Saturday, January 11, 2014

$18 Billion to Keep Asian Carp Out

The US Army Corp of Engineers released a report discussing options and strategies for keeping the dreaded Asian Carp and other invasive species out of the Great Lakes watershed. My immediate reaction was 'Good Luck'.

 The report goes on to say that beyond the huge amount of money - and you know that figure will only increase - it will take decades to implement. There has already been reports of Asian Carp DNA being discovered in the Great Lakes (Article). And those guys expect to that they won't spread from there in the decades they need to stop the fish from getting in? Like I said, good luck.

 The Army Corp already built an electrified fence just outside of Chicago on a river that connects Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River (the source of these pesky critters), back in 2002. The theory behind that is a small electrical current is introduced in the water, stopping the fish from swimming through. The tradeoff is that private boats traversing this spot - including those doing the 'Great Loop' trip - are forced to stop ahead of it, get out and be towed across the electrified portion, at a cost of $600 per tow.

 There is already litigation between the border States to have Michigan dam off the waterway in an attempt to stop the carp. So the fun has already begun. I'm sure the Corp's cost estimation didn't take into account the lawyers' fees both now and in the future.

 I guess nobody ever thought of installing a marine railway, like we have on the Trent Severn Waterway. The original 'Big Chute Marine Railway' was built in the early 1900's to get boats over a steep vertical change in elevation on the Severn River and was to be replaced with a conventional lock in the 1960's. Right around that same time, there was a scare with another invasive species, that of the Sea Lamprey eel. Those little buggers stuck to the bottom of boats and it was determined that they didn't survive long if the boat they were hitching a ride on was hauled out of the water.

 So, rather than getting rid of the marine railway, it was decided to build a new, larger one that could accommodate a number of boats at one time. This 'new' carriage has been in service since 1977 and has kept the Lamprey at bay. I'm sure that a similar, more grander version could be installed at Chicago - at both a significantly lower cost and quicker timeline.
Big Chute Marine Railway at Ontario's Trent Severn Waterway

 More details can be found in this Great Lakes Scuttlebutt Magazine article. In the meantime, protective headgear should be available at your local West Marine store soon.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

2,700 Horsepower Go-Fast Boat at SEMA Show

When thinking of the annual SEMA show - held each fall in Las Vegas - visions of cool cars, cutting edge technology and innovative products come to mind. And of course, there are the lovely models to help direct your attention to the products on display. Or distract? I could never get that straight . . .

 All of this vast gathering comes together to showcase the newest and best in the automotive world. Think SEMA and think cars.

 This year, there was at least one display that was turning heads and it wasn’t on four wheels. In fact, it was on its side! Yes, the car guys and gear heads got to ogle an impressive assembly of technology, all sitting pretty in the hull of a boat. In fact, that very hull was an impressive bit of technology all on its own. And we haven’t even gotten to the combined 2,700 horsepower neatly tucked away in the engine bay.

 So, to understand why a big, 41 foot boat was front and center in the bastion of automotive wonder, we gotta look at the formidable drivelines on this thing. And the best part is that it’s got two of ‘em.

 Oh, did I just hear muted whimpering from some of the car guys out there? Well, fear not, because these same engines are going to be available for your car, but you’ll probably only need one at a time.

  First, let’s have a quick look at that hull. Composed using a 100%, full epoxy infused technology via the use of vacuum bagging, the process allows for the epoxy to be formed over the gel coat without possible air bubbles being entrapped during the build - a potential problem with a traditional hand layup. Carbon and Kevlar are also introduced in the running surfaces, areas that will take the greatest punishment when it’s go time.

A Lot of Horses

 Scuttlebutt at the SEMA show was that this boat could touch 200 MPH. That’s fast in anything, but to do it on water takes a little more ‘Oomph’. Remember that not only are we having to push the weight of the boat and crew, but overcome the friction of the water. Sure, the catamaran hull design helps in that department by reducing the surface area of the boat coming in contact with the water, but we still got to get it moving forward in the first place. The same precept used to get the most speed out of cars holds true with boats. Throw in more horsepower.

 Horsepower is why Mercury Marine chose the 50th SEMA show as the venue to unveil their new power plants. Shy of having even more of the aforementioned models standing around one of their engines, they were able to create quite a stir by partnering with Dave’s Custom Boats and this beautiful boat. Dave’s is no stranger to go-fast boats, having produced state of the art performance boats for two decades.

The twin 1350 HP engines push power through M8 drives, designed to handle the immense torque of the motors. The Mercury Racing QC4v engine designation is derived from the in house designed, quad cam, four-valve, turbocharged setup.

