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I'm writing a novel and got some help with tornado (inland lake) issues on another thread from several forum members. Caveat: I am not a sailor (or boater of any type), so if any of this seems ridiculously obvious, apologies.

My characters have survived a tornado, but the storm caused the anchor to drag and now their boat (Grampian 26 helpfully suggested by another member) is dangerously close to a dam spillway zone.

The hero is attempting to start the outboard motor. (I got all of this via online sites -- so it may not be realistic for all I know).

The sequence of what he's done so far is: Hero gives pull cord several hard tugs; Heroine adds her weight to the mix and pulls with him; Hero checks fuel line; Hero pulls out the choke a bit; Hero tries pull cord again; Hero adjusts choke. At this point, I'd like to stretchhhhh out the tension just a bit longer. Any suggestions for other things that could be tried or things that could go wrong before the engine starts up at the last possible moment, narrowly averting their boat getting swept into the dam? Also, at what point would the Hero think it was safest to abandon the boat and try to swim to shore (or WOULD he ever think that)?

Many thanks for any help and suggestions!
 

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I'm writing a novel and got some help with tornado (inland lake) issues on another thread from several forum members. Caveat: I am not a sailor (or boater of any type), so if any of this seems ridiculously obvious, apologies.

My characters have survived a tornado, but the storm caused the anchor to drag and now their boat (Grampian 26 helpfully suggested by another member) is dangerously close to a dam spillway zone.

The hero is attempting to start the outboard motor. (I got all of this via online sites -- so it may not be realistic for all I know).

The sequence of what he's done so far is: Hero gives pull cord several hard tugs; Heroine adds her weight to the mix and pulls with him; Hero checks fuel line; Hero pulls out the choke a bit; Hero tries pull cord again; Hero adjusts choke. At this point, I'd like to stretchhhhh out the tension just a bit longer. Any suggestions for other things that could be tried or things that could go wrong before the engine starts up at the last possible moment, narrowly averting their boat getting swept into the dam? Also, at what point would the Hero think it was safest to abandon the boat and try to swim to shore (or WOULD he ever think that)?

Many thanks for any help and suggestions!
Well, if you want some time-consuming tension, you could have his fuel line break, and he has to use duct tape to make a fix as he's approaching the dam:




I wasn't approaching a dam when this happened, but tidal currents were washing me onto mud flats where I was about to run aground.
 
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I'd go with water in the engine, pulling the plug, maybe snapping the pull cord because of hydraulic lock, dropping plug or spanner over the side, finding pull chord, another spanner / plug etc.

And I don't think anyone jump and swim for it until the very last moment I.e. jump just as the boat goes over the wall.

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Need to squeeze the primer bulb before attempting to start. Perhaps your hero forgets in the panic and that's why the first several pulls don't work. Or out of gas and needs to switch over to a spare. In our case, our outboard only connects to one tank, so the spare must be poured into the main tank. Time consuming and messy, a two'fer. :)
 
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If you want to get real technical, you may wish to specify what make and size outboard motor is aboard the Grampian. I'm suggesting this because some motors have chokes, while others have primers. While they perform a similar function, the WAY they perform them is different. A late '80's vintage 8hp Johnson Sailmaster would be a typical engine on a Grampian, and they don't have chokes, they have a primer. Once the primer bulb on the fuel line has been pressed until firm (meaning gas has reached from the tank to the outboard), your hero would then need to pull the black priming knob on the engine. This squirts a small amount of fuel directly into the carburetor prior to pulling the starting cable. A choke, found on other engines (Mercury and others), doesn't do that; it closes a butterfly valve which enriches the mixture (larger proportion of gas to air) to aid starting. Once an engine is warmed up a bit, the choke is turned off so that the mixture can return to the proper ratio for warm running.

I like ReefMagnet's suggestion of removing the spark plug; they get fouled sometimes especially on two-stroke engines, and pulling a plug and cleaning and gapping the electrode or replacing the plug with the spare that you SHOULD always have with you (have the hero curse himself for not having one, or the heroine rag on him for it..) is a not-at-all uncommon thing to do if you can't get a motor started.

NOW.. here's a few other things that can go wrong. On a Johnson, there's a very small fuel tube coming from the primer knob assembly that fits onto a small nipple on the carb. That line can come off if not installed properly, and the priming gas would then just squirt into the engine compartment of the outboard where it does no good other than create a small fire hazard (not likely, but maybe your hero/heroine smokes? <evil grin>). Plus, since the line isn't connected to the carb, it creates an air leak in the carb so, even if the engine DOES eventually start (it's possible), it'll run like crap. Go ahead... ask me how I know!

