For me, it started off in single outboard catamarans doing north of 90mph (78 knots-plus), but quickly transformed into a 1980s Magnum 1500 powered by a 1986 90hp Johnson – a move from an open horsepower class to the lowest available competitive race class in the country (we’re talking long course racing here), writes Ryan Archer. Pictures by Rach O’Grady and Chris Sexton.

There are plenty of old ski setups available on the secondhand market for less than $10k, and all would be competitive in their respective classes with a bit of tuning and refinement. A 1500 Magnum with a 90hp is a hard boat to beat in the 90hp Limited Class.

Moving up to 150-200hp, the options grow wider, with Bullets, Sonics, Magnums and Cyclones all proving competitive in the right conditions – and many of these hulls are now north of 30 years old! There’s limited choice available locally for those who want to look at new boats: Nic De Mey Yachts is building Phantoms, with six now either built or contracted to be built, and Fairview Fibreglass has a new Stealth on its way. Beyond that, you need to head offshore to Australia, America or Europe to find new-build ski/race options, of which there are many examples already in New Zealand.

Every racer-to-be has to make the first step of identifying how fast they want to go and in what conditions. They should then set up their existing boat or purchase a boat to suit. Doing 70mph (60 knots) down rivers and on inshore lakes is quite achievable with a well set up 1750 Bullet running a 150hp, but head offshore and you’ll need to not only step up in hull length, but also in horsepower to reliably deliver the same sort of speeds. If you look closely at what’s been successful over the years, your starting point would be a 200hp outboard on a 19ft hull.

This segues nicely into how to run hard in the rough. It’s as much about driver skill as it is setup. Seat time yields experience. Experience in how to read water, and how to trim and throttle a boat through chop and swell. Proper boat setup ensures, not only that the boat holds together, but that you can achieve the highest average speed whilst navigating the chop.

Before going racing, taking the hull to a boatbuilder for a once-over is a smart way to ensure the transom and hull survive the punishment that offshore racing will throw at it. The boat may need repairs and/or strengthening.

Head inshore and a well-maintained 1980s ski-boat will be suitable for most of the conditions you’ll encounter, which is part of the reason why the Bullets, Magnums and Cyclones are still campaigned so successfully today.


We’ll save tips and tricks on rigging raceboats/ski-boats for future columns.