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Stories

This area of the website will have various stories related to my collections or snippets sent in by folks who enjoyed my site and have a story to share.

Obstinate Outboard

Dredging Up The Past

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obstinate Outboard

I have never met a mechanic who would not admit to at least one car, motorcycle, outboard, etc… that had “got their goat”. My Waterloo was with a ’49 Scott Atwater 497 5hp outboard, one of the first Scott’s with FNR. Now this was a fair number of years ago, I was in my late teens, but I still can’t think of anything I would have done differently.

Well, long story short, I worked on that darn thing off and on for six months – every time I looked at it in our basement I became incensed that I could not make it run. I checked everything you can think of but it stayed silent just to spite me. (or in spite of me!) Eventually I became fed-up and gave it to the owner of our corner garage in the hope he could succeed where I failed (and at least I would learn what I did wrong).

John was my mechanical mentor, the classic old time mechanic who had worked on everything from Model A’s to the (then) current Detroit iron of the 1970’s. (He was a real life Gus Wilson for those of you who remember the Popular Science character) No job was too small and he worked on everything from Caddy’s down to weed whackers. He could and did fix anything - and not by replacing things willy-nilly or looking at a PC or Sun Analyzer - he used good old common sense. Well the old Scott sat in his shop for 6 months and mocked him too! (that made me feel better) One day I stopped in to discuss the fine points of oil leaks in a '51 Chevy I was messing with and the Scott was gone… he also had gotten fed-up and given it away. His only comment: “That GD thing wasn’t even a good doorstop!!”.

Now we can sit here 25 years later and speculate that this, that or the next thing was wrong and I was a fool not to check X, Y or Z, but I have no regrets. Who knows, possibly somone out there owns that recalcitrant Scott 497 and is checking the same things John and I did back in 1978! Anyone else willing to admit that a motor got the better of them?

 

Dredging Up The Past

The following drivel is for entertainment and frivolous consideration only – but probably is just a waste of bandwidth. If you honestly don’t have anything better to do, sit back and read on.

After close to 10 years of haggling between our town departments, the county, the state, the DEP, (and every other government agency under the sun!!), this Monday they will start dredging the harbor a certain kid spent almost every summer day on from 1973 to 1980. They say it has been almost 50 years since this was last done and the daily tides, normal runoff and the flow of the river have silted the harbor up so it is almost un-navigable at low tide. I guess I have done my part as well; the dredge operator will likely come across the following items, though I doubt anyone will want to lay claim to them:

ONE Neptune Mite-E-Mite that had virtually no compression and barely started on a sawhorse in the shop. The transom clamp bolt broke off on the 548th pull, sometime in the summer of 1974.

A matched pair - 12’ Alumacraft skiff and a 1950 5hp Scott-Atwater, purchased at a yard sale for $15 (talked down from $40 ‘cause the buyer knew it was best to wait and haggle Sunday at 4:30PM!). The boat turned out to leak something fierce; several buckets worth every 10 minutes. Sure the engine ran when last used….. when Harry Truman was President – as it turns out, it would never run again. After a day of trying to get it going, the rig was tied to the dock at dinnertime, Monday August 9th 1974. The next morning at around 8:00 AM the only trace of it was the bow line around the dock cleat leading straight to Davy Jones locker. The exertions of five 13 year old boys only recovered the painter and bow eye from where it parted from the corroded and loose riveted stem. (So much for that flotation under the seats…..)

THREE (probably more) British Seagulls that disgruntled owners hurled off the sterns of their sailboats after 550 pulls failed to coax them to life. There would be at least 7 others but for some enterprising kid with a grapnel hook who retrieved and revived them. (Only to be sold back to different sail boat owners who probably, eventually, tossed them into other harbors) Despite extensive searching three were never recovered, at the time the Glomar Explorer was unavailable to assist in the recovery effort.

FORTY horsepower 1956 Mercury Mark 55 (purchased from an ad in the local paper for $50 the summer of ’79) that would propel an ancient, soggy 13’ Boston Whaler at close to the speed of light – until the transom clamps worked loose….. plop! Ever try to paddle 2 miles upriver, against the outgoing tide, on a 98 degree evening, with the skeeters thick as fog? Hard lesson learned here!

FIVE Evinrude 5.4hp Zephyrs. One was jettisoned after catching fire - fearing the 14’ plywood skiff (replacing the aforementioned aluminum craft) would develop into a conflagration. Hey, hold off on the Viking funeral for seven or eight decades okay! The others simply tried the mechanic’s patience to the breaking point and, (since they had already been cast off by previous owners), earned a well deserved burial at sea with many other Zephyrs.

Is there a moral, (or point), to this story or is it just hapless rambling? I guess if there is it’s not to be a “gross polluter” and to do your part. Today Saturday trips to the dump (now called a recycling center) will sometimes allow a wayward, unloved outboard to come home with me rather than become land-fill. One, two, three, four, five….. honey, it’s not junk – it’s a collection!

 

 

Yes... There Is Such A Thing As A Bad Day Out On The Water!

My summer job in 1981 was teaching sailing at a yacht club in New England. The club had several boats but one of the most feared & loathed was a 16’ Boston Whaler Nauset with a mid-1960’s electric-shift V-4 Evinrude. That motor was a real Jonah and always had something wrong with it, one of the few OMC motors I have met that I had no love for at all. When it became known that I had some experience tinkering with outboards, the manager of the club, (A real little terror of a guy who was always in a bad mood), typically would have me run the whaler. He figured that I could be trusted not to abuse it thereby avoiding another trip to the dealer.

