The exponentially growing watersports of wakeboarding and, not far behind, wakesurfing, have led to a boom-time for manufacturers of tow boats. The US and Australia are the dominant countries designing and building tow boats, and MasterCraft is one of the very top builders in the US.
The marque has established a strong presence in Australia after starting from a horse barn in Maryville, Tennessee, in 1968. Nearly half a century later, the company now produces thousands of watersports and luxury boats each year, with a host of innovations and successes across the decades.
The demand for larger boats and the increasing use of technology has inevitably meant the cost of the best tow boats has risen in recent years. MasterCraft produces a line at the pinnacle of the tow boat world, but has recognised the need to also offer boats with some simplified features to keep costs down. These still have everything that those new to the sport require, but they also appeal to anyone with an eye on the budget.
The NXT20 and NXT22 are such designs, and we had the good fortune to try one of the latter on Sydney’s Hawkesbury River on a glorious late winter’s day. Coming along to help as camera boat driver was Marty Blake, with his champion wakeboarding daughter Ashley. They were aboard their more upmarket X20 MasterCraft that has every bell and whistle a watersports enthusiast could imagine.
Marty is proud of his X20, which he’d purchased earlier this year after owning several other brands of tow boats. “I chose MasterCraft because of the prestige of having it, the quality of the build, and the look of them … the whole package is just fantastic,” he says.
LESS IS MORE
Marty’s comments apply to the NXT22 as well, except there’s more manual control required for the various watersports facilities – in many ways, that’s not such a bad thing. It is still very easy to operate, and by using the manual controls, any owner or driver will quickly understand the effect they have and how to use them to set up the boat for individual riders or surfers.
Even though the NXT might be simplified compared with the company’s more upmarket models, MasterCraft did not want customers to feel they were getting a stripped-out version and thus retained core technology such as a colour display, a GPS-based Zero Off tournament speed control, switch-control triple ballast tanks, and push-button controls for both launch-control and surfing plates.
The NXT22 we saw retails for around $122,000, with various options lifting it from a base price of around $96,000.
The layout is typical of today’s spacious tow boats, even more so with its pickle-fork bow design that carries the beam right forward, giving a very generous bowrider cockpit. The fit and finish of the NXT22 is excellent, with comfortably supportive seating all around, and with tons of stowage space. Overhead is an excellent NXT wakeboard tower, with board racks that swivel inside the boat for easy handling. The lower rack is oversized for thicker boards.
The screen is well-raked and rounded, but has no side returns; it looks different, but it works well and aids visibility to each side.
The padding on the top of the dash is a no-glare black and the dash overall is quite low-profile to help with forward visibility. Unusually, rather than gauges or a display in front of the wheel, there is a neat row of switches for bilge pumps, lights and so on, while to the left is the Fusion stereo system and a little storage slot for odds and ends. To the right of the wheel is the colour display screen, with a host of scroll-through options covering everything from engine operation and management through to ballast tank data, water temperature and more.
The side sections of the dash are finished in brushed alloy panels to provide a good contrast between the no-glare black of the behind-screen padding and the green of the gelcoat.
Externally, the NXT22 is just as striking, with a spectacularly colourful scheme of lime green and metallic gunmetal – it looks superb.
POWER TO THE TOW-PEOPLE
The Ilmor V8 had push-button start/stop and was never short of thumping power that was delivered in smooth progression. Using the launch-control centre tab kept the bow down during out-of-the-hole shots, even with full ballast tanks. It could also be used to adjust the running angle when needed, and it makes it easy to flatten off the wash for a soft skiing wake.
Just cruising along, the NXT was doing an easy 22.7 knots (42km/h) at 3500rpm, with mid-range speeds from 27 knots (50km/h) at 4100rpm, to 32 knots (59km/h) at 5000rpm. Top speed on the day was a silky 34 knots (63km/h) at 5400rpm.
The optional NXT surf system fits MasterCraft’s Gen 2-style plates either side of the transom, as well as the plug-and-play ballast system – that has two extra water bags for the aft storage compartments, adding a further 400kg to the displacement. The Gen 2 surf plates are asymmetrical to offset the effect of engine/prop torque: the port plate has angled vertical tabs on its underside to give the same quality of wave on both sides.
We had two young champions to show just how good a set of wakes the NXT22 produces. Ashley Blake was national Junior Women’s Wakeboard Champion in 2013 and 2014 before stepping up to Pro Level this year (2015) and immediately winning a second place. Our other surfer was Elliott Digney, who is currently Junior Boys 10 to 14 Australian Champion; this year he has been competing in the US on the Junior Pro Tour circuit. In three out of five events, he won and is through to the finals … an amazing accomplishment at age 14 competing against 17-and 18-year-olds.
Both Ash and Elliott flew high and wide, inverted and sideways, as they ran through a superb repertoire of wakeboarding tricks behind the NXT22, and then adopted a more relaxed stance surfing the waves roiling in a beautiful shape out from the transom. At one stage Elliott crossed from one side of the boat to the other as he surfed along, showing the equality of the waves from right to left.
It seems that only the truly dedicated would need the added refinement of the top range of MasterCraft towboats, because the NXT22 sure delivered all the goods that most watersporting
Capacity: 14 persons
Fuel capacity: 189lt
Power (as tested): Ilmor 5.7lt V8 (239kW/320hp)
Price from: $96,000 (on trailer, ready to go)
Price as tested: $122,000 (on trailer, ready to go)
MasterCraft.com, tel: (03) 8375 1634. Web: MasterCraft.com.