Friday, 9 October 2015

Outboard in a Well

One of my early decisions on renovating this old Westerly Nomad was to use an outboard as auxiliary power. Not an outboard hung off the transom however; I find them ugly and inefficient. Ugly because they look like an afterthought and inefficient because, in my experience, the prop is often lifted out of the water in any kind of a chop. Writers often refer to this as ‘cavitation’, this is not the correct term but it’s frequently used to describe the problem.

I wanted an outboard in a well because it seemed to me I might get the best of all worlds – a power unit, as efficient as an inboard engine where the prop is deep enough in the water to avoid the chances of it turning in the air at the top of every wave, allied to the lower cost of outboard repair and maintenance. It’s always cheaper to take your unit to a mechanic than have him visit your boat, cheaper also because he can get to the problem without having to stick his head into the bilges or lift out the engine.

The process of creating a well wasn’t particularly easy because it required the rudder to be relocated and hung off the transom. Fortunately this had already been done by a previous owner. He’d also made an attempt at creating the well but the work hadn’t been thought through properly and the building of the well walls left a lot to be desired. So, the whole thing was replaced and the cockpit remodelled on the advice of a marine engineer. Was it worth the effort?

Yes I think so, in fact you could almost argue that it has already paid for itself. This summer we ventured under motor along the canal that crosses Brittany linking the English Channel with the Atlantic. It is a narrow, shallow waterway that no longer carries commercial traffic. From the towpath it is a beautiful ribbon of water edged with hardwood forests, ancient chateaus, idyllic picturesque villages and pastoral scenes unchanged for hundreds of years. From the deck of a twin keel sailing boat however, it is a muddy weed-filled creak that tempts and then betrays the innocent navigator.

Four days into our cruise the engine began to overheat. Well at least I could lift it out of the well and carry it shore-side where I could work on it in relative comfort. Then, having confirmed that I had neither the tools nor the expertise to fix the problem, I was able to phone a friend and get the engine to a specialist engineer who ordered parts and fixed the problem within two days. Three days later I was cruising again and the cost of the repair was about £35. Now how much would it have been to call out the engineer for him to diagnose the problem and then return with the appropriate parts to fix it? I don’t know the answer but I’m pretty sure it would have been significantly more - given that the current average hourly rate for a marine mechanic is in the region of £30 per hour. 

Something tells me I got something right – unusual for me to do that.