Adventures in an AF4
Rav Davis
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My father and I travelled from Sapelo River to Darien, GA in the "Jubal Edisto". Using the 8hp Johnson, it took us 4 hours and 2 1/2 gals of gas. By highway the distance is around 15 miles, probably a little further by waterway, especially since we got a little muddled in the maze of creeks en route.

We easily slipped over bars and shallows, we experienced a 15 minute squall, we were forced to cross Doboy Sound and experience a moderate chop. She pounded some, but nothing like the aluminum john boat. The bottom did not flex--such that I could detect it visually anyway. The wind in the sound made for a lot of tiller adjustment to keep a straight course, though in such wide water, a straight course was less than critical anyway. And the trim was better than I thought too, even with two heavies in the cockpit and minimal weight (a single cooler) up front.

Papa - click pictures to enlarge

It was a wonderful lazy trip, with little purpose but to navigate, sightsee, and enjoy the boat. And we did all of that. The real moment was when Papa said to me while standing in the slot, "I don't mean to be profane or anything" (he NEVER is) "but this is a DAMN FINE boat."

After months of looking for those elusive used outboard motors, I found a fiberglass piece of junk on an excellent small trailer (no salt water, no rust) and a 1977 25HP Evinrude outboard with a "parts motor" of the same or similar year also 25HP but a Johnson "sea horse" which supposedly has only a cracked foot. The Evinrude ran in a barrel and cranked on the first pull. So I dickered a little and bought the outfit for $425. I got it home, put the motor in a barrel and cranked it again, seemed to run fine, tried it in gear for a little bit--threw a lot of water out, but still okay. I got excited. Maybe I had what I wanted. The motor seemed a little large and heavy for an AF4, but I didn't have to run it full throttle or anything . . .

me on the Darien trip

Saturday I cranked it a few more times, visions of having a dedicated AF4 motor, hell maybe even remote steering. The whole day, I had other tasks, but I was itching bad to get the new motor on the boat and into the water. By 7 pm I began calling everyone I knew to see if they wanted to be brave crew. I recruited two. We launched at the marina, using the lift. I had the 25 on center and the 3hp kicker off to the side. The new motor cranked right up, no worries. We began to move upriver against the tide and with the wind. I opened the throttle up a little, but nothing much happened. I opened it up to full throttle, and still was traveling at about the same speed as I had been getting out of the 8hp. Something's not right I said aloud and at that same moment the motor cut out. As I leaned back towards it, I could smell hot engine and see a little smoke coming out of a hole in the cowling. Well, that's it for that one, I said now realizing that the motor is now likely somewhere between needing expensive repair or perhaps is complete toast.

We are now about 1/4 mile from the marina. So I fire up my trusty 3hp Sears reliable since my childhood. It cranks but refuses to run properly. I have to leave it partially choked to get it to run at all, and even then it cuts out every 60 seconds or so. Plus the rather strong wind has us and I can't get the motor behind the boat, and can't get the boat pointed into it, and we get blown into the marsh grass, and since it's high tide, we get blown waaay up into the marsh grass. I get out and push until I run out of terra firma, my crew throws the anchor as far as they can and pulling, I keep cranking the 3HP, but ultimately, if anything, we lose ground. So after staring at each other for a while, I break out the cell phone and begin calling for help. Finally a kindly older gentleman from the marina, comes out and tows us back in. I was as happy to meet him as I have ever been to meet anyone. The crew, who had begun to look mutinous, are once again all smiles and relief as they climb onto the dock. A small sailboat carrying three and sans motor eases by.

Jubal Edisto at Rend Lake

Lessons learned -

  • Could have used a deeper skeg.
  • Should have gone upwind or just waited for a less windy day.
  • Two motors is no guarantee.
  • A cell phone is an incredible bit of technology.
  • 1/4 mile is still too far away.
  • Old Southern Gentlemen are even more miraculous than cell phones.

Well, after several day trips of this sort, I began itching to try out the cabin. I wanted to do a solo camping thing for several nights, but as usual circumstances tightened up on me at the last minute, and I was forced to accept less. The Motor which had I had allowed to overheat, was after much headscratching, deemed unfixable by the mechanic. We replaced the impeller, carbuerator, and fuel pump and it still ran rough and wouldn't idle. So I was back to the trusty Johnson 8hp.

