The reader may quite reasonable inquire as to how one might be both fortunate and unfortunate simultaneously. I came to understand this phenomenon myself just a couple of afternoons ago. My very good friend , Mike, and I had planned a trip to the nearest reliable redfish haven to take advantage of the predicted 6.4 tide for late Sunday afternoon. Expectations ran high the day drew near.
It is remarkable how much is often involved in preparing for a simple fishing trip to an inshore destination. In my younger days, I ofttimes would simply attach the trailer to my vehicle, quickly gather tackle and perhaps a bottle of water, and I was off. These days, I tend to spend an entire day or even more assembling and checking prior to a trip to the water. Such was the case this past week, when I began preparations in earnest on Thursday. As my eighteen foot Hewes skiff had not touched saltwater this season, a more thorough than usual inspection was in order. I began at the stern, checking the hitch, the winch, and the wiring harness. I examined next the anchor and its line. Next came the all important steering, having suffered failure in that department in two distinct manners in the past – a wheel frozen in place by corrosion and to be discovered only after being in the water at the ramp. In order to prevent such occurrences, relatively common with mechanical steering setups, I selected hydraulic steering on this boat. Unfortunately, I later discovered that these systems, like all things manmade, are subject to failure. I vividly recall driving about in circles once when the hydraulics leaked. It was quite disconcerting.
Satisfied that I would be able to pilot the vessel without difficulty, I then turned my attention to the engine. Now the fine folks at Yamaha do fabricate a fine motor, but it had been sitting, uncranked, in my driveway for some 6 months. Through the miracle of electronics, the battery had been maintained at its optimal state. I mainly feared for some unseen blockage in the fuel or oil systems, like a plaque on the wall of a carotid artery, silently waiting to wreak serious havoc. In an unusual display of common sense, I decided to seek counsel from that oracle of all knowledge, the Internet, before I actually turned the ignition key. It was a trivial matter to locate the operators manual online, as mine has long since disappeared in the massive pile of clutter I call my workshop. To my chagrin, I noted that I had been using an inappropriate technique for the initial engine start of each day. I had taken the advise on the correct starting procedure from some ner’ do well at a ramp somewhere soon after I acquired the boat. I always wondered why the first crank of the day was so unpredictable and often resulted in failure. After consulting the book, an admittedly unmanly act, I found that I had been flooding the engine for all this time. With some sense of relief, I returned to the boat, boarded, and followed the procedure as best as I could. Amazingly enough, the engine sprang to life instantly! This after a full six months of inactivity. Maybe that is why they provide a book of instructions with the boat.
I completed the pre-float inspection of boat, motor, and trailer, leaving the water hose attached to the motor to facilitate further testing of the engine. Dutifully, I daily climbed onboard after opening the water flow to the motor, and repeated the steps I had finally learned for starting the motor. Each time, it responded perfectly. Feeling somewhat smug, I next assembled my fly tackle, including my homebuilt wooden fly rod ( much more about that later), as well as a cooler, water, fruit juices, sunglasses, sunscreen, wading boots, and all the minutia that seems unimportant until you are actually standing on a flat, ready to fish.
I felt quite confident in my preparations and when Sunday afternoon arrived, I loaded all my equipment and supplies into the boat and awaited my fishing partner to arrive. just then it hit me that I had failed to acquire a current permit for the ramp where I typically launch my craft. In a small panic, I called Mike and was informed that the hitch on his vehicle would be satisfactory for my trailer, so another calamity was averted. He pulled in, we connected trailer and car, and headed south.
Upon arrival at the ramp, I beamed with confidence as I boarded the Hewes. Mike skillfully backed the boat into the already high water. I carefully worked through each step of the starting procedure, and was rewarded by the roar of my 130 HP engine. I disconnected from the trailer, and gently slid into the creek. After parking the car, Mike joined me on the boat, and we turned the pointy end towards the flats where we had so many times seen and caught our favorite local quarry, the redfish, or spottail drum as many prefer to call them. The day was a bit windy, but it was welcome relief from the oppressive heat of that mid-June day. We reached our destination in a short time, the Yamaha never skipping a beat. On the contrary, it ran like the proverbial top, pushing the Skiff to speed near fifty miles an hour. Quite exhilarating actually.
