I’ve never owned a boat which brought less drama, that demanded less of its owner.

Last fall I hauled it while incapacitated with a leg injury. Into the plastic shed it went with only the most rudimentary winterizing steps. It sat there for a couple of months, and as I recovered I took the contents of the locker out and dried them. The charger went onto the trolling motor battery, but the other one sat where it was.

In one boneheaded moment during a heavy snowstorm in February I put my fist through the 6 mm plastic roof above the bow seat. Hasty repairs with tuck tape controlled most of the leakage for the remainder of the winter, but some water found its way to the floor of the building through the bilge.

As soon as possible in spring I hauled it out and launched it. The fuel in the tanks had received ample stabilizer, but not what had actually been in the engine at layup. With some apprehension I turned the key. The Merc 40 purred to life as if it had last been operated the day before. I ran out to ensure that the ice was in fact out of the lake, and then announced the winner of the Newboro Lake Ice-Out Contest, Louise Pritchard of Newboro.

It turned out to be a quiet spring for boating, and by the first week in June when I hauled the Princecraft for a bath, I had to scrub hard to get the accumulated algae off the hull and lower unit. The interior was littered with the remains of flowers from the overhanging oak tree. An hour with the pressure washer took care of the grooming, though I don’t know how I could clean the textured vinyl flooring without a high pressure jet.

As far as the performance of the boat, I have become utterly spoiled. It runs beautifully at whatever speed I choose up to 29 mph. It handles a chop as well as can be expected from a vessel not built of wooden planks. There’s room for four fishing rods plus tackle in the locker. Life jackets lurk out of the way under the helm.

Early on I removed a spray head from the input to the live well after it had plugged with weeds. I wasn’t able to thread it back in so it rode around in the bottom of the tank until the tournament on June 15th. Somehow it found its way into the drain, and then a crewman screwed the top stalk into place over it, effectively plugging the overflow. To compound the problem I turned the pump on to keep our fish lively and before long there was more water than I would like on the lower deck of the boat. Ten minutes of bilge pump work and things were settled again, but I would recommend not abandoning that spray fitting in the bottom of the live well.

We placed third in the tournament that day, but it was not the fault of the boat. It performed flawlessly. Perhaps one reason for my reduced fish production this year is that the boat is so enjoyable at trolling speed that I have spent increasing amounts of time loafing around in deep water, looking at the scenery instead of digging aggressively for largemouths along the shoreline.

Anyway, so far, so good on the Princecraft/Mercury 40.

One day last week I attached a full tank of high test to the Mercury EFI 40 with a recorded hour meter reading of 10.1 hours. Last night I switched the tank out at 14.9 hours, even though there was some fuel left. This morning I added 18.8 litres at $24.63 to top the tank up.

What was the engine doing in that interval? Two evenings involved running 6 miles to Indian Lake to troll. Others involved the usual jaunts at cruising speed out to fishing spots on Newboro and Pollywog. These involved considerable slogging through weeds. One chore was towing a full-dress Ranger bass boat and its owners back to Newboro in the dark after its engine mysteriously quit*. I’d never seen a five-blade prop for an outboard before.

* January 30, 2013: After several months of thinking about this fuel consumption anomaly, I must conclude that someone added fuel to the tank of the unattended boat without my knowledge. The prime suspect would be the owner of the Ranger bass boat I towed in to Newboro.


My hour meter measures time that the key is on, not revolutions, so a trolling hour counts the same as an hour on plane.

18.81 litres is 4.96 US gallons or 4.13762 Imperial gallons.

hours 4.8

UPDATE: 7 September, 2012

I may not have put enough gas in the tank at the station the last time, because today’s top-up came at 16.5 hours. I put a bit more fuel in this time and it took 21.32 litres at a cost of $28.56.

The boat usage during this interval involved trips on plane of two to six miles in length.

Obviously it takes a large sample to provide a reasonable estimate of fuel consumption with measurement as clumsy as what I am using. But I shall persist.

UPDATE: 18 September, 2012

I switched for a full tank at 18.4 hours after a series of three-mile runs on plane over the course of a week.  So that’s 1.9 hours per tank at cruising speed.  I think there would have been enough fuel for a bit more.  Perhaps two hours per tank is a reasonable estimate of fuel consumption under normal conditions and load — as long as there is a second fuel supply available if the tank runs dry.

After five weeks with the new Princecraft, I still find myself going to the lake just to visit it, luxuriate in the comfort of the cushy seats, and touch the key to feel the Merc 40 pop instantly into operation. The long rod locker holds my fishing tackle as well as wallet, keys and sundries. It’s dry in there. The live well is a good fish compartment and it is usually pressed into service as a ballast tank, as well. A clever gasket around the top of the tank keeps all but the most adventurous fish within the well, even when the lid is left open for extended periods when the crappies are biting.

As I mentioned, starting the 4 cycle Mercury is dead simple. Turn the key. The computer does the rest. My casting-off routine is a bit complex: four lines and a power cord need to be released. The bulky but docile Merc gently backs the Princecraft out of her slip and around the end of the dock, then powers up onto plane to clear the weeds which grow close to the water’s surface on this part of Newboro Lake.

The boat and I have become quite practiced at it. I’d have to describe the Starfish DLX as easy to handle, but that’s largely because of the excellent manners of the outboard. You have to watch that the bow doesn’t slide out from under you if you board or depart at the front. That’s because of the triangular shape of bass boats. The bulk of their displacement is at the stern and there isn’t much forefoot to resist sliding out from under a person stepping from boat to shore.

I still remember the soaking I received the first time I tried to step onto the deck of a client’s bass boat.

The Springbok 16 which this boat replaced has become a distant memory. This hull is a considerable improvement in every way, especially in stability. With its 60” beam the Springbok was too narrow for a single, heavy operator. When not on plane it tilted to the starboard side. The 71” transom on the Princecraft Starfish provides lots of displacement at the corners and a hard chine to eliminate tippiness. It’s much easier to move around in the wider, more stable boat.

To handle a chop in the Princecraft I usually fill the live well. Otherwise the boat is too light in the bow, even with a battery and trolling motor up front. On the other hand a large third passenger is no problem as long as he sits up forward on the edge of the casting platform. The trim will lift another 250 lb up onto plane without undue difficulty. To judge by the sound of the engine at speed, its top end seems unaffected by the additional weight.

I joked to a friend that I paid an additional $11,000 so that I wouldn’t have to pick seats up and move them around to fish. The tall 27″ pedestal with the bicycle seat doesn’t interfere with my vision when I am at the controls. The $275. option was worth it to me because it greatly reduces my fatigue while fishing: it provides an endless variety of positions I can use, ranging from sitting on the thing with my feet on the floor, to leaning on it, or perching on the seat while resting my feet on the gunwales. It also makes a good brace for standing on the deck to cast, as well. Just be careful that it doesn’t punt you overboard when you bend down suddenly to grab another worm.

Once or twice I have come close to diving into the drink when scrambling to replace a lost bait: there’s not a whole lot of room to move around on the forward casting platform because of the location of the live well, and the seat reduces the bending space still further. But I would definitely order it again. If forced to sit in a conventional seat to cast I would tire out a lot quicker, and the large and cushy captain’s chairs standard on this model would likely obscure forward visibility if left in place.

Speaking of “left”: for some reason best known to themselves, marine mechanics insist upon installing trolling motors on the port side of the bow. I refused the installation and put it on the way I want it, on the starboard side, diagonally across just aft of the bow light. It bolted on very easily and works quite well for fishing, though admittedly it rubs a bit on the dock now the water levels are very low. But I’m right handed, and that rig goes up and down a dozen times per trip, so it has to be a comfortable lift.

Learning how to use the foot control on the small forward deck was a trial, but now I forget what the problem was… something about the outside of my foot wanting to press on the GO button, rather than the inside. Motor Guide brand loyalty, I guess. Feet are a conservative bunch.

The Minn-Kota Edge (45lb. thrust) does a decent job of moving the boat around, though I still don’t think it delivers the raw torque of the 30 pound Motor Guide I had on the other boat. The Minn-Kota chops through the weeds pretty well, though, doesn’t get impacted with weeds around its drive shaft the way the Motor Guide did, and isn’t hard on the battery.

In all, it’s very easy to get spoiled. I feel safe and comfortable on the boat. It gets around quickly or slowly as I see fit. I don’t miss the smell of 2 cycle exhaust. The Merc has no more exhaust odour than a Toyota. It idles like a good Japanese car, too. I am catching all of the bass and crappie I want because I can put more hours in without discomfort in this well designed hull.

Fuel consumption? I still don’t know, but regular gas bought at a service station provides a significant price advantage over high test mixed with oil at a marine vendor. (This comment earned an admonition from the Princecraft/Mercury dealer Dave Brown, who warned of the dangers of ethanol-rich regular gas. He firmly suggested I switch back to high test fuel because of the lower ethanol levels.)