Late in July or early in August the whaler’s Evinrude broke down for the umpteenth time while being used to officiate a sailboat regatta 20 miles away. (I was not running it at the time) I happened to overhear the manager getting a grilling by the member who was running it when it broke, “…. as the steward of the club YOU should take better care of the equipment!” A few days later the call came in from the Evinrude dealer that it was fixed (yet another $125 blown on that motor) and to get it out of there ASAP since it was taking up space. The boat was needed at our club and by now the manager was so ticked-off with it that, without consulting the weather forecast, he grabbed a co-worker (named Pete) and me. Grumbling all the way driving us down, our boss' final words yelled to us as we left the dock were “bring the GD thing back in one piece or DON’T COME BACK AT ALL!!!”.

Our manager’s parting words were most prophetic; when we set out little did we know that Tropical Storm Cindy was churning out in the Atlantic. It was in the perfect location to funnel 8’-10’ seas and 50+mph wind directly in our path. While only a slightly blustery day on shore, once out of the harbor we had nowhere to hide and took the storm right in the teeth, that whaler cathedral hull pounding & pounding. Today, (with 20/20 hindsight) there is no way I would have gone out in such weather, but a summer job was a hard thing to find in 1981 and we didn’t question our boss.

We immediately put on our old greasy kapok filled horse collar PFD’s and ran about ½ throttle to keep the bow up to prevent the boat from swamping. It soon became obvious that even if we tried to turn around to go back or even go crossways to the waves, they would “poop” or flip the boat. Running at ½ throttle made the whaler pound like a fiend and the first casualty was the forward slanting wooden windshield on the center console. It smashed to bits, taking with it our compass and navigation chart. Then the bow anchor locker wood cover flew up, got caught in the breeze and whacked both of us in the head on its way overboard, it gave Pete a real shiner. Next the bow handrail broke off on one side and started beating the heck out of the hull with each pitch. A while later a big slam into another wave broke the entire center console adrift - we used some line to tie it in place and doggedly kept going, the conditions were so bad there was no other choice. Periodically a massive rogue wave would wash right into the boat just about filling it. With the throttle we could get most of it to slosh right out over the transom and fortunately the motor cover did its job protected the engine from ingesting water. We kept this up for what seemed like hours and just about the time we estimated we were ½ way home there came a banging from aft in the boat. Pete and I looked around to see the battery box (with its mounts and part of the deck still attached) bounce twice and fly right out of the boat taking most of the electrical cables with it!

When the battery went overboard I knew that was trouble, if that finicky Evinrude decided to quit (as it often did) we were really in the soup! We kept going and prayed for deliverance…. and for the Evinrude to keep running. With that V-4 being a fuel hungry monster, we both knew that we would have to change tanks soon or risk running out of gas. The boat had two large metal Attwood tanks crammed under the console, even on a calm day it was difficult to change the hose due to lack of space and visibility. With the boat bouncing around so badly, switching the fuel hose from tank A to B under our loosely tied and pounding console was going to be almost impossible, not to mention dangerous. By now we had been out in the storm for what felt like an eternity, were bruised, wet, tired, hungry and scared. Not only scared of drowning in the storm, but if we did make it back with what remained of the whaler our boss was certainly going to kill us. The poor whaler looked like it was put through a meat grinder, we lost the chart, no compass, are low on fuel in tank A and have no battery. (Thank heaven the electric-shift locked in forward.) Then, to top it all off, it started to rain so hard we no longer could see land or where we were, visibility was about 30 feet at best.

After about 10 minutes of running blind in the rain I was close to desperate, we were in real trouble. There was no radio to make a distress call and the safety flares had fallen out of the storage locker and the few left aboard were floating around soaking up water in the stern of the boat. It was our darkest hour, but then out of the rain came a huge black shape in the form of a large square-rigged sail training ship! We hailed her skipper (who was shocked to see us in the middle of the bay!) and found out she was making her way under power for some annual repairs at the shipyard. In her lee was a calm almost wind-free spot we could run in relative shelter and warmth, switch gas tanks and try to make repairs as we were guided into a safe harbor 45 minutes later. As we approached the dock I was so weary that I forgot about the gearshift, pushing the “N” and “R” buttons did nothing with the loss of our battery. Just when I thought we were going to plow into the tugboat at the head of the dock, the Evinrude sniffed mightily and died! Not wanting to dwell on the repercussions should it have chosen different timing to conk out, Pete and I simply fell down on the dock glad to be back on-shore.

We called our boss and told him where we were and he roared over to pick us up. Words can not paint the picture of the full tantrum he had when he saw the bruised & battered whaler. I think echoes of the expletives can still be heard around southern New England to this day! But just when his ranting was at full fury, the master of the square rigger came over to see how we were. The big burly old salt towered over our boss. It didn’t take him long to figure out what had transpired and he proceeded to rip into our manager in a most gratifying way! I can still hear him to this day: “How can anyone be such a horses backside to order a couple of kids out into such terrible weather in a small open boat”. He said it was criminal negligence and threatened to report him to the Coast Guard!

The remainder of the trip back that day (by car) was in total silence, I don’t think more than two words were said to us by our boss over the rest of the summer. Pete’s black eye faded after a week or two though the story of our trip that day is something we still discuss whenever we get together. (A bad experience like ours often leads to a long-time friendship.) The smashed up whaler was unceremoniously hauled (on its trailer) back to the club a few days later and stuffed into the back corner of the parking lot out of view. It stayed there for the remainder of the summer and rumor has it that it was sold not long after.

The lesson I learned was to always pay attention to the weather reports BEFORE going out and to never venture out in conditions I am not comfortable handling. Respect Mother Nature and avoid, if possible, having a hot-head for a boss!

1968 Evinrude catalog page showing the 85hp V-4's
16' Boston Whaler Nauset

 

 


 

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