Manistee, Mich. — We automatically associate some words with others each time we hear them. "IBM" with "computers." "Xerox" with "copying machines." "Enron" with "thieves."
Then there are "Briggs & Stratton" and "small engines," which pair up like bread and butter. Briggs & Stratton builds an amazing 70 percent of the air-cooled engines used in this country on everything from lawn mowers to go-karts.
Something I've wondered for a long time is why B&S didn't build small outboards for boats. Wonder no more. The company has introduced a five-horsepower, four-cycle, air-cooled outboard that sells for $700 and is aimed at first-time boat-buyers and people who want a second small boat for puttering about on inland lakes and streams.
Let's establish right off what this engine is not. It's not for people who want to go fast. No five-horse engine can drive a light boat with the average-size adult male in it at more than about 15 mph, and then only with a well-designed hull.
It's not for those seeking the touted quiet of a four-cycle engine from manufacturers like Yamaha and Mercury. Those engines are water-cooled with underwater exhausts, which means they can be shrouded inside a metal cowling stuffed with acoustic insulation. But they also cost $400 to $500 more than the Briggs & Stratton.
The Briggs & Stratton engine is an excellent buy for someone who doesn't want to spend much money, isn't into speed and will run the boat on protected waters.
The engine has forward, neutral and reverse gears and an above-water exhaust. That means the cowling has to be open on the bottom, and it's definitely noisier than a water-cooled outboard. But it's quieter than a lawn mower.
The 56-pound engine holds 24 ounces of oil, which Bill Withorn, a Briggs & Stratton sales representative, said is good for about 30 hours of use. Phil Mindala, another B&S area sales rep, said the engine burns a maximum of a half-gallon of fuel an hour, giving boaters about six hours of endurance from the three-gallon auxiliary tank that comes with it. That's a full day of operation for most people. To make things more attractive, B&S has teamed up with two boat builders to offer three boat, trailer and engine packages that run $2,000 to $2,600.
I ran two of the boats on the Manistee River, a 12-foot aluminum V-hull that weighs about 110 pounds and an 11-foot-3 plastic bass boat that weighs about 210. Riding alone in the aluminum boat from Myers Boat Co. of Adrian, I managed an average top speed of 13.4 mph. The little bass boat did 11.7 mph. With a total load of 500 pounds in the aluminum boat, we still did about 10 m.p.h.
The bass boat from KL Industries of Muskegon was surprisingly well-planned, with two under-seat storage areas aft (one a live well) and three smaller compartments under the foredeck (one a bait well). It's a rig you can pull behind the smallest car and launch anywhere from a concrete ramp to a grassy beach. It's so light that two anglers could unhitch the trailer and launch the boat by hand in places a car or truck couldn't go.
The B&S engine has an 18-inch shaft that will make it attractive to the owners of small sailboats looking for a cheap auxiliary. The three-gallon tank will take an 18- to 22-foot sailboat 50 miles or more at 5-6 knots.