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It’s about 12 miles around Scott Island, and I would be able to make four of those circuits on a 25 litre tank of fuel, with some reserve, I believe. With the newly-acquired second tank I’ll be able to run each one dry and note the engine hours elapsed for 25 litres, so I should have much better data by the next blog entry.

7.6 hours elapsed since the installation of the meter.

One other thing: two guest fishermen on separate occasions have dumped the contents of their coffee cups on the same small piece of carpet. Each was surprised by the lack of cup holders in the boat and set his mug on the ledge beside the passenger seat. Then the boat popped up onto plane…

“Rod, you don’t need instruments,” Dave Brown assured me when I asked if the instrument cluster was included with the motor.  Apparently they go with the boat, and this one was a stripper.  “The ECU in the engine records its hours.  Bring it by and I’ll put a gauge on it to determine oil change intervals.”  And so I went.

But then the tanks of fuel went by and I found myself wondering intensely when the first service interval was.  So I stopped by the dock and Dave had no time to scope the engine.  Further delays and I bought oil and filter and changed from the 10W30 break-in oil to Mercury’s 25W40 synthetic blend by myself.

For a variety of reasons, mostly unrelated to the health of the engine, I wanted an hour meter.   Nobody seems to sell a true revolution-counter apart from as part of a large instrument cluster.  The ignition-on hour meter, on the other hand, is widely available.  While such a counter is ridiculous on a tractor as the same person who stalls the thing likely leaves the key on, running on several hundred hours before the battery dies, this might not happen with an outboard motor.  Perhaps an ignition-timer is all I need.

The inexpensive impedance meter sensor wraps around a spark plug wire and gives a reading.  But it has a little gadgetty digital readout and looks like a cheap, well, gadget.  I wanted something I could display with pride on my instrument panel.

Princess Auto had an hour meter in the trailer section for a little less than the sale price of an axle.  Bravely I fitted a 2” Forsner bit into my best cordless drill, then perforated an empty anti-freeze container with a series of neat, round holes until I became proficient enough to try the same process on the vinyl dash of my new Princecraft.  The drilling went fine.  Sardonic comments about the makeup of the Princecraft’s dash are inappropriate at this time*.

Charlie found a pair of wire clusters behind the control unit, tucked into the valence.  I felt around with a multi-meter until I located a pair of wires which gave me 12v only when the ignition switch was on.  He hooked the gauge up with all of the best crimp-on connectors he could find in his tool boxes.

The little light began to flash with the ignition switch, but the hour meter would not move.  Ooops!

Many variations produced no success.  It wasn’t until I moved the boat into the shop, removed all of the neat connectors and jury-rigged a power source that I established there was nothing wrong with the meter.  My neutral was intermittent.  So I ran a new neutral back to the battery, twisted and taped things back together, and the gauge began to work properly.

Everything will be fine unless Dave decides he needs to hook up his computer.  I think I took one of its wires to feed the hour meter.  I’ll trip over that fence when we come to it.

The first revelation the hour meter provided was that I had greatly overestimated how many hours I was putting on the motor.  Some fishing trips on Newboro Lake use only .1 hour of engine time, though most run about .3 hours.  It’s not a huge area, and a typical 12 or 13 mile round trip doesn’t take all that long.

So far with an elapsed time of 5 hours I have used up a couple of jerry cans of regular gas (I haven’t learned how to measure mileage yet, but I’ll eventually figure a way and bore you with the details) and added several 2 lb packs of crappie fillets to the freezer hoard, as well as a few meals of largemouth fillets, as well.  Generally I keep fish every third time out, but I’m likely bringing home food more often this early in the season to justify the expensive fishing equipment this year.

BTW:  the one trip out with the GPS showed a top speed of 50 km for the boat with empty live well and one operator.  That’s a hair under 30 mph, and well within the insurance industry’s cut-off for speedboats.  At insurance time, be prepared to provide a driving and accident history of each potential driver for any vessel capable of more than 32 mph.

* Said dash has withstood several hits from astonished crappies flying through the air, and was as good as new today after a shot from the pressure washer.  The textured vinyl flooring, on the other hand, is hard to clean without the services of said pressure washer.  Over the course of two rain-free weeks the floor had become so encrusted with grime from fish and weeds that I hauled the boat home for a facelift.  It worked.
Needless to say, the fishing has been good this July.