In addition to the aforementioned broken pull cord, there's also a safety interlock on many motors which prohibit the pull cord from being pulled if the throttle is advanced too far or the engine is in gear prior to pulling the cord. Perhaps the hero had advanced the throttle too far trying to get more gas to the engine and, in a panic, just horsed on the line with all his might forgetting about the safety interlock, which caused an aging pull cord to finally snap. OR.. maybe the interlock jammed, and he had to remove the engine cover housing and break off the interlock tab with a large screwdriver or chisel and a hammer. Maybe an injury in process? <another evil grin>

For an engine to start, you need fuel, spark, air, and "coordination"... the spark has to hit the air/fuel mixture at the right time, i.e., at a certain travel point of the piston which results in compression of the fuel/air mixture. Soo, if the engine isn't starting, it's either fuel-related (primer bulb, primer/choke, fuel lines, gummed up carb, bad gas, wrong mixture ... possible dialog .. "Fifty to one gas to oil?!?! I thought you said mix it fifTEEN to one!!!"), air (tough to go wrong here in an outboard, but maybe bees made a nest in the air cleaner cause the engine had sat unprotected and unused for a long time? Totally clogged filter? Too much air due to bad carb gasket or aforementioned tiny primer fuel line disconnect?), spark (fouled or otherwise bad plug, bad plug wire, bad magneto), or bad timing (usually a set and forget on outboards, but anything's possible). Then there's the mechanical issues.. safety interlock, throttle cable, starter cable.

Does his Grampian have remote engine controls, i.e., a single or dual lever throttle and gear shift further ahead in the cockpit? If so, it's possible that one of THOSE cables could seize, which would mean he'd have to go back to the engine and disconnect the remote cable to regain control over the related function (throttle or shifter). The shifter wouldn't be a problem, but the internal throttle cable is usually disconnected if a remote throttle control is used. This would necessitate reconnecting the internal cable so that the throttle twist control on the outboard's tiller would work, or just operating the throttle mechanism directly by hand with the engine cover off. This could be dangerous, too... could get some article of clothing caught in the spinning flywheel once the engine's running.

Man, after thinking about this, it's a miracle we DON'T have more engine trouble or catastrophes... <grin>.. this is fun!

Let us know how things go. I'm a voracious reader, and would be happy to read and/or proof any excerpts if that would be helpful. Feel free to pm me.

Best wishes!

Barry
 
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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks Barry!

That's a LOT to digest for a non-sailor (and non-mechanical type to boot)! Okay, so . . .

To answer some questions and give you a bit more info, they stopped for lunch, and the Hero started the engine in order to set the anchor (so it's not been sitting in complete non-use for months for example). It did work earlier in the day. Does that eliminate any of the issues you marked as possibilities?

He set the anchor, they had lunch, they took a nap and woke up to find a big storm forming overhead (no time to out-run it). While Hero began process of setting out a 2nd anchor due to shifting winds, he tripped and gashed his head open. Heroine (who is a doctor) put stitches in his wound in the cabin with storm raging around them. As storm begins to move off some, they become aware that they are hearing crashing water, as opposed to just rain, and realize that the first anchor did drag and therefore they are now in perilous proximity to the dam spillway zone (downstream though, not upstream - they aren't going to go OVER the dam, but they might well get slammed into the dam, capsize and/or get caught up in some sort of hydraulic effect drowning machine action). So, they want to get that engine started up and get themselves out of danger.

If he panicked and forgot to squeeze the primer bulb first, the engine wouldn't respond the first few tries (that's the way I wrote it so far -- he pulls on the cord twice, THEN thinks to try to squeezing the primer bulb). Then he tries to adjust the choke. Sounds like maybe I need to re-do some or all of that to approach it a bit differently? If the engine has started before that day though, would spark plug still be a possible issue? Safety interlock tab?

Thanks!!
 

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If the engine had been running recently, the primer bulb thing may not be good then. It would likely still be primed. Out of gas or fuel line broke sounds like your best bet.
 

