Bullet Boats| 104mph 20XD Bullet
Where Bullets Fly!
With the wind tugging at our faces and napping our cheeks, Bullet test pilot Paul Nichols and I blistered the rippled surface of Knoxville, Tennessee's Cherokee Lake at well over 100 mph at least a dozen times in a fully rigged, production weight Bullet bass boat complete with trolling motor, batteries, gear and tackle.
At 35, Nichols still has a boyish face, but his driving experience and ability in the seat of a fast bass boat rival those or the most experienced V-bottom outboard racers. Clearly, he has the setup, propping and driving of Bullet bass hulls down to a perfect balance of art and science.
That expertise was certainly appreciated last September as Nichols piloted our test Bullet, a very well set up 20XD model rigged with a new Mercury Racing Pro Max 300X, to a radar and GPS-recorded 104-mph top speed on Cherokee Lake.
BECAUSE WE CAN
Why go after such lofty top speeds with a production bass rig? Because we can, and like those who tackle Mount Everest - because it's there. The highest top speed recorded in these pages in years past was also achieved by a Bullet with Nichols at the helm, but those 117-mph passes were recorded with a race-weight hull, Mercury Drag outboard and little else aboard. In short, Bullet President Bill Hill and Vice President Teresa Anderson-Barnes wanted the title of "Fastest" to be without strings. They wanted to claim the honor with a production-weight hull rigged for fishing with a driver and passenger aboard and a stock production outboard for power.
Before this test, we listed our fastest production rig as a Stroker 21 that we showcased in the March 1998 issue, with a top end of 97.7 mph using a stock Mercury Racing Pro Max 300. That test was in standard BWB format, where we measure fuel consumption, acceleration and top speed with two aboard. Bullet wanted not only to beat the Stroker's speed, but to eclipse the 100-mph mark (and then some) so as to make the new record difficult for anyone else to break.
To begin testing, Hill chose his venerable 20XD hull,as it's not rated for maximum horsepower (it's over 20 feet long). However, most, if not all, of his current in-production hulls were spoken for. Our test rig turned out to be a local Bullet owner's rig. Nichols' good buddy Foster Yates from nearby Chattanooga,Tennessee, had a beautiful,white, gunmetal and red 20XD rigged with a Mercury Racing 2.5 EFI that he graciously lent us for the speed runs. One wrinkle, though, was factored into the mix. We had already tested a 20XD with a 2.5 EFl back in July 2000, and with two aboard and a racing prop, it topped out at just under 96 mph. Nichols and Hill were confident that this time around, the 280 hp 2.5 would provide 100-mph speeds, but they wanted to be certain that we'd attain the 100-plus-mph goal.
To that end, Bullet ordered a new 2005 Mercury Racing Pro Max 300X and hung it from a 12-inch setback manual Rapid Jack plate. With lighter engines, Bullet typically installs a 15-inch setback plate. For better balance with the heavier 300X, the shorter setback was used. Nichols and Bullet set-up man Reid Cox took the XD to the river with an arsenal of props about three weeks before our scheduled test. After breaking in the engine, the two began methodical testing until they settled on a couple of wheels that would produce the best numbers. A 14l/2x28-inch Performance Propellers round-ear and a l41/2x30-inch Mercury Lightning ET made the final cut. Before our team ever arrived in Knoxville, the Bullet boys were certain that the I00-mph mark would fall, and under the right conditions, there would be more for the taking.
The Mercury Racing Pro Max 300X was equipped with a Sport Master gearcase with a 1.62:1 gear ratio, and it was completely stock, including the rev limiter. We're certain of that limiter, because on two runs, we ran the boat out into some choppier water, and the extra lift from the chop allowed the big Mere to bump the limiter - hard. The result was spooky indeed, as the Bullet's bow dropped suddenly. At 104 mph, both Nichols and I just looked at each other with surprised faces. Nichols and the boat recovered nicely, however, and the only drama was our rapid heartbeats. The best runs of 104 mph on GPS (103.9 on Stalker radar) were achieved with the 28-inch Performance Propellers round-ear spinning at 6900 rpm; the 30-inch ET produced I03 at 6600, but it didn't drive and handle nearly as well. The Performance Props wheel is a new design. And, although it doesn't appear to have any special features (it looks just like a stock Mercury Chopper, with relatively thick blades, it is clearly a strong-running propeller.
At 104 mph, the"little" Bullet feels solid and predictable, not at all what I expected. Despite the 500-pound Mere hanging a foot from the transom, fore-to-aft balance is exceptionally good. The only time the extra weight is noticed is during takeoff: Here, the bow reaches skyward as the big hoss pushes it up and over the hump on plane. That's the only complaint; forward visibility is nil for just a second until the boat crowns over. While the bow points sky high, the time to plane is not slow by any means. The Bullet easily cranked off O-to-30 mph times of 5.2 seconds, which is extremely quick considering the high-pitched, 28-inch,over-hub exhaust propeller. Midrange, however, is most impressive; this package really rocks from 40 to 60 mph. That sprint took just 3.3 seconds; again,nothing short of incredible for a full-weight hull. While the 300X is a "traditional" EFI outboard, not DFI, the fuel economy of the Bullet package was actually quite good.
