Last week, we took a close look at a Lake Powell houseboat, and ended with the promise of another Dockside Classic for today. To fulfill that promise, we’re going to take a look at my buddy Rhino’s 1993 Ski Centurion. Like the houseboat, this craft was built for a very specific purpose. But if the houseboat is an RV, the Ski Centurion is a drag car.
Manufactured by Centurion Boats, a company specializing in the production of water sports boats, this was one of the best ski boats available at the time. All competition style ski boats are designed to use the flattest bow possible, to minimize the wake behind the boat. The vee-shaped wave generated by the boat’s motion through the water, a smaller wake made it easier for skiers to move from side to side behind the boat, enhancing their ride.
However, this hull style reduces the boats seaworthiness, since it lacks the ability to cut through heavy chop. Instead, it climbs each wave and crashes down into the trough behind. Serious water skiers embrace this compromise, in order to ride the “glass smooth” water behind a quality ski boat.
Here it is out of the water. Several models were available in 1993, so Rhino specified the following:
- Hull- 20’ 5 Falcon XP with an open bow (seats forward of the windshield).
- Engine- 5.7 Ford V-8 with 4 bbl carb (Ryan thinks ’93 was the last year for carburetors)
- Drive- True inboard with Velvet Drive transmission.
Borg Warner made the Velvet Drive, a very simple, tough transmission with forward and reverse capability. Using a set of planetary gears and a friction band, it comes in either a V-drive or direct drive configuration. Since squared off, flat sterns don’t cut through the water well, using the reverse gear is a bit of a challenge. The boat tends to “crab” to one side, but with a light touch and a bit of practice, a good pilot can navigate tight dockside spaces with confidence.
This image shows the driver’s cockpit. A combined throttle and direction control mounts on the right. Throttle forward to launch, and pull back to reverse the boat.
The dash includes six gauges including volts, engine oil pressure, engine temperature, and fuel level, along with an hour meter and clock. The main gauge cluster includes two speedometers and a tach- Boat speedometers are somewhat inaccurate and the sensing (pitot) tube tends to pick up debris which blocks the speed signal, so a second speedometer provides redundancy and allows the driver to average the two values when needed.
To the left of the driver is the ski pylon, where the ski rope mounts. The pylon is solidly mounted to the floor of the boat, and places the pivot point of the ski rope in the center of the boat. This raises the rope high enough to clear the boat sides when a skier is up out of the water.
With a skier up, the ski rope moves back and forth across the stern, preventing passengers from riding there. To maximize passenger seating, Rhino bought an open bow model with this additional seating. Of course, the boat’s low profile increases the risk of water washing over the bow and baptizing these passengers, so know the risks before sitting here.
The engine is mounted immediately behind the ski pylon and fills up the rear deck. It’s branded Indmar Marine, but the foundation is a Ford 351. A cooling pump mounted at the front of the crankshaft draws up lake water and feeds it to the thermostat housing, which along with several other modifications making it suitable for marine duty. It generates enough power to pull three skiers at once, so I’d call the horsepower rating “adequate.”
That’s Rhino headed out to take advantage of the glass smooth water and long canyon pulls available in the San Juan branch of Lake Powell. At the rear of the boat you can see a wooden launch deck. Skiers sit here to put on their skis prior to a pull, and use it to climb out of the water at the end of their run.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the skiing.
Which makes the evolution of water sports boats somewhat ironic. In 1995, just two years after building Ryan’s boat, Centurion began building a new model called “The Wave,” specifically designed to create large wakes for Wake boarding and Wake surfing. Using an entirely different bow technology, Centurion now boasts of their boats’ ability to generate large and controllable waves off the back of the boat. Clearly the appeal of the “no-wake” design has faded, adding to the uniqueness of today’s dockside classic.