Saturday, January 4, 2014

It started – third pull – and it stayed running!

I haven’t had good luck with outboard motors.  My first one I bought from Archie Smith and bolted it on the transom of a little Phil Bolger design Bluegill skiff that I built shortly after we moved to Nipawin.  It was a constant surprise if it ran at all, let alone stayed running for more than 15 minutes at a stretch.  We sold that boat to someone Marilyn knew at SIAST and replaced it with a little 14’ fibreglass runabout.  It had a 65 HP Johnson hanging on the transom and while that one was more reliable than Archie’s motor I never really trusted it.  Perhaps the JB weld patch on the side of the block where a rod had clearly come through at some point in it’s past contributed to my distrust.  Or perhaps it was the knowledge that one of the 3 pistons had dropped all its skirting into the sump.  Pat Smith and I tore it down far enough to confirm where the bits I found in the oil came from but decided it wasn’t worth a complete rebuild so we just ran it with the missing skirting.  The only time it really let us down was actually my fault.

I had replaced a mag or some other electronic bit that required removal of the flywheel and apparently didn’t bother to retorque the big nut on top.  We were camped with the kids at The Narrows which is the campground at the west end of Waskesiu Lake.  The first evening we were there someone decided it would be good to run into Waskesiu for ice cream so that’s what the we did.  The Johnson ran fine all the way up the lake but when I throttled down at the breakwater it started burping and farting and generally running like crap.  By the time we got to the beach it had died and wouldn’t restart.  That presented some problems because the boat was our return passage to The Narrows where we were camped.  Eventually we ended up prevailing on the sympathy of the local fish cop and he ferried us back to our campsite in the Parks van.  Which of course didn’t solve the broken boat problem but did get the five of us back home to go to bed.  I laid awake most of the night trying to figure out what the problem might be.  By morning I had settled on a failure to retorque the flywheel so I drove back into town, borrowed a wrench, tightened the nut and all was good again.  But I never really trusted that outboard either.

Next we had a couple of inboards – dead reliable.  We had a 4 cylinder Chevy in the Swiftsure we bought from Ken Jones.  It was a little underpowered but otherwise absolutely reliable.  We’d probably still have it if it had been an 8 cylinder or even a 6 cylinder model.  As it was, the combination of it being a little underpowered anyway and our bad technique when we started skiing convinced us that we needed a better boat.  So we moved up to the Malibu with its 350 Chevy which again was 110% reliable.  And more than powerful enough to overcome our technical shortcomings in the skiing department. 

When we bought Gray Hawk she didn’t come with a dinghy and we didn’t really know what we wanted or needed.  So we bought a Chinese inflatable and a Chinese knockoff of a Yamaha outboard.  It was about 5 HP and pretty well as reliable as I have come to expect from outboards.  Most of the time it ran and it never actually left us stranded but there were times when I wondered.  The day I sold it I was astounded at how well it ran – that day it idled like a champ – prior to that, it never idled for shit.

We replaced the Chinese wonder with a 30+ year old 9.9 HP Merc and an equally ancient 12 foot Lund aluminum knockoff.  Actually the label on the engine says 110 which would indicate 11 HP but its the same Thunderbolt Merc that has been sold as 9.9 HP since the late 1960’s.  It was pretty gummed up when we bought it but I fed it copious doses of injector cleaner.  It ran better and better every time we used it last year.  Today I put the dinghy back in the water and braced myself for an ordeal getting the Merc running.  Three pulls later it was running and after a few minutes to warm up it was willing to idle.  We took it across the channel to town, bought groceries, went to the Harbour Chandler, went for coffee and finally came back to the boat with never a hiccup. 

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