For the first time since I started posting my yearly journal of boating activities, I'm not looking all that forward to doing it this year. In fact I'm pretty depressed about my overall boating prospects for this summer. To think, I was lamenting about $2.00 a gallon gas prices a year or so ago. Well, as of now, the price of gas has just crossed the $4.00 a gallon mark! Holy Heck! I've never seen the price of gas rise so quickly as it has in the last year. What really makes my blood boil is that I feel that a great part of the large and sudden price increase is a result of market jitters, bolstered by economic "experts" who predict higher and higher prices while dumping their own money into the market and laughing all the way to the bank, as the market obligingly turns their predictions into a self-fulfilling prophecy and they walk away millions richer, while us regular working guys have to dig real deep in our pockets just to put gas in our cars (and boats!). Supply and demand my ass! You can't tell me the demand for oil has risen THAT much in a year's time.......
Needless to say, I'm not going to be able to enjoy as much time on the water as in years past. Not when it will cost a sobering $200 each time I want to fill the boat's gas tank from empty. To lessen the impact, I've been filling my 5 gallon gas can when I fill the car up and adding it to the boat every few weeks. I've probably got enough in there for a couple of afternoons at Blue Marsh, but camping trips to Lake Wallenpaupack are probably out unless I can sell some junk on E-Bay to make some extra money. Looks like the money I set aside for the new prop will instead go into the gas tank as well. So I have no performance enhancements to look forward to either unless I stumble onto a unexpected windfall or the oil price bubble finally bursts (but I won't hold my breath on that one). But even though prospects do not look all that good, I'm still itching to get out somewhere soon. It's now the 9th of June, and the boat hasn't even left the garage yet. To be fair, the reason for this has not just been the high price of oil. There have also been a whole host of competing activities and chores which had to be attended to first. Plus the weather had been slow to warm into "boating season"-type weather. Every year brings a different type of spring weather, and this year was no different. This year, the warming trend started a little sooner (no late snow in April like last year), but only went so far, and then just sort of hung in the low to mid 50's for the better part of late April and most of May. By the end of May the weather was nice and spring-like, but still too cool for water activities. But now in the beginning of June, we go from slightly cool to into the broiler, as temps have surpassed 95 degrees. My pool water temp went from 70 to 84 in less than a week. So now I'm really itching to get the boat out. The one bit of silver lining in this doom and gloom black cloud is that the costs of fuel are hitting other people as well, and the crowds at Blue Marsh seem less than in previous years. I recently took a trip out there on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon. Usually both of the Army Corp. ramps would be full and the free ramp in the no-wake zone would be nearly so. But to my surprise, the free ramp was only half full, and the Dry Brooks ramp was still letting in boats at 2:00 in the afternoon. So I might actually be able to make a weekend trip this year. I also have my 12' outboard boat, which can cruise around all day on 3 gallons of gas. While it's not nearly as comfortable, I may be using that boat to do a little near-home fishing if all else fails.
It's now already July 19th, as I write the next chapter of this leaner than usual boating season tome. I managed to get the boat out of the garage and unwinterized by the middle of June. But it took until this past week in July before the boat finally saw a body of water. We had just finished a beautiful 4 day camping/boating trip to Lake Wallenpaupack. I had been slowly filling the boat's gas tank until it was finally full. With the truck and the Explorer also filled with the ever ridiculously priced gasoline (as of this writing, it's running at $3.97 a gallon at home, over $4.13 up at the lake, and an eye-popping $5.15 a gallon on the lake itself), and the weather looking to be rain-free, we seized the moment and headed up.
One of the reasons we chose to go during the week, is to avoid the weekends and the crowds that they normally bring. I had also figured that the high price of gas would put a damper on recreational activities, such as RV camping and boating, so I was expecting to see a somewhat deserted campground and few boats on the lake during the week. But I was not prepared for what I saw instead. Instead of a lifeless picture of recreational desolation, the place was bustling with activity. The parking lot at the boat launch was nearly full each day, approaching weekend levels (huh?), and there were even a bunch of people staying at the campground as well. People were lining up at the gas dock to fill their gas tanks with that $5.15 a gallon gas and didn't seem to mind all that much. I now have to wonder why the lake area activity was not only not nearly dead, but actually much more active than in previous years. Has the place grown THAT much in popularity in the last couple of years?
Anyway, despite the larger than anticipated crowds, we spent 3 wonderful days on the water, with the turnkey convenience of a dock slip to tie up to. Many Rock Bass were caught in the back end of Martin's cove. We also did a lot of swimming in a lake who's temperature was much cooler than the mid 80's I'm used to in the backyard pool. It was a bit of a shock the first time in, but it felt good once I sufficiently defrosted. We were also assaulted every day by a well organized gaggle (flock?) of ducks which have evidently learned that if they hover around anchored boats long enough, people will start throwing hunks of bread and other goodies (they also seem to like Cheese Curls) for them to happily devour. These cunning water fowl have no shame, they even pimped their youngsters to act cute for the camera.
