Old Boats and Difficult Decisions

     As I sit down to write this morning, the excitement on Lake Martin and the dawn of the 2018 Elite Series has the Freak Finder team ripe with aspirations. I am especially hopeful for this year because I have finally resolved an issue that has kept me off the water for the past couple of years. I have freed myself from the constraints of an aging, depreciating bass boat. And although my financial burden has increased, purchasing a brand new rig was the right move as a boater, an angler and a outdoor media developer.

     The past two seasons have certainly had their highs and lows. The Freak Finder project has accomplished so much, and I love the fervor and positivity that F3 blossoms in our team members and our friends alike. However, I have been plagued with an onslaught of technical and mechanical mishaps that have sidelined my fishing productivity.

     For bass boat owners, the ever-growing burden of a deteriorating rig can be both discouraging and distracting. Flimsy trolling motors, weak pumps, ripped carpet or seats, broken gauges and oxidation can fluster an angler to different degrees. When running our boats and trying to fill our livewells, we try and minimize diversions the best we can. By keeping our gear fresh and functioning, we can stay focused while fishing. There comes a point, however, when these gear-related problems can shut down our fishing operation entirely. These types of issues, especially when operating an older vessel, need to be dealt with strategically. I’d like to take the time to discuss two mishaps in my past two seasons and how I dealt with getting back on the water.

     In our early years of running bass boats, Matt, Collin and I occasionally referred to our “worst nightmare” scenarios during a day of fishing. One of these was getting in a crash while trailering our boats. The other was blowing an outboard engine. In the past two seasons, both have happened to me. The easier one to deal with, surprisingly enough, was the motor vehicle crash.

     The crash was, thankfully, without personal injury to all parties involved. However, due to some reckless driving, my trailer was destroyed by a box truck and the operator who caused the accident left the scene. I now needed to limp home safely and figure out how to fix a boat trailer and salvage the rest of my 2016 season. We know as bass anglers, our trailers are paired with our boats. They match, they fit together, and we’re familiar with how they operate. Your trailer and your boat are of equal importance, and that aspect of boating applies to no other besides bass fishing. So going and buying a new trailer isn’t exactly an option-at least not an easy one. So, I eventually found someone to fix it. Parts needed to be ordered, and painting and welding needed to be preformed. Since it was being covered by my auto insurance, I deemed the cost and headache reasonable. After all, I was not found at fault for the accident. On the other hand, the repair work was not done correctly, and new cosmetic damage was inflicted at the shop. After months without a boat, I went with the, “whatever” resolution, and certainly won’t ever return to this shop in central Massachusetts.

     Fast forward to June 2017. The beginning of a huge season for the Freak Finder project. I was up on Winnipesaukee for a 4-day stretch, and had launched in Center Harbor to start Day 1 on a beautiful morning. About four miles into my run to my first spot, I heard a strange noise emanate from my engine – similar to that of a soft plastic bouncing off the engine cowling. I soon noticed an increase in vibration coming from the transom, and this irregularity seemingly began to increase by the second. I shut the engine down and eventually came to the realization that I may have experienced a cylinder failure. To avoid inflicting further damage to the engine, I made no attempt to resurrect my engine or salvage my trip. I contacted Sea Tow, and used my trolling motor to maneuver around awaiting their arrival (I caught 3 limits of smallmouth during this period!). I got towed in, and trailered directly to Thurston’s Marina in Laconia, NH, one of the only Evinrude dealers in New Hampshire. The techs there were both helpful and courteous, and sympathized with my catastrophe. They eventually provided me with the diagnosis that I had suffered a cylinder failure on #6 – I had blown my powerhead.

     Now, the lay person might say, “File a claim, and fix the engine.” If you’ve been in this situation before, you know that this type of failure is not covered by most insurance plans. So, I needed to figure out what to do. If you know a lot about outboard engines, which I can’t say I do, you know that powerheads are expensive. Especially on Evinrude ETEC engines. So obviously I wanted to keep cost in line with the repairs. I initially thought about tearing the engine down and further diagnosing the failure. “Maybe its just a connecting rod”, I thought. Then I considered implementing a remanufactured powerhead. I also got several quotes from various techs and mechanics, from mobile mechanics to certified Evinrude techs. I contacted resources up and down the east coast. I looked around for used engines. I ran through every possible scenario to get my boat back up and running again.

     There is no clear cut answer to this debacle. The engine is a 2006, obviously out of any warranty. Ultimately, every quote that I received to properly addressing the problem and fixing or completely replacing the powerhead would cost around $10,000. I know people are going to disagree, but if you want the engine fixed, you have to properly diagnose the root cause of the cylinder failure. Fuel injector, oil pump, whatever it may be, it all needs to be replaced or else you risk another cylinder failure. Hence the quote of $10k.

     The clear cut options were now more visible. Fix the engine, or move on. Initially, I thought that I should fix the engine. I told myself that the boat is a great Charger hull, and still in good condition for a 2006. However, there were still other repairs I need to make to this boat besides the engine. So I was left with the choice to inquire about a new boat. I realized that $10k + would be better spent as a down payment on a new boat, rather than sinking all that money into a 12 year old boat – still not guaranteeing the engine wouldn’t blow again.

     Coming to this decision was a very long, painstaking process that almost lasted a year. Thank goodness for Matt Razey and Collin Walker for keeping me fishing throughout this down time! I hope that some of these experiences help if you find yourself in an equally troubling fiasco. Once our boats reach the 10 year mark, a lot of tough decisions begin to arise. Boat value must always be considered when making an investment in a significantly depreciated asset. Also, before buying any outboard engine, you must consider the availability of parts, cost of future labor and availability of techs associated with the manufacturer. I’ve also learned that there is nothing more valuable to a boat owner than an engine warranty. If you ever have the option, purchase the longest one available. Always. You might not ever need it, but its worth its weight in gold.

     Keep your eyes peeled for the second part of this blog explaining my decision to go with my Phoenix 819 Pro with a 200hp Mercury Pro XS. Thank you for the continued support, we’ll see you on the water soon!