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Old 04-22-2003
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Doreen Gounard is on a distinguished road
Caring for the Cruising Outboard


When not romping along under sail on the high seas before a fair wind, the 33-foot Imani uses a 9.9-hp engine to make its way to and fro.

Borneo lies to port as Imani makes its way south along one of the largest islands in the world. We're motorsailing into southwest winds, clipping along at a steady four-and-a-half knots as I write this. Our main engine is probably not what you bring to mind when you consider the usual powerplant aboard a voyaging sailboat, which is typically an inboard diesel. Instead, our engine is one of the few outboards of its size designed for use as sailboat auxillary—a four-stroke, long-shaft, Yamaha 9.9 outboard located under the cockpit sole and mounted in a specially-designed engine well.

This design has proven itself more than capable of pushing our four-and-a-half ton catamaran through the South Pacific at a reasonable clip. The unit has a high, three-to-one reduction gear and a huge prop that measures nearly a foot across, giving us plenty of push when we need it.

Of course we'd rather sail than motor, but we've found that we are running the engine a lot more since we left the steady tradewinds of the Pacific and entered the Philippine Sea, and now we find ourselves bucking against the southwest monsoon in the South China Sea. The windward trend seems like it will continue for the trip down to Singapore and the Malacca Strait.


If you spent the day whizzing around a tropical-island playground, chances are you'd have a smile this big as well.

Our five-year-old old Yamaha has given yeoman service—running all day every day for weeks as we made our way through many of the Philippine Islands. It seemed that the more the engine ran, the happier it was. Yet, we are sure that our maintenance regime has been integral in keeping the engine running well over the years. Thanks go to our head of engine maintenance—Captain Marc! Here are some of his secrets:

For starters, we change the oil every 100 hours of use and clean the oil filter. We replace the metal mesh oil filter when necessary, which has amounted to every other year. The ground wire and engine zinc are also checked often to head corrossion off at the pass. The zinc anodes should also be cleaned often and replaced when any sign of corrosion is present. Zincs are cheap and will save you from big expenses later. At least once a year, Marc takes apart the lower unit of the engine and puts an anti-seizing agent on the bolts so that when something does go wrong you can easily take the unit apart. He's also found that liberally spraying WD 40 all over the engine after each use will go along way toward keeping the moving parts lubricated when the engine is not in use. Finally, we flush the engine as often as we have access to a freshwater hose, using the rubber Yamaha "earmuffs" that are available from any dealer or marine store.

"We flush the engine as often as we have access to a freshwater hose."
So far—knock on wood—the biggest problem our engine has experienced occurred when a plastic bag was sucked across the water inlet. The result was over-heating, which caused one plastic Y-shaped connector tube to melt. A small hole formed that then allowed salt water to spray inside the engine casing—not a good thing. When this happens, one must remove the casing and thoroughly rinse the engine with fresh water, then mend the ruined connector, which Marc did with rigging tape. Our mistake in this little adventure was that we left the sparkplugs in and when it came time to replace them four months later one of them refused to come out and broke lodged inside the engine. That was three years ago in Mexico and we sailed as quickly as possible to our favorite outboard mechanic in La Paz, a guy named Joel. To remove the sparkplug, he had to remove and replace the engine's head and gaskets to put Imani back in business. Consequently, we keep a careful watch for plastic, especially when moving through highly populated areas. This has become more of a reality as we move into Asia and out of sparsely populated Micronesia.

We have been so pleased with our 9.9 Yamaha that when it came time to replace our dinghy engine, we did so with another Yamaha. Last May in Tahiti, we chose a two stroke, six-horsepower model, and we maintain the "little" engine in a similar manner to the main one. To keep the small engine safe from thieves we lift the engine on to our port aft pulpit each evening. With the muscle of our five-year-old Garhauer engine hoist, even our seven-year-old Tristan can lift and lower the engine easily.


Stowing the engine aboard the mothership at the end of the day is the best way to deter would-be thieves.
Getting into a few good habits early with an outboard can pay off in the long run. Anytime we leave the dinghy alone on a beach in front of a village or tied to a dock, we padlock the engine to the dinghy and we remove the red-coiled emergency stop cord and carry that cord with us. The engine will not start without it. We don't want to make it easy for any potential thief to take our dinghy and engine. We also have made our engine look very plain. We removed all Yamaha labels and beat it up a bit, so it doesn't look too new.

The only time the engine and dinghy were ever in danger of being taken from us was while we were in Majuro, Marshall Islands last Christmas. A number of huge fish processing ships were in port for the holiday. The young crew would go to shore, get very intoxicated, and sometimes find that they had no way back to their ships. Imani, with its dinghy trailing astern not far from shore, looked like an easy mark for one drunken Chinese seaman, who swam out to our dinghy. Unfortunately for us, this was the one night when we had forgotten to lift the engine, so it was still mounted on the dink after dark. It was 2:00 a.m. when the seaman untied the dinghy, started the engine and slowly eased away. Luckily, another cruiser—Helmut from the German sailboat Garuda—was returning home in his dinghy and saw our dinghy moving erratically. He came toward the seaman and as he approached, asked, "what's the matter?" The seaman immediately jumped into the water and swam toward his ship at anchor. Helmut (and by that time the skipper from another neighboring vessel) collected the dinghy and returned it to us. Needless to say, we haven't made that mistake since and we too have been very vigilant in noticing any suspicious activity while at anchor, for cruisers do have to look out for each other.


The little engine that could. Imani's 9.9-hp outboard has aided the 33-foot catamaran through headwinds, between narrow reef passes, and safely into harbors throughout the South Pacific.
When we pulled into the Malaysian port city of Kota Kinabalu, we had the very competent mechanics of the local Yamaha dealer check out our 9.9. She is getting a little old now and with her location, mounted under the cockpit, she's has been exposed to a lot of sea spray. Subsequently, it is time to start replacing some major parts to keep her working well, so we are currently doing the thing that cruisers all over the world spend too much time doing—waiting for parts.

After our outboard parts arrive, we'll continue south to the peninsula of Malaysia where we hope to await the delivery of a new Yamaha 9.9 four-stroke, now that our old main engine is beginning to show her age.

Basic Maintenance 101

There are a few essential steps to follow in order to keep your outboard working efficiently. Here's a quick rundown regardless of the make or model you have:

  • Fuel—All engine systems should have a fuel filter in the supply line, but you'll also want to strain the fuel before you put it in your tanks or jerry jugs, particularly if you're voyaging in out of the way areas where fuel may have been allowed to sit in older tanks. Buy a sturdy funnel with a built-in screen and start with that.
  • Tune-ups—Gasoline engines require maintenance, which means replacing the spark plug(s), replacing the ignition points, and checking the timing.
  • Guts—The carburetor(s), if your engine has them, should be dismantled and cleaned every couple of years.
  • Corrosion—Rinsing the cooling system with freshwater after each use will help your engine avoid saltwater corrosion.
  • Electrolysis—Inspect the zinc on your engine's shaft and make sure you replace it before it is completely disssolved.

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