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Dave and Anke
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why Sail Without an Engine?

Nobody ever believes us when we answer, "Because we're lazy." But it's the Truth.

On a calm day, you might see us sculling (or lately, pedaling) seemingly in place, lingering on the horizon for subjective hours. When we finally reach hailing distance, often as not we're stripped down to our skivvies, breathing deep and beaded with sweat.
How can that be lazy, compared to flicking the starter button and gliding along effortlessly?

What lies hidden behind this vision of convenience is Hustle and Bustle. Every engine must be specified, shopped for, transported, mounted, maintained, fed, overhauled, worked around and just plain endured!

"Mounted," did I say? That makes it sound so easy! Mountings must be installed, linkages, batteries, feul tanks, lines and bulbs, filters, spark arresters, bilge blowers and sniffers, fire extinguishers. A set of mechanical tools and spare parts must be shipped. Band-aids for skinned knuckles. Special soap for grease and grime.

At the end of its life, frustration, missed opportunities, stress, dismount, transport and dump fees are all added to the bill. Start over. Chances are, the old engine had some failure that the manufacturer has fixed in a new generation (requiring new mountings and spares). Or you would prefer a less frustrating make, but choose the devil-you-know, since mountings are all such a pain and expense to tear out and convert.

And all this has to be payed for in cold, hard cash. 

Ernest friends urge us to go mechanized... modern engines are so reliable! They're quiet and sip fuel, making them cost effective! Diesels run forever! If you prefer, outboards are the soul of convenience!! They'll get you out of jams!!!

Mm-hmm. We've been around a long time. We come sailing in to a town at any random old time, and there will be a minimum of four or five of those same friends, hunkered miserably over the engines of their dead-in-the-water vessels, red in the face and short of temper. Bills mounting and summer fleeting.

A minimal, hand-crank, hand-steer, 5hp, four-stroke, marine (salt-water) outboard costs $1K to $1.5K. Located out there, somewhere; still have shipping and handling. Let's say the higher figure and call it even. Add in all the little bits and pieces... skritch, skritch... oops... gotta register the boat if we want a motor... um... carry the three... I throw in my considerable shopping / organizational time at no charge. Okay. Comes in very conservatively at $2K. Well... that's only 20% the cost of our boat, all-found. Only.

So we  fudge some kind of mount, get all the pieces stowed away, elbow deck gear aside for a jerry can or two of fuel. Crank her up and off we go.

Hmm... not as quiet as advertised. Cough, cough (debit future medical budget). But we're moving! We head out into the Backwaters for as long as we wish.

But wait... it's a calm week. After several hours of motoring, the engine splutters and dies. WHAT? Our new motor?? Oh. Out of gas. That's ok. We've got one more jerry can. But now we're worried... this is our first day out. Will we be out a month? Six months? We never knew; but we do now!

Friends, with the amount of fuel we can carry, that motor shortly becomes useless ballast; an anchor. We're like the harpooned plane in WaterWorld, tethered on a short leash as we orbit some gas pump. Our vaunted 'unlimited range' as a sailboat has devolved into an MPG equation whose solution is a small, irrational number. It's made week-enders of us!

Hope we kept the receipts!

 And it gets worse, of course. We meet cruisers whose trip is on hold until some part arrives from a factory in north Sweden, many afraid to leave harbor for even a daysail with a dead engine. We listen through winters to PAN PANs for, and MAYDAYs from motorized mariners, most experiencing some consequence of motor failure. Without engines, most of them would sensibly ride out storms in harbor. Or turn and run under sail to shelter. Or scull in when the engine's down and storm merely threatens. And not steam blithely into the jaws of Scylla and Charybdis, counting on horsepower to see them safely through.

No, we listen to the exertions and lamentations of our mechanical friends. We commiserate and lend a hand where we're able.

And thank our lazy stars.

1 comment:

  1. We sail without an engine too. A Catalina 27.

    Everything you said sums up my feelings about engines, plus, they are really bad for whales, and no one wants to drink the water where an engine has trolled.