Earth, Wind and …Fire.


There was no Wind. But whilst playing with Earth we almost had Fire.

Two out of three ain’t bad, as Meatloaf once said.

I suppose I should explain:

The weekend started so promisingly.

You might remember in a previous post that we were evaluating dinghy/propulsion options. Well I found a remarkable deal on a 2.5hp 2 stroke Tohatsu outboard that we managed to pick up via a detour to Cardiff on the Friday of the Bank Holiday weekend. image

I  think I understand all the drawbacks of owning an outboard. They’re smelly, heavy, temperamental, steal-able, environmentally unfriendly. I get all those points.
But good intentions aside, seeing the grin and hearing Her cackle  with delight as She zooms around has been worth every penny of the £100 I parted with for this bargain beauty.
I honestly believe this will transform our adventures.

Saturday morning saw us playing with the dinghy, ‘zooming’ around the lake, pulling unintentional donuts, waiting for the tide to rise enough to float ‘Free’ free.
When ‘Free’ eventually lifted off we motored out of the drying part of the lake into West Mud which is an anchorage just at the entrance and dropped anchor to have a bite to eat and a bit of a drink as we decided what to do.
A friend from work was in the area on a charter yacht and they were heading down to Fowey, a sail about 4-5 hours away, out past the breakwater and into The Sea. We contemplated heading that way.
Then my brother rang, and said he and his family were in the area and did we want to meet up sometime over the Bank Holiday Weekend.  We decided on this option, picked up the anchor and motored up the river once again toward Cotehele Quay.

We dropped anchor in a lovely bend of the river, about an hour away from the Quay where we would meet them the next day. I thought I had enough time the next morning to change the starter motor solenoid before motoring on to meet my brother…


‘Free’ is fitted with a Beta Marine 20 HP engine.  A new starter motor from Beta Marine was in the region of £350. The Beta Marine engine is based on a Kubota engine, and these are used in anything from generators to ride-on lawnmowers to mini-diggers. It wasn’t obvious to me at first but the relationship between the Beta Marine model and the underlying Kubota model appears straightforward. Mine is a BD722 Beta Marine, and the corresponding Kubota model is D722. It was a complex code that took me weeks to crack.

Looking for replacement starters for a Kubota come in around the £135 mark. That’s a big discount for dropping the “Marine” badge for what I’m certain are likely to be identical items.

I was convinced that the symptoms we were experiencing with the starter were down to the solenoid. I contacted a local starter and alternator company to see if they could supply just the solenoid. It turns out they don’t but they were kind enough to furnish me with a couple of part numbers for the solenoid for my particular starter:


I was lucky and found one on ebay for £14.

So armed with the shiny new solenoid I set about changing it before heading off upriver. Two bolts, two nuts on the terminals, a couple of nuts holding the solenoid in.

It was so simple.

I was so complacent.

I put the starter back together, grabbed the big fat Black wire, couldn’t remember where it had come from but as it was black, I reasoned it was an earth strap…

Put the companionway steps back, climbed up the steps after turning the battery isolating switch back on, called to Her, “Do you want the glory moment?” Turned round to catch her reply..

And couldn’t see her for the smoke billowing out of the hatch!

“Get out..!” .

Normally it takes each of us a good minute or two to creek ourselves onto the v-berth but She was up there and out of the forward hatch in seconds!

I turned the isolating switch off, and nervously waited for the smoke to clear. It took a very very long time, with us both contemplating whether to use one of the fire extinguishers.
(Subsequently we checked the dates on the extinguishers, and they look to be as old as the boat! 1977 is the only date we can find on them – one more item for The List.)

It was a sobering time. I’ve done the auto electrics and camper electrics on the van and all my cars without incident. Complacency and arrogance nearly combined to produce disaster. I was kicking myself for days. I still am.

Anyhow, I peeled the charred remains of the wiring off, and it doesn’t appear to have done much collateral damage. I effected a repair with some spare wire on the boat and we were soon on our way to meet my brother.

At Cotehele Quay, She steered us neatly to drop anchor at the end of a short line of moorings. We’d been coming up with a series of hand signals that we can use when one of us is up the front, and the other in the cockpit. (Usually I am up the front as the anchor is quite heavy.)
Hand signals can be done in silence, I’m not tempted to raise my voice to be heard over the engine or wind, (a raised voice can be misinterpreted as stress or anger and only complicate matters.)

We’re getting much better at it too – so much so that unbeknown to us we returned to our swing mooring with an audience who commented on our performance when we got back ashore:

“That was perfect, so nice to see a couple that aren’t bellowing orders at one another, straight up to the buoy, very smooth, first attempt. Well done.”

She was glowing with pride after that.

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