Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

It is only natural in a blog like this to be biases in reporting one's successes and brilliance. It's harder to confess one's own stupidity and failures. I try to present it as it is, unvarnished. I don't claim to be unbiased, but I try. Today it's time for a confession -- here's the sorry story of our dinghy outboards.

For the first 2-3 years on Tarwathie, we had no motor for the dinghy. She didn't have one when we bought her. We didn't see much need. Gradually though it dawned on us that we were limiting our exploration and our fun because we never ventured more than a mile or so away from Tarwathie in the dinghy. There were beaches, creeks, side trips and excursions that we were missing because we had no motor.

I finally broke the ice by buying a used Mercury 2HP motor in Vero for $250. It gave it's share of trouble. I had to replace the gas tank, the recoil starter, and the fuel shutoff. Ultimately it was the carburetor that did it in. I would clean the carburetor and that would make it run good for a day or two at the most, then it wouldn't start again. By the way, merely having a motor caused us to stop rowing; even for short distances. That's psychology at work.

Soon after I ran into someone else at Vero who also bought a used Mercury 2HP for $100.  His ran better than mine.

Eventually, I got so tired cleaning that carburetor, that we started rowing again and not using the motor at all. When Nick came to sail with us in Maine we thought that would be too limiting. We donated the Mercury to the Northport Yacht Club, and bought a brand new Honda 2HP for $750.

The Honda motor was really nice. Started fast, ran good, and made us go as fast as we like. Best of all, it weighed only 26 pounds so that it was easy to lift up on deck. The bad part was that the strength needed to start it was too much for Libby. It always started for me on my first (strong) pull, but almost never started for Libby's repeated (weak) pulls.

After one year with the Honda, we had an accident. The dinghy wrapper got wrapped around the propeller and that pulled the whole dinghy, motor intact, under water. Read the blog post here.   It cost me $250 for a Honda Dealer to make it run again.  But it didn't run 100% right.  The centrifugal clutch seemed to have water in it.  It slipped.  I just hoped it would eventually dry out and ignored it.

A year later, in Vero, one day I was getting out of the dinghy climbing on board Tarwathie.  As I did that, the Honda jumped off the transom of the dinghy and plunged to the bottom.  Oh no.  The hold down screws must have come loose.   Our friend Peter got his scuba gear and found the motor for us and for $200, a local mechanic treated the motor and made it run well.  Once again, there was water in the clutch.

Last summer, in New York, the Honda quit entirely.  The motor would run but the propeller wouldn't move.  I took it to a mechanic near Albany.  He said, $400 for a new clutch and bearings.  I declined the repair and paid him $100 for taking it apart as a diagnostic. That was dumb.  I knew it was the clutch, I shouldn't have asked him to "look at it" I should have asked "how much for a new clutch?"  I ordered new clutch plates and a bearing online.  Last summer in Vermont, I took it apart to put in the new parts.  I was appalled to find that the entire lower half of the engine including all the assemblies around the clutch were so corroded that they would soon turn to dust.  Also the bolts that fasten the engine to the casing were also so rusted they would turn to dust too.   Very bad material management on the part of Honda.  I tossed the whole thing in the trash.

Last month, here in Marathon we bought a used Nissan 3.5 for $450.  We bought it from a father son team that sells used outboards over the VHF cruiser net.   I had heard that they buy old motors, fix them up and resells them.   The price is going up.  The Nissan 3.65 is exactly the same engine as the Mercury 2.0 that we bought for $250 several years ago; top dollar for such a motor.

The Nissan was trouble.  The gas tank leaked so badly that half the fuel emptied in 15 minutes.  The motor stalled every few minutes when running.  There was no mechanism to tilt the motor up. I called the guy and he agreed to fix it, no argument.   Now, three weeks later it still isn't working. I've heard only a string of reasons why they haven't managed to get replacement points and condenser.   

They provided us with a 5HP Nissan as a loaner while we waited.  It was much too heavy for the boat. Starting it and running it was trouble and Libby could never manage it.  Finally, the loaner stopped working too -- dirty carburetor I think.

Yesterday I told the father that I was out of patience and wanted out of the deal.  He agreed without argument.  We made a date to give back the loaner and to get a refund.   A few minutes ago, we met and concluded that transaction.

So, as of right now, we've spent $2,300 on outboards over several years (minus a $450 refund, so $1,850 spent).  Now we're back to rowing.  If that isn't mismanagement of the first order, nothing is.

By the way, there is a benefit to rowing.  I was recently complimenting Libby on her fine form which seems to improve with age.  She remarked that rowing is like the exercises she did in high school.  Back in 1959-63 the girls in FM High gym class were taught the chant, "We must. We must.  We must develop the bust.  Bigger.  Better.  Then you can wear a sweater."   Perhaps our lack of an outboard is a blessing after all :)

1 comment:

  1. Great story - sitting here in NNY at 8F - enjoy the rowing. We bought a used Yamaha 2HP in 1998. Its survived about 3 years in salt water, and the rest in fresh. Never was submerged and no clutch have helped it continue to function. My only issue has been dirt and water in gas causing problems - if I keep clean fuel it runs flawlessly.
    Thanks for sharing your lifestyle. (After reading the chant I'm thinking of sabotaging the yamaha)



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