Preview: 1,200 Miles in Eight Days – Seeing the Intracoastal Waterway by Outboard

July 16, 2015

Avatar Maynard Bray

Following is the article I wrote for the magazine Motorboating & Sailing back in 1996 after Ben Mendlowitz and I brought his recently-purchased 20′ Albury photo boat ABACO from Florida to Maryland via the Intracoastal Waterway. Ben bought the boat, used, in the Abacos and had her delivered to West Palm Beach, then fitted with a brand-new Honda outboard. Here’s the story:

This is another way of cruising that came about when we had to get a 20-foot wooden outboard boat from Florida to Maine. By trailer is the usual way, but since neither of us had seen the lower part of the ICW, we opted to go by boat as far as the Chesapeake to familiarize ourselves with this popular route and have some fun as well.

The boat was built in the Bahamas by Willard Albury on Man O War Cay about 12 years ago. She’s one of his very last wooden hulls and one of his best, her deep-V hull shape having evolved over several years to what he considered best in terms of giving a comfortable, dry ride in her often rough home waters. My photographer friend Benjamin Mendlowitz arranged to purchase her after using her and similar boats for years in the Abacos, and have her shipped to West Palm Beach as deckload on the small island freighter Biak.

The motor also deserves special mention because it was one of the new 90 hp four-stroke Hondas, which the manufacturer made available for the trip so that we could subject it to a real-world endurance evaluation. Having had many years of 2-stroke experience we were impressed with the confidence that Honda exhibited by turning us loose with a brand new out-of-the-crate engine for a 1,200 mile run, with long distances away from any support services. The several dealers that we spoke to while working out the logistics also all expressed confidence, saying that we wouldn’t have any trouble with the motor on this trip. They are seeing very few problems with these engines and mentioned that Honda has a very strong commitment to quality. One dealer that Ben talked with in Maine told how he had never seen or heard from an engineer who designs the other outboards he sells, but has had several visits from Honda factory engineers based in Japan who travel to U.S. dealers not to address complaints, but simply to check, first-hand, how the engines were doing and what the mechanics found when servicing them.

Boat and motor came together at Hobe Sound Marine, a few miles north of West Palm, the boat having been loaded onto the awaiting trailer with the Biak’s cargo boom and trailed there by Keith Patton who, with his wife Barbara, own this small outboard shop and are authorized Honda dealers. The motor had already arrived, and Keith got right to work while Ben and I shopped for boat gear and groceries, so that within a day Keith had the fresh-out-of-the-box engine installed and us checked out on it during a short sea trial. We begin our run north in a fine spell of late April weather, running the 13 miles up Hobe Sound to stay the first night with friends Jerry and Annie at Palm City.

Unloading from the island freighter BIAK at West Palm Beach. Hobe Sound Marine will soon replace the Mercury outboard with a new Honda 90.

Unloading from the island freighter BIAK at West Palm Beach. Hobe Sound Marine will soon replace the Mercury outboard with a new Honda 90.

The engine didn’t disappoint us. It was easy on fuel and, of course, there was no 2-stroke oil expense, nor any blue smoke. You could hardly hear it idle, i was so quiet and smooth. In fact, the most common service problem is repair to the starter and flywheel caused by people who try to start an already running engine because they can’t hear it idling. Even at running speed, the engine was considerably quieter than a comparable 2-stroke. But any sound that is present for hours on end can become annoying and we found that ear protectors provided relief on all-day runs. Music on headphones would probably have been a better alternative.

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