I'm starting this year's boating summary in the middle of April. I'm doing this not because I'm here to gleefully report how wonderful the early summer weather is and that the boat has been seeing a lot of time on the water. No, quite the opposite unfortunately. As I'm writing this now, a late winter nor'easter is pounding us with tons of rain (4+"), along with a mix of snow, which has left us with close to an inch of a wet slushy mixture which would look far better in a cup with a little lemon flavor, than on the road at this time of year. So what's with the weather this year? It's depressing to say the least considering I'm anxious to get the new boat out and continue where I left off last year trying to "blueprint" its performance characteristics and to try to optimize performance. I guess winter's unrelenting hold on the weather now is payback for its late arrival. Until the middle of January, the weather was on the mild side (a plus when putting up and taking down outdoor Christmas decorations), with daily temperatures well above normal. Of course, you'll hear no complaints from me, as I hate the cold. But it was not to last. Around mid January, old man winter finally woke up and started making up for lost time, with temps plunging down to the single digits. It was then brutally cold for the next couple of months. By the end of March, we started to see signs of spring with a nice week long stretch of warm spring-like weather. But then winter reasserted itself, and we've been languishing in the dreary 40's for most of the month of April so far. The icing on the cake has been this week's storm. But the long term forecast is predicting a warm up at the end of the week. I sure hope it turns out to be true, and I hope it lasts this time. Winter was late in coming, so it looks like it'll be late in leaving. I just hope that we don't go straight from the refrigerator to the oven. I need moderate spring weather to take care of those yearly spring chores, so I can concentrate on boating once the mercury starts hovering around the dreaded 90 degree mark with high humidity not far behind.
Speaking of which (Yea, you knew I'd get here eventually), this year's boating is looking bright so far. A new boat, money set aside for planned camping/boating trips, a new water tube, beginner's skis for my daughter, and a GPS for Christmas, all add up to good potential outings. Of course, things like the weather and the (as if on cue) high cost of gas might deflect some of those plans. I'm also dreading the inevitable political interference that will happen if the hype surrounding "global warming", is allowed to continue unchecked and results in pressure to deter us hard working citizens from pursuing our favorite internal combustion engine powered activities. But it hasn't happened yet, so I'll enjoy what I have while I can. At least I had the forethought to fill the boat's gas tank before I winterized, so I should be good to go for a little while at least.
As in previous years, I also have the uncertainty of my friend Art's boating escapades to consider. According to him, he's ready to take his Celebrity boat down to the Chesapeake Bay and dock it there. But boat slips are drying up and I get the feeling that it won't happen. Hopefully he'll be able to take his boat out a few times this year, as it did seem to run well last year. I'm looking forward to more fun in that arena as well. We'll just have to wait and see.........
I've come up with a checklist of things I want to do with the boat this year (besides just having fun):
1. "Blueprint" the boat's performance characteristics with the stock prop. Record speed at various RPM and trim levels. With the help of the GPS, it should be fairly accurate.
2. Try out my 19" pitch "High Five" prop to see how that compares to the stock prop. The stock prop on the new boat is a 20" pitch 4 blade. The High Five prop was a leftover from my Pachanga, and was way underpitched to work properly on that boat, but I held on to it, even through 2 successive boats. I already tried a 23" pitch cleaver briefly last year, which was way overpitched. Based on this, I'm guessing that the ideal prop for my boat will either be a 19" pitch or a 21" pitch. But I'll need to try out a few candidates before I finally decide.
3. Hopefully, if the financial gods are willing, I'll buy the new "wonder prop" and I'll characterize it as well. I am looking at the specs of Mercury's new "Enertia" prop with interest. It promises increased performance from all sides. However, it comes with an over $600(MSRP) price tag, Yowch! Hopefully I'll find a way to swing it, and with that prop, I should be able to break the 50 MPH mark.
4. "Personalize" the boat a bit more with accessories which either enhance the experience, or correct small annoyances. One of those small "annoyances, is a glare on the windshield from the reflection of the white gelcoat dash console. I want to apply some sort of dark covering to eliminate that. But I don't want it to look like it was developed by a 3rd grader either. So I'll be looking for some more "professional" looking solutions. Another small problem is the routing of the drain hose from the swim platform compartment/cooler. Water does not freely drain, as the hose rises up above the drain before exiting to the thru-hull fitting overboard. The drain hose will have to be rerouted to correct this problem. Sounds easy, but it's a tight fit in the back of the compartment when you're sharing space with a V8 engine.
