Small outboards can be cruel, stubborn creatures. I climbed on my catamaran to check out the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, but my outboard decided it had other plans. I took it personally – we’re not even speaking at the moment.

At around 3:15 in the afternoon I knelt in front of my old, weathered, but always-reliable Nissan 5 HP, grabbed the little rubber tee sticking out of the front and gave it a yank. It’s a 2-stroke and usually takes a couple of pulls and some skilled choke finesse to get it all happening. We have a good relationship – never had an issue.

I made my usual adjustments, gave it the amount of gas I happen to know it likes, found a solid flywheel tooth to grab hold of and let her rip – nothing.

“What’s up? You know I’m meeting people and I have to go to this parade,” I said calmly.

The motor stared back blankly. This time I put the choke halfway in and made a throttle adjustment – maybe I was being too aggressive. I pulled eight more times and thought I heard something promising but couldn’t really tell.

Ten more pulls and it started. The little outboard sputtered and struggled to stay running as I stared wide-eyed, trying to perfectly manage the throttle, giving just the perfect amount of nourishment. It ran for 10 seconds and quit with a resigned backfire.

I pull-started that thing for the next 15 minutes straight. My skin began to deteriorate. I took a 15-second break, grabbed a rag to protect my hands and pulled for another 5 – it started, sputtered and conked.

I pulled for another 20 minutes. My right arm felt like a noodle. People walked by, made jokes and poked fun but I ignored them. I was in full commitment mode – it was on. I would pull over and over and not stop pulling. This outboard thought it could defeat me? I am going to this parade – I have to go. Give in Nissan, it’s you’re only choice.

At 4:30 p.m. the little motor started – even revved. With the music of a small 2-stroke motor humming in the evening air, I was like a man who’d just walked a 100 miles of desert; I had depraved lunatic eyes and a noodle arm. I stared at the motor trying to become one with it – to give it just the right amount of gas to keep it happy and on my side, but it started to weaken, become unresponsive and it left me. My spirit was crushed as it rotated its last RPM. It farted another backfire to let me know there was no use.

I fell back on the trampoline exhausted and beaten. I took a 10-second break and began to pull again – I yanked another 35 times, but the sun was setting. It wasn’t going to happen. We had gone 11 rounds and I was going to lose on a TKO (technical knockout).

I pulled the boat out in disgust. I said, “I hate boats” out loud and later photographed the parade from the street resentfully like a commoner. I’ll get the engine fixed and I’m sure I’ll soon forget all about it, but for now I’m still scarred.

The outboard engine is like that friend you admire and respect but will never let you get too close. The engine knows there might come a time when it will have water in its fuel supply, a faulty kill-switch or a wet plug. It doesn’t want to feel bad when tears well up in your eyes and your arm is about to fall off from frantic pull-starting.

You know in your heart that it will try its best but it isn’t making any promises. You know it and the motor knows it. So go forward and enjoy your time on the water but never believe that a small outboard will always come through – it’s simply not in its basic nature to do so.

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