Sep 032014

I mentioned that I sold the Briggs & Stratton outboard engine that came with the sailboat over this past weekend.  Why, you may ask would I sell a perfectly good, running outboard?  Several reasons.

One.  I needed some working capitol.  You know, rent money.  Things have been tight and the motor was the easiest way to raise some cash without actually going out and getting a job or anything.

B.  The engine is designed for fresh water use.  It has lasted quite awhile in the salt water and seems to run fine but I know it would be just a matter of time before the thing would die on me, probably whilst I am out on the cruel and unmerciful ocean.   Stranding me far from land with no hope of rescue nor survival.

3.  I just flat out did not like the damn thing.  It was a heavy, noisy, vibrating sonuvabitch that rattled the whole boat when it ran.  Basically it was a lawn mower engine with a prop.

So, it is gone and I now have no engine on the boat.  What that means now is if I wanted to, or had to move, I would need to hoist those cloth thingies that are down in the cabin, “sails” I believe are what they are called, or get a tow, or find another means of alternate propulsion.  The alternatives all have their good and bad, and I’m going to be exploring all options, because right now, exploring all options is pretty much all I can afford to do.  Here is a rundown of each:

No motor at all.  By far the cheapest and if I could get away with it the best choice of all.  Get the boat into actual sailing condition.  Finish the running rigging, add a tiller, maybe find a roller furling for the jib, and rely on my sailing skills to move this thing around.  In fact, sailing without a motor has been around for a few thousand years or so.  Up to quite recently as a matter of fact.  Sailors used to be able to move boats all over the place just using the wind, and occasionally a paddle.  Nowadays, with relatively cheap motors, nearly everyone has a motor on their sailboat.  It makes it way more easier to get in and out of marinas, docks, and narrow waterways.  But there is still a small contingent of purist sailors who refuse to add an engine of any kind to a sailboat.  They have sailed around the world, and played around on small lakes using nothing but sails and the wind.  Here in Key West, I have watched some sailing charters who go out in small boats, slightly smaller than mine in and out of the harbor under sail.  They have the ability to maneuver the boat anywhere with just a wisp of wind.  Many sailboat racers can do the same.  If I were to do so, I would need to sharpen my poor sailing skills considerably.  Going over to Smathers beach and renting out a Hobie cat now and then would help.  But it would take some time.  Docking a sailboat under sail, especially with a lot of very expensive boats in the area can be pretty nerve wracking.  And there is one other issue with not having a motor.

The marina, as far as I know, and most others, require auxiliary power or at least a working engine on all boats in said marina.  Reasoning being that in an emergency such as a fire, the boat could be moved quickly out of harms way.  How tight they are here on enforcing that rule, I may find out soon, but I do know of several other boats moored here that do not have working engines.

Nonetheless, not having any engine would suit me fine.  Less cost, upkeep, and worry.  Unless I decide to go do some cruising up the Intercoastal Waterway or some other tight areas, an engine is not needed other than perhaps to just get in and out of the marina.  Which leads to some other options.

Another gas outboard.  Gas outboards are the most common way to push a boat around.  They are everywhere, in all different sizes, used and new, and can be had rather cheaply if one looks around.  New, they will easily run $1000 and up.  A gas outboard of about a 3 hp to 5 hp will push my 23′ 2 ton boat at a decent enough speed to keep me out of trouble.  For the most part, gas engines are reliable if you get something new, but the downsides are many.

Gas outboards have to have maintenance.  Like any other infernal combustion engine, they need constant tune ups, oil, spark plugs, grease, and if they break down, will cost a lot to fix.  They are noisy, even the 4 strokes, pollute, vibrate, and are heavy.  And then there is the fuel.  Most all outboards run on non ethanol fuel.  Fuel at any marina will cost well over a dollar more than at a gas station meaning right now close to $5 a gallon down here.  That means a six gallon tank will cost $30 to fill.

Personally, I’ve come to hate the infernal combustion engine.  Cars, motorcycles, outboards, I sick of them.  The costs to keep them running, the costs of fuel, dealing with repair shops, finding parts, I’m over it.  I won’t say never, because it may come to a point where another gas outboard may be my only choice, but I ain’t never getting another one, if I can help it.

Propane engines.  This is something relatively new on the market and it has sparked my interest quite a bit.  Propane engines run a lot quieter than gas, get about the same range in fuel, and don’t pollute.  The small 2.5 would probably be strong enough for my uses on the sailboat.  Yes, there would still be some minor maintenance issues but not near as much as with a gas powered motor.  Price wise they are up there but still affordable.  If the money was there and there was no other alternative, propane would do just fine.  The smaller engine runs off those little green grenades or you can hook up a larger tank.  But it’s still using fossil fuels, something I desperately want to get away from.

Electric.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on how much power it would take to push a sailboat of my size around with something as simple as a trolling motor.  Consensus is that 55 ft lbs would be the minimum in ideal conditions.  The nice thing about electrics is virtually no maintenance, no noise, and no pollution.  The motors are very light weight meaning one can mount said motor by oneself and store it away safely when not in use.  Downsides are the batteries of course.  You need at least two which are expensive and add weight.  And a way to charge if you are not at the slip.  Meaning some solar array set up.  None of that bothers me in the least.  I have plenty of room to add 2 or even 4 batteries below amidships without adversely affecting the boat.  A solar array would be nice too.  I could use the batteries for other things like lights and maybe charging up the computer while at anchor.  Cost wise, initially it would be higher.  Over time, more better.  If I have to have an engine, this is probably the way I will go.

While having something to conform to the marina rules is one thing, actual use of an engine whilst underway is something else.  For all intent and purposes, assuming I have the sailing skills, all I really need is enough power to get from my slip to the channel, a distance of about 2 hundred yards.  From there, sails up and it’s about 3 miles to the main channel on the other side of Key West.  It would be tricky.  If the tide is going out, real hard at Cow Key channel, right around the corner, I could easily be swept into the bridge.  The channel itself is narrow with a lot of boat traffic until you get through Fleming cut.  Then you have everything from kayaks to cruise ships to deal with to get down to the Atlantic side.  Or a tricky winding channel to the north to the Gulf.  It will take some sailing skills to get through all that.

But how often will I do any of that?  Will I ever?  Selling the boat itself and going back to land living has been a consideration as of late.  Should I find suitable arrangements on land, it will happen fast.  But for now, I intend to stay where I am until I cannot any longer.  More than likely, I will look at finding a deal on a trolling motor and a battery just to keep the powers that be satisfied.  Perhaps adding in a membership to BoatTow or SeaTow, just in case.  Sort of like AAA for boats.   No matter what, I am quite happy to be rid of the old engine for now.  The boat just looks more better without the engine.

Just a quick aside:  The pump out guy just raised his rate again up to $25 per pump out.  That is two rate hikes this summer.  Not sure why other then he is just looking to make more money but this is getting a bit out of line.  The rest of the county gets free pump outs while the city of Key West refuses to play along.  No doubt there are some behind the scenes plotting going on.  The whole idea of these pump out boats is to encourage boaters to get their sewage tanks pumped out, rather then dump them in the ocean.  Continually raising the rates does the opposite.  This is not a good thing.

Capt. Fritter


  One Response to “Living Aboard: No Engine, So Now What?..”

  1. Didn’t Gilligan, the Skipper and the Professor rig some sort of bicycle powered coconut paddle device for one of their rafts. That could be a green alternative. Then again they never did make it off that island…at least I don’t think they did 🙂