The Joy Of Breaking Down In A Classic Boat. Am I Nuts?


No Leaks!

First, according to many around me, I am nuts, so let’s just get that out of the way. While out on the river this weekend, the Trusty W started to miss and then limped into the boathouse, literally stopping at the dock. The “Trusty W” has earned her name for sure. The issue is either bad fuel, coil, or points. All soon will be fixed, it’s simple for sure.

Classic boat breakdown

The drive bad stalling and sputtering was still fun.

But the part of this story is when it was happening, I was laughing and upbeat. Concerned that we would be stalled out there, but enjoying it all. As the boatress said. You stress out over everything, why is this not bothering you? Great question. But after some thought, the truth is, breaking down is one more excuse to learn something new. And an adventure. Lets be real here. Breaking down is part of woody boating. Its why many of us never boat alone. Its just part of it, as I am sure it was back then. So for me, its fun, if its not dangerous.

sunset 2016 10

Looks good, but sputtering!

Now, I get to learn about taking points out, draining carbs and dealing with stuff on my own. All this made possible by a fantastic community. Dave VanNess of VanNess Engineering, on the phone or Jimmy helping is all part of it all. Seth from Katz’s Marina going off on crappy made Coils. I will say, that having a spare Coil, points and condenser is a must. The Chinese stuff that is being made is not as durable as in the past. BTW, No new electronic ignition. Those don’t work under 6 volts, so if the battery is weak and only cranking under the 6 volts, they don’t work, where as the points will.


A day working on the boat is more therapeutic than a day at the beach. No Really!.

We will know what the issue is this Saturday as I deal with each issue one at a time to learn. Was it the points? Coil? Carb? We shall see. Regardless of it all, I am looking more forward to solving the problem than just hopping in and going boating. Cause boating after fixing is soooo much more fun! After all life’s to short to boring boat!

39 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    YES! You are nuts, but you already know that and it takes one to know one so let’s move on.

    Agree with the idea that boating after a repair is sooooo sweat. Kind of like makeup s#x.

    Again I will stress the CONDENSER! They are junk and create the exact trouble you are describing. Try that first, you may have more hair left by Saturday afternoon.

  2. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    If we had a twin screw and one breaks down we’ll get safely home on the other engine. There’s your argument for buying a cruiser.

    • Randy
      Randy says:

      … plus you can always go below and make a nice dinner and, if it is going to be a while before you can fix it or be rescued, you can also sleep overnight in a warm comfortable bed onboard! Oh yea, and clean up with a nice warm shower

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Sounds like what you really need is another boat or three to use while you wait for parts to fix this one.

  4. Alan
    Alan says:

    Well Matt I can’t say I had as much fun as you when we broke down on the St. Johns river this March but I will vouch for Dave Van Ness who helped me trouble shoot the problem while we floated 6 miles from the nearest boat ramp. In the end our problem was terminal but we’re working with Dave now picking his brain and sourcing parts for a rebuild.

    Here we are on the wrong end of the rope.

  5. Flash
    Flash says:

    Judging by your last picture, you might need a longer extension cord. It probably came unplugged at the dock.

  6. steve in the woods
    steve in the woods says:

    New motor and parts; same old fuel tank…water-rust in fuel? Racor makes a great water separator-filter that works well with old toys that people play with. It took 4 trips to water to get 59 evinrude lined out; went over 40 miles on river when i finally got it right!

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      She has a new tank. There is though the possibility of some sort of fuel issue. The plan is to replace Troys Condensor first.. Then, Points.. Then Coil.. We can do a bet on what it might be Friday.. Its been so rainy and miserable gambleing on whats wrong is all I got! HA

      • Dave Nau
        Dave Nau says:

        All this stuff spplies to outboards, too, Although I really like having a built-in recoil rope starter for backup if the battery goes.

        Also, if a coil or point set goes, my old two cylinder outboards have two coils, point sets, and condensers, and thus have built-in redundancy. There is no distributor. They will run on one cylinder, so you can limp home! Even if the single carb is out of whack, they’ll often run (poorly, but run).

  7. Sean
    Sean says:

    When I finished the restoration of my Greavette in 2012, I has what I called “teething problems”. Truthfully the motor was overheating and we couldn’t find the cause. After being towed in six times, I decided that I had spent so much time restoring the boat I wanted to spend some time using it. So, I yanked out the original I6 lump and installed a fresh, modern 4.3 V6 Mercruiser hot rod engine and I have never pushed a rope sine (but, I pulled one). I don’t regret becoming reliable with modern equipment… not for one second.

    • Don Palmer
      Don Palmer says:

      I started out with an MCL in Analog and with the help of Craig Magnusson and Dick Dow, we put a rebuilt 350Q in from an old CC Cruiser. (OK… it’s still a Chris Craft motor!)
      We also put in a larger rudder from a Supra TS6MComp.
      Put in a Pertronix ignition and have not looked back. When your boat is a user boat… ya have to be able to use it!
      Dick has two of these CC motors that he installed in his 38′ Tollycraft.
      In his mind he feels this makes it OK for him to show up at the Chris Craft Rendezvous. (which he has done with his engine covers open!

      • Troy in ANE
        Troy in ANE says:

        Yorktown is still running the MCL.

        Last year I had a condenser go in that so this year she is getting a Pertronix. Yes they do make them in 6 V.

