Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The stupidest thing (I’ve done this year)


The stupidest things we do are the ones that we knew were flawed from the start, that go against our personal grain or that undermine our better judgement. It’s not that you should have known better, it’s that you DID know better, but you went ahead and did it all the same.

I have a 2hp Yamaha outboard on loan from a friend, for use on this old Zodiac of mine.

(I think it’s early 70’s but if anyone can give a more exact date I’d be grateful.) The outboard pushes the inflatable and one person at 4.5 knots, so it’s suitable for a pootle but not much else, though I have done a 10 mile round trip. So, out pootling one afternoon I thought how nice it might be to pootle under power in OB. And besides, people are always telling me that I should get an engine, that rowing is for masochists and that, to put it kindly, I’m a stubborn, raving Luddite. I imagined facing forwards while OB merrily putt-putted along. (Though the 2hp doesn’t actually putt-putt but wails and hammers. In fact it is far more efficient at turning petrol into brute noise than into forward motion.)

Galvanised, I broke out the workshop and began bashing together a gunwale mount for OB. I thought about sanding and painting the mounting but decided to leave it rough, which was just as well as I ended up using it as kindling for the wood-burning stove.


On a grey early morning I crept out of bed to try OB under power. I met my 8 year old son on the stairs and he sleepily signed up for some pre-breakfast adventure.

We launched the boat into calm water and hopped aboard. I pulled the starter cord and all conversation was drowned. OB accelerated through the calm water. We chortled along at low revs smiling broadly. Then I opened the throttle. And suddenly everything happened very quickly. OB shot forward. The outboard seemed to rise up. The mounting broke apart. I held the engine’s tiller tight to stop the motor falling but suddenly released my grip when I felt a sharp pain in my forearm.

The engine spluttered and sank. I watched it with disbelief. The motor had taken half the mounting to the bottom, 5 metres below. OB trickled forward. Keeping my eye on the place where the outboard fell I rowed the boat round, speechless with astonishment. My son appeared equally stunned by our sudden loss but as I threw out the anchor he mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of blood escaping from my arm. I looked down. Something sharp had gouged the underside of my forearm. One of the things about being with children in these situations is that you absolutely don’t want to freak them out. You take everything nice and calmly as if there was nothing urgent, stressful or even unusual going on.

‘I’m just going down to get the outboard.’
‘But you’re bleeding.’
‘It’s nothing. Look I just wipe it off with this tee shirt and…’
‘You start bleeding again.’
‘Well I’ll only be gone a moment.’
‘But won’t sharks smell your blood.’
‘There aren’t any sharks and even if there were, well it’s Sunday morning, sharks would still be in bed after a wild Saturday night.’

I grabbed a length of line and dived in. I got down there, passed one end of the line round the outboard and, with both ends of the line in my hand, swam back up and pulled myself aboard. Then I hauled the engine up from the bottom. To add to my growing chagrin a slick of 2-stroke mixture flexed on the surface.

I hauled in the anchor and rowed back to the beach. What a fine rowing boat is my Onawind Blue, I thought, she is not a motorboat, so why would you ever interrupt her clean lines with a dirty, noisy, smelly outboard? She hasn’t even got a transom that can take one. But where I had really failed was in building the engine mount. I’d underestimated the amount of force the outboard would exert and in which direction. Two large screws pulled right out, though admittedly they were screwed into end grain. (It was one of the screws that gouged my arm.)

Before I burnt the mount I rebuilt it more robustly and tried again, confirming conclusively that OB is not suited to carrying an engine. (But I knew this already!) The hull is easily moved and at low revs she hits a good speed. Any more power though and she starts to rock, trying hard to dunk and extinguish the engine. You have to work quite hard physically to compensate the rocking while stretching across to steer the motor, and by the time you hit four knots you’re wondering if you’re totally in control. I didn’t dare try turning on anything but minimum revs. Once back at the beach the added weigh of the engine is a great hindrance.

To conclude: you’re much better off rowing. (But I knew this already!)

If anybody wants to know how to re-start an outboard that has been submerged in saltwater let me know and I’ll pass on some won knowledge.

5 comments:

Bursledon Blogger said...

Ben,
Outboards are the work of the devil - I recall Nigel Irens saying he deigned the transom on his skiff so it was impossible to fit an outboard - I designed our skiff the same - no petrol & oil to remember, no water pump to change - bliss

Max

michael bogoger said...

Ben,
I had a similar experience after redesigning the beautiful tombstone transom of my light dory to accommodate a motor (many years ago). A friend and I spun around in sharp circles, with the boat dipping perilously from side to side, while I tried to cut the engine. The crowd (of one)on the beach was laughing so hard, I was afraid she would split a gut!
And, I am sorry to report, a story about a motor sinking to the bottom just tickles me! Hope your arm is healing fine...
doryman

Gavin Atkin said...

Oh I don't know - if you want an outboard, a 1hp on a good mount should do it. I photographed a shanty boat this summer partly because it demonstrated someone's impressive use of roofing felt but also the owner's tender sported a 1hp mounted on the side of an Old Town canoe.

But as life shows so often, just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it should be done...

Barry Long said...

Love the story, and sounds so very familiar. Sorry, I laughed so hard I had to wipe the spittle from my screen. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Ben,
in 1928 Capt. Franz Romer crossed the Atalantic from the Canary Islands to Puerto Rico in a 19ft Klepper Kayak.. he add a small outboard in Puerto Rico and went missing after a hurricane on his way to New York.. which probably compromised the kayaks trim at sea...