Saturday, May 05, 2012

‘Sandpiper’s’ Engine

For some sailors engines are an anathema; they hate them and no way would they have one to power their sailing boat. Engines smell and they pollute; they sometimes leak oil and their exhaust fumes are foul. When you want them in an emergency they fail to start, and if they work they make one hell-of-a-racket. To have any chance of working when they are needed, they must be serviced and they must be in good order. Somewhere, fuel has to be stored in a safe place, and then there’s the hassle of having to replenish the tank just before the fuel runs out. Usually, in the case of an outboard, the crew precariously hangs over the stern while holding a funnel in one hand and a jerrycan in the other - all this while the boat is pitching and rocking from side to side, hell-bent on preventing the volatile liquid from entering the fuel tank. If the funnel is not secured by a piece of string, sure as eggs are eggs, it will dance and vibrate to the engine’s tune until it leaps into the water, never to be seen again. The filler cap takes umbrage and follows suit!

So why do I want one? I do most of my sailing on the River Crouch and nearby East Coast rivers. Tides run rather smartly, particularly the ebb, and if the wind fails and I want to reach a safe haven where I can anchor, or I have to beat against a tide, an engine is indispensable. It can make all the difference between success and failure. Failure could mean waiting hours until the tide turns to bring me home. Then there may be the time when an engine can get me out of a scrape; perhaps the current is taking my boat towards an unfriendly object, or a large vessel is bearing down at a rate of knots. If I find I have to visit a marina, an engine can make manoeuvring into tight corners that much easier and safer than having to rely on sail alone. The wind may be too strong for rowing, but with an engine it’s a piece of cake.

Weighing up the balance, I would choose to have an engine every time. I no longer have the urge to be a purist, to be fanatical about getting from A to B only using tides and wind. I have been there, done it, and experience confirms that having an engine is the better for me. If it fails, I know I can cope, or at least I believe I can manage, because I have survived in the past, even when it meant rowing or paddling my boat for hours at a time.


Peter said...

Thank you Bill for being so honest. Heading for a lee shore, wind dropped, still an hour from home with only two hours of tide left to sneak in. Pull the string...and enjoy rather than stress. Nothing wrong with an engine. What about an electric o/b?

William Serjeant said...


Electric is fine, and less polluting, but more suited to day sailing than cruising, because the battery has to be charged, which can best be done ashore where there is access to mains power.

Solar charging for the battery of an outboard engine takes too long. Trickle charging during the week may be adequate if the boat is only sailed at weekends. A wind operated generator may be better, especially with the current dull weather. Better still, have both!