I discovered that I had to work on Sunday early, so I would only have one night on the water. Preparations were feverish, and my wife who excells in making lists and packing, really helped out a lot. We do a lot state park camping, which was our only frame of reference as we got things together. Consequently I packed way to much gear, for a single night on a boat. But this wasn't a bad thing as I planned to take longer trips later, and I wanted to try everything out. I launched by myself at low tide on a ramp covered with 6 inches of black marsh mud. I couldn't submerge the trailer, and the boat didn't want to slide off the bunks without a lot of grunting and pushing.

But I managed.


The motor cranked like a dream, as usual, and I was off. I really didn't have an "anchorage" picked out. As I cruised along, I didn't see many likely spots. Having never slept on a boat, I was still a little nervous about anchoring and going to sleep. I didn't want to be in the main channel of a river. I was concerned about drifting and other traffic. My anchor light was on of those flashlights on a stick, and I didn't want to cause trouble or run into law enforcement.

So after some looking around, I ran up McCoy creek until I was past the point where boats ever travel. I happen to know this because my property fronts McCoy Creek, and yes I anchored within view of it. As soon as I stopped to drop the anchor, I was mobbed by sand gnats (a Southeast Coast Phenomenom). They were in such quantity, that breathing them was more of a concern than their biting. Ah, the cabin! I rolled out the tarp/velcro slot cover and climbed inside. What a relief.

inside the cabin

But now, here I was, hiding out in the cabin at 6pm. Now what? I called my wife on the cellphone. "I made it, I found a great spot. I'm in the front yard." Actually our house is a couple of acres of woods away from the creekfront, but I could see the swing and the picnic table we use for cookouts. She laughed at me but I could tell she was relieved (she worries). I read a book for a while, fitted some mosquito netting over the hatch opening and let in some air. I opened the access plate I use for a vent forward.


Finally it began to get dark (gnats dissappear at night), and I crawled out into the cockpit and set up the campstove on two milk crates. I cooked a can of chicken and dumplings I bought at the dollar general. It was way too much food. The tide was getting really low. McCoy creek nearly empties entirely at low tide, and soon the boat was resting on mud. I put the stove away, rinsed out the pot with creekwater and sand, and crawled back to try out the sleeping. I used a dollar general $1 beach float for an air mattress, spread out the sleeping bag, hung the oil lantern, and got comfortable. Then I remembered the anchor light. I crawled back out put new batteries in it, and turned it on. The package bragged that it burned 24 hours on 2 D-Cells and could be seen for 2 miles--coast guard approved.


It was bright. I crawled back in and dozed for a while. 3 hours later, I awakened. The tide was coming in, and my light was nearly out--so much for advertising. I hung the oil lantern from the bimini, to replace it. I unfolded the cloth chair and got comfortable. It was a moonlit night, and now there was a nice cool breeze blowing. I stretched out my bugbitten legs and just enjoyed the view. Soon the tide was so high, I could see across the marsh to the sound, someone had a bright light on their dock several miles away. The sky was full of stars and I felt full of wonder and peace. I fished a little just for something to do, but not even the hint of a bite.

After a few hours I retired again to my berth. While I slept comfortably, I kept waking up and wanting to see outside. In the dark, the view from the small cabin windows was confusing. I would inevitably see something odd, but not know what the heck it was. Then would have to crawl outside to have a look--a mudbank, the anchor rope, a reflection, etc.. The tide ebbed again.

first light

At first light I awoke and puttered around, repacking my bedroll. I christened the toilet, and hauled the stove into the cockpit again. I was ready for a breakfast of coffee, grits and sardines. Soon I was perking and cooking away. A few egrets searched the incoming tide for their own sardines some 40 yards up the creek. That was when I realized I had forgotten a critical item--a cup for the coffee. I finally used the thin plastic cup that covers my cantene lid. It was about the size of a dixie cup and was obviously never meant to hold anything hot. After filling it 9 times, passing it like a fragile hot-potato from hand to hand, I finally had my morning coffee--not the leisurely sipping and rumination I had imagined.

Again I washed the breakfast dishes in the creek with a bit of sand. As I repacked everything and dismantled the stove, The tide had risen sufficiently to leave. I hauled anchor and eased up the creek at idle. I puttered around the river for a while, waiting for the ramp to submerge enough to take out, fishing a little more. Takeout was not difficult, and soon I was home again. Then there was unpacking, flushing the motor, rinsing the trailer, emptying the porta-san, a bit of work for such a short trip. Next time I do an overnight trip, I'm taking about half as much stuff.
I can hardly wait.