They have become so accustomed to people that we can swim practically within an arm's reach of them and they won't fly off.
On our last day, both my daughter and I took a turn tubing. Luckily, I survived. However, I think I'm truly getting too old for this stuff.
I would've liked to have done more tubing, but the frequent starting and stopping of the boat, which required full throttle to get up on plane for some reason, was draining our precious supply of gas much faster than I would have liked. So I made sure I saved enough gas to take one last leisurely trip to the dam end of the lake and back, and then we finally pulled the boat out of the water and the next day made our way home.
Well, what can I say....... I predicted a less than stellar boating season back at the beginning and no surprise, this season has been the least active since I got my first boat back in 1983. The trip to Wallenpaupack was the only time the family saw action on the boat this entire summer. There were just so many things going on - busy schedules at work, crowds at Blue Marsh on the weekends, insanely high gas prices, other competing activities, and uncooperative weather all took turns thwarting potential boating plans. The next thing I knew, the end of September was looming large and the boat hadn't left the garage since July. But I was determined to make at least one more trip out before the weather turned cold for the rest of the year. So on the 29th of September, I took a trip up to Blue Marsh to enjoy what was likely to be my last trip out in the boat for 2008. Since this was a weekday, my daughter was in school, so she couldn't go. My wife was not feeling all that well, so I had the boat to myself. Since this was going to be a solo trip, I decided to make it a little more interesting by trying out the 23" pitch Mirage prop that I borrowed from Gene last year to see how that compared to my other prop tests and to see if I could wring another couple of MPH out of the boat and hopefully break that elusive 50 MPH mark.
I arrived at the boat launch and made ready to splash the boat. I had no trouble handling the boat by myself, and having the open bow makes getting on the boat from the trailer a snap, and I could simply back it off the trailer to launch. Once situated, I took a quick run of the lake, tried to do a little fishing (didn't have any good bait), and waxed the fiberglass surfaces inside the cockpit. But the most interesting part was my speed trials. Once again, I took my handheld Garmin GPS along for accurate speed readings. Unfortunately, while I was anxious to see what this prop would do, this would not be a completely an apples to apples comparison, since my wife and kid were not with me. The difference in weight will have an effect and likely translate to better performance compared to my previous tests. But it should still prove interesting in any case. As a point of reference, I've listed my 2 other prop tests for a comparison.
Baseline with the standard Michigan Vortex 20" pitch 4 blade aluminum prop tested last year:
3000 RPM -- 23 MPH
3500 RPM -- 30 MPH
4000 RPM -- 34 MPH
4500 RPM -- 39 MPH
4900 RPM -- 44 MPH (WOT)
Same tests with the 19" pitch Mercury Hi-Five 5 blade stainless prop tested last year:
3000 RPM -- 21 MPH
3500 RPM -- 29 MPH
4000 RPM -- 35 MPH
4500 RPM -- 41 MPH
5100 RPM -- 47.1 MPH (WOT)
Numbers with 23" Pitch stainless Mercury Mirage prop:
3000 RPM -- 29 MPH
3500 RPM -- 36 MPH
4000 RPM -- 44 MPH
4300 RPM -- 49 MPH (WOT)
The Mirage prop certainly cruised much better than both the stock prop and the Hi-Five. Running at 3000 RPM, my speed was almost back to what I had been used to with my previous boats. The Mirage was faster at every measured RPM, again much of it may have had to do with the lighter weight as much as the prop pitch and design. The final test was the WOT test. I pushed the throttle to the stop and as the engine roared up to peak RPM. I slowly trimmed the drive up as far as I could and I was elated when I saw the boat's speedometer break the 50 MPH mark for the first time. The GPS, always ready to rain on my parade, deflated my temporary euphoria by showing the actual ground speed to be just under 50 MPH. RPM maxxed out at 4300, which is below the minimum rated RPM of 4600. So this 23" pitch prop is definitely too steep for my boat, even when I'm out by myself. Looking at the data on these three props, the numbers are now making a little more sense. The difference in WOT RPM tracks the pitch difference almost exactly. I was thrown off last year when I tried my other 23" pitch cleaver prop. That prop barely made 4000 RPM at WOT, which led me initially to think that the stock 20 pitch aluminum prop was slipping or under-performing. But it looks like the Cleaver was the prop that was the odd man out. These prop tests have given me enough information at this point, that I'm pretty sure I'm opting for the 20" pitch Mercury Enertia, if and when I save up the money to buy one.
It's now the middle of October, and it's looking like this boating season is pretty much over. There were some really nice Indian summer days where I could have taken the boat out again. But once again other activities prevented it. The good news is that our rapidly declining economy has caused the price of oil to plummet, so gas is now below $2.79 a gallon. But I'm sure by next summer, it'll be back up again. In the meantime, when the price finally bottoms out, I'll start filling the boat's gas tank so that I'll have enough for a few good runs next year.
This story ended officially on the 26th of October, when I winterized the boat and put it away for its long winter nap. This was not the best boating year and I can only hope that next year will be better.
To be continued (hopefully!) next year......