5. Electronics upgrades. I'm thinking seriously about installing the 100 watt/channel stereo amp and equalizer that I had on the Checkmate. The current stereo is 45 watts/channel and sounds fairly good already. Finding a suitable mounting location and the ease of routing wires will ultimately determine whether or not I proceed with this project. I also want to come up with a simple way to patch my MP3 player into the stereo. Ironically, the stereo is more modern, with a CD player built-in. But it would've been better if it had cassette instead, as I have an adapter that "plays" in a tape machine that I can hook up an MP3 player to. I'm also on the fence whether I want to add a Marine/Ham radio. I did it on the Checkmate because I was spending a lot of time down on the Chesapeake Bay. When you're out on a body of water as large as the Bay, having a means to call for help in the event of a serious problem was appealing. Now, though, I spend very little time on the big bay, and I also now have (Horrors!) a dreaded cell-phone, which gives me an easy means to summon help should I find myself in such a situation. I usually don't "Play radio" while I'm boating, so adding a 2-way radio may not happen.
Well the next chapter in this year's boating saga occurred on May 25th, when we splashed the boat for the first time this year. I'm happy to report that I'm getting the boat out earlier again, after the last few years seeing the first splash day somewhere in late June or even July. Having a new boat which has not yet lost its initial "new toy" thrill helps. The family and I took the boat up to Blue Marsh Lake to do some cruising and fishing. The water temperature had not warmed up enough to go swimming or tubing yet, but as luck would have it, the daytime air temperature hovered ever so close to the 90 degree mark, which made stopping to fish almost unbearable, with barely even a hint of a breeze to take the heat off. Even with the top up, it was not comfortable sitting for long. That probably explains why my daughter Heather was the only one to catch any fish, as she's the least bothered by the heat (she's also really lucky with a fishing pole).
I took my portable Garmin GPS along and managed to baseline the performance of the stock 20" pitch aluminum prop. Needless to say, I was not all that impressed with the numbers. Here they are:
3000 RPM -- 23 MPH
3500 RPM -- 30 MPH
4000 RPM -- 34 MPH
4500 RPM -- 39 MPH
4900 RPM -- 44 MPH (WOT)
I'm not real happy with a top end speed which is barely 5 MPH above the 3000 RPM cruising speed of the Checkmate, and I'm motivated to see if I can improve it. I could use the boat's speedometer, which adds about 2 to 3 MPH to what the GPS obligingly tells me is the real speed. It might make me feel a little better but not much. I knew going into this that I would loose a lot of speed, but I was still figuring on a top end in the mid 50's.
In light of my dismal performance numbers, there were a couple of factors which probably killed about 2 or 3 MPH off of the top end potential. One was my wife and daughter riding in the bow section, the added weight lowers the bow and increases drag. I also had the Bimini top up which probably added some aerodynamic drag of its own. I also had a full tank of fuel, which added about 300 Lbs of weight. Speaking of fuel, I also noticed that fuel economy does not seem to be as good as I might have hoped. However, it's still too early to know the behavior of the fuel gauge. But for barely 2 hours of running time, I blew 1/4 a tank of gas according to the gauge, which works out to be around 12 gallons, which seems a bit much, or maybe not. Fuel economy has become a major concern because, at the time of this writing, gasoline prices have become insanely high at over $3 a gallon. I'm lucky that I filled the boat's tank up last fall when gas was a more "reasonable" $2.50 a gallon. I don't know how long it's going to stay up this high, but it's in my best interest to maximize my economy.
