 3D printing is a funnel that folds the tape back onto itself, so that when it exits the tool, it can be fed right into a sewing machine, or be ironed flat.”

Davy Dins at home with 3D printer

Bias tape tools are available commercially, but a sewer who doesn’t have one on hand would have to leave home to purchase one – not advisable right now – or order one online and wait for delivery. Wynveen found a bias tape tool on to design a bias tape tool that could be 3D printed and enlisted fellow development engineering manager Chris Jenks and Mercury Racing technician David Dins to help crank out the plastic tools. All three Racing employees are 3D printer hobbyists, according to Jenks, and one of them brought home a 3D printer from Mercury Racing to keep engineering projects moving forward while the company is on “work from home” status.

“The 3D printer community is finding many ways to help during the pandemic,” said Jenks. “PrusaPrinters created files with its local health ministry in the Czech Republic for face shields and shared them with its printer community. Those in the 3D printer hobby usually make small models or arts-and-crafts projects. I’ve been making motorcycle parts. The bias tape tool was something we could make quickly and share locally.”

The tool is designed to be handheld and forms the tape as it is fed into a sewing machine, or as it is ironed flat. Wynveen communicated with two Facebook groups coordinating sewing of masks in Wisconsin – Masked Sewists for SE Wisconsin (2,762 members) and Wisconsin Face Mask Warriors (3,963 members) – and on March 30 offered his bias tape tool. He then enlisted Jenks and Dins to help print the tools, or “formers.”

“We are printing 30-piece nests of four-centimeter and five-centimeter formers,” said Wynveen. “I picked that nest size as it’s about a 12-hour print, which best lines up with our human sleep schedules, and gets us 60 pieces per machine, per day.”

Chris Jenks at home with 3D printer

Jenks said the “printer brigade” has created about 600 of the bias tape tools and has delivered about 500 of them to sewers. Jenks said ideally the tool would be designed and prototyped on a 3D printer, and then used to create a die for mass-production of an injection-molded part, but that process could take 12 to 16 weeks. For a small and fast run, the 3D printer option is working.

“I know it sounds cliché, but it really does feel good to help in the fight against this pandemic,” said Wynveen. “Sewists from all over Wisconsin are grateful to get one of these tools. Plus, it didn’t hurt that we got to tweak on our printers, and apply some technical knowledge to maximize our production rate. Fun stuff for an engineer that likes to go fast.”

Links to get involved in mask production:

The Froedtert request to the public:

The Froedtert mask pattern and instructions:

The Masked Sewists for SE Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Face Mask Warriors


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Built for Speed

Speed-Run Pontoon Ideas Trickle Down to Consumer Models

It’s likely the first pontoon boat race occurred the day the second pontoon boat was built. That’s the nature of competition. But the notion of going very fast in a pontoon might seem a bit counter-intuitive. If you want to go fast, why not just start with a faster boat? Maybe that would be too easy for people like Brad Rowland, a 51-year-old plumber from Sullivan, Ill., who holds the pontoon speed record, a blistering 114 mph run at the 2013 Lake of the Ozarks (LOTO) Shootout speed trials.

“You know when you are really cookin’,” said Rowland. “It gets real smooth because you are barely in the water.”

Rowland set his record with the 25-foot triple-tube South Bay pontoon “Tooned In” rigged with triple Mercury Racing Pro Max 300X outboards with 1.75:1 Fleet Master gearcases. In 2016 Rowland matched that record speed in a new 25-foot South Bay powered by the same trio of Mercury Racing Pro Max 300X motors, and claims to have seen 117 mph in private testing.

Rowland and other speed-seeking pontooners run with the deck fencing in place and even retain the stock seating.

“It’s basically a box on the water,” says Rowland. “I will open the front and rear gates to let some air flow through the boat, but I’ve found reducing weight has no effect on speed. The aerodynamics are so bad to start with.”

Rowland ran the South Bay to 112 mph at the 2019 LOTO Shootout, which is now on a course shortened from a mile to ¾-mile since he set the record. A steering malfunction hampered his run, or he feels he might have beat his own best speed.

“It’s a hairy deal running that fast in a pontoon,” says Rowland, who thinks pontoon speed may have hit a wall. “I’ll shake the hand of the man who goes faster.”

Photo Credit: Playcraft Pontoons

A handful of pontoon manufacturers – South Bay, Playcraft, Manitou and Avalon are examples – offer production models designed for speed and handling performance with potent single and twin outboards, including motors like the new Mercury Racing 450R outboard. The fastest production models are capable of speeds exceeding 70 mph.

“Nobody needs a 300-hp outboard on a pontoon for day-to-day use,” said Rusty Kucher, Brunswick Category Director – Pontoons, including the Harris Boats brand that offers the Mercury Racing 450R outboard for its Grand Mariner and Crowne series. “But there’s a segment of the pontoon market that wants to run as fast as possible, and enjoys having the biggest motor available. The owner who bought a boat with a single or twin Mercury Racing 400R outboards a few years ago now wants to move up to the 450R.”

Tri-tube pontoons designed for more than 200 hp and to run over 50 mph typically feature heavy-duty construction, with stout cross members placed on 16-inch centers, and pontoon tubes made of heavier-than-standard gauge aluminum. Triple tubes are generally required for boats rigged with more than 200 horsepower. Some builders make this center tube slightly larger in diameter than the outboard tube, or mount it slightly lower, so that at speed the boat rides primarily on the center tube but can also heel slightly to carve cleaner turns than a twin-tube pontoon. A number of design elements are added to the round tubes to increase performance. The tubes may have added bulkheads, and may be filled with compressed air or foam, so they maintain shape at high speeds. Some have a flat bottom surface added aft to promote planing, and all will have lifting strakes on the inboard and outboard tube surface that are designed to capture the energy of water displaced by the tubes and use it to lift the entire boat to reduce drag. The strakes are also designed to improve boat handling. A final element is a skin of aluminum attached to the underside of the cross members to reduce aerodynamic and hydrodynamic drag.

Add some serious outboard horsepower and props from Mercury Racing and you’ve got a performance pontoon, a boat that’s the antitheses of the traditional “go slow and enjoy the view at sunset” pontoon experience. Of course, a performance pontoon can always be throttled back for that sunset cruise, but can also offer an exhilarating burst of speed and cover longer distances more efficiently.

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