Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Homeward bound

Each day in Maine is perceptibly a little shorter than the last. The leaves are still green and the air is still warm -- or as warm as it ever is -- but it's time to think about heading home. Across the Gulf of Maine again -- in hurricane season this time -- and back down into Cape Cod Bay and through that awful canal and down Buzzards Bay and through the scary Race and into Long Island Sound, which is of course practically home.

It's nice here in Maine but there is that itch to be afloat again, which raises the perennial question of why we do this crazy stuff.

Penelope's brother-in-law, Ted, a wonderful fellow who hails from Australia originally, is going to schlep up to Maine and keep me company for the first few days -- that long passage across the Gulf of Maine, when a comrade who can take the helm is particularly welcome.

We will be casting off the mooring and setting sail again in a day or two.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Serpent in the garden

My own experiences with outboard motors have not been quite such fun as the image above suggests.

My little rubber-ducky dinghy -- shown below, in the very pretty Saco River below Biddeford, Maine --

... has a weensy 4 horsepower Tohatsu outboard, which I'm sorry to say has given me nothing but trouble. Earlier on, in our journey from New York to Maine, I had to spend an unplanned-for day in Port Jefferson, Long Island, getting its carburetor cleaned out, for the third time this season. I may have mentioned this. It depressed me so much I was tempted to sail back to New York and take the train to Maine -- euphony unintended.

After the ministrations of Port Inflatables, the dinghy motor worked fine all the way to Maine and continued to work fine for a week or so after I got there. Then one day, headed across the quarter-mile of water between my idyllic island and the mainland, the motor wouldn't rev up. It putted and sputtered and coughed and heroically got me within rowing distance of the mainland dock, and then died with a horrible Keatsian phthistic rattle.

Bummer. Like, majorly. I wanted to cut my throat. Am I cursed?

I consulted the outboard experts on the island. "Carb cleaner," one sage said. "Drain the sediment bowl," said another -- and actually showed me where the sediment bowl was, and how to drain it. Which I had not known, and am now grateful to know.

I tried both these remedies, and I believe they were both good advice.

But I also got to thinking.

This motor was bought used -- after the dinghy's first motor was lost, thanks to the New York City police department, a story that will be told in ten years or so, when I can tell it without going purple in the face.

Anyway. Used motor. Not much used. Looked brand-new. Chap I bought it from had found it underpowered for his boat, after a short trial. I thought I was getting a bargain -- a practically new motor for half-price.

However. He must have had it sitting around for a while in his garage. And more to the point, the fuel tank and hose must have been sitting around too, with gas in them. Gas with ethanol in it.

If I had known more about outboards, I would have discarded his tank and hose in a rest stop somewhere on the Long Island Expressway, the promised homeland of all things cruddy. But I didn't, and so (as I now think) I was feeding crud -- Long Island crud! -- from a deteriorated hose, and a varnished-up tank, into the poor motor's freshly-cleaned carb every time I ran it.

Having figured this out -- finally! -- I trashed the hose, and bought a new one, and miraculously found a Tohatsu fuel-line connector in Grover's wonderful hardware store, in Boothbay Harbor. Grover's also sold me, for thirty-five cents, a nice stainless-steel marine-grade hose clamp to attach the hose to the connector.

Just to be on the safe side, I also bought a new tank -- this, too, from the irreplaceable Grover's -- and gave the old one to one of my island sages, who has a two-stroke motor, much more forgiving of cruddy gas than my refined sushi-eating Tohatsu.

What with the carb cleaner, and the sediment bowl, and the new tank and hose, the motor miraculously started running again -- without taking it to a High Priest and paying $200, for the fourth time in one summer, to propitiate the outboard gods.

There's a bit more to this story, but we will get to that in due course, on the return trip from Maine to New York.

Back in the historical present, your narrator is still enjoying his long slow late-summer days in Maine, with the early misty dawns and the protracted glorious sunsets over the silvery Anonymascott River. The bell-buoy he nearly hit on the way in tolls the knell of every parting day. The kids are all here, Penelope curls up next to sea-weary Odysseus every night, the sweet corn is to die for.

Soon enough -- too soon -- Odysseus will have to weigh anchor again and head back to New York. But back here in the historical present, it's a very nice life, and we are loath to leave it.