I'm starting to look very suspiciously at the prop. The thing is, I've run the numbers and given the prop pitch, the engine RPM, the gear ratio of the drive, and a reasonable amount of slip, the boat should be breaking 50 MPH with room to spare. I tried a 23" pitch prop last year, and the RPM fell off way more than it should have (4000 vs. 5000). Couple that with the numbers I get with the stock 20" 4 blade prop and it's looking like the 4 blade aluminum prop is acting like a 18" or 17" pitch prop. Luckily I also have a 19" pitch "High Five" 5 blade stainless prop that's been collecting dust in the garage. I've since mounted it to the boat, so I'm anxious to see what this prop will do. You would think a 19" pitch would run with a higher RPM and even lower top end speed than the 20" pitch stock prop. But if my suspicions of the stock aluminum prop turn out to be true, the High Five will probably run better. I cant wait to try it out. I don't know when that'll be though with my schedule and all the competing activities. Hopefully it'll be sometime in early June.
Actually, it wasn't until late June (the 24th) before I was back on the water. Since this was a Sunday, and weekends at Blue Marsh can be uncomfortably crowded, we decided to check out our old hangout, the Schuylkill River. We initially had intentions of doing a little tubing, and I was hoping to catch up with some old "River Rats" friends that I hadn't seen in a few years. Also I was hoping to check out the boat's performance with the High Five prop now mounted to the drive. The weather was warm, the water was not too cold, so it was an almost perfect day. I did managed to talk to 2 of the old gang, but the tip of Barbadoes Island was nowhere near as full as it had been in years past. Because of the unknown semi-submerged hazards, we decided to forgo tubing this time around, but we did let Heather try skiing for the first time. She has a pair of training skis with the line keeping them from moving apart. She did pretty well, and by her third attempt, she was standing up out of the water. Now all we have to do is work on balance.
Now for the performance numbers. As before, the boat was loaded with the wife and kid in the bow so the comparison would be the same. Speeds were measured with my Garmin GPS. The numbers with this prop left me scratching my head a little, but also left me with some optimism. Here they are:
3000 RPM -- 21 MPH
3500 RPM -- 29 MPH
4000 RPM -- 35 MPH
4500 RPM -- 41 MPH
5100 RPM -- 47.1 MPH (WOT)
Compared to the 20" pitch aluminum prop, the High Five showed slower speed numbers in the lower RPM ranges, the boat would barely hold plane at 3000 RPM. But above 3500 RPM, the High Five started to show faster numbers. Max WOT RPM also rose to 5100. So it would appear that the 20" pitch prop is loading the engine more than the 19" pitch, which sort of blows a hole in my theory that the 20" prop was acting like an 18" pitch. The nearest theory I can grasp for the differences in numbers is that the drag of the thicker aluminum blades on the 20" prop became increasingly detrimental the faster you go. Also, the High Five could be trimmed out higher which also may be a factor. The good news is that I've gained 3 MPH on the top end, and I'm now just 3 MPH shy of my 50 MPH goal. But now I'm in a bit of a quandary. I know which prop I want, but I don't know if I should go with a 20" pitch or a 21". I'm leaning more toward a 20", but I'd like to try a 21" Mirage or similar just to see what those numbers will be. Finding the right prop is a balancing act. The best top end is usually achieved at the expense of a loss in out of the hole acceleration. I'm looking also for best cruise MPG, since the price of gas isn't coming down any time soon. The top end and cruise MPG considerations are making me consider the 21" pitch. But I also don't want to overload the engine. But all this is a moot point until I scrape together a few bucks for the new prop........
A little over a week later (July 3rd) we were out again, this time to Blue Marsh Lake to finally do some serious tubing and skiing. I had borrowed a 23" pitch Mirage prop to test yet another type of prop on the boat, but decided not to try it on this trip, because I would need all the pulling power I could get for pulling water toys. We arrived around 10:30, and was greeted by a nice beautiful day with calm water.
We started out trying to get Heather up on skis again. She made her 4 attempts, before losing interest, and each one was a little better than the one prior. She is getting up but still not quite able to balance. We'll continue to work on this, and hopefully, we'll get her skiing. But working on that may be in jeopardy thanks to her introduction to the other water sport - tubing. After we got done with Heather's ski lesson, we blew up my new tube to finally break it in. I got on the tube for the inaugural run and with the wife driving, we were off.