Mike dropped me off at my favorite spot and took the boat on to his. We were fortunate enough to have a set of small radios, able to slip into a shirt sleeve, with which to communicate. The tide had pushed up early, an unexpected event, given the wind direction. Nonetheless, it was now fishable. I actually had come armed with two rods, one my trusty 9 weight , the other a homemade wooden dowel rod. My primary goal was to bring to hand a redfish using my redneck wonder-rod, but I was stymied by a total lack of fish. I slowly meandered about the flat, eyes in search mode, but there was no joy in Mudville that day. The only animated objects which met my gaze were three other fishermen. I was somewhat astonished by the sight of these interlopers on what I brazenly considered “My” flat! How dare they? Then I realized that I was on public property, and had no more right to be there than they. It was then that I wistfully considered the option of petitioning the State for the fishing concession for that small island. Why, I could charge a fee, designed to be large enough to discourage all but the most well heeled and insistent sportsmen from setting either wading boot or boat keel on this usually quite productive slab of mud and spartina grass. Like having a date with Jennifer Anniston, this idea was nice, but utterly unrealistic.
Some hour and forty five minutes later, the small radio in my breast pocket crackled to life. Mike informed me that he had scoured the length of the island with no targets sighted. His next words stunned me – “Exactly how do I start this engine?” I was totally taken aback by the revelation of engine difficulties. After all, the motor had responded instantly to the start command at the ramp, as well as each of the past three days. I carefully went through the new, book recommended procedure with Mike. A few minutes later, he called to inform me that he planned to manually propel the boat back to my location with the pole, lest the battery become exhausted. Fortunately for him ( and me as well), the 12 to 14 MPH wind was at his back. As I stood there in the mud and water, I now scanned for signs of an approaching Mike, as well as fish. Standing still invited some small form of marine life to attack my bare legs. I have never been certain if these creatures are some form of baitfish, or perhaps tiny crabs. Whatever they may be, they take delight in nipping at the flesh of the submerged portions of my lower extremities, rather like underwater mosquitos. Lesson learned – I will make it a point to wear long pants on future excursions to these flats.
After a while, perhaps 30 minutes, I began to discern the form of a man on a poling platform expending much effort to move his boat in my direction. I attempted to go towards him, but the soft thick mud thwarted my efforts. Like a pursuing linebacker, I took a cut-off angle and soon intercepted Mike and the boat. We were both elated to see each other, but wary about the engine issue. I laboriously pulled my 275 pounds over the gunwale and sat before the console. I then carefully used my newly gained knowledge in a final effort to coax the engine back to life. I failed. Though it turned over, no ignition occurred. I carry a can of starting ether on my boat for emergency use, so retrieved it from the storage are inside the console. I removed the engine cowl and sprayed a liberal amount into the air intakes. Once more, I tried the key. Once more, the engine turned over, but failed to ignite. I wondered if my cell phone might be able to lock onto a signal for a call for assistance. My mind raced as I considered using my Spot messenger device to summon assistance, and thought about being stranded for a number of hours out here with dark now approaching. I uttered a silent prayer of thanks that our daughters, who had considered joining us on this trip, were prevented from doing so by unforeseen circumstances.
Puzzled by the lack of response to the ether, something I had never seen, I pondered the situation. It seemed that if a direct injection of the highly volatile ether failed to create a response, either the ignition source was faulty, ie plugs fouled, etc, or there was no available oxygen to allow combustion to occur. I had no way to check the plugs, so I looked over the intakes. VIOLA! The connecting rod that joins the two carburetor butterfly valves had somehow jammed with the butterflies closed. Thus, no air could reach the combustion chambers. After a little jiggling, the rod was freed up. I turned to Mike and asked him to give it another try. The engine immediately came to life, purring like the proverbial cat.
Mike seemed quite impressed by my display of mechanical ability. I assured him that often, it really is better to be lucky than good. We turned the bow homeward, and ran to the ramp, the engine operating with the precision of a Swiss watch.