Aug 29

Misadventures with the dinghy: Part 4

Tag: boat work,victoriesJonathon Haradon @ 8:55 pm

(refers to events that happened July 12th -July 20th)

We have never been happy with our outboard engine for our dinghy.  It sat on the rail of Syzygy for over a year before anyone bothered to start to tinker with it.  And what they found was not particularly encouraging.  It didn’t run particularly well.  We rarely used it.

Fast forward three years and once Matt and Karen left San Francisco, the dinghy actually started getting used.  And yet again, the outboard was not particularly reliable.

It puttered at higher RPM’s.  It was difficult to start.  It cut out randomly.  It seemed to be overheating.  Old supposedly adjustable plastic parts would break upon adjustment.  It looked old and ugly.

Then, once I arrived, shortly thereafter we did not tie up the dinghy well enough.  It came loose, and on its drift away, flipped over, submerging the engine in salt water.  When I say ‘we’ did not tie up the dinghy well enough, I mean ‘I’, but choose to use the royal ‘we’ in an attempt to lesson my embarrassment.  Submerging an outboard engine in salt water is not good for it.  In fact, it effectively dooms it.  Salt gets onto the piston walls, immediately begins to corrode them, which causes all sorts of bad things.

But really, my action only hastened what Matt has wanted to do for the last six months.  He even joked about purposely wanting to lose the dinghy not two days before it drifted away.  So after tinkering around and cleaning some of the salt off, I came around to Matt and Karen’s point of view.  It was time to spend serious money on our outboard, either a large overhaul on ours, buying a used one, or buying a new one.

A few days later, we arrived into Papette, Tahiti from Rangiroa after one long overnight sail.  First thing the next morning, I was up and motivated.  If we wanted to do something about our outboard, we needed to get started right away because it would take a few days and none of us wanted to be in Papette very long.  Matt supported, but did not share, my enthusiasm and so I struck off alone early Saturday morning around 8 am.  That it was Saturday was unlucky, as I knew many places would close at noon and some would not be open at all.  This is how they do business in paradise, ‘island time’.

Since I had wandered around Papette for a week before flying to meet Matt and Karen, I knew of at least one outboard engine store and so started there.  At each place I went, I had three questions.  Do you fix outboards?  Do you sell used outboards? What are your prices for new outboards?

The first place, Evinrude/Suzuki Outboards, said: “No.  No.  $1800.”

This was not particularly promising.

The salesman was extremely courteous however, and did direct me to the authorized Evinrude repair shop and other outboard engine retailers.  I spent the rest of Saturday wandering around, asking questions, saying “I am sorry I don’t speak French, do you speak English?” and trying to determine what to do about our engine situation.

Repeatedly I heard, ‘there are no used outboards for sale anywhere.  Tahitians run them until they disintegrate.’

On Monday, Matt and I went to the repair shop and on Tuesday returned with our engine.  I visited them again on Wednesday to hear their prognosis.

The owner gave me the gist:  “Pas possible,” he said.  Not Possible.  He then began telling me what might be wrong, but they weren’t exactly sure.  And to fix what might be wrong would take over a month to get the part and cost $500 just for that part.  With no insurance that would fix all our problems.  He was right.  Pas Possible.

Resigned to the fact that we would have to by a new engine, I asked him if he was interested in buying ours for the parts.  He crossed his arms, rubbed his chin and appeared in thought.  The head mechanic walked over and the owner asked him if he thought they should buy it for the parts.  The head mechanic was not so diplomatic and simply scoffed! Laughing out loud.  This was embarrassing.  I left saying we would be back to pick up the engine in a couple of days.  We never did return.

One of the shops I had contacted, Mercury, had quoted me a price of 130,000 Pacific Francs, about $1,300.  Matt had talked to them separately at a different location and they offered him a price of $1200.  I called back to confirm Matt’s price, he gave me a slightly higher price, I sort of paused on the phone, hedging, and then he gave me a final price of $1125.  Done.

We now have a brand new, shiny, 5 hp, 2-stroke Mercury outboard  It purrs.  It starts with one pull.  It easily goes up to its maximum RPM.  It planes over the water with ease.  Did I mention it purrs?

We are very happy.  We had to spend some money, but we are very happy.  Who says money can’t buy happiness? Misadventures part 4: success!

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