Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Overkill Never Hurts (updated)

Engine on its new mount

My goal was to never have my outboard mount break again, so I came up with the most indestructible unit I could think of, that I could make and afford to make. It began with a block of teak 1-7/8-inch thick by 11-11/16 by 11-1/2 inches. It was what I could buy at H&L Marine, Inc., which is a manufacturer of teak joinery for boats.

Unlike the Honduras mahogany block that split apart, the new teak block is large enough that I could mount it with the grain running vertically. Probably that was all I would need to do, but I studied the grain pattern and kept imagining how it might break vertically.

At first I thought I could prevent that by adding horizontal aluminum straps under the bolts on the back side of the teak. I had some aluminum stock 2-1/2 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick, which I cut to the proper width.

But then I saw that I also had some 1/8-inch aluminum sheet that was 11 inches wide. There was enough to cut into two 11-inch by 11-11/16-inch plates with which I could completely sandwich the teak block. I couldn't imagine any way such a unit could break. It also had the added benefit that the engine clamps could not dig into the wood and eventually loosen. I oiled the teak liberally and repeatedly for a day before installing it.

Teak block, on its side, and aluminum plates

The news on the engine was initially very good. The dealer reported that it was fine, having required only a two-hour labor charge to clean the starter assembly, the oil sensor and the carburetor. I was told it then started easily and ran fine in their test tank.

However, when I installed it on my new engine mount assembly, it was hard to start and then it wouldn't idle. Eventually I did get it to run pretty well, although there was some uneveness, and ran it in gear for about an hour, with the boat tied up in the slip.

But the next day, it balked at starting again, and wouldn't run at idle.

I took the engine back to the dealer today. The mechanic verified in the test tank that it would start and then die, and refused to idle. I then watched him remove and dismantle the carburetor. The bowl was coated with gray crud and the idle jet was plugged. I suspect one or more of the tiny drilled passages were also plugged. It is impossible to see through them even when they are clean.

I suggested that the carb cleaning I had paid for last week was never done, which drew a threat from another worker to throw me and my engine out of the building. As it was, I was ordered out of the work area. But not before the mechanic was able to demonstrate to me that the carburetor metal was still being dissolved by salt that had impregnated the metal during the dousing. I could literally see the light gray patina reforming after being washed with solvent, dried and scraped clean.

In a determined but losing effort, the mechanic persisted in trying to clean the carburetor and eventually reinstalled it and had the engine running. I was then invited to the back of the shop to witness the successful repair. But, then the engine died and was very difficult to restart. When it did, it wouldn't idle.

I returned to the front of the shop and ordered a new carburetor. I wish that I had been told from the outset to buy a new carb. It costs about the same as the two hours labor spent today trying to fix it. But I guess every case is different, and they were trying to save me some money to start with. As it is, we all end up a little unhappy with each other and I don't yet know who is paying the cost of today's failed effort.

The simple lesson I'm happy to pass along is that if you ever find salt water in your carburetor, throw it away and buy a new one.

At 100 pounds, with a 25-inch shaft and all the complexity of remote controls, it is not a simple matter to remove the engine and take to the dealer. I have it worked out so that I can do it all by myself, however, thanks to my engine hoist accessory for my radar mast, and a hand truck that I modified into an engine carrier with plywood for the mounting clamps and iron pipes that extend forward at the bottom to hold the hand truck upright when the engine is attached.

I was very glad for the assistance offered by a slip neighbor this morning, however, so that I did not have to wrestle it from the hoist to the hand truck. Nor did I have to pull it by myself up the steep gangway to shore at low tide.

And, once again, I was able to remove the push-pull cable fittings, the electrical connections and the battery cable without dropping anything into the water, nor falling in myself. When I raved in an earlier post about how convenient an outboard was compared to the old inboard, that was when I assumed that all I had to do was install it once and likely never have to take it off again.

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