Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reluctance ...

As most know by now Kintala and I have one of the more dysfunctional relationships in the cruiser world. We normally battle our way through whichever maintenance / repair / system failure / design disaster is the current focus of our relationship, and reach some kind of uneasy truce. Just occasionally, in those rare moments when most major systems seem to be working, moments when I am not putting bandages on sliced hands or munching aspirin to soothe aching joints after taking another boat-work induced beating, I will admit that it isn't always her fault. When it comes to mechanicing (defined as taking a tool in one's hands and trying to actually make something work that wasn't working before) Kintala has suffered the ministrations of fools, imbeciles, lunatics, hacks, charlatans, con-men, and the occasional honest efforts of those too addled to know which end of a screw-driver one should hold – but giving it their best effort anyway. I have uncovered things so poorly executed they can't even be called “work”, being more like the wreckage one would expect from someone having a seizure while running a chain saw. And while horror stories of fellow cruisers abound, and I share their pain, deep in my own heart I always held Kintala as THE example of what the miscreants of the marine industry will do given the slightest chance. She is the screwed-up boat against which all other screwed-up boats can be measured. Their owners can take solace in the fact that, at least, their boat is not as screwed-up as this one.

But, as of tonight, I am reluctant to admit that Kintala may not be so bad. Those who twisted her mechanical soul into the diabolical mistress that hounds my working days are not, it turns out, the very worst of their breed. Indeed, there is one out there so utterly incompetent, so savagely incapable of rational thinking or an honest effort, that no device anywhere could survive the touch of his hand. It is a story I would not believe were it not told by Friend Bill, a true boat guru, and told in his own unique way. You can find the tale here:

Kintala, by the way, is resting in one of those rare moments where most of the important stuff seems to be working. Her dink, on the other hand, is not. After a long day of cleaning, prodding, de-fueling, re-fueling, oil changing, and prodding some more, the Merc on the Dink refuses, once again, to run. This is a bit of a problem given that the hours are counting down to us leaving this dock and going back to the hook and the mooring ball life we love. Dinks are kind of important when land is a few hundred to a few thousand feet away. Tomorrow is a “must get it done” day … again. Fail and the hook and mooring ball life will be full of rowing and struggling against wind and current. And yes, I know it is the carburetor. It is always the carburetor. It is the carburetor for everyone, all the time, and the Internet is full of rants against these sorry excuses for engines. Engines offered by one of the “very best” of the marine industry giants. Engines that have to be nursed like the dying, susceptible to the slightest hint of a bad diet or coming cold. “Robust” was clearly not part of the design goal. Nor was reliability. But hell, slap some advertising on it and sell it.

We had go-carts when I was a young gear-head. The “bad boy” carts had 10HP engines. Most of us could only manage 5. Younger Brother and I ran a salvaged lawn mower engine bolted into a once-upon-a-time wrecked frame. The thing would hardly go in a straight line. It had marginal brakes, no suspension, and a single gear. But pull on the rope and the motor would start. It didn't matter if it had been sitting all winter. It didn't matter if the gas was old and smelled a little funny. Sure, sometimes we had to clean a spider web out of the vent line, or poke a pencil through the gas filter, but a couple of kids in a couple of minutes could usually coax the thing to life before Mom called us in for dinner.

I am damned sure that thing didn't have a Merc in it.

(Said Brother, by the way, turned out to be a truly gifted mechanic who has spent most of his life repairing some of the world's largest and most powerful mobile cranes. Pieces of equipment where the cost of down time is rung up in thousands of dollars per MINUTE. He is, and I am not kidding, a Wizard. I wish my hands held half the talent of his.)

In spite of the need to get the Dink Dinkable, this afternoon and evening were taken with another gathering of the little community that has formed here. Mizzy and Brian, Keith and Katrina, Ron and Marry Beth, Deb and I, and Craig, will all be leaving as soon as we can. Frank and Audrey, and James, will be staying. For them, this is “home”. For the rest of us “home” is “out there”. The gatherings reflect the tribe's reluctance to say that last “good-bye” to people who have become good friends.

This summer, and this first year, are nearly over.


Robert Sapp said...

TJ, if your Merc is a modern 4 stroke, you can thank Gaia loving environmentalists for your troubles. Two strokes are lighter, stronger, much more reliable, and easier to fix when there's something wrong, but they're bad for the planet don't you know. So any inconvenience or risk to life and limb that results from you having to rely on an overly complex outboard that really isn’t suitable for a marine environment are just the cost you have to be willing to pay to save Mother Earth.

From what I understand, it's quite common for cruisers from the US to ditch their balky 4 strokes as soon as they reach an island nation where decent 2 strokes are still available to be had. Plus there's the fact that once you find yourself, say, off the coast of Panama somewhere, it can be pretty darn difficult to find a good mechanic who can successfully repair a 4 stroke with its complex fuel management system. But hey, low emissions!

