Preston to the Rescue

By Tom Neale, 6/2/2006

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“Preston To The Rescue”
I knew I was going to have trouble launching my 1985 20 foot Mako after winter storage—not to mention dealing with the 20 year old trailer and the 20 year old 200 hp Yamaha. The trailer tires had enough dry rot to start a plague. One of them had blown when I’d pulled the boat last fall. That’s another story, and it’s all about how “Fixa Flat” doesn’t work when the tire’s off the rim. The plan was to get new tires this spring, but first I had to get the boat into the water so I could block up the trailer and take off the wheels. I figured: 4 wheels, 6 cans of “Fixa Flat”, only a mile to go, a stop every 5 minutes for a wheel check----Piece of Cake. It was. I only used one can. In no time the Mako was floating. Mel and I gave each other two thumbs up. We’d been worrying about those tires all winter long while we were down south in our slow old motorsailer. Now it was MAKO TIME.

We knew it was going to be a piece of cake from here on out. I had an extra fresh battery to crank the motor, a bunch of tools, and a can of ether just in case. The battery (that I’d disconnected last fall) had no problem turning the hydraulic pump to lower the motor. Turning the motor was a different deal. The steering gear was frozen like a snake at the North Pole. There’s always an answer for that. It’s not an answer that any of the experts will ever recommend, but it’s an answer that I use. You tap the end of the rod. You do this while someone is applying pressure to the wheel in the direction that the motor should turn. So I did. And it still didn’t budge. I tapped it again. And again. What the heck. I hit the hell out of it. Yes, I might be spreading the rod and ruining it forever, but at this point I didn’t care. And besides, there’s nothing that makes you feel better than hitting an out board motor.

Steering Gear Tips

1. All joking aside, poorly working steering gear can be very dangerous. Many recommend that steering cables for outboards should be replaced every few years or sooner if needed. Any time the steering is sluggish, jerky, or abnormal in any other way, check it out and take care of the problem.

2. Lubrication as prescribed by manufacturers is critical, but even this won’t give the steering gear eternal life.

Click Here for More Tips

My next solution was to fire up the Yamaha. When she idles she jumps around so much the boat throws a wake even when it’s a dead in the water. Surely this would shake loose my frozen snake. Now I’m no fool. I know about starting 20 year old outboards that have been sitting out in a yard all winter long. Yes you use fuel stabilizer before you put her away and you run some through and pull the line and run it dry, and I’d done that. Yes, you bring along a fresh battery, and I had one. Yes, you pray a lot, and I’d been doing that all week. But there’s one other thing.

Ether! (I think the politically correct word today is something like “starting fluid.”) Now ether is something else that the experts say to never ever use, and experts are always right. They say it’ll cause a misfire. They say it’ll damage your piston and rods. They say it’ll damage your rings. They say it can cause an explosion. They say it can cause fire. They say it’ll make your hair fall out. They’re absolutely right, of course, but I never was very good at following directions or doing what I’m supposed to do. I use ether to start motors if I really need to. I mean, first things first. When you need your motor to start, you need it to start. So I pulled the cowling and told Mel to fire it up while I gave it a goose from the good ol’ can. She did, I did, it didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. Ether almost always works unless there’s an electrical problem and there wasn’t. We tried several more times—Mel cranking and me squatting back at the edge of the transom with face averted, daintily squirting ether at arm’s length, ready to fall overboard backwards with the explosion. Nothing. Ignominiously I had to tow the Mako to the dock with my 12 foot dinghy which had a Yamaha that was working.

Preston is a friend of ours at Narrows Marina in the lower Chesapeake. He’s one of these guys that can do just about anything if he wants to. I finally found him, with a bunch of his friends, watching Regis on the TV high up on the wall (above flood level) in the office. Or maybe he was watching that pretty lady up there next to Regis. She was good looking. I didn’t have much hope. I waited for a commercial.

“Preston, how do you fix a frozen steering cable without spending a lot of money?”

He looked at me with a tired expression. “You hit it where the rod is sticking out the motor.”

“I did.”

“You hit it again.”

“I did.”

“You hit it a lot harder.”

“Preston, if I hit it any harder I’m going to break my mallet.”

He looked at Regis for a minute, then, he looked at me.

“You just don’t know how to hit it. Wait a minute and I’ll be down there.”

When Preston hits something, he hits it. I put pressure on the wheel (not too hard—didn’t want to strip it) and he whaled away. At first it looked kind of grim. The thing didn’t budge. But finally, after multiple squirts of “PB Blaster,” it started to move. The channel bore on the Yamaha through which the rod slides had corroded badly, even though I’d liberally greased it the previous fall. There was so much rust and old grease and other stuff in there it looked like the inside of a New York storm drain. (Don’t ask me how I know what that looks like.) We didn’t have a wire brush big enough to clean it out, so Preston got a long thick bolt and used the threads to file out the bore. He called it his “Bohemian file.” We cleaned it and greased it and stuck the rod back in and soon that motor was turning like a young man’s head in a strip joint.


“After the Rescue”

I’m sitting there overwhelmed with a mixture of joy and humiliation. I was supposed to have been able to fix that. Preston turns to me and says, “Now what about this motor.” I told him all I’d done.

“How much ether you got?”

“Plenty, I’ve got two cans.”

“Turn the ignition when I tell you to.”

Preston straddled that engine, a can of ether in each hand like Mat Dillon getting ready for a shootout in Dodge City. He straightened his arms, stuck a can up the intake on each side and started firing away.

“Fire away,” he said. I did. IT DID. It purred like a 20 year old Yamaha which had just crawled out of its cave ready to eat some serious gas after hibernating all winter.

After traveling at seven knots for several thousand miles since last fall, it sure feels good to get in that Mako and go 30. Never mind that I go broke after 10 miles—I’m broke with a smile on my face.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale