Norman Island, BVI
It's taken me a while to admit this but here it is, I've become addicted to additives. In the fuel that is. The addiction comes after conviction; it took me well over a year to become convinced of the need for these chemicals. First off let's talk about the outboard fuel because my shunning of the additives here cost me the most money and frustration. In the United States they add ethanol to the unleaded, the government says this is part of a program to wean America off its dependency on foreign oil. Detractors of the plan claim it's just a crude way of funneling billions of dollars into the pockets of farmers, farm equipment manufacturers and pesticide producers because the ethanol comes mainly from maize and sugar cane. Apart from those who are suspicious of the plan on fiscal grounds, others - think drivers who still bemoan the loss of leaded fuel at twenty five cents a gallon - are dead against it because they see ethanol adulterated fuel as another example of big government.
Even before arriving in the USA I'd heard that ethanol is bad for outboard engines. There is widespread belief that ethanol 'attracts' water which then plays havoc with the carburetor. I didn't pay too much attention to this, after all the same people who complained loudest about ethanol were the same ones who demand to see Pres. Obama's birth certificate and oppose having to show any identification when buying a shotgun. Even though I don't know enough about chemistry to decide whether water really might have an affinity for ethanol, it all seemed a bit too far-fetched.
One month after arriving in the USA our outboard was cutting out so often that Nirit refused to use the dinghy for any journey longer than five minutes, not at all after dark and only if we were loaded down with a communication radio, signal flares and life jackets. We had a couple of near misses and were almost carried off in the current but I put the engine's misbehavior down to the weather or the fact that we accidentally dunked it underwater in St Lucia. In Portland Maine it failed one last time and no amount of coaxing could get it to start. I handed it over to a mechanic who blamed dirt in the carburetor, used an ultrasound device to clean it, charged me $125 and pronounced it good to go.
It was good for a month and then the old stuttering was back followed by the same kind of breakdowns we'd suffered earlier. Finally in Charleston SC I handed it over to a serious outboard service center for a thorough overhaul. When I picked it up and parted with another $180 in parts and labor, Eddie at SEALS OUTBOARDS asked me, "You know about the ethanol problem right?" Eddie seemed like an straight up and down type of fellow and didn't drive a pickup with a shotgun rack in the rear window. He sold me a small canister of STA-BIL fuel additive which claims to overcome the ethanol problem in marine engines. It seems the real problem is that in outboards, unlike in the family car, we don't but fuel all that often and use it only occasionally. Ethanol enhanced fuel does not like to be left sitting around, especially not in a fuel can out in the sun. Over time the ethanol begins to separate from the rest of the fuel, the octane drops and your outboard conks out.
My other addiction is to a red liquid called MARVELL MYSTERY OIL which the label encourages the buyer to use in diesel, gas and engine oil. I couldn't get my generator to run cleanly without the exhaust constantly dirtying the hull of the yacht. A mechanic was on board to check the diesel injector and change the air filter. He pronounced it 'fixed' but one week later nothing had really changed. I eventually checked with my friend Miles Poor who runs a company called Marine Refit Professionals and is first and foremost extremely smart, not just a guy who's spend a lot of time in boatyards. Miles answer for a dirty exhaust is Marvell Mystery oil added in a one-to-five ratio to the engine oil and four fluid ounces to every gallon of diesel. I was very circumspect to say the least; the bottle doesn't give any clue as to what it made of but does list a California - mandated health warning. Never mind, I ran down to the nearest Wal -Mart and got in six month's supply. So far so good, the exhaust burns cleaner and when I change the oil after every 300 engine hours it no longer has that carbonized look and smell to it. In short, I'm addicted.