I knew I shouldn't have said it when the words rolled off the tip of my tongue. Not that it wasn't a true statement; it was one of those juju/karma/luck things a guy just doesn't talk about.
It was the last day of the Oneida event. Last day I would stand on the Elite Series stage for the 2009 season.
"I'd like to send out props to my BassCat/ Mercury rig. Been through four Elite Series seasons now without a lost day of practice or competition for mechanical failure of any kind."
True, but not the best thing to say. It's that juju thing.
The next week at the Northern Open on Champlain, I spent some time with the service crew.
Thursday — Derby Day1
Slow out of the hole and no top end. 4800 RPM's were all I could get out of her. Had the Hotfoot pressed to the stop; was actually trying to push it through the floor of the Puma, but 4800 was all she was giving. Took it by Scotty at the Mercury trailer. "More power, Scotty! Need more power!!"
Scotty hooked up his little electro-gizmo-reader thing to the Opti and started looking for faults. None.
He checked the coils for bad ones. None.
We put the pink tackleInteractive.com BassCat in the water while his little electro-gizmo was hooked up and revved up the Opti. Thought we were going to push it off the trailer and into the bed of the Chevy while looking for faults under a load. None.
Pushed the BassCat off the trailer and ran it across the pond and back a few times. Finally got a fault on one of the injectors. The wiring coupler going to the #5 injector looked like it was crimped. Pulled back up to the service trailer and Scotty replaced the injector coupler. Started up the Opti and all seemed well.
Friday — Derby Day 2
Same song, different day. Still slow out of the hole and no top end. Fortunately I wasn't travelling far to fish and was able to limp out and back.
Finished up with 32 pounds even and in 39th place. Talk about an amazing place to fish! How many other places in the country can you visit in mid-August, average 16 pounds a day, and finish in 39th place out of 180 anglers? Un-be-lievable.
Pulled into the service yard after weighing in and Scotty ran through all the checks again. Nothing doing.
Took it for a spin around the pond and it showed the #5 injector being bad. Back to the service yard, where Scotty replaced the #5 injector as well as the spark plugs.
As it was getting late, we dry fired it on the ground and it ran great. The plan was to get together on Saturday a.m. for a few minutes and run it on the water before Scotty jetted out of town for a Redfish Cup event in Biloxi — yes, Mississippi (long way from Plattsburgh, N.Y., too). Since I didn't make the Top 30 cut with my 32 pounds of smallmouth (by 9 ounces, I didn't make the cut), Saturday was not an issue.
Saturday — Not Derby Day 3
Pulled up to the ramp before Scotty arrived to run the BassCat. Dropped it in the water. Fired up the Opti and it died. Cranked it again. It died. Again. Died. By this time, I've drifted off the trailer. Nice. Dropped the MotorGuide and pulled the BassCat back up on the trailer — without hanging the troller on one of the trailer cross members, thank you. Back to the service trailer.
Scotty arrives on the scene. I tell him the prognosis and he is bewildered.
At a complete and total loss. Hairs begin sticking out of his head at odd angles.
Combustion engines in their general sense are simple; got spark, got gas, she's running. Sometimes, though it's the simple things that are hard to figure out. Such was the case with my Opti. Should have kept my mouth shut at Oneida.
Scotty hooked up his electro-gizmo thing and ran through all the system checks. No faults. Nothing electrical and nothing with a sensor, according to the electro-gizmo.
Not enough compression in the fuel rails? Dropped a new compressor on it. No change.
Crank position sensor? Replaced with a new one. No change.
Pulled the fuel rails off and this rusty, orange goo came oozing out of the lower end of the fuel rails. WTH is that stuff? Here's the meat and potatoes of the story — ethanol.
Ethanol is slowly killing our outboards. Clogging filters, pumps and injectors, eating fuel lines from the inside, and causing a multitude of other problems. The real problem? There isn't just a whole lot we can do about it.
Truly ethanol free gas is becoming increasingly hard to find. Additives to slow the ethanol phase separation process can help, but they won't solve the problem. So what's the problem with ethanol, you ask? Here's a page from Mercury that tells about ethanol and its effects on outboard engines.
The gist of all this comes down not as much to the engine, but the storage systems in boats coupled with the fact that outboard engines are used in the, duh, water and ethanol has a tendency to attract water.
The engines will run on ethanol with no problems for years, provided that the ethanol-mixed gas is not contaminated with water. It's hard to keep the ethanol and water separated, as ethanol is a chemical compound that attracts water. Ethanol is mixed in the gas that is floating around in a plastic tank in a boat. The boat is floating in the water — not a good scenario.
So what's a guy to do? I wish I had the answer to that.
My case could have been just a schnocker full of bad, dirty fuel from who-knows-where across the country. But I'm far from the only angler who's had this same problem occur on the Elite trail this season. I've talked with several Merc mechanics across the country that are seeing the same problems with all brands of outboards from people who use them a variety of differing amounts throughout the year.
A fuel additive alone won't solve the problem, as I've run the Sta-Bil Marine formula fuel treatment in this engine for the past 120 hours of its 150 hours of operation. I have no doubt that the Sta-Bil slowed the process, but it certainly didn't stop it from happening. Despite that fact, I'll keep adding the Sta-Bil.
While Mercury states on their web page that one of the best ways to avoid condensation (and thereby, water intrusion) into tanks is to keep those tanks full when not in use. That's fine for someone who uses their boat on a frequent basis, but is that practical for a unit that is only used occasionally?
How long does gasoline stay "fresh" these days? A couple of weeks at best? Even with additives and conditioners, it's going to be an ugly mess in that tank after a couple of months. Damn ethanol.
What can we do to combat ethanol? I'm going to put in fresh gas and only what I think I'll run in the tanks for each use. I'll continue to use a fuel treatment like Sta-Bil or Mercury's Fuel System Treatment and Stabilizer. I've also talked with Scotty and Larry, my local Merc mechanic at H20 Sportz, about adding a high-flow, water separating filter between the tank and the outboard (I'll carry a spare filter, in case it clogs).
I've never and don't recommend that anyone buy the cheapest gas in town just because it's the cheapest gas in town. A few more pennies per gallon could save you a lot of dollars and time in the repair shop.
Was my problem a failure from my pink tackleInteractive.com BassCat Mercury rig? Not in the least. Ethanol mixed gas was the culprit here. I still haven't lost a minute of fishing time because of a boat or engine failure.
Sure, I've had some minor issues over the past few seasons, but nothing so major that a few hours in the service yard didn't have me back on the water. My encounter with ethanol was no different. A few hours with Scotty. Scotty with a few less hairs in his head. The Opti is back to purring on the back of the 'Cat. No thanks to ethanol.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.