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Date: 15 September 2013. Trolling Motor Woes.


Your standard small outboard will get you where you're going but they require strength to pull the ding-dang cord plus they are LOUD and they break down -- other than that they're not too bad at all. Still, for actually enjoying the trip in silence there's nothing better than a trolling motor. After all who wouldn't like to sit down, flick a switch, open a parasol and head off? A trolling motor allows you to do exactly that, when it works. And that's where my tale of woe begins....

If you're unfamiliar with trolling motors, you might want to visit Amazon and take a look at the Minn Kota Endura C2 30 Freshwater Transom Mounted Trolling Motor (30" Shaft). As long as you don't use it full-speed your battery will last for many hours. Priced at $100 (or so) a trolling motor is a bargain.

For folks like self with poor upper body strength or back issues electric start outboards can mean the difference between actually exploring an area and being stuck on the boat. That said, have any of you priced those things? Let me save you the trouble -- they are too expensive. And even a pull-start motor isn't cheap.

Yes, yes, those of us on a budget always think first that rowing will work, and it does -- for the short term. What happens though 'in the field' so to speak is that when confronted with a 90 degree weather day the thought of rowing to shore, or any place else, well, it loses its charm. After rowing for several months it became too much physically for me. There were days when I didn't feel safe leaving home (Seaweed) because I was concerned that I could not row up current long enough to get to shore. Ken on Sparrow solved that issue.

Ken with Skipper who is snuggled in. Photo taken on Sparrow in winter 2011.

Ken gave me a little trolling motor he'd used on his Soling up on Lake Lanier near Atlanta. Yes, the trolling motor was designed/sold for use in fresh water only. That didn't stop me from accepting the motor and putting it on Algae! It worked a-okay and weather/current no longer mattered.

I had "wheels" and in stealth mode (trolling motors are silent) it was awesome. I remember bringing a friend to shore one day... picked her up from her boat and we headed for the dock. About ten feet away from her boat she asked if I was going to start the motor -- we were already underway. That's quiet!

After a couple or three years of hard use including twice being dismantled (the bullet part at the bottom) and scrubbing off the rust/corrosion, the motor finally was on it's last legs. That week a lovely couple I met aboard Adagio had gifted me with a solar panel for the dinghy. I'd hooked it up and was riding in style -- until the old doggone trolling motor burnt up. Sigh.

Everything seems peachy-keen although when I initially tried to turn on the motor it wasn't going any place. As the motor had been slow to catch (rusty and corroded) I wasn't that concerned. It did start after a minute or two of power to it so I was good to go -- and headed for home.

About half way home I started to smell smoke and of course looked up wind. What I didn't look at was the wire leading from the battery toward my motor -- not until the insulation had melted off the first foot of it. Argh.

So once again Adagio came to the rescue, and he, along with Moonlight Sue conspired to get me moving again. Bambi and Pierre on Adagio had an unused trolling motor in their shed which they offered me, and Keith and Carol on Moonlight Sue [http://moonlightsue.blogspot.com/] had a dinghy with a motor to deliver same....

Boat folks truly are spectacular. These two boats saw a problem and got together to create a solution. Boaters do that -- it's part of the fun. This time I was certainly blessed. Thank you both.

And so I was back with transportation. The battery read 13.7 when I left Seaweed heading for shore. Turned on the motor and the voltage went down to 12.5 but that's to be expected. And life is good... Skipper and I head for the dock.

Approximately 100' from landing, I smelled smoke and noted the wires were melting!!! Because I'd attached the terminal ends with wing nuts and they were hot it took a few moments to disconnect the assembly and in the meantime the wires melted up to the motor head itself -- the silicone sealant came out of the base where the Pacor 10 gauge/shielded went in. [Pacor is essentially similar to Ancor 121110 Marine Grade Electrical Standard Duplex Tinned Boat Cable]

It takes a lot to melt seven feet of 10 gauge, but hey, I'm a talented girl! Some things I'd rather not be an expert at and quite frankly, smoking motors is one of them. So I rowed home.

