Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...

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Merc Killing Fuel

09 February 2017
We have been having some problems with our 2007 Mercury 15hp 4 stroke outboard. Most people are inconvenienced by non-functioning power equipment. We can't step outside our back door without this one! A failure in strong wind blowing offshore could prove deadly!

To make a short story long, the carburetor was getting clogged by black bits of rubber. I put an additional filter in the fuel line from the tank and was able to see the large quantity of these bits trying to feed the Merc. The fuel bulb was disintegrating on the inside.

Roseau is the capitol of Dominica. Still, facilities are not well stocked. I had to go to six shops to find filters, fuel line and wait two days for a new fuel primer bulb. The dealer who sold me the bulb said, “These are the expensive ones, formulated for Ethanol.” He asked me if I had used Ethanol fuel in my motor. Yes, there were times when that was all that was available. “Yup, that's what killed it,” he said.

The new bulb was $32 usd. Other parts cost about that much too. Two hours of labor and I'm back in business. Oh, the engine did stop again. Another chunk found its way into the main jet. The only part of the system I was reluctant to take apart was the fuel pump. I don't have a spare diaphragm. If I tore it, game over. Now the problem seems solved.

But let's take a look at the big picture. The $32 bulb package stated it was EPA and CARB approved. CARB is the California regulatory board that brought us the ridiculous spring loaded spouts on gas cans. There is a weird valve that springs shut because they don't believe people are smart enough to screw a cap on. Never mind that fuel spills all over when you use one of these terrible designs. There are aftermarket companies who sell proper spouts. All the cans on Uproar have these and I do screw the caps on tight. But I digress...

I can afford $32 for a fuel bulb that used to cost $5 at Kendor Marine in Milwaukee. But the problems caused to my engine could have been deadly! We rely on our dinghy to get around. We sometimes go on long trips, up to 5 miles with it. The wind often blows hard in the Caribbean and always away from shore. In a blow, I could not possibly row upwind back to shore. Fortunately, I carry tools and have the knowledge to fix the problem underway. Twice this week, I had to tie to a mooring or fishing boat and go through the carb to get back underway. This leaves Lisa in quite a pickle. She is reluctant to use the dinghy alone now. She used to but shouldn't until we are sure this problem is solved.

More about the big picture. Ethanol has far reaching damage to our environment and economy. The obvious reasons are:

1. Requires more fossil fuel energy to produce than it yields. Net negative energy source!
2. Corn to produce Ethanol requires a lot of fertilizer. This is a major cause of pollution in our water sources. Algae blooms in areas like SW Lake Erie are a real mess. I've seen it up close.
3. Ethanol is subsidized about $.50/gallon by the federal government. Costs everyone. Even the people who don't pay federal taxes are affected, costs get passed along somewhere.
4. Price of corn for food has skyrocketed. This affects poor people in Mexico greatly. Years ago there were protests in Mexico about corn prices more than doubling. CD Duck in Racine closed because corn was too expensive to feed ducks. This was one of the largest duck processing plants in the US. I think it is immoral to burn food that could feed starving people.
5. Ethanol is so corrosive that it can't be pumped via pipeline. It must be shipped by truck or rail.

Number 5 caused the problems with my Merc. I have also had problems with my 1961 Alfa Romeo fuel tank, filters and fuel pump. I removed the tank three times to clean it out after Ethanol dissolved the lining and sent it through the system. OK, this was a toy but imagine the effect on someone with a low income if their only means of transportation had this problem. I fixed a lawn tractor for an elderly lady due to an Ethanol problem. The rubber needle tip on the carburetor float had swollen, causing it to flood. I spent hours fixing the problem. The guy at the parts counter took one look and said, “Yup, Ethanol.” If I hadn't fixed it for her, she would have spent hundreds of dollars or even bought a new machine.

In the process of repairing the lawn tractor I sure spilled a lot of gas on the garage floor from the flooded engine. And I had to change the oil. I read that a Honda Civic is so clean that the unburned hydrocarbons equal about a pint of gas/year. Well, I caused over a year's worth of Honda Civic pollution and I was being careful.

How many weed whackers do you see in the trash or on the curb. Ethanol is deadly for small gas engines with small carburetor orifices. These failures may seem like merely an inconvenience for people but there are ripple effects.

Broken equipment gets discarded, filling landfills and causes fuel spills. New equipment has an environmental impact. Energy and resources are required to build anything. New equipment, parts and repairs cost money. Let's surmise that 100,000 fuel primer bulbs are sold every year due to Ethanol damage. Those expensive bulbs would cost $3,200,000/year. That is money that could have been spent more productively. This is only the tip of the iceberg on costs of damaged equipment.

Why do we have this mess? Unintended consequences of government regulation. Even the EPA and CARB certification on the fuel bulb costs money. They used to be just a $5 rubber bulb from a bin without fancy plastic packaging and cardboard graphics proudly displaying the EPA logo. The UN and Al Gore have both denounced Ethanol as an environmentally unfriendly fuel. Rain forests in Brazil are being cut down to grow sugar cane for Ethanol.

President Trump signed an executive order stating that all new regulations would have to be thoroughly researched to determine costs and impact. It also states that to add a regulation, two have regulations have to be removed. Regardless of how you feel about our new president, isn't this a prudent path? I wrote to President Trump asking him to remove the Ethanol mandate, before inauguration. I'll keep you posted if I hear back. I stated tongue-in-cheek that reducing the price of corn will help Mexico to afford an expensive construction project.
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Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
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