All I can say is Boy I'm getting old! The new tube was great, it allowed me to somewhat comfortably lay flat on my stomach. However, while the day had started off on the calm side, in the hour or so time since we had arrived many more boats had joined us and were slowly stirring up the water, and the beating I took flopping across those other boat wakes just made my body ache. I certainly was not enjoying the ride in the same way as I used to 15 years ago. But maybe with a little more time, it'll slowly come back to me. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, because I'm not ready to trade in my tube for an AARP membership just yet..... With my run now over, Heather eagerly wanted to try the tube. We planned on pulling her slowly at first to let her build up confidence and then slowly up the speed as she wanted. But there was a problem with this plan. With Heather on the tube, her shorter stature and weight shifted toward the front caused the tube to plow under water instead of riding on top of it when we started out.
The solution was to have her aunt ride with her. That allowed the tube to get up on top of the water. Having someone else on the tube also allayed Heather's initial fears, and she was soon having a blast. In fact she wanted to go faster and hit more "bumps". A chip off the old (and I do mean that literally) block, I have to say. When she was done that run, Heather was not the least bit tired, so I relived her aunt and took a run on the tube with her.
It was parentally satisfying seeing just how much fun she was having. I also knew that Kimmi would not be so willing to kill or seriously disfigure me with Heather on the tube, so my daughter became my insurance policy. The ride turned out to be nice and enjoyable, but eventually my neck started to ache from holding it back to see ahead, so after that run I was done. Heather's aunt took another run with her and by then the day's fun (and over 1/2 a tank of gas) was over. Heather can't wait to go tubing again, but we may have to try the other tube so that she can ride by herself, as we won't always have 4 people available so that someone can ride along with her.
On another note, I recently discovered some information about my boat that both angered me and shed a little light on some of the performance questions at the same time. Back when I was first researching my next boat purchase last year, I was trying to find a boat that was lighter than my Checkmate. One reason for this was to get away with less horsepower and still get reasonable speed and fuel economy. The other reason was to present a lighter towed load for wife's Explorer to pull. The Azure AZ-228 model was brand new at the time and had a dry weight listing of 3,220 Lbs, which was right where I wanted to be. It was about 800 Lbs lighter than the Checkmate, and was lighter than some of the other deckboat and sport bowriders in the same general class. So believing I was running a fairly light boat, I've been wrestling with the somewhat disappointing speed performance, and trying to figure out why. Afterall, a 2900 Lb Sea Ray Pachanga, with the 260 HP engine can just touch 60 MPH, as can similar models from Stingray and others as well. So I figured I should be in the low to mid 50's at least with my boat, so something just wasn't adding up. Well, the other day I was on Azure's website, and I discovered that they have updated the specs for the 2007 models boats (which mine is). Seems that the dry weight for my boat is now listed at 4,300 Lbs! Huh? In that one moment of enlightenment, I've just discovered that I'm now running a boat that is not only NOT lighter than the Checkmate, it's actually heavier. When compared to the next model up, the AZ-238, which is basically the same boat only a foot longer and weighs in at 4,400 Lbs, it makes sense. I had wondered why there was seemingly 1000 Lbs difference between the specs of these 2 virtually identical boats last year. But now it appears that the preliminary weight specs that I read last year for my boat were in error. Or the weight listed was simply empty boat-only weight. Since most engine/drive packages add about 1000 lbs, that would just about cover the difference in listed weights. As it were, I've always been confused by manufacturer's "dry weight" listings. There doesn't seem to be a "cast in stone" formula for determining this figure. Some makers claim that "dry weight" refers to the weight of the hull only sans engine. This makes sense if the boat's designed for a user installed engine like an outboard. But it makes little sense for a stern drive boat, where the engine package is installed at the factory and that weight should be included in the total calculation. To this end, other makers claim that "dry weight" is the weight of the boat along with the "standard" engine package, not including any fluids (like water and gasoline) or loose carry-on gear. However, most brochures do not specify exactly which method they are using, which makes an apples to apples comparison between different manufacturers difficult. Well, the long and short of it is that I'm not real happy with the prospect of having such a heavy boat. It's certainly not going to ever go as fast as my last boat unless I drop a 450 HP big block in there (and that's not going to happen!). Heavier weight not only means slower top end speed, but also less fuel economy as well. It also means that our tow vehicles will switch duties again, with the truck pulling the boat, while I wrestle the lighter travel trailer with the Explorer. There is a plus side to the heavier weight though. It really does handle the chop well for the size boat it is. I'd have to say it's almost as good as the Checkmate in that respect.