[And no, I'm not concerned about the wire problems because both of these motors were over ten years old. The first one was on it's last legs and anyone sensible would have replaced it after the second time taking it apart to scrub off the corrosion and rust! The only thing different was the addition of the solar panel (without a regulator) to the system, and though I've been told that probably didn't cause the problems I now cover the panel when running the motor and the wires do not get hot.]

Once home I thought about things and figured there really wasn't anything further that could go wrong at this point if I took things apart, so (insert evil laughter) that's what I did.

Algae is emptied -- oars removed, along with the motor.

Getting into the motor head was not easy and took WD-40, CRC Heavy Duty Silicone, patience, a screw driver and a big pair of Vise-Grips. Once inside it was apparent the top end of the motor was shot -- every connection was blackened or melted. The switch looked iffy but since I have toys, er, tools, I figured "what 'ta heck?" and gave it a go.

Aside: The head was different than a Minn-Kota; I'm unsure of the brand. I had to pull the handle (grip) to power the thing, then the speeds were on top of the head.

One of my arsenal of tools is a male cigarette lighter plug with battery clips at the ends of the wires. I can use it to charge the dinghy battery (equalizes it to the same level as my house bank) or to play with DC power and check stuff like polarity. I attached the power to the switch (where the Pacor wires were) and turned the knob both ways. The propeller spun in two directions (forward and reverse) so I knew/thought the bullet was still good.

Then I decided to chop off the top half of the motor and shorten the shaft -- it was for a much larger boat than Algae so I got out my jigsaw, turned on the inverter and had at it. Stainless takes a while to cut, even with a jigsaw especially because I had to be careful to not cut the wires inside the tube. Adding a c-clamp would prevent the shaft and bullet (part with the propeller) from going straight to the bottom of the river.

At this point I have four wires coming out the top of the shaft:

  • Red and Black (heavier gauge, for forward)

  • Blue and Yellow (smaller wires, for reverse)

And then I got stuck. I wasn't sure how to proceed. Basically I have some knowledge of wiring but when it gets down to rheostats and such, well, that's where you need a real electrical guy. Fortunately, over at C-Quarters Marina  [ http://www.c-quartersmarina.com ] I'd met such a fellow: Harold.

Harold (and his lovely Kim) are terrific boat people. They do deliveries too. Phone: 850-727-9437.

He took the carcass I had remaining (having tossed out the burnt up top half of the motor and the very next day had devised a handle, sealed it (watertight) and hooked up both high and low speed. It's terrific -- and a very low profile. I love it!

Harold often does work for AGLCA [America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association http://greatloop.org ] boats as they head thru Carrabelle. That he can diagnose and solve problems quickly and will work on weekends so cruisers can catch their weather windows makes him a popular guy among cruisers. He and Kim deliver boats and are quite the duo....

Plus he made my Algae go. I'm not sure how he did it but I love that now I can go full tilt (when the current is kicking, that's necessary) along with the more stately dignified slow boat that I prefer for the most part. There's such a good feeling to hop in Algae and head to shore at will and Harold made that happen. Thanks Harold!

If it weren't for Harold's talents I'd have ended up buying the Minn Kota Endura C2 30 Freshwater Transom Mounted Trolling Motor (30" Shaft) on Amazon. It has great reviews and as long as you don't use it full-speed your battery will last for many hours. Priced at $100 (or so) a trolling motor is worth the price.

Though oars are always in the dinghy, thank goodness and Harold along with Bambi and Pierre on Adagio and not to forget Moonlight Sue that I again have a motor to get me back and forth to shore. There's something about getting into the dinghy, telling Skipper to "Man the Lifeboat" then disconnecting from Seaweed and heading to the dock for a cooler of ice.

Yes, it's a rough life but somehow we manage....

When exploring, what was your most unusual find?
And what powers your tender?


Categories: Boats, Characters, Comfort, Gear, Locations, Recommendations

A reader suggested I expand upon the whole trolling motor as an alternative to noisy gasoline outboards immediately, and he had the temerity to hint that men don't want to wait. Who'd have thought a man impatient?! So, the next article (posted  later today if at all possible) will be more about these $100 miracles and details on battery life, charging, et al.

First Mate ~ Previous Post ...    ... Next Post ~ More Trolling Motors


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