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Launching the Muthah-Ship

Yesterday, April 25, 2009 at 2pm we launched the muthah-ship at the Oak Harbor, WA marina on Whidbey Island. This marina is only about 15nm from Deception Pass and 20nm from the San Juan Islands (unless you count the island Anacortes is on as one of the San Juans – as some people do). We didn’t exactly choose the day because it just Muthah-Ship on trailer prior to launchinghappened to be the first weekend after the marine mechanic in Oak Harbor gave the boat a clean bill of health; we had a minus 1-foot tide. For anyone not familiar with Puget Sound waters we can have 14-foot tidal ranges (from low to high tide) and yesterday was about 13-feet and the low tide at the marina was at 11:45am which was about when we wanted to launch. We decided to wait and have lunch before launching.

Because of the low tide we opted not to use the free launch ramp but instead paid them the $15 fee to use the sling launch. We just backed the boat and trailer onto this pier and a marina employee (Chris) used slings to pick the boat up from the trailer and then traverse the I-beam out over the water, and then lowered the boat into the salt water next to their dock. Just in case, Chris kept the slings under the boat for 15 minutes or so while we started the boat and looked for leaks. Nothing found (fingers crossed) and the engine purred like a kitten. I went up to the flying bridge and was amazed to find all the instrumentation working!!!

In the water right after launch. Captain on the Bridge.Sue loaded Maxinne (our 14-year old cancer survivor doggie) onto the boat and took a few photos (unfortunately her SD card has disappeared so when we find it I’ll post the photos) and then we untied the boat and backed away – straight into a piling! Well, there was a wind blowing and no keel on this little boat and steering with an outdrive is kinda new (no rudder – hence no steering if the engine isn’t in gear). We sorted that out and took off for a short spin around the area.

The weather had changed from overcast and rainy (hard rain) to sunny and relatively warm with just a slight s’ly breeze. We motored our way out of the marina and negotiated the markers out the harbor and headed for Coupeville just a few miles away. I was cautious about operating the boat because no one was absolutely certain whether everything was put together right. The engine water temperature climbed to about 175F and didn’t go any higher after 15 minutes at 6kts so once we were out of the harbor and in open water I opened up the throttle slowly. Everything went well until about 2500 rpm when the engine faltered, then surged, then faltered again. When I throttled back there was a backfire (but no fire!). I tried two more times with similar results and then decided that we had a fuel mixture problem.

I backed the throttle down to 1500rpm where the boat’s combination GPS (not working), depthsounder (working) and speed indicator/thermometer (both working) said we were doing 5.3kts in 60 feet of water. At this speed the engine ran smooth and cool and, since it’s about the same speed we went in our sailboats, we found ourselves quite comfortable. Sue lounged in the sn on the engine box, Maxxie slept on the cabin floor, and I discovered that the view from the flying bridge – even a low one like on this little 25-foot boat – was fantastic.

We turned around and headed back to the marina when we were about halfway to Coupeville. We didn’t want to do that trip at 5kts and needed to get the boat into its slip and get back to Moses Lake where we both had spring chores to complete. I went down to the lower steering station in the cabin to see how the boat handled from there and it was fine. Noise level was quite comfortable but the view was restricted; partly because the windows were all dirty from sitting around and partly because it’s inside, after all.

Dead slow into the marina and down the fairway to our new slip. Everything went well as I turned 90-degrees to port to get into the dock. At this point the slight wind moved us away from the dock and no amount of throttle and gear lever jockeying would get us up to the dock and parallel to it. Luckily, there were no other boats in the slip yet or we would have had a bumper-car rally. Finally Sue went forward onto the bow and I nosed up to the dock and she jumped off and grabbed us. A 25-foot boat that weighs 5,000 pounds can be manhandled (or womanhandled) much easier than our old 20,000 pound sailboat. But the sailboat was a LOT easier to get into a slip.

No water in the bilge after engine off and we prepared to leave. Maxxie, awake now and sitting alertly on the engine box for a better view, was ready to get ashore and home. She must be enjoying all this attention after her trips to the veterinary teaching school at Washington State University in Pullman, WA because she walked proudly with her tail up and a smile on her face. Sue got a car and gave me a lift to the pickup truck and we headed for Moses Lake, some 250 miles to the east.

All in all, it went much better than I had feared. I suspect the engine problems at 2500 rpm are related to the mixture000_0040 controls on the carburator and those should be relatively easy to set right. The boat handled well even if the steering is quite stiff (I’m used to a tiller, after all) and there is a lot of power available from that 5.7liter Chevy engine (the same one that is standard in a Corvette). The cabin is messy because I have not created a clever place for all the Canadian paper charts. The US charts are in a combination of chartbooks and digital on an Acer notebook computer (with GPS). This will be set right next trip out.

One pleasant surprise was the stability of the wide Carver Santa Cruz hull. There was some movement when moving from port to starboard in the cockpit but it’s not at all tender. This is good because I’m planning to make a boarding platform which will be suspended next to the hull and will allow us to get in and out of kayaks easily. This is important because if we cannot get into our kayaks the muthah-ship will not be able to do its job properly.

If we had had more time this weekend we could have been cozily anchored in some cove near Oak Harbor for the night but having the boat in its slip before May has been an important milestone.

Next time we’ll bring a dinghy over and by then I’ll have built the boarding platform and have it ready to be installed.

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