    • Kevin F
      Kevin F says:

      I am a 38 Commander nut! What are your cruise and fuel burn specs after the swap? Cost? (I know it is bad form to ask $, but, I am always planning 🙂 ). What engines were there first?

  8. Brian
    Brian says:

    Correction: Life’s too short to boring boat! Sorry, I can’t help it, my degree is in Journalism.

  9. Alan Frederick
    Alan Frederick says:

    Say what you want about a 6V Pertronix breakerless ignition, but I installed it in my ’48 Custom 14 yrs. ago and I have never not had the boat start and run fantastic ever since. It did not work well with my Packard steel core wiring, but with a modern set of wires, it’s been bombproof ever since.
    I have yet to even pull the distributor cap or readjust the timing in all those years.
    Of course, blowing a head gasket on the MBL last fall was another issue. We’re up and going again. Original power worked well then and now plus there’s nothing like the distinctive sound that a flat head can make. People stop and ask questions about the engine instead of just walking away and shaking their heads when you show them your “trusty” modern V-8.

  10. Old Salt
    Old Salt says:

    My bet is on a fuel supply issue. Check the fuel bowl for anything floating in it.

    Do we win a free tee shirt from Woody Boater if we figure out the cause of the Trusty W not working correctly?

  11. Kevin F
    Kevin F says:

    I have had modern power since 1993. She purrs along at 2100 rpms, sipping gas, but has the power when I load the 22ft Sportsman up with 10 people to go how fast I want. Oh, and she has never failed me in 23 years; which is nice when I am on a 250 mile trip and out in the Atlantic ocean with no boats to be seen.

    • Walt
      Walt says:

      You realize your “modern” 1993 powerplant is now 23 years old. Sure it’s more modern than a 1948 flathead engine but it’s not that “modern” any longer.

  12. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    ditto on posting the type of engines and specs on those beauties in that 38 Commander?

    John in Va.

    • John Scherzinger
      John Scherzinger says:

      The engines are Mercury Horizon 8.1 liters, 370 hp each, running through ZF63a transmissions. I replaced a pair of very tired, temperamental 427’s. Best thing I ever did to a boat! The old barge will now get to 37 mph at WOT (4700 rpm)! She cruises at 24 mph while sipping just 20 gph. Thats a huge increase in efficiency over the old iron.

  13. Victor Melchiorre
    Victor Melchiorre says:

    Van Ness carries the good points, many thanks to Dave for helping me find a set for my 327QA.

  14. Walt
    Walt says:

    Breaking down isn’t just reserved for pretty, restored classic boats. All boats breakdown. It’s a given you understand if you’ve been boating for any length of time. Once you accept that and plan for dealing with it, doing things like carrying a good length of rope for towing as well as carrying tools and some spare parts, breaking down shouldn’t kill the mood. After all, any time on a boat is better than being at work or doing household chores.

    • Alan
      Alan says:

      What Walt says, I carry a pretty good assortment of tools with me all the time when boating. So much so that when on our way to a boat show last July I had a front brake caliper seize up on my 26′ RV and I was able to do a full front brake job on her in an O’Reily’s parking lot. 3 hours later, back on our way.

  15. Jim Godlewski
    Jim Godlewski says:

    I broke down sort of twice in 6 years. The first time I was in the South Channel off Harsens Island (where the freighters run) after a show in Algonac with a boat full of guests. I managed to get the boat refired and after that scare immediately switched to electronic ignition. The second time was not as enjoyable as I lifted the engine cover to heat and smoke. Talk about a bad feeling…. No flames but the generator was so hot it felt like it was ready to burst into flames. That day was over and lucky for me I was at a friend’s seawall and not out in the middle of the lake. Stuff happens….

  16. Matt
    Matt says:

    Yes! We went all out and everything is redone. When it randomly fund its perfect. Beyond perfect and just wonderful

  17. John A. Gambill
    John A. Gambill says:

    If you fueled her up just before launching chances are crap was stirred up that way laying in the bottom of the tank all winter . Change your in line fuel filter and or water separator out and fire her up again, could be the problem and hopefully if so a simple fix, happened to me more than once over the years that’s why I install a new water separator every year before launching.

  18. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    It’s all part of the “journey” of classic boating. Figuring out what isn’t working right is what makes this lifestyle so damn much fun! Being curious and learning what makes these old motors tic and purr is what fulfills us . Lean on, sir…the truth is out there!

  19. Mike J
    Mike J says:

    Hi Matt,

    I could help but smile when I read your this post. I spent a good two days chasing a very similar problem with the green decked streamliner. Points, plugs, coil……finally got to the condenser. When I pulled this out, I found a tiny knick in the wire. Enough to cause a short to ground. Swapped it out and bingo…all was good again. I see you have a lot of comments on this post. A couple refer to the condenser also.

  20. Pete DeVito
    Pete DeVito says:

    I had a similar problem and it was a new cond out of the box that I ordered from one of the suppliers and it was BAD! It took me about an hour and then I had the same with the coil. Put my spares on and has been running fine for 4 years.

  21. John L
    John L says:

    I had issues with the 6 volt system and putting in the electronic ignition. Solved it by putting in an 8 volt battery. Starts fantastic and the electronic ignition is wonderful. No more none starts in damp weather.

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