I’m a few days late writing this up, but I took a long weekend and got the boat going for the season and my parent’s pool up and running in Albuquerque. Normally, the boat goes in the water in early/mid March, but it has been a colder than normal spring in NM and I’ve been busy updating the 1990 out of my living/dining room anyway.
The trip up started on Saturday morning with joyfully noting that the Border Patrol inspection station North of Las Cruces was indeed actually closed (agents are temporarily assisting with processing asylum seekers in El Paso instead) . That’s right, in every direction to leave the second biggest city in one of the nifty fifty you normally have to go through a federal checkpoint and state your citizenship. In 10 years living down here, this is only the second time I’ve ever seen this checkpoint closed (and the older, small and now disused checkpoint further North was also closed). Leaving my city without going through a federal checkpoint felt almost like not living in a police state...
Saturday afternoon I retracted the pool cover and confirmed I did my job well in the fall shutting it down. After re-connecting the mechanical system, filing the pool, a through vacuuming, and a slight pH adjustment it was back in business. Chlorine levels were still elevated (but swim-able), but leaving the cover off during the day or the next week or so will bring them down as sunlight does its oxidation thing.
The pool started off at 57 degrees. It took about 20 hours to bring it up the their desired 84 degrees.
Next up was the boat. This is a 95 Larson 22o Escapade with a Mercruiser 7.4l and a dual, counter rotating-prop Bravo III drive. Nowadays every manufacturer has a big bowrider with a small cabin, but I believe this was the first model of the type in 94. We’ve had is since it was new, and I acquired an ownership stake through rebuilding the engine 15ish years ago and taking over most aspects on maintenance and upkeep since the early 2000's.
Sunday and Monday saw my attention turn to the boat. Outdrive maintenance was up first with an inspection, gimbal bearing lubrication, prop shaft lubing, lower unit gear oil change and a fresh set of magnesium anodes.
Any year you pull the drain plug and the old oil doesn’t look like a chocolate milkshake is a good year on a boat that is stored wet in a slip for 7-8 months of the year. Filling a Bravo III drive is an exercise in pumping. The correct filling procedure is actually filling the drive from the drain plug to prevent pockets of air from getting trapped in certain spots inside the drive. You pump until fluid starts coming out the vent hole on side of the drive, and then you replace vent plug and continue pumping until the fluid level starts to rise in the reservoir mounted to the front of the engine.
Monday was mainly engine day: Reconnecting the cooling system, initial start up, a bunch of linkage and steering points lubrication, inspection of all kinds of stuff, fluid change for the belt-driven eccentric cam that drives mechanical fuel pump, flame arrestor cleaning, a fresh water separating fuel filter, an oil and filter change, a fresh set of spark plugs, and tightening/checking the torque of every fastener reasonably accessible.
Here’s the dumbest thing on this boat. 1995 was the last year Mercruiser sold a carbureted big block, but they had the problem of GM block castings no longer having mounting provisions for mechanical fuel pumps. Instead of doing the logical thing and going with a low pressure, US Coast Guard approved electric marine fuel pump, they added an eccentric cam section to the front of the belt driven sea water pump to drive an old school mechanical fuel pump. The cam sits in a reservoir of gear oil (that has no drain plug) that has to be changed every year (or else you start drastically shortening the life the assembly that is both very expensive and may nor may not still be available at all as a replacement part). The quickest and easiest way to change it is to remove the pump, suction the old oil out, add the new oil and then reinstall the pump with a new gasket.
I just can’t imagine how Mercruiser decided this was a good idea, unless it was because they still had a bunch of high volume mechanical fuel pumps for big blocks laying around after GM stopped producing big blocks with mounting provisions for them. It is the very long (and very expensive) way around to feed a carburetor.
Buying the gasket every spring is also a reminder that good parts guys have become a desperately dying breed. During a week day, I call up Parts Plus of NM where they still have some old school parts guys that know their job and have the gasket layed out at the will call counter for me after a 20 second phone call. “This is (account number) can you layout a fuel pump mounting gasket for a Chevrolet V8? ...Sure, it will at the will call counter in a couple of minutes..”
