Even at 1,440 acres and roughly seven miles around, Lake X—Mercury Marine’s formerly top-secret test facility in Osceola County, Fla.—is far too small to handle dialing-in and testing today’s fastest high-performance catamarans and V-bottoms. But as I learned this week as well as last spring, it’s a perfect venue for hosting media and public relations events.
An outboard engine endurance event, Operation Atlas kicked off Lake X in impressive fashion (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Mercury Marine.
And that’s what Mercury Marine has in store for the place and why the Fond du Lac, Wis., marine engine and accessories giant is sprucing it up and showing it off as part of its 80th anniversary celebration. In 1957, the same year company owner Carl Kiekhaefer—a brilliant man whose obsession with secrecy reportedly bordered on paranoia—opened the facility. That year, it kicked off with a public relations event of sorts, though of course it wasn’t open to the public, called Operation Atlas. The event saw a pair of pair of boats—each powered by a 75-hp outboard—rack up 50,000 miles running 24 hours day for 35 days on the 5.8-mile course.
No such round-the-clock action was on tap at the lake this week, but the media types attending the pre Miami International Boat Show happening did get a look at several new Mercury Marine products that will debut at the show. The Lake X facility feels haunted and sacred, so experiencing new products there is special. It’s a privilege, and one I hope to enjoy every year.
Someday, we, too, will be the ghosts of Lake X. Everyone who visits the place becomes part of its fabric. (That’s my theory, at least.) Until then, the spirits of Operation Atlas are the facility’s only full-time residents.