Monday, August 29, 2016

Das Boot

When we started to organize the 1st Annual East Coast Windsurfing Festival Cape Cod in 2013, the Barnstable Harbor Master told us: "You need a rescue boat!". For the first three installments from 2013 to 2015, we used a jet ski (kindly loaned to us by Fast Eddie from Cape Cod Windsurfing). But last year, Eddie pointed out that rescuing a windsurfer and his gear with a jet ski might actually be illegal in Massachusetts: you are not allowed to tow anything with a jet ski!

Perhaps many would have ignored that. But the organizers of the ECWF Cape Cod are Germans. Germans know how important rules are. We have no speed limits on the Autobahn because we can rely on everyone following the rules  (well, almost everyone). For example, that you should move to the right lane immediately after passing someone, even if you are going 100 mph, so that the guy coming from behind can pass you at 150 mph. Ignoring rules makes a good German almost as uncomfortable as not being able to get good beer.

But there was another issue of concern: if we should ever get a typical Kalmus "southwest" day, we'd get 25-30 mph wind, and tons of voodoo chop at high tide. Sure, we'd set the course as far away from the shipping lane that the high speed ferry uses, but in such conditions, drifting a few hundred meters can happen very quickly. With more than 30 racers out in challenging conditions, it's not a question of "if" something will happen - it's just a question of "when".

Of course, jet skis can be used to rescue windsurfers even in crazy conditions. But that's if you have someone who has spent a lot of time riding them. That's not me. I get quite uncomfortable on jet skis even in small chop. If I went out on a very windy and choppy day to rescue someone, chances are that someone else would need to rescue me. Yes, there are usually a few windsurfers at the event that have more jet ski experience, but they want to race, not stand around waiting to maybe rescue someone.

So we needed a boat. Small inflatables can be found on Craigslist for less than $1,000, including a motor, but the pictures on these ads did not always instill confidence. So when Jim from Sailworld Cape Cod offered to sell us his Zodiac with an 8 hp motor, we jumped at the opportunity. We know Jim well enough to trust that he would help us with any problems we might encounter.

Problems? What problems? Well, they started out when we tried to register the boat (you must register any boat that uses a motor in Massachusetts). The friendly lady at the registry looked a the bill of sales, and pointed out it has to include the registration number! This required a trip back home, some phone and email exchanges with Jim, and a return trip to the registry. First problem solved.

Our first attempt to test the boat and motor failed because we had under-estimated the time we needed to paint the registration number onto the boat, as required by MA law (with "paint" I mean "draw with permanent markers). But a few days later, we made it to a local lake early in the morning. The initial plan was to make two trips - one trip with Nina and the motor, and a second trip where I'd just put the inflated boat into the van. Good plan ... except that the inflated boat did not quite fit. So deflate it, drive to the lake, and inflate it again. By now, I was getting hot!

But we finally got the boat into the water, and the motor attached. We had forgotten to bring paddles, but were able to anchor close to the shore to get the motor started. Or at least that was the plan. But the motor had not been run for about 2 years, and 2-stroke motors do not like standing around. I pulled the starter cord. And pulled again. And again, and again, .... I think you get the idea. I played around with the choke. But except for a few promising turns early on, the motor just would not start. So a very sweaty hour later, we carried everything back to the van, deflated the boat, and went home again.

Did I mention that this was the first time I tried to start an outboard motor? I have owned a few motor cycles over the years, but they all had 4-stroke engines, which always started right away. A quick Google search showed that that's definitely not the case for 2-stroke outboard motors; many owners run the motors every couple of weeks, just to make sure they turn on again. But I also found one useful tip: try starting the motor with the throttle two thirds open. I hooked up a hose to the motor so the water cooling would function, and tried to start it in the drive way. A few pulls later, it was running! It coughed a bit and stank a lot, but it was running!

So far so good. But the next problem was right at hand: the shift lever did not work! I could get the motor to run, but I could not get the propellor to turn. Not so great if you need to rescue someone. Jim did not know anything about the issue, but the motor had been standing around for a couple of years - plenty of time for things to rust into place.

Squirting some WD40 into a couple of places did nothing. I did a quick Google search which indicated that fixing the issue would require removing the power head. That's a bit beyond my skill level, so I went to find a boat mechanics. Every place close by that I called did not work on the brand of motor I had, or had a waiting list of 4 weeks, which would have brought us way to close to the event date. Thanks to a suggestion on the Cape Cod Windsurfers Facebook page, I finally found a place 45 minutes away that accepted the motor. Well, 45 minutes without tourist traffic ... in the middle of summer, this ended up as a 3-hour round trip.

I called the shop a few days later, and got some bad news: the mechanic estimated that it would take 3 hours to remove the power head, fix the stuck level, and put everything back together. With some added time to check out the motor for any problems and the cost of parts, that would bring the bill to about $500! Way more than what we had left in the budget.

I got back in touch with Jim from Sailworld Cape Cod, and he said: "Let my guy look at it". So we picked up the motor, waited a couple of days to find a break in the tourist traffic, and dropped the motor back off. A couple of days later, Jim sent a message "All set - only needed a bit of grease". He later showed me where exactly the grease was needed (a spot I had missed before). About $500 saved! Seems not all mechanics are created equal. Although I did really not get the impression that the other guy had wanted to screw us over - he seemed to be talking about experience from other cases he had seen, where the corrosion was a lot worse than in our case.

Fast forward a few more days, and we are back on the water for a second try. By now, we have a nice dolly for the motor, and a small mover's dolly for the boat, so getting everything onto the water is a bit easier. The motor starts on the first pull! We let it warm up and drove around a couple of miles, bouncing across the small chop on a full plane at times. Not too bad! This is definitely something that's easier to control in chop than a jet ski. And it will even be legal to tow a windsurfer back to shore, should that become necessary! Whether the little boat and motor will allow for tow-in windsurfing if we get a windless day is another story, though - the top speed we measured was 15 knots, although that was in some chop. But chances are that we'll get two planing days for the event this year, thanks to Jay who bought a longboard specifically for the ECWF Cape Cod.

So, once again many thanks to Jim from Sailworld Cape Cod, who sold us the boat at a significant discount, and was very helpful to sort out all the little unforeseen problems we ran into. I hope he and Pam can find someone to tend the shop on September 17 and 18 so that they can make it down to the event! If you are planning to come and play, please register!

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