This blog is devoted to my John Welsford designed 15' Navigator yawl Ellie. I built her in my garage over a period of 18 months and launched her in 2011. She sports a sliding gunter main, roller furled jib and sprit-boomed mizzen. Her construction is glued-lapstrake over permanent bulkheads and stringers. This blog is a record of her construction and her voyages here in the Puget Sound area and (hopefully) a useful resource for fellow Navigator builders.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Break Out Another Thousand

There is a dangerous type of seaweed that lurks around here.  It covers the beaches at low tide in thick mats that smell like dead fish.  It lurks just under the surface at high tide, waiting.  It's commonly found in shallow bays near shore.  It has a fine, hair-like consistency.  If you were to shave all the hair off a dead cat, dye it green, then soak it in a bucket of water overnight, you'd have a close approximation of this stuff.

If you happen to come across this stuff, beware, for it is evil.

On July 8, 2011, only a couple weeks after launching Ellie for the first time, my son and I set sail for the annual Sucia Small Boat Rendezvous.  Helping us along was my brand new Suzuki 2.5hp outboard motor.  We arrived at Fossil Bay about 2:30 in the afternoon, beached Ellie, greeted the new arrivals, and set up camp.  A while later, as the tide ebbed,  I noticed that the shoreline was littered with sharp rocks so I decided I'd motor around to nearby Fox cove, which had a much less rocky beach.

So I hopped aboard Ellie, fired up my brand new motor and set off for Fox.  A few minutes later, it sounded like the motor was losing power.  A few seconds later, it died.  I turned to look at the motor and saw it was smoking.  Smoking!  I removed the cover and watched in horror as smoke billowed from the engine.  It looked like it was about to burst into flames at any moment.  Located  inches away from this smoking mass of metal was a plastic fuel tank containing about a quart of gasoline, all strapped to a boat made of wood and dacron.  I quickly reached over and scooped up a handful of seawater and splashed it onto the engine.  It immediately sizzled and turned to steam.  I did this a few more times in a desperate attempt to keep the engine from bursting into flames.  The engine eventually stopped smoking.  I waited for several minutes for it to cool, then attempted to start it.  It wouldn't start. I sailed back and beached Ellie on the same rocky beach that I'd left minutes before.  It was then that I discovered the source of the problem.

My water cooled Suzuki had choked on a seaweed hairball.

Later, I got the motor running again after an hour of picking seaweed out of the water inlet with a bent paper clip.  The motor had gotten so hot that it melted the insulation on the kill switch wire, grounding it to the case, which actually saved the engine from total destruction.  But the motor has never run right since.  It runs OK at slow speeds, but overheats, gets smoking hot and dies after running for more than a few minutes at anything over about 1/4 throttle.  I removed the thermostat and found seaweed stuck to it.  I'm certain the cooling jacket is clogged with seaweed.  But the overheating may have warped the cylinder head or cracked the block.  The cost estimate to have the engine disassembled, inspected, cleaned and rebuilt was close to that of a new engine, so, that means it's time to...

Break Out Another Thousand

Meet my new air cooled Honda 2.3hp outboard.  The air cooled Honda BF2.3D has many nice features.  Three of its nicest features are:
  1. It is air cooled.
  2. It is not water cooled
  3. It is cooled, by air.

There are a few other differences between the Honda and the Suzuki DF2.5.  The Suzuki has a shift lever, which allows you to manually shift between drive and neutral. The Honda has a centrifugal clutch.  At idle the prop doesn't turn.  Give it some gas and the prop starts turning.  This takes some getting used to, and can be potentially dangerous if you're not careful.  The normal starting throttle setting is about 1/4 throttle, which means the engine will always be "in gear" when it's started. Someone could easily get tossed overboard if they happen to be standing when the engine starts, or your boat can take off unexpectedly if not secured.  So be prepared.  This is one feature of the Honda that I do not like.  I'd much rather have a shift lever so I can safely start the motor in neutral.  On the other hand, the clutch makes docking more pleasant.  No need to fumble with a shift lever to switch out of gear when approaching a dock.  Just throttle down.

I had to modify my Duckworks motor mount to get the Honda to fit.  At first glance the two motors look identical in size and shape.

But there are differences.  The Suzuki is slightly larger, and longer.  The Suzuki measures about 17.5" from the top of the motor mount to the anti-cavitation plate and about 21" to the prop.  The Honda measures about 16.25" and 19.5".  It's odd that there's a difference.  I thought short shaft engines were a standard length.

In order to clear my transom, I have to turn the motor on its side when it's raised. The Honda can be turned on its side.  The Suzuki cannot, unless you remove the bracket that is designed to prevent you from doing so.
Remove this bracket to allow the Suzuki to be raised on its side
I had to adjust the height of my motor mount bracket to precisely the right spot to enable the motor to clear the transom and still reach the water.  The height is different for each engine.
Four stroke outboards can have issues when laid on their sides. It's commonly known that oil can get into the cylinder if you lay them on the wrong side.  My Honda, for instance, leaks gasoline from the carb.  That's because the carb is below the fuel tank when on its side.  Storing the engine on its side presents no problems, but bouncing around over waves opens and closes the float valve causing the leak. It leaks continuously with the engine shutoff valve open.  It leaks what's in the float chamber with the shutoff valve closed.  To prevent any leaks, I have to run the engine dry prior to raising it on its side.  It leaks oil too, from the starboard rear area of the case (through a crankcase breather port, I've been told).  I'm certain it wouldn't leak at all when raised normally.  The Suzuki on the other hand, never leaks, even when raised on its side.

