Some wag once said, “The cruising life is repairing your boat with inadequate tools in exotic locations.” The fact that I have only “cruised” about a third of a mile in the last six months does NOT negate that statement.
I’ve been struggling to remove the original outboard motor bracket on the port side of the transom. The boat had a 25hp Yamaha when I bought it. Much too big and heavy for such a small, light boat as a Venture 22. It as a lousy engine, too boot. Broke down THREE TIMES between Ft. Lauderdale and Stuart. First time was in Boca Raton, about 20 miles from the start of my venture. It broke down again another 20 miles or so up in West Palm and finally in Stuart. If you searched for the term “hunk of junk” in the dictionary there’d be a picture of that outboard.
I replaced it with an old model 9.9 Mercury outboard. It took me from Stuart, across the state via the Okeechobee Waterway up to Carabelle in the eastern panhandle, and back down to Bradenton Beach where I live at anchor. Last year it took me from here to Cayo Costa and back, a journey of nearly 200 miles. The engine has worked like a charm for close to 2,000 miles. Its single shortcoming is that it’s a “short shaft” outboard and the prop cavitates when I’m rocked with the wakes of other boats and I really can’t use it when the seas are over 2 feet.
To work properly as auxiliary power for these small sailboats the outboards really need to be “long shaft.” Twenty inches, minimum, from where the engine attaches to the motor bracket to the cavitation plate rather than the 15 inches on the “short shaft” outboards. Five inches doesn’t seem like a lot. In fact, most women would scoff at that, but it makes a huge difference with an outboard motor.
A little over a year ago I bought a second-hand Honda 9.9 long shaft 4 stroke outboard. I had another bracket, sometimes called a “jack stand” that I attached to the starboard side of the transom, and moved the Mercury to it, and put the Honda on the original bracket.
I just never got the Honda working right. Problem with the idle speed. Since the Merc worked fine I never did what needed to be done to get the Honda working properly. So it sat on the stand for over a year. The bracket was never very good, either. I had to rig it with a block and tackle so I could raise and lower it when the Merc was on it. Over the year as the sailboat rocked and rolled in the wakes of passing boats and waves from storms the engine swayed back and forth on the stand. Sometimes worryingly so. Nothing I did with ropes got it to stay stationary.
I’ve been thinking about getting a BRAND NEW four stroke, long shaft motor for a long time. Actually since from about the time I bought the boat in the first place. But I needed to get rid of the Honda so I’d have a place to put a new motor. I DON’T want a used one. I want something BRAND NEW! I want something that if it poops I can take it in, after using the Merc to get me to the repair shop, and say, “Fix it! It’s on warranty!!!”
Well, I sold the Honda a couple of weeks ago for almost as much as I paid for it. Damned thing was HEAVY. When it came off the bracket the rear end of the boat rose a bit over two inches! I know, because the barnacles grow just at the waterline and there were over two inches of the buggers above the waterline with the engine gone.
Then I found that the bracket was frozen. The arms are slightly bent from the side to side action of the motor riding the waves. It’s impossible to raise or lower it. I bought a big breaker bar to try and get the bolts loosened up but no go. So the thing to do was to remove the bracket from the boat and see if I can straighten it out on shore. Easier said than done…
Heaven only knows how old the bracket is. Could be as old as the boat which was built in 1980! It’s attached to the transom by four bolts. Now, since I’m doing this unassisted, I have to slither through a small opening into the space beneath the cockpit seat to get to where the nuts are.
Once through that the space opens up a bit, but not a whole lot. Not enough to be able to sit up, so everything is done lying on my stomach. Here you can see where three of the bolts have been removed.
I got plenty of practice doing this sort of thing working as a rigger at a boatyard in New Orleans. But I’m 36 years older now, have arthritic hands, and less than 40% of normal lung capacity.
If everything goes well, HA! You work your way aft with your wrenches and take the bolt off. Easy Peasy, no? NO! These are lock-tight nuts. They have a plastic insert in the hole so they can’t vibrate loose.