Because this was a Sunday, they weren’t an option, so I had to deal with a retail parts operation. As always, the dude at Autozone/Napa retail/O’riley’s looks at you like you’ve grown a dick out of your forehead when you say I need a fuel pump mounting gasket for a Chevy V8. They always ask the question of what year/make/model, and I always tell them the application is not in their computer, and it that doesn’t matter because every GM V engine from the 40's up until they stopped making blocks with mounting provision for mechanical pumps in the 90's uses the same gasket. I just can’t fathom how someone becomes a parts guy without knowing the basics like that... Sometimes they’ll poke around and find it in the computer, but most years I just ask them to take me to the Fel-Pro section in the back where I pick it off the shelf by visual identification.
Changing certain spark plugs is the worst maintenance task on this boat, and you should make engine access a primary purchasing consideration when buying a boat. I will never make this mistake again. Access to spark plugs 1,3,2, and 4 is only achieved through a storage compartment, underneath another storage compartment that has a access holes cut into the side of it via 18" of extensions and a wobble socket with you head and one arm down inside the lower compartment. That is to say you’re working upside down on your head, with your head and one arm inside a hole that inside another hole. Spark plug #6 can only be changed by removing a battery, shimming your body down in the bilge and using a 5/8" box wrench on the end of a spark plug socket. There is no possible way to put a ratchet or any kind of wobble or extension on that plug. There is a maximum size and weight for being to change that particular spark plug. Spark plugs 5,7 and 8 are easy to change, though. We used to wonder why we were charged $200+ to have a shop change spark plugs on this boat. Since the early 2000's, I’ve known exactly why they charged so much to replace 8 spark plugs.
Fun fact: Certain K&N filters are coast guard approved flame arrestor devices. When the engine was rebuilt, I went with an Edelborck performer cam, intake manifold and a part number 1410 performer 750 cfm carb that is actually an internally vented, Coast Guard approved marine carburetor that is a direct replacement for the OEM Mercruiser carb (but for less money and uses all the common Edelbrock jets, metering rods and step up springs that are available in the go fast section of every O’Riley/autozone out there). Whenever a shop does work on the boat, they always see those parts and give me the “we’re not supposed to even touch a boat with automotive parts on it..” bit, and I always tell them to look up the part numbers and find that every thing there in terms of the carb and flame arrestor is an approved marine part. Aftermarket parts are a lot less common in the marine world.
The last work was some clean up, sterilizing and setting up the sink and port-potty.
All said and done, it ran nicely. If I did my job well, and the gods are in my favor, I shouldn’t have to do more than turn the key and occasionally check fluid levels for the rest of the year.
Tuesday I towed it down to the lake and launched it for the year. It was windy on the way down, so the truck only returned 10mpg with the cruise set around 78ish. I’ve gotten as good as 11.5 towing this boat on a non-windy day. It will stay wet in a covered slip at the marina until I pull it out in late October/early November. I didn’t get to really Svend at all, but I just ran out of time doing both the pool and the boat over one (extended) weekend.
It turns out Tuesday in April is a fantastic day at the lake with almost no one else out on the water. I spent some time in Pirate’s cove, which is normally an area of the lake I avoid at almost all costs due to being crowded with gaggles of inexperienced jetski operators, families with bunches of teenagers, douche bros with wake surfing boats and other obnoxious folks I try to avoid on the water.
Whoever did “send nudes” on the beach gets my points for best rock art at the moment.
Elephant Butte’s namesake. Allegedly, if you look at this island from the right angle (and maybe are high enough) it kinda, sorta, maybe looks like an elephant.
Kettle Top mesa is the big other distinguishing landmark along the lake. I’ve hiked up there (once, every approach is steeper than it looks and is entirely loose rock), and the absolute biggest Ocotillio plants I’ve ever seen are up on top of it.
Up on top of that Mesa is one of the houses on Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch, which is one of the largest continuous private land holdings in the US. Most of the East side of the lake a certain distance past the high water mark belongs to Ted. All of the interesting hiking is over there, so I always spend some time trespassing on his land every year.
This happened when I got home after being gone for four days. Normally Shelby only does this when there is storm, but I think she was protesting that I had been gone for four days and came back with all my laundry smelling like my parent’s dog. They’ve met before, and she didn’t like their little dog. Admittedly, he is 13 pounds of fury that tried to hump her head and then went in her crate and starting playing with her toys while she was in another room. She threatened his threatened his life as a result.
With cars, boats and doggos in one post, I’m going for the Oppo trifecta here.