How I Got a Boat

They Sell Boats on EBay?

I was idly looking through eBay, and for some reason I thought of jet boats. So I did a search. I found lots of jet skis, and model boats, and some real high-end powerful jet boats. I also found one titled "WellCraft Jet Boat Cheap Cheap", which looked good. It was a 1974 boat with an Oldsmobile 455 engine. Looked like this. The owner had pulled the heads to change gaskets, but never got around to replacing them, and was looking to get rid of it. The good part was that it was around $800, the bad part was that it was in New Jersey and I was in Florida. I'm still not sure why I did what I did next; before I could stop myself I put in a $2500 bid. Not knowing much about jet boats, I figured that was still a low-ball bid, and that I probably wouldn't get the boat. There were three days left on the auction.

I checked that night, and the current bid had inched up to $1000. Hmmm. The next day it went to $1200. I went to bed that night thinking about the drive to New Jersey. The next day it climbed to $1625, and I had a little trouble getting to sleep. I checked the next morning, after the auction had ended, and found the bid had climbed to... $2000! I was the owner of a jet boat. Now I just had to go get it.

This was Wednesday. I zapped off an email to the seller, and got a quick reply. He gave me directions, and promised to repack the trailer bearings and check the tires. I had been thinking about the possible drive, and had changed the radiator in my Jeep Cherokee the day before, trying to fix a persistant overheating problem. That had finally solved it, and I had one less thing to worry about. I also changed the oil and cleaned out the car. Now I just needed someone to go with me.

What About Dean?

My buddy Dean was employment-challenged at the moment, so I called him up and asked if he wanted to drive to New Jersey the next day. "Sure, why not?" The next day at lunch I hit the grocery store and stocked the cooler with water, soda, beer, chips, olives, cookies, pickles and all the other things that make a road trip great. We left at 4pm on Thursday. I was thinking we might drive a few hours, and get close to Georgia. It got later and later, and we kept driving. We hit South of the Border around midnight and stopped for gas. "Ready to stop yet?", I asked Dean. "No, let's do a few more hours." Cool. We pressed on, and got to the middle of North Carolina about 3am, where we found a motel for $32/night. I woke up around 8am and found Dean watching lesbian porno, which apparently came free with the room. We got up and out on the road, and were passing by Washington DC by early afternoon. By late afternoon we had crossed through Delaware and were heading north on the New Jersey turnpike. My plan was to get near Netcong, NJ and find a motel for the night. If it hadn't been for those pesky terrorists we would have driven into NYC for the evening. Then pick up the boat in the morning. When I told Dean the plan he said "Why not just get the boat tonight and start back?" It made sense. So I called the owner and told him to expect us. We were there by 7pm. The boat looked good, just like the web page. We did the deal and got it hitched up, and pulled out by 7:30pm. I was a little concerned about how well it would tow, but it worked fine. We started retracing our steps, and were in mid-Virginia by 1am. I wish I had gotten a picture of the seller, but we were moving too fast.

We stayed in a much nicer place, but when I woke up the next morning there was no porno. We hit the beer store to restock, and were back on the road. Dean's father lives in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, so Dean called him up and told him we were passing nearby. He invited us to stay the night. It was a little bit of a detour, but what the heck, we were doing fine. We got in about 6pm, and Dean and his dad got to visit. Back on the road early Sunday morning, and in South of the Border by 11am with the boat securely on the trailer. We got a bunch of cheap tourist junk, and started the last leg back. We made it back to West Palm by 10pm, I dropped of Dean, stuffed the boat in the carport, and fell asleep.

How Does It Go Back Together?

The boat sat in the carport, taking up the entire space and generating frequent complaints from the other occupant of the house. It wasn't until the next weekend that I could get at it. I did have time to drop off the cylinder heads to be magnfluxed and checked for warpage. No cracks, but they did have .005 machined off them to get them flat. Since there was standing water in the rusty cylinder bores I also borrowed a cylinder hone and valve compressor. And I stopped by the DMV and got both boat and trailer registered with no problem, which gave me a sigh of relief.

Finally, Saturday morning I was able to get to work on it. I first tried cleaning the rust out of the cylinder bores with a green scrub pad. No dice, so I tried the cylinder hone. Perfect! It took out all the rust and left the bores shiny. While doing the bores I also used a wrench on the crankshaft to turn the engine over, which made me feel better because I knew then it wasn't seized. I also soaked all the valve train parts in muriatic acid, since they were covered with surface rust. The acid took the rust right off, and I neutralized it with baking soda, then submerged all the parts in oil. Some WD-40 in the carburetor freed up the butterflies, and I spent some time just cleaning all the oil, water and crud off the engine and out of the bilge. Rain cut the work short, since I was in the carport, and on Saturday afternoon I took the boat off to the same storage yard where Dean and I keep our race car.

The next weekend I went camping, but the weekend after that I hauled the boat back from the storage yard to the carport. I had ordered marine gaskets from CP Performance, gotten a battery, assembly lube, gasket sealer, shop rags, oil, filter and anything else I could think of. I also found a 1974 Oldsmobile factory shop manual on ebay (where else?) for $5. The skies looked rainy, so I pulled off the cover and got to work. I started by blowing everything out of the cylinder bores with the compressor, then pre-lubing the cam and lifters. While I was doing that I found that one of the exhaust lifters was seriously banged up on the bottom end. The cam lobe looked okay, so in keeping with the low-buck approach it was off to NAPA for another lifter. Slipped that in, and set the head gaskets and heads in place. I tried a spray-on copper gasket sealer, so we will see how it works. A quick trip to Dean's house to borrow some torque wrenches and I had the heads torqued down. The valve train went in next, and then the intake manifold. It's an aftermarket Edelbrock manifold, which uses allen head screw rather than bolts, and I had a tough time torquing it down. I finally had to go to Home Depot and get a set of those ball-end allen wrenches, which did the trick. I hooked up the battery and spun it over. Oops, forgot to put on an oil filter, so it blew watery oil all over the bilge. I cleaned up a little, put on an oil filter and spun it some more. I was happy to see oil coming up all the pushrods. It looked more like a real engine with the heads on.

About then it started to rain, so I threw the cover back on. The only work I could do was on the trailer bearings, under cover of the hull. I had noticed earlier that one of the tires was missing a bunch of tread on the inside, which explained the vibration we had started feeling around the SC/GA border. I had gotten a new tire and rim, so they went on. I had also picked up a spare tire carrier, so the old tire and rim went on the carrier on the trailer tongue. I was really surprised by how loose the bearings were on that wheel, so off to Discount Auto for some new ones. I checked the others, and found another one that needed new bearings, and repacked the other two. That was it for the day, and since it rained a lot on Sunday that was it for the weekend.

The boat went back to the storage yard on Monday. The next weekend was Fantasy Fest in Key West, so no work then. As I write this, the next weekend is the Ultimate Players Association ultimate frisbee national championships over in Sarasota, so I won't be doing any work next weekend either.

The next installment is here.