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I actually based my scenario on a real life experience! Many, many years ago when I had only recently purchased my first ever boat I took it out on a man made lake for the weekend. This boat was a power boat about 16 feet in length and had an old 50 hp 2 stroke motor. It was impossible to anchor in this lake, because it was full of dead trees, most still standing. This meant that even in quite deep water the trunks and branches of dead trees poked above the surface. First night out I decided to "park" for the night in an arm across from the dam wall. Because of the dead trees, I simply tied the boat off to a suitable height branch of a dead tree. As these things go, after dark the the storm clouds gathered and it started to rain, the wind came up and thunder and lightening persisted for most of the night. Needless to say I didn't sleep a wink that night. If you've never seen dead trees in a lake, some start to sway alarmingly in any form of wind driven chop. The tree I'd tied to was in this category. All night I imagined either the tree I was tied to snapping and the water logged trunk sinking immediately to the bottom and dragging me and my boat with it, or my boat breaking loose from it's tie line and being blown over the dam's spillway. At first light I leapt from my bunk (the boat was a half cabin style) and saw about 2 inches of rain water covering the floor of the boat and did the whole "I'm outta here" thing and started the engine. It started fine, ran for a few seconds then sputtered and stopped. Somehow water had gotten either into the fuel line or maybe even the air intake (it really rained and blew!) and had then been drawn into the engine, wetting the plugs. This required me to pull the two or three plugs the engine had whilst leaning over the back of the engine hoping like crazy that I dropped neither a plug or the only plug spanner I had onboard.

Fortunately, I managed to clean the water off the plugs and get everything reassembled without sending anything to the bottom. The engine started first kick afterwards and stayed running. I immediately motored back to the boat ramp which upon reaching, and in spite it being devoid of witnesses due to the inclement weather, I managed to somersault over the bow and land backside first on the beach due to the combination of coming in too hot and picking the wrong moment to run to the bow.
 

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What are some reasons why the fuel line might break?
In my case, the breakage of the fuel line was caused by age and UV exposure, combined with the tight confines that caused a sharp bend in the line every time I turned the outboard. It finally just gave way. FWIW, I replaced it with a line that had reinforcing fibers inside.

Hydrolock and other issues like that are very technical things that might be difficult to explain to an average reader. But I think most people can relate to a torn rubber fuel line, and to using duct tape to repair it.
 

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What about just plain flooded? That's usually my problem when someone pulls too many times, typically with choke on. the only cure seems to be five or ten minutes. This can be an eternity when the danger is close.

Or--the deadman lanyard clip is dangling and not on the stop button. Guilty. Stupid but in a panic people don't notice stuff.


And yeah, on that pinched fuel line that splits at the worst moment--on the boat where i teach, it's possible to pinch the line severely right at the motor fitting, if you tilt the motor up "wrong" and it gets jammed by the deck. The quick fix is to just cut away on both ends, and slide the "new" hose end onto the old fitting. the existing hose clamp can make this a slow process if you have to loosen it or pry it open a little so you can get the old torn piece off the motor end of the fitting.


Above post is right, "write what you know". this is what I know about the Nissan 4, or Tohatsu 6, or several of the small motors, learned the hard way..
 

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You could have the engine start but run weakly and unevenly, it might also threaten to stop completely when the throttle is opened.

This is real life occurrence when you get water in the carburetor. The top cylinder on a two cylinder engine may keep running with the lower one missing due to water on the plug electrodes.
 

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Hee hee... If you want to do some real life research, I've got a '64 Evinrude you can try to start. If I put you in a canoe in the Potomac first, it will be even more realistic!

What's the weather in the story? Hot or cold? If you want hot, you'll have to wait for July around here, but we could do cold right now...
 

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Lets see vapor lock = happened...
Broken fuel line = also had it happen.
Stupid safety line kill switch pin dropped out = also had happen
I've had the primer bulb on the fuel tank collapse on itself, starving fuel... it lets the motor run for a few seconds then with any acceleration or throttle, stall!

Lemme give you one you've not heard... I had a built in fuel tank, that the cap leaked some... I'd tilt the motor out of the water to sail, so fuel would drip down the top of the cowling... well, I fired up the motor to get back, and it backfired! Igniting the trail of fuel, with a tiny explosion, then an active burning fuel line back up to the cap.... thank god the cap was tight, or it'd been ALL OVER. Scrambling to find the extinguisher to put it out (by the way, I ran to the foredeck - solo sailing) ready to jump when it blew... figuring the larger explosion was coming... when it didn't I scrambled for an extinguisher, and put it out... crazy me, fired it up after that, and it ran fine (cowling melted a little)...

Funny related joke... I sailed with someone who was a newbie... I did my typical vessel safety list... "life jackets here, first aid here, extinguishers here..." then I get a weird look... Why do you need a fire extinguisher on a sailboat in the middle of the water? I laughed, and said, A) anytime there is fuel and a motor, or electricity, you need to have some way to put out a fire and B) I've already had to put out a fire with one... so don't tell me it doesn't happen... Talk about a look of shock!

All this on a tiny little inland lake no less.

PS: I have a 1980s Evinrude 7.5 sailmaster... it has a primer bulb on the fuel line (2 stroke), and also a choke... so they aren't one or the other.
 
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