Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting to Know You -- Part II

Since launching, I have taken Solitude III out sailing a couple of times. These voyages have allowed me to slowly become more familiar with the boat: her likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. Every boat is different, each has its good points and its bad. Keeping in mind the bias the undoubtedly results from having invested the last two years building this boat, I’d like to dedicate a few posts to exploring what I’ve learned thus far about this boat that I have built.

In this post, I want to make a few comments about the little noisemaker hanging off Solitude's otherwise pretty transom.

Under Power
There has been an ongoing discussion raging, seemingly forever, on the PocketShip forum as to what the right motor is for this boat. One group of partisans feels pretty strongly that 2hp is all you’ll ever need for a boat this size. Then, there’s the “I’d like to have just a little more, just in case” camp, which tends to lean towards the 3.5hp class motors. And then there is the “slippery slope” crowd. They usually start out a 2 hp, decided that want some buffer, so they step up to 3.5hp, but then for the same weight they could have a 5hp, and then they need a big external gas tank and reverse, and before long they’re at 6hp. I went down the slippery slope many a time in debating which outboard to get for Solitude. Fortunately, in the end, I managed to claw back up to the top of the slope and selected a 2.5hp Suzuki outboard.

I have used the motor in a variety of conditions, in winds from 0-20 kts, in calm seas and 2-3 foot chop, and with and against a reasonable current. In all cases I found the motor to be adequate. In calm seas, I hit 4.5 kts at about ½ throttle. Against the wind in a chop, I wasn’t quite so fast, but was still clearing a good 3 kts at ½ throttle. I tried punching it up to full throttle to see what more I could get out of it, but really only got more noise with no major increase in speed for my efforts.

A bigger issue is at the slow end. Even at idle, I feel like the motor is pushing me a little too fast. When navigating through the slalom course of tightly packed yachts on the way to my slip at the Wooden Boat Festival, I was constantly rocking in and out of gear to keep my speed down.

The motor has a number of pluses. It is very lightweight, coming in at under 30lbs. It seems to be reliable and easy to start so far. It has a real, shiftable neutral, instead of the stupid centrifugal clutch that some other small motors (the 2 hp Honda) have. It is water cooled, so it is relatively quiet. Of course, it is water cooled, so I have to flush it out any time I use it in saltwater.

The 2.5hp Suzuki has an integral 1 liter gas tank, and no provision for connecting an external tank. The motor is quite economical, and I haven’t run out of gas on the water yet, but I will admit to a degree of range anxiety nevertheless.

Another thing I’m not totally sold on is the 360 deg steering. Maybe I’m too set in my ways or too used to having a reverse. While there is certainly some advantage in being able to point the thrust vector whichever direction, I’m still having a tough time intuiting which direction to point it to achieve a desired, at least in the “reverse” direction. I don’t have that trouble with a motor that is in reverse. I wonder if it is psychological.
There is another problem with the 360 deg steering. It is very easy to turn the prop so it faces the rudder. The slipstream of the prop impinges on the motor, wrenching the helm hard a-starboard. Not pleasant.
So, there are pluses and minuses to the motor. I guess the bottom line is that I’m satisfied with the little noisemaker, find it to be a good match for the boat, and probably would select it again over its competitors.
As a footnote, I should also say that there is still a part of me that loathes having a motor on a sailboat. I consider it a necessary evil, though, from both a safety and convenience point of view. I wouldn’t want to venture out into Puget Sound without it. But I’ve brought Solitude up to the dock twice now, once singlehanded, under sail alone, and find that a far more satisfying act of seamanship than running the noisemaker.

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