7/18/2010 – The little engine that could

Our little 3.5 hp 2-stroke Nissan outboard had not been started in probably 11 years. It just sat on a crossmember in the barn since we sold our first boat. About the only thing I did right the last time I used it was to run it with the fuel valve shut so it would run dry, leaving no fuel in the carburetor. Of course, I have since read that that’s not really necessary with today’s fuels. But, come to think of it, the gas in the outboard’s integral tank could hardly be considered “today’s fuels”.

Anyway, starry-eyed optimist that I am, I just clamped the little motor to our stern rail figuring it would probably work when we needed it. Okay, maybe I was just a wee bit in denial, but a guy’s got to have hope doesn’t he?


So today, it being uncommonly calm in the late morning, we decided to strap the Nissan to the Portabote and see if she’d run. The motor is really nice to handle because it’s very small and light and easy to get on and off the mothership. Once clamped to the dinghy’s stern I checked the gas tank. Amazing! There’s still some kind of liquid in there. We’ve also carted around a little 1-gallon gas can with mixed outboard gas in it (remember, this is a 2-stroke engine that has oil mixed with the gas). Although it’s possible that we occasionally used the contents of this can for either the chainsaw or the weedeater, I don’t think we did. We had a different can dedicated to those uses. If that’s the case, then the quart or so of gas remaining in the can is also at least 11 years old. The proper thing to do would be to pour out whatever gas remained in the outboard as well as the old gas in the can, and then start with nice new fresh gas. But really, when you live on a boat, where the heck are you supposed to get rid of old gas? For that matter, when you live ashore, where are you supposed to get rid of old gas?

So, I did what any denizen of denial would do, I filled up the outboard’s tank with the old gas. So now I have a 2-stroke outboard that hasn’t even been cranked over in 11-odd years filled with some kind of gas/oil mixture that is very unlikely no longer the same mixture it once was. The vent cap on the gas can had broken some years ago and gas has undoubtedly been evaporating ever since. Does the oil and gas evaporate at the same rate? Who knows?

So, set the choke, set the throttle, make sure the fuel valve is open and the vent on the fuel tank is as well. Grab the pull cord and give a yank. Nothing, but at least it turned over and wasn’t completely frozen up. Give it another yank. Still nothing. But what can you expect? Heck the lines from the tank to the carburetor as well as the carb itself are all dry. It might take a few yanks before fuel even reaches the carburetor. Give it a few more yanks. Nothing. Not even a cough. Double-check the choke. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Yank. Nothing. Suffice it to say that this went on for awhile before there was finally a little cough that indicated the possibility of life. A bunch more yanks and she suddenly roared to life amid a cloud of blue smoke.

Oh, there’s one other thing you should know about this motor. When I got it, either West Marine didn’t have the other model in stock or I opted to save a couple bucks. But, the one I bought was the model WITHOUT NEUTRAL! That’s right, once the motor starts, you’re going somewhere and you’re going there right now.

Fortunately I was still tied off to Siempre Sabado but with a bow painter only. So, while I’m trying to finesse the choke, the dinghy is dancing around bouncing off the mothership’s hull. This, of course, made it difficult to concentrate on the matter at hand and the motor would die time and again. I finally tied off a stern line so we’d stay put and concentrated on getting the Nissan running right.

The upshot to using the old gas was that I could never open the choke all the way without the motor dying. After finally accepting this, I just left the choke about halfway open. The outboard seemed to like that. After we sat there idling for a good 10 minutes or so without dying, we decided it was time to take a ride. So we loaded up the life jackets, seat cushions, computer (just in case we happened to come across a wifi connection – we didn’t) , and our packs and the grocery list just in case we made it all the way upriver to Toledo. Then we locked up Siempre Sabado, boarded the dinghy, untied our lines and were on our way

The rest of the trip is a non-story. The motor ran great. I was able to ease the choke a little closer to open after maybe 15 minutes of running. We motored about a mile upriver to the little marina where our friend Charlie is restoring his Alajuela 38. Charlie was there so we stopped and visited and got to see the progress he’s made on the boat. He offered us a ride into town for groceries and, after at first refusing, I got a look at the chart and realized we had a little further to go than we had just come, so, on second thought, happily accepted his offer. We drove in to Toledo and got some groceries and checked out where the library (for wifi) is for a later visit.

Once we returned to the marina we figured we’d better head home since we’d be fighting the tidal current and the wind going back. After a few (okay, maybe a few more than a few) yanks, the Nissan roared to life and we were on our way. Of course she died once we’d gone 100 yards or so but she came back to life quickly. She then brought us back home against wind and tide, quite nicely. I think maybe we’ll go for another ride tomorrow.

About the Portabote/3.5 Hp Nissan combination: This is the first time we’ve used the motor on the Portabote and it motors like a dream. Cruises right along. It’s rating plate says that it’s supposed to have no larger than a 2 hp motor. Weight-wise, the 3.5 is the same motor as the 2.0. It’s just been bored out or something to provide more pep in the same package. But we cruised along about as fast as we wanted to and the motor was barely above the idle setting. I’m not sure how much gas we could give it before we buried the transom but there’s still a lot of reserve horsepower available in case the current gets stronger or the winds more intense. So far we’re quite happy with our dingy/motor selection.

Caution: I do not advise treating your outboard the way I’ve treated mine. It’s wrong and irresponsible. Anyone who treats machinery like that deserves whatever they get. And I’ve got a big ol’ grin plastered on my face.


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About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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2 Responses to 7/18/2010 – The little engine that could

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, it is so good to hear from you. Yesterday I got a funny feeling and I thought maybe you were already out to sea but when I called you were still in the river. I am sure you are getting anxious to get going. If you can get away this week will that give you plenty of time to get to Martinez and then come back up for the reunion and wedding? Love, Mom

  2. I think you have done a great job here by collecting the above information. I would like to see some more posts from you. Keep posting.

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