I get the two lower bolts off easy enough. The top, inside nut is on an extra long bolt and the ratchet socket won’t fit over it. Of course I’m not prepared for this. I don’t have a box wrench or pliers with me . The top outside nut turns the bolt so it’s not coming loose.
Here’s why this is happening. Take a look at this more modern bracket.
See how the holes are square? They take bolts like these…
The square shoulders fit down into the squares on the bracket holes. This makes it easy to then go on the nut side of the bolt and fasten the nut without having someone on the outside holding it with a wrench to keep it from turning like happens with THESE…
Now I have to slither BACKWARDS out into the cabin to work out my next plan of attack. And don’t forget, I have serious COPD problems. I’m operating on about 40% of normal lung capacity so after doing something like getting out of the hole I have to sit for five minutes until my breathing gets back to what passes for normal.
I delve into my tool locker and dig out a pair of Vice Grips and my channel lock pliers. I don’t have a box wrench the proper size. Over the side, into the dinghy and around to the bracket. I need to attach the Vice Grips to the bolt head. As the bolt is going to turn when I work on the nut, inside, the plier’s handle will also rotate until it comes to rest against one of the arms keeping the bolt from turning further. OOOOPS. I know from experience that there’s a good chance the pliers might come loose. If that happens they’d fall into the water and be lost. So it’s back around to the side of the boat, up into the cockpit. Rest and catch my breath. Now, where the hell is that ball of twine? I’m not a super organized guy so it takes a while to find it. Back over the side into the dinghy. Around to the bracket. Hold on for a few minutes till my breathing is relaxed again.
After tying the twine to the pliers and securing it to a cleat, I tighten the pliers onto the bolt head using both hands to lock them on. Back around to the side and up into the cockpit. Sit to catch my breath. Slither into the 16 inch hole and up to the transom. Rest to catch my breath. Use the channel locks to unfasten the nut. When it’s off I take the small hammer and whack away until the bolt end is flush with the transom. That sucker’s really in there. Rest for a few minutes to catch my breath. Agonizingly back out of the pit. Rest. Over the side into the dinghy and back to the bracket. pull the bolt the rest of the way out of the hole and reattach it to the remaining bolt head. Around to the side of the boat. Climb into the cockpit. Rest to catch my breath. Into the hole and work my way to the transom in a motion resembling an inch worm. Rest to catch my breath. Using the channel locks the nut starts working itself off the bolt. CLUNK! The Vice Grips have fallen off the bolt head. SHIT! F WORD! F WORD! F WORD!!!
Out of the hole. Rest. Into the dinghy and back to the bracket. See, I needed that twine. An eighth of a turn on the knob at the base of the pliers and a mighty squeeze with both hands gets them back on the bolt head. Around to the side of the boat, back in the cockpit. Rest. Back into the hole and inch worm my way to the transom. Rest. This time all’s good and the nut’s off. Back out of the hole. Rest. Over the side. Into the dinghy. Back to the bracket. Pull the bolt from the hole. Back to the side of the boat and into the cockpit. Rest. That part of the job is done.
Now I have to pry the bracket off of the transom. It’s stuck on, now, with silicone. Thank heaven it’s not done with 5200 which is the most tenacious adhesive sealant ever created. Silicone has the least adhesive properties of all the sealants, but there’s no telling how much was used when the bracket was attached. In any case, it won’t be easy getting it off. Since the holes on the old bracket are simply round, and not square like the new ones I’m not going to reuse it. I’ll buy a new bracket.
I’ve found a nearby marina down in Longboat Key has four stroke, 6 hp long shafts for sale for $1,650. That’s $200 less than the equivalent Mercury or Suzuki which will cover the cost of a new bracket. And, they’ll bring it up to me. They have to order it first, so it will take a while. Meanwhile I’ll work on removing the old bracket, order and install a new one.
One response to “The Cruising Life”
Great story, Richard, and well told. It’s one that anyone who’s messed around in old boats can appreciate.