[UPDATE July 2015: The solution to prevent fuel leaks on the Honda is to raise the motor on the "wrong" side (with the tiller handle down)  In doing so it does not leak oil or gas, nor does it have any ill effects.  This places the carb above the fuel tank, the crankcase breather on the top side (presumably) and the motor is not tilted far enough to allow oil to get into the cylinder.  Problem solved.]

Another concern I have about the Honda is how the power head is completely surrounded by ductwork.  I'm not sure how to rinse the saltwater off the engine when it's buried inside all this ducting.  There's no way of knowing what's corroding inside without removing the ductwork. This is not a problem on the Suzuki which had no ducts.

There are some other differences between these engines.  The Suzuki is noisy.  The Honda is noisier.  The Suzuki has an aluminum prop.  The Honda's is plastic.  I'll have to try and remember not to hit anything with it.  They both weigh about 30 lbs.  The Honda has a slightly bigger tank at 1.1 liters vs 1.0 liters. The Honda has a 5 yr warranty, the Suzuki has a 3 yr.  The Honda costs more.

All in all, I think they're both good engines (if there is such a thing) but they each have their own pros and cons.  If you get one, take good care of it.  These tiny engines are sensitive to everything, not just seaweed.  Always filter your gasoline through a coffee filter.  Always run them completely dry after every use.  Never run old gas in them.  Buy ethanol-free gasoline if it is available in your area.  If not, always add fuel stabilizer to your gas if you plan on keeping it longer than 2 weeks.  If you don't know how, consider taking the time to learn how to disassemble and clean the carburetor. It's easy to do once you know how, and it's only scary the first time you do it.  There are many how-to videos on YouTube.  It'll save you about a hundred bucks every time the engine won't start, idle, or run right because the carb needs yet another cleaning.  The 2hp Honda uses their GX series carburetor.  This video shows how to clean a GX series carb.

And if you live in an area with hairy seaweed, consider an air cooled outboard.  Or a lovely pair of nicely varnished oars.

Epilogue: It's now several years later.  Having nothing to lose, some spare time on my hands, and armed with a service manual, I dusted off the old Suzuki and tore it all apart.  The entire engine block and cylinder head was clogged with seaweed, as I suspected.  Plus salt crystals and some corrosion caused by the trapped water in the cooling jacket. I cleaned out all the passages, ordered a new set of gaskets, and reassembled the engine. It runs.....well, mostly.  It starts, idles and runs just fine at all speeds, except if I run the engine at wide open throttle for  more than a couple minutes then it dies, but not from overheating like it did before.  I suspect this is due to an unrelated problem, like a partially clogged fuel filter, or something got warped or cracked due to the overheating.  I'm not sure what to do with the engine at this point, except maybe hang onto it as a backup for the Honda.  It's still usable to me since I never need to run it at more than 1/2 throttle anyway.
-Joel 7/2014
Epilogue #2:  I disassembled the carburetor and discovered a teeny-tiny spring on the float valve was missing.  Instead of ordering a new spring, I said "screw it" and ordered a brand new carburetor.  I installed the new carb and voila, the engine now runs perfectly.  It no longer dies after running full speed for a couple minutes.
-Joel 2019


  1. Joel - Thanks for these valuable insights. I have not yet purchased the motor for my build but there is a lot to think about here. Honda 2.3 is on my short list - just thought I would mention a Honda mechanic told me there is risk with it if you tilt it the wrong way when off the mount that oil can get into the fuel intake and require a service to get it going again - sorry I can't be more specific about this.

    1. The mechanic is right. Even when you lay them down on the correct side you can still have problems. I've had oil get into the cylinder of the Suzuki just driving around with it lying down in the bed of my truck. The Honda leaks a little gasoline from the carb when I sail with it raised and on its side if I forget to shut off the fuel valve. If it weren't for the swift currents here I'd be happy with oars.

  2. Joel, I specifically wanted an aircooled honda because of concerns with the water jacket clogging in a water cooled engine. Previous experience you see... No regrets. If you notice in some of the pictures from the Patuxent RIver trip all, save one, of the outboards are Honda 2 hp.


    1. Another lesson learned the hard way lol! I noticed your Honda drags in the water with your Duckworks motor bracket, and mine does the exact same thing. I think the Honda doesn't tilt as high as the Suzuki. I think I am going to order a new motor bracket. The Garelick 71040 looks like it might work better. More holes in the transom though.

  3. Epilogue #3? I tossed the engine in the shed. Been a happy man ever since.

  4. I to have an engine problem, it's now to get my outboard , in board ? I notice that in some of the videos showing "Navigators" some have the motors inside the boat ,are there plans for this change in construction ? Has anyone made this change ,could they explain what was needed and was it successful?

    1. Some of John Welsford's designs have outboard motors mounted inside the boat in a motor well. Two such examples are his Pathfinder and Penguin designs.