Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Low-Buck Outboard Shoot-out Comparo!

    "All my tubes and wires, and careful notes..."
                                     -Thomas Dolby

    Pop quiz, hotshot:
    You have a dinghy.
    You need an outboard.
    You've got $200 to spend.
    Gas or electric?  What do you do?

   Here on the Dock, we attempt to answer that question.

    Our new motto:  Dock Six Chronicles:-We do the trivial, virtually meaningless research, so you don't have to.

    No, no, there's no need to thank me.

     We do it all for you, demanding bast faithful reader.


    Taking  cues from car magazines (Great testing, trapped in 1950s lexicon), Consumer Reports (Dry as melba toast, and about as interesting, but largely impartial) and, to a far lesser extent, Practical Sailor (Great testing, dry as melba toast.), I cleverly concocted the criteria for this crazy comparo.

     What is important in a dinghy OB?

     Speed- If it ain't faster than rowing, you might as well row.
     Range- If you can't get there and back, it is worse than not getting there.
     Weight- The more your OB weighs, the less beer you can haul back to the boat.  Or water.  Or food.
     Ease of operation- Dock Six is all about everything but work, so if an OB is a PITA to run, it ain't fun.
     Features: Cool stuff is just, well, cool.  Or stuff that makes things better is just, er better.  Whatever.
     Ready-to-Run Cost: Low-Buck.  South of $200.  All in.

     Now that we know what needs to be tested, the appropriate testing apparatus must be assembled on the Dock.

   From left to right:  stopwatch, bathroom scale, decade -old handheld GPS.
      What, you were expecting Racal suits, digital scales and radar guns?

      Quack, our 6.5' inflatable,  was washed, waxed, and pressed into service as a test bed.

  Note the emergency propulsion devices (oars) prudently retained for the duration of this shoot-out.  Low-Buck occasionally means Low-Luck, but never Low-IQ. I may be dumb, but I ain't stupid.

   I volunteered as test pilot, with SWMBO handling timing and recording duties.

 Saturday night's conditions were lousy sailing weather but great testing weather- no wind and flat seas.  It's on.

   So, with no further ado, let's meet our contestants:

   The Incumbent:  

                  Ably demonstrated by our spokesmodel spawn, Abbey and Sam.      

        26 lb. thrust Minn Kota electric trolling motor. Purchase price: $50  Useless, without a...
                                Energizer Deep Cycle Battery. Purchase Price: $95  Short-lived, without a...
                                Battery Box:  $54.95  Which gives us a total of...


     The Challenger:
              Yamaha P45 2 Hp 2 stroke gas powered outboard.  Purchase price:  $200.  Including a tank of fuel of dubious quality.

Test 1:  Weight

      Quack has a rated payload of 495 lbs.  The more weight that propulsion eats up, the lower the usable load.
       Determining ready-to-go weight of the Yamaha outboard was easy.  I filled the onboard tank, plopped it on the scale and read the number: 
     Ready-to-use weight:   22.5 lbs.

       The Minn Kota was not so easy.  I had to weigh the motor.  And the battery.   And the battery box..  Easiest way ot do that was to use my Low-Buck Trolling Motor/Battery Rack/Dolly (pat. pend.)  aka a folding luggage trolley.  After determining the weight of the trolley, I loaded the whole shebang onto the scale.

      And recorded the number, then subtracted the weight of the trolley.  Fancy footwork optional.

          Ready-to-use weight:  61.5 lbs.

         ADVANTAGE:  Yamaha.

      Test 2:  Ease of Operation

         It doesn't get much more user-friendly than the Minn Kota.... at least initially.  Clamber aboard, twist the tiller- mounted throttle, and off you go.    However, it's large, slow rotating prop occasionally had trouble with the heavy weeds encountered in our marina, killing the motor at random.  Luckily, the motor is easy to tilt to reach the prop to clear the offending flora.

       The Yamaha is an old-school engine, with a "wrap-and-rip" separate starting cord, a choke, and an adjustable throtttle mounted on the motor.   It would be daunting for a novice, but thankfully the starting instructions are printed on the flip-top that conceals the flywheel.
     The only instruction missing is to ensure that the vent is open on the gas cap.  This makes the difference between starting the motor in one pull of the cord...  or 20 pulls.

     ADVANTAGE: Minn Kota

         Test 3:   Top Speed

           Time to dust off my hand-held GPS .  Only one problem- the "hand-held" part.  With one hand on the tiller and one hand on the camera, I am outta hands.   A repurposed lanyard and a judicious application of electrical tape solves the problem.


   First up, the Minn Kota.  I quickly twist the tiller through the four forward speeds and plateau.  After a five count with no change in numbers on the screen, I snap a shot of  the top speed...

  ...but wait!  

Another tenth of a knot!  Woo-hoo!

Top Speed (Observed):  2.8 knots.

  Now it's time to crank up the Yamaha and see what it's got.

What it's got, is more.

With a little fiddling with the choke, even more...
   But it gets buzzy, which makes the camera fuzzy.

   Top Speed (Blurrily Observed):  3.8 knots

     ADVANTAGE: Yamaha

     Test 4:  Closed Course Time Trial

     From our secret testing lab on the cloaked Dock Six, it was a race against the clock through the fairways between Docks 1 and 2, 2 and 3, and 3 and 4, with a dash toward the gas dock, looping back to Dock Six.

    Best time, from a standing start with a cold motor, wins.

     SWMBO was on the stopwatch, and she was cutting me NO slack.  Remember that vent on the gas cap?  I didn't.  If I had, it would have shaved at least 2 minutes off the Yamaha's time.

     Lap Time

     Minn Kota:  27 minutes, 42 seconds.

     Yamaha:  23 minutes, 32 seconds.

     ADVANTAGE:  Yamaha

     Test 5:  Range

     At the conclusion of the marina lap, I measured how much fuel remained.

    Minn Kota:    As I was returning to the Dock on the last leg of the lap, I noticed that the Minn Kota had slowed significantly.  After peaking early in the lap with a top speed of 2.8 knots, by the time I was approaching the launch ramp, maximum sustained speed was 2.3 and dropping.  By the return leg from the gas dock, Quack was wallowing along at 1.3 knots.  The battery was seriously drained, down to less than half capacity, according to the volt meter on the battery box.

   Yamaha:  No loss of power, and 2/3 of a tank left.

    ADVANTAGE:  Yamaha

     Test 6:  Features

     The Minn Kota is the clear winner for one simple reason- Reverse.  In fact not just one, but TWO reverse speeds.  The Yamaha had none.  Sure, the Yamaha could pivot 360 degrees with a flippy-floppy tiller, but with no neutral, it could be a little disconcerting in tight quarters.  The Minn Kota's telescoping tiller,  multi-position tilt, and the adjustable shaft height,  make for a very flexible and user-friendly power unit.

     ADVANTAGE:  Minn Kota

     Right then, time to have a beer and tabulate the results:

   Out of 6 categories, the Minn Kota won 2- Features and Ease of Operation.  The Yamaha won the other 4, making it clear.

     The Winner is......   The Yamaha P45!

    I hope you check in for more upcoming thrilling product testing,  like the Vise-Grips VS. Leatherman Challenge  and the   Figure 8 - Granny  Stopper Knot Showdown.

    Thanks for taking the time to check us out.  Please feel free to "Talk The Dock!"

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