So the journey of discovery continues with this new boat. I'm still hoping to try the 23" Mirage prop out soon. I'm pretty sure it will work very similarly to the 23" Cleaver, but the more data I take, the better prepared I'll be when I'm finally ready to buy the "ultimate" prop.
As the month of July transitioned to the month of August, we finally made it up to Lake Wallenpaupack for a 4 day camping trip. Of course the boat came along, and we kept it in the water in a rented slip like we usually do. This was the first time up to the lake for the Azure, and I was gratified to see that after spending 3 days in the water, that it only dumped about 1/2 a cup full of water when the plug was pulled. So, at least one of the initial boat problems was fixed. I kept the 4 blade aluminum prop on, for the better midrange cruising speed (and MPG's). We did some fishing (Again Heather was the big winner), and some tubing at the bottom of the somewhat sheltered Martin's cove at the midpoint of the lake, with Heather taking her first solo ride......
We also spent our last day on the water, anchored in the cove behind Kipp Island. Heather and I swam ashore so that we could explore the island, and she got a big thrill out of that. It was a bit of a reunion for me, as I hadn't set foot on the island in about 20 years. All in all the trip was wonderful, with nice weather, and the lake water was warm enough to be in for long periods of time. It was a costly trip though, mostly due to the gas used in the trucks and the boat. But as the years go by, all that will be remembered is the fun we had, not the price of gas.
Well, it's been a long while since I've added anything here. As it is, this will be the final chapter of the season. The boat was finally put down for its long winter rest on the 11th of November. I am truly disgusted with how the season ended. After the August trip up to the mountains, I didn't get the boat out again even once. Oh, it wasn't for lack of interest or trying. Even the weather cooperated, by being dry and summer-like until the very end of October. No, the reason I never got out again, had more to do with timing and circumstances. Also playing a major part was my choice of waterways to boat on. Or, more accurately, the lack of waterways to boat on. My closest waterway is Blue Marsh Lake, and it's pretty much a zoo on any given weekend throughout the summer. I don't want to fight the crowds, so I usually opt to take a day off from work to go out. Well, as luck would have it, I took a new position in my company, which became very busy, which made taking a day off a bit difficult - Strike 1. The second closest waterway is the Schuylkill River down in Norristown. But with the summer rainfall being well below normal, the river's level has been low, and I don't want to risk hitting bottom - Strike 2. The last option was a trip to the upper Chesapeake Bay. Like Blue Marsh, it's best done during the week. But after September, it's usually not too bad on the weekends. So what was my excuse here? Well there's the ever increasing price of gas, which is now hovering near the $3.00 mark again, so I wasn't all that receptive to spending over $100 (truck and boat) for a day on the water - Strike 3, I'm out. So now I find myself staring at the boat in the garage knowing it'll be at least 6 months before I go out again. I still have yet to try the 23" pitch Mirage, and I'm still saving up for the Enertia, but the boat's performance issues will now have to wait until next year to be solved.
So how well did I do at achieving the 5 goals that I set out to do this spring (God! I feel like I'm getting a performance review from my boss)? Well..... Out out of the 5 original goals, I was only able to complete the first two. Lack of funds pretty much kept me from doing anything more (Story of my life lately).
All of the issues with trailering, weekend crowds, and gas-guzzling tow vehicles has caused me to think seriously about changing the way I spend my recreational time. I have been giving serious thought about getting a larger cabin cruiser that I could dock at the Chesapeake. Art is very much in favor of that plan, but Kimmi is fairly much against it (translation: It's never gonna happen!). I could find a reasonably sized boat, 12 -15 years old, for less than $20K. The biggest problem is that I don't have $20K to spend, and it isn't likely that I will, unless I sell the current boat. But I also like being able to take Heather skiing and tubing, which will not be as easy with a 28' cabin boat. I've also thought about finding a permanent site for the camper at Lake Wallenpaupack. That idea is better received by the wife, but I still have the same monetary issues. So for now, I'll spend the winter hoping, dreaming, and talking and hopefully next year things will work out a little better........