I wrote some time ago comparing mowing my rather large “lawn” to offshore fishing. For those who may not have read the original, “Mowin’ In The Wind”, just remember that I have a rather fertile imagination. For this year’s mowing season, my wife and I purchased a new “zero-turn” mower in an attempt to ease the time and trouble spent mowing nearly three acres repeatedly. While I have not been able to confirm all of the claims made by zero-turn advocates, it definitely does make the job easier and somewhat faster. For those new to this type of mower who are having trouble with the turning system, I would suggest getting in your “Way-Back” machine and spending some time in a previous life driving an industrial fork-lift- or a twin engine inboard boat. Fork lifts, despite the name, are NOT used for lifting forks – although they might come in handy for moving pallets of forks. The thing with an industrial “lift truck” is that while they do have a steering wheel, they also have a foot operated “turning brake” on each side like a farm tractor often does. For the sometimes very tight turns they need to make, the drill is to apply pressure to the brake on the side you wish to turn into. This effectively locks the rear wheel on that side, but lets the wheel on the other side rotate normally, turning the vehicle very sharply. A fork-truck can pretty much be rotated on it’s on axis this way.
With a twin engine inboard powered boat, the steering wheel turns a pair of rudders that are positioned behind the fixed propellers to direct the flow of water after it passes through the prop, and thus control the direction the boat will take. Unfortunately, if the rudder is too small – as some are – the steering using the rudder might not be very responsive. The first inboard boat I had much experience in running was a 31 Bertram on which Mike Cryer and I took out both fishermen and divers. Mike was the dive master, I was the licensed captain. This boat – “Parrot Head” – had the original Bertram rudders, which were about as big as my hand. The 31 was, after all, originally a race boat, and large rudders create more drag than smaller rudders, thus reducing speed a bit. We found it much easier to make turns using the engines and transmissions. To turn to the right a bit, throttle back somewhat on the starboard engine while easing the throttle forward on the port engine. To make a sharp turn, throw the starboard transmission in neutral and give the port more throttle as needed, and even use the starboard in reverse if necessary. To turn to port, reverse this process. This method of steering works very well on twin engine vessels – as long as both engines are running. 31 Bertrams have an extreme deep vee hull, and are notoriously difficult to impossible to steer on one engine. Old hands are known to drop a bucket in the water on a long rope tied to the side of the boat they want to slow to create enough drag to allow a turn. My own 31, “Black Sheep”, had been retro-fitted with extra large rudders before I came into possession of it, and would steer nearly as well with only one engine running as with two, but I still used “the gears’ for a lot of turns.
My zero-turn mower is a Cub Cadet model – which my old deckhand, Six-Pack, calls a “Club Cadet”. At least with this mower, there are two transmissions, controlled by the steering lever on each side. Steering is accomplished by manipulating them exactly as one would the control levers on a twin engine boat – except that the much shorter mower responds faster. For those who don’t know, I have begun writing an offshore fishing column for Texas Outdoors Journal magazine, and my most recent submission was on selecting an offshore boat. When I described the maneuverability advantage of the twin inboard boat, I could not help but remember my old Bertram and how sweet it felt to “work” the controls. I had 24″ props on that boat near the end, pushed by Cummins 6 cylinder diesels through 2:1 Twin Disc transmissions. The original controls had been the single lever type that both shift gears and apply throttle, but I finally replaced them with the twin lever (for each engine) type where one is the throttle, the other the gear. In my opinion, the best way to set these up is side by side on your right (for right handed skippers) with the throttle levers on the inside so that both can be controlled with the right hand, allowing both throttles to be controlled as one (gears are worked separately). With the possible exception of the new pod drives, this has to be the ultimate set-up. I could put one engine in forward, the other in reverse, and literally spin the boat on it own axis, with little or no movement forward or in reverse. Holding in position over a rock or wreck or near a rig or the stern of a shrimp boat was easy even when currents were running – and backing into my slip was a pice of cake.
My problem is, although it was fairly easy for me to adjust to the zero-turn mower, having driven both fork-lifts and twin engine boats “for a living”, each time I do – especially after calling up the memories to write than column- I really, really miss my boat!