Best cruise was just under 29 mph, where we recorded 4.5 miles per gallon at a 2500 rpm pace. Mileage dropped to just over 3 miles per gallon at 49 mph, but then climbed back to and stayed right around 3.5 miles per gallon,all the way to full throttle. Running around beautiful Cherokee Lake, we found that 75 mph was a nice, fast cruise speed for getting somewhere in a hurry. The boat handled like a dream,and we still pulled down 3.5 miles per gallon. Range i severely limited, however,with the small, 30-gallon, standard fuel tank. At best cruise, leaving a few gallons in reserve, we could only go about 122 miles before another fill-up. Adding the optional twin II-gallon tanks would make the boat more usable on long trips, but keep in mind that the extra weight would drop the boat's speed and acceleration a tad. Handling was excellent.
Even at ultra slow speeds of just below 2500 rpm, the planing ability of the 20XD kept us on top without falling off until just over 2000 rpm. Turns were sharp and crisp at speeds up lo about 80 mph, then the engine trim angle became very critical. The hull banks nicely without heeling over or skipping. Conditions were choppy the morning of our test, with 20-mph headwinds and foot-high whitecaps running the length of the lake as we searched for some calmer water to post our top speeds. The Bullet handled this chop comfortably at 55 mph, with the solid chat-chat chatter of a pad-V running on the last few feet of the hull surface.We found our test track in a semi-wind-protected stretch between two of the lake's many islands. There, where the breezes were light with a nice 2-inch ripple, we made our speed runs both with and against the wind to average the results.
BUILT TO LAST
As mentioned, we've tested the 20XD before, and like our last subject hull, this Bullet is very well made. Advertised hull weight is 1200 pounds; at the scales, we recorded the rigged weight (boat, engine and gear) as 1920 pounds. Subtracting the 500-pound 300X outboard, the boat weight, including rigging (which included three batteries) , is 1420 pounds. Adding the 840-pound single-axle custom Boatmate trailer, the towed weight is 2760 pounds. That's light enough for even a smaller SUV or mini truck to haul easily. Bullets are hand-built by employees who worked for Hill a long time. His turnover rate is very low.
These guys know how to build a boat that won't break, and will hold up under years of use.After Sept. 11, 2001, most custom boat builders suffered a downturn that they've never fully recovered from. Bullet is no different; however, they're still cranking out at least a boat a day, and for a custom builder, that's serious production. Our test hull was built the same way all Bul lets are built: by hand and with only the 'best bias-ply and woven fiberglass saturated with vinylester resin. Kevlar fiber is used as reinforcement. This saves weight and, although it's tough to lay up, it makes the boat tougher and more resilient Balsa core is used as the hull stiffener along with good ol' plywood in the transom and stringers.
Though there's plenty of wood in the hull, rot has not been an issue for Bullet; all of its wood is chemically treated throughout the core to resist rot, even if exposed. But exposure is not likely, since all wood is completely sealed by fiberglass woven roving and resin during layup. Our test boat's gelcoat finish was lustrous and shiny,but the color scheme was quite subdued. Perhaps owner Yates likes it that way, as he's not a loud or flashy individual. Inside,the 20XD hasn't changed throughout the years save for the addition of the smoked Lexan windscreen and "backsplash" (a curved shield that works to hide engine cables and wires, and also keeps water from coming up onto the deck when coming off plane), both designed by Nichols.
The windscreen is low. but does a decent job funneling air up and o\·er the driver. And the backsplash does a decent job keeping the rear deck dry -although you can wet it down pretty easily when powering down off plane. The extra weight of the 300X makes coming off plane tricky. Just as the boat settles, some power must be applied to keep the wake wash from coming over the transom. A small bow cover fashioned from Lexan has been added to protect the switch panel from the weather.
Our test boat was rigged as any other standard 20XD,including Teleflex SeaStar Pro hydraulic steering with Pro Trim switch, Mercury flush-mounted controls, a Hot Foot throttle, and trolling motor. Bullet sells its hulls with MotorGuide trollers, but Yates opted to use his favorite, an older OMC 12124 trolling motor that he'd found in hiding at a local dealer. many anglers would kill for such a find. When OMC cancelled production of that troller, a great number of enthusiasts were saddened.
TOUGH TO MATCH , TOUGHER TO BEAT
Our top speed in this Bullet is a difficult mark to beat; it's exceedingly fast, without being on the edge. We achieved it with a stock package, rigged just as any typical Bullet customer's boat would be rigged. The addition of the larger 3.0L 300X made it somewhat stern heavy, but as noted, that was only evident during holeshot and when coming off plane. This package showcases just how sweet a setup can be when it s been carefully planned and executed. The price is reasonable (considering today's market): Chances are high that most dealers will shave at least a couple grand from that price when the bargaining is over. Top speed to burn, hellacious low-end and midrange punch, very good fuel economy: and excellent handling manners mean this Bullet really has it all. I would've liked a dual-console setup to protect the passenger (especially me,while I trying to take notes at 100-plus mph!). In addition, the small fuel capacity would have to be augmented by adding the optional 11-gallon dual tanks to keep the range reasonable. Other than that, this Bullet won my high-speed heart. Dare I ask -can anyone out there make credible challenge?
- John Tiger