I read an article recently, (I should have kept it but didn't) that talked about how millennials will never experience or appreciate the world in which we were raised, in which everything just basically worked, because it was designed to work, and not to meet some crazy emissions or safety regulation of debatable merit. One example used was the common gas can, which was once easy to dispense fuel from because they had a vent you could open while pouring. Now that some government agency has mandated that fuel cans can no longer have separate vents, it can be darn near impossible to pour fuel from a gas can without drawing a vacuum in it, which some people fix through a hack that involves adding a tire valve stem to where the vent used to be installed. Having to hack a gas can to make it work right - such is the world we’ve allowed to be created, where regulators create great cost and inconvenience wherever there is the slightest argument to be made that some “benefit” to the planet or our safety can be achieved. As a result, things today are much more complex than they need to be to do the job, thus much more expensive, and significantly less reliable.

Matter of fact, I noticed that the new pressure washer I just bought doesn’t even have a choke. They’ve replaced the simple hand choke with some sort of electro-mechanical fuel metering system that automatically controls fuel flow during starting for emission reasons. I can’t wait to see how well that’s going to work after I let the unit sit for six months and then try to start it. And then I’ll have to try and find someone who can repair it. Sigh.

pfrymier1 said...

Well, my experience with small and large boat engines is the reverse of the above. The best small outboard I ever owned is a four stroke. The worst is a two-stroke. However, I am not sure the power cycle has anything to do with it. People are very opinionated about this but most of it is based on personal experience. I have had exceptional service from my small 4-stroke Honda but I have heard others curse them. I curse my two stroke Merc but have heard others praise them. Go figure.

TJ said...

In my old world of motorcycles the 2 stroke was the trouble machine. Getting one set up, and then living with the killer narrow power band that came with "being on the pipe" had us all happy when 4 strokes took over the world. In the marine world it seems to be the other way around.

I got the Merc running. It still isn't quite right but a tip-toe through the carb was a learning experience. Not as bad as I thought, even if I haven't seen a carb taken apart since I quite working on old Cessna 150s.

Even for this left-wing liberal fuel cans are irritating. I spill more trying to get it out of the new cans than ever vented out of the old ones. Liberal or conservative, some ideas are just bad ideas.

Just about the time I think a 2 stroke is the way to go with the dink, a 2-stroker will pull up next to us at the boat ramp and sit at idle while Captain Blue Smoke waits for the trailer to show up. I guess I can live with the idea of trying not to choke us all to death until our technology catches up to our energy needs.

Which has me curious. I just read an article about new marine outboard engines. Some of them are honking big 2 strokes. I wonder what kind of tech they had to invent to make those things legal? I'll bet it is some pretty cutting-edge stuff.

I would also be curious as to how the new high tech / low emissions marine diesels compare to our 30 year old WesterBeast. The new tech can't possibly be more difficult to live with than is the Beast. The truth is I would put a brand new Beta Marine or Yanmar in Kintala in a heat beat IF the budget could take the hit.

Anyway, obviously I share a good bit of the frustrations that come when things don't work as I think they should. But going back to the "good old days" probably isn't such a good idea. I remember air we couldn't breathe, water we couldn't swim in, and fish we couldn't eat. The conservative idea of ignoring the environmental damage we do is probably as bad an idea as the liberal idea of fuel cans without vents. (If, in fact, that was a liberal idea. Maybe the fuel can manufacturers came up with it so they could charge more money for the can?)

We will be off this dock soon. High tech, low tech, no tech, my world will be a much better place when that happens.

John Clark said...

I'm sure you've heard this before, But I'll toss in my 2 cents. Can you obtain Ethanol free fuel? I live near an inland boating area and some of the gas stations carry 100% gasoline. I use it in my lawnmower and generator. My neighbor had mower envy because mine starts on the first pull, everytime. He finally poured out the last bit of his old fuel, bought the 100% and all this summer he's thanked me for sharing the knowledge. The same goes for my generator. I start it about once every 1-2 month and let it run a fan for a bout 30 mins, just to exercise it. I shut off the fuel line to stop it. It starts after only a few pulls too.

I know the marine environment is much harsher than my storage shed, but it's still hot as hell here in Alabama.

Congrats, and you guys get to some of those screen saver beaches soon!

Robert Sapp said...

You said > The conservative idea of ignoring the environmental damage we do < I’m calling BS on that one. You’re smarter than that. A conservative idea would be that environmental rules are great as long as such efforts don’t cause more harm than good (like ethanol does), or cost more than the benefit accrued (like renewable mandates). Another long night’s discussion over several beers someday.

Another example of the unsuitability of four strokes for cruising: Your dink will invariably be swamped or flipped by a storm someday. Hell, ours has been flipped by thunderstorms right here in our own marina. If you have a two stroke, you pull the plug, pull the starter cord a few times to clear any water from the cylinder, spray some WD40 in the cylinder and stroke it a few more times, reinstall the plug, drain the carb, and you’re back in business. If you have a four stroke, you’re looking at at least two, more likely three oil changes, plus you probably left a slick (that you can be fined for) when the engine inverted and half the oil drained out. They’re also very sensitive to how you lay them down. Wrong side down and they’re ruined. Not an issue with a two stroke. Captain Blue Smoke was probably running an old motor burning 16:1. The new two strokes with better manufacturing tolerances use from 50 to 100:1, and don’t smoke. If only we were allowed to buy one!