For many years I have fished with considerable success from the bow of a 1982 Springbok 16’ equipped with a 35 Mercury two cycle outboard and a 30 lb. thrust MotorGuide trolling motor.

Built by Alcan in the early eighties as a response to the boom in fiberglass bass boats, this hull is still in perfect condition, though I had to rebuild the decks when I bought it twelve years ago. The carpet had rotted the originals, and the second deck wasn’t well done. I spent evenings over a winter building new fir plywood panels, rounding the edges, then glassing each piece to the standard I applied to the same job years earlier on my antique cabin cruiser. This was a surprisingly expensive and time-consuming job – especially eliminating the voids in the plywood around the hatch openings — but it provided a weatherproof deck for a boat which would spend half of the year tied to a dock and exposed to sun and weather.

Time took a toll on a series of swivel seats, but they were easily replaced through trips to Walmart or Princess Auto for new ones. The front live well holds only ten gallons, but it has kept many, many bass in good health, and because it is mounted to the port side I used it to trim the hull when I was in the boat alone. The rear live well is huge, but because it is located at the aft starboard corner of the vessel, it isn’t usable because it ruins the boat’s weight distribution. I stored life jackets in it.

At 60” at the widest point, the Springbok was too narrow for me at this time of life. While the boat was remarkably efficient on fuel, and even though it routinely outran the other boats in the fleet, the Springbok demanded of its operator and passengers the balance and co-ordination of a canoeist.

So my friends and family put increasing pressure on me to upgrade. Apparently the sight of a heavy, arthritic geezer perched on that narrow bow platform disturbed the serenity of others, (especially when this boat beat all comers in last year’s bass tournament).

A month of obsessive Internet searches and wild-goose chases occurred in pursuit of a wider boat. Every potential candidate I viewed was in much worse condition than the Springbok. Any idea how ratty that old blue carpet looks after twenty or thirty years, and how those rotten floorboards smell?

My search for a restorable hulk took me to Dave Brown’s establishment in Chaffey’s Locks, where I found no promising wreck, but spotted a bright red Princecraft, still without a motor, on his lot. Tentatively I asked Dave for a price. He vanished upstairs and returned in a few minutes with a printed page containing a graphic of the boat and a price not much greater than what I had been thinking of paying for a used glass centre-console on Kijiji.

“How much is the motor?”

“The 40 hp Mercury 4 stroke with EFI and tilt is included in the package.”

I don’t recall saying anything at that point. Numbers were racing around in my head, but I spent a good deal of time looking over the hull.

The thing that grabbed my attention first was the floorboards. Covered with a textured vinyl, they fasten down with exposed, stainless steel screws. The biggest problem I had with the Springbok’s glass deck was my unsuccessful attempt to build a coping which would join the deck to the aluminum sides. The walnut moulding on which I lavished hours wouldn’t stay on when the hull flexed in a chop. That loose coping remained my biggest disappointment with the rebuild of the boat.

Princecraft designers solved the same problem by creating a bead of the vinyl flooring material and sliding it between the floorboards and the hull sides, a simple and elegant solution which had eluded me over many hours of trying. (After a look at the new boat I thought I could fix the trim on the old one, and I did. I hope the new owner enjoys the old girl as much as I did.)

The new hatches are aluminum, also covered with vinyl. The latches look primitive, but seem to work well, won’t break from a misstep, and won’t trip anyone.

The swivel seats are comfortable and quite elegant in comparison to the Spartan ones which tormented my back for the last couple of years in the Springbok until I replaced them a month ago. On a first look the large seats seem to be placed too close together. The port seat looks as though it should be set to the left about three inches to balance the boat. Turns out that’s an illusion. As I discovered on the shakedown runs, the seats make optimal use of the hull’s width just the way they are.

There’s not much storage space in the new boat. Gas tank, battery box and pumps are exposed. The stern side bulkheads enclose foam only. The 7’ rod locker is just about it, if like me you plan to use the live well for fish and the forward locker for a battery. But I soon discovered that the side console (under the steering wheel) is much deeper than on the old one (I had to crawl in there after my wallet) and it’s the logical repository for a stack of life jackets.

The transom’s 71” wide and 20” high, so the light boat can take a 40 hp motor. With a butt that wide it will need it, too.

I asked Dave to order a matching “bicycle seat” to mount on a tall post at the bow. This should provide a more comfortable fishing position because I can either perch on it or use it as a brace while standing.