 Also part of the display was an exotic car, sporting the 1650 crate engine, the 9-Litre V-8 sharing the same aspects as its marine incarnation. Unlike the M-41, I’m sure just the one engine will be enough.

A New Approach

 The unveiling of this line of performance engines coincides with the recent announcement by Mercury Marine that they will be building their own gasoline engines for their MerCruiser stern drives and Zeus pod drives. This was a big step for the company, when considering that they had been getting their power plants from GM (+ Ford in earlier years) and merely ‘marinizing’ them. No longer will they be simply applying their own exhaust and cooling systems, painting them black and shipping to the boat manufacturers. Instead, Mercury will acquire bare block cores from out sourced manufacturers (most likely GM) and fitting them out with their own technology.

 This is a bold move for Mercury, who has been around since 1939, a move motivated by the increasingly rapid makeovers in the corresponding automotive engines. Engine technology is evolving at a quicker and quicker pace and car builders are forced by competition to embrace it, leading to engine production cycles being ever shortened. To maintain a longer term grasp over their marine engine designs, Mercury felt they will be better served by providing their own, steady supply to the end users – boaters & repair facilities – as well as their mainstay, that of the boat manufacturers.

Old is New Again

 This foray into the automotive world isn’t a first for Mercury Marine. Its founder, Karl Kiekhaefer, was an influential force in NASCAR, having won 80% of the races he entered from 1955 to 1957, capturing three national championships. His innovations in the sport are still with us today. These include ‘firsts’ such as his crew being the first to wear matching uniforms and practice pit stops. His team was also the first to transport their cars with enclosed haulers, emblazoned with team colors, of course. Amongst his technical innovations were pleated paper air filters and wide base rims, originating in his road racing R&D efforts.

 Move forward to 1990, when Mercury Marine was tapped by General Motors produce the all-aluminum, 350 cubic inch LT-5 engine for the new Corvette ZR-1. GM approached Mercury as they had already developed the expertise in design and manufacturing of their aluminum marine engines. Taking the concept one step further, Mercury Racing took an LT-5, modified it for marine use and put it a Baja 223 sport boat (Baja was a manufacturer owned by Brunswick, the parent company of Mercury Marine).

 The boat was paired with a similarly powered 1990 Corvette and the duo was known as the ‘Wette Vette’ project, touring the country, creating its own stir. So it looks like the show at SEMA was a revisit of a tried and true marketing concept, with the big difference being the incredible advancements in technology for both boat and motor that has happened in the ensuing years.

Package Deal

 As with anything, time and talent leads to better, faster and safer products. When it comes to a prestige boat like the M-41, there is a sense that Dave’s Custom Boats has realized their goal to ‘Build the Best’. By merging state of the art technology with a refined look not commonly seen on go fast boats, the combined talents at Dave’s and Mercury Racing have produced an end product that is sure to turn heads well beyond SEMA.

So, if you think that all this power, technology and killer good looks would be a nice addition to your collection, it can be had as a package – boat, custom trailer and hauler – for 1.25 million USD.  Sure, that might be a bit pricy for most folks, but imagine the delight of hitting the throttles in this refined beast.  Given what an enchanting ride this boat is, it’s appropriate that the venue for this year’s show was on non-other than the aptly named Paradise Road.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ice Buildup on Great Lakes Causing Shipping Delays

We have been dealing with a very long stretch of extremely cold temperatures for the past four weeks, as have many in the northern US and eastern Canada. Currently, we are suffering through what is being described as a 'Polar Vortex'. As I write this, the current windchill temperature is -30 Celsius.

 I just call it all more reason to spend next winter in Florida!

 This far reaching and long term weather is resulting in excessive ice along the Great Lakes shipping routes, with some areas not seeing conditions this bad since the 1930's. At the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie, there are four US Coast Guard Ice Breakers working around the clock to keep the shipping lanes open, according to an article on the Up North Live web site.

A bit farther south, CBC News has reported a number of ships stranded on the Detroit River at Windsor. The Canadian Coast Guard dispatched one of their breakers to get the traffic moving again. The story quotes US Coast Guard Petty Officer Ross Flowers as saying "It's potentially something that's only going to get worse in the next couple of days," He also adds that ice that forms a little further up on the St. Clair River is harder to break up, referring to it as a giant frozen snowbank.