And I can’t say enough good things about mid-90’s Yanmars. Give me a well-designed, smooth running diesel with a mechanical governor and mechanical fuel injection, hold the turbo please. Give them minimal maintenance and regular fluid changes and they run like sewing machines virtually forever. The new eco-friendly diesels scare the crap out of me. With electronic governors and electronic fuel injection and turbo chargers, there are just too many things that can go wrong and leave you dead in the water for a negligible environmental gain. One nearby lightning strike can fry your control boards and leave your engine dead, while my ’97 3JH2E will still fire right up and get me safely home. But again, it's all about saving the planet. Your survival is of secondary consideration to eco-regulators. :-)

Alex Rooker said...

626I have a 2004 Mercury (Japanese made)four stroke. It has had to have the carb adjusted once when- I left raw fuel in it over a winter. Normally, I disconnect the fuel line and let the engine run out of fuel if it is to sit for more than a couple of days.

It had been in storage that way for two+ years and immediately cranked on 89 octane fuel this August.

You might give it a try.

Deb said...

@John - we do use only methanol free gasoline bought at marine fuel stations. The Honda generator will start with anything resembling fuel at any time after any length of sitting, so why can't an outboard do the same????

@Alex - We were lax in that regard, just because The Bear had us beaten down so bad it was hard to think of our own maintenance issues. We do use Seafoam in the tank and always have.

@Robert - I'm going to let Tim respond to your comment and I can't wait to be the fly on the wall for your first over-beer discussion. Hope to see you guys out here soon.

TJ said...

Robert, Find me a dozen Republican leaders who have admitted that there is even the slightest chance that the vast majority of the Climatologists on the planet might (just might) possibly be correct when it comes to their (the Climatologists) area of expertise. Then find me anywhere on a national or state level where the Republican / conservatives rule, where a single openly pro-environmental law has been passed in the last decade or so. Do either one of those and I will rethink my position that Republicans are knee-jerk anti-environmentalists who care only about business / corporate profits when it comes to resource management.

I spent the last 20 years of so of my career operating the most sophisticated tech one can find in an environment even more hostile than the sea. I took lightning hits on several airplanes; the engines never quit and virtually all of the avionics survived. Kintala has had several close calls with lightning, the stroke falling within sight and the thunder arriving at the same time. Nothing on board has been damaged, not the iPads, not the computers, not the GPS / Chart plotters. I believe that your claims about the vulnerability of such systems to nearby lighting are a bit overstated.

I haven't read or heard of any widespread problems with the new marine diesel engines. Again, I spent a lot of years behind turbo-charged aircraft engines; the turbo is, itself, a pretty low tech bit, just a big air pump really. The FCUs were more complex. But my experience is that the electronic FCUs are much more reliable, and more capable, than the mechanical ones. They proved so on aircraft, in cars, and on motorcycles.

That they should be in the marine industry is something that my problems with the Merc actually support. I have completely disassembled the fuel system from the fuel tank to the float bowl on the carburetor. There is no high tech in there at all, just a miniature version of the lowest possible, straight mechanical tech, one can find. My guess would be that a properly designed, electronic fuel injection system would basically eliminate the problems I have with this engine. That has been my experience on every other kind of reciprocating or turbine engine I have ever operated.

High tech, at least in the worlds I have some knowledge, has never had anything to do with liberal or conservative. It simply is a better way to do a job. For example (other than aesthetics) I would never have traded my 350Z in on a 1956 Corvette.

Like Deb I hope so see you "out here" soon.

Robert Sapp said...

I believe at this point we're probably looking at 18 months to two years before we may cross wakes, unless something changes suddenly. While my retirement papers are in with an effective date of 31 January (120 days from today!), events caused us to miss the prime summer selling season for the house, and now that the holidays are approaching it will get less and less likely that we will find a buyer before things pick up again in the spring. Since we can't make the mortgage if I retire, I'll have to pull my papers and wait until after we have a signed contract before I can resubmit. And we can't go the renting route, because we have four acres and no tenent is ever going to take care of it all.

Assuming we don't get an offer until things start to heat up again in the spring, and considering it takes 45 to 60 days to typically go to closing, we could find ourselves not being free to leave until after next year's hurricane season is well underway. While I can see us starting to work our way east and then down Florida's west coast, I don't imagine we'd clear the Keys and try for the islands before hurricane season wraps up at the end of next year. So please leave an ample trail of breadcrumbs in your wake!

As I know you are aware, lightning strikes on planes in flight are very common, and generally harmless. A skin effect occurs where the strike basically passes around the outside of the aircraft. Find a plane that has been hit on the ground, however, and your results may vary. And I doubt you'll ever encounter a situation in which a boat has been hit where the owner says "it wasn't any big deal." Our broker's boat was recently sunk in the slip when a strike blew out the depth transducer, and I know of numerous instances of failed electronics caused by near misses. Whatever you're doing to keep the lightning gods at bay, just keep doing it, because it's apparantly working for you!

Here's some information from climatologists that you might find interesting:

I'm glad you're back in your happy place, at anchor where you belong!