 We purchased our current #boat on Lake St. Clair in 2010, where it was berthed at MacRay Harbor marina. The seller recounted that a few years prior, winter ice upstream on the river clogged the water flow so much that the level of Lake St. Clair briefly dropped significantly. Some of the boats stored there are housed in funky, covered and heated wet slips and when the water went down, so did these boats. Some of the big ones were actually sitting on bottom before the water levels returned.

 Here's a shot of our newly adopted 'Boogaboo IV' in one of those covered slips. They offer in water storage, complete with overhead, natural gas fired radiant heating. Some folks actually live on their bots there for the winter. Cost? About $10 G's.
MacRay Harbor Marina slips, Lake St. Clair, Michigan.

 So let's bundle up folks. Good news is that we're more than half way through the off season!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review - 'Leap of Faith, Quit Your Job And Live On A Boat'

I don't recall when I first came to hear of the book 'Leap of Faith, Quit Your Job And Live On A Boat' (Leap), by Ed Robinson, but I'm sure it was during one of those times when I was dreamily pondering our own upcoming move to the boat. I was most likely searching for stories of folks who took their own ship's south to escape the increasingly unpleasant winters we are forced to endure. . .
Cover of 'Leap of Faith - Quit Your Job & Live on a Boat'

Whatever my state of mind, it must have been that 'live on a boat' part of the title that caught my eye. Now, before we dive into Ed Robinson's tale, I should let you all in on a little something; 'Leap' represents only the fourth book I've read in my 50 years on this planet. Don't get me wrong, I actually read quite a bit, but my attention span is for more of the bite size chunks, something that I can get through in one sitting. So, to say that I actually read this book from cover to cover really speaks to the strength of the author to keep a reader like me engaged, entertained and ultimately, inspired.
Photo: Ed Robinson.

  Ed refers to himself in the book as 'the luckiest man in the world'. Quite a statement and reason enough to read on to find out why he can say that . . .

 Like many of us, he began to feel trapped in a never ending rut of going to work, coming home to bitch at the wife about the day's stresses, go to bed and start it all over again. And again. And again. As he says, it was sucking at his soul. It wasn't as if he was struggling with a lower paying job that was stressing him out, but rather that he had a management position, bouncing between babysitting staff and kissing ass with clients.

 Sounds all to familiar with my own experiences.

 Beyond  the work related stress, he found himself increasingly frustrated with the endless BS he was bombarded with in the news. Crap that seemed to be piling directly on top of him; political fighting, financial crises, American Idol and all the rest of it. There is an entire chapter on the madness of the world that we live in that is more akin to an extended rant. I found myself reading this chapter in a hyper fast way, not missing a beat - I could have wrote it myself!

You can now see how I was drawn further into his tale . . .
Photo: Ed Robinson.

  Don't worry, it's not all bad news. In fact, apart from those two segments, you'll find it increasingly uplifting as the story moves us past the virtual despair and frustration and into hatching a plan to move Ed's life forward and away from the madness. Initially, escape came in the form of the musical storytelling from the likes of Jimmy Buffet and all those great Trop-Rock singers. Songs of passing the days in hot tropical climes, palm trees and boats. I mean really, who wouldn't find escapism in a song that spoke of ice cold Corona beer and sunsets on the beach?

 Did I mention I was really getting drawn into the book?
Photo: Ed Robinson.

  Now that these visions of a new life in flip flops and Hawaiian shirts had planted themselves in his mind, the next thought was how he would make it become a reality. Naturally, any sane person would come to the conclusion that selling everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) and moving to a boat full time would be a logical course of action. . . Or not. Apart from his wife, Kim, pretty much everyone around him thought he was crazy. Perhaps not only because he didn't have a boat, but that he also had a big debt load to overcome before saying adios to his job.

 How would he move the plans for his wife and himself from a fantasy of tropical escapes to the reality of living feet up on a boat in the middle of south-west Florida? It was very simple, actually; make a firm plan, and work it with disciplined resolution to see it through. The carrot on the end of the stick would ultimately become a goal of not running Away from a world that was crushing his spirit, but rather running To a new life of utter contentment.
Photo: Ed Robinson.

 Even if chucking it all and living in the shade of palm trees isn't your speed, this book offers compelling and practical insights as to how any one of us can better our current financial standing and enjoy the freedom that being debt free allows. That said, I might offer a word of warning before you read the book yourself. You may end up being so moved by the enticing world they have discovered that you could find yourself perusing online ads for boats that could one day become your own piece of paradise :-)

Photo: Ed Robinson.

The book is available at - both in print and Kindle e-reader versions.

  A big thanks to Ed for being good enough to allow me to share some his beautiful photos in this review, all of which have been taken during his enjoyment as 'happiest guy in the world'.