I recently spent two days running three different 300-hp Mercury Pro Verado four-stroke outboards on---of all things---pontoon boats. Stop laughing. One of those toons broke an eye-watering 50-mph. And more importantly, running several of the same model outboard on different platforms taught me a few things about them.
Lesson #1: Mercurys DTS (digital throttle and shift) and power steering systems, both of which are standard features with the Pro, are absolutely awesome. Shifting and accelerating are buttery-smooth, and theres no fighting with the throttle. Bass boat guys, take note---theres an available DTS Hot Foot option which lets you choose between using the pedal and the throttle with the press of a button. Meanwhile, running the boat is even more of a pleasure thanks to the automotive-style power steering. Its far smoother than standard hydraulics and turning the wheel at all speeds is so easy that you can literally do it with one finger. Theres also zero feedback, so you dont have to worry about fighting prop torque all day long.
Mercury 300-hp Pro Verado
Lesson #2: HOLD ON TIGHT when you hit the throttle. One advantage the Verado series has over other four-strokes is the supercharger, which translates into head-snapping acceleration. It made our pontoons rocket out of the hole, and mid-range acceleration was also red-hot. Again, bass guys will love it. Then again, who wouldnt?
Lesson number three: power doesnt have to come at the expense of efficiency. At cruising speeds we burned under 10 GPH, while getting between 2.5 and 3.0 miles to the gallon. And at wide-open throttle, we never broke 30 GPH. Thats great economy for any outboard boasting 300 horses. Oh yes, and lets not forget that these engines are as quiet and vibration-free as other modern four-stroke outboards.
One more thing I learned about the Pro Verados: they offer plenty of choices to match your boat. You can get them in the original 4.8" gear case, or a new beefed-up 5.44" version which has strengthened internal components. You can also choose between 20" and 25" shaft lengths. One thing that requires no choosing is the warranty; Mercury gives you a solid three years, standard. For more information, check out www.mercurymarine.com.
My first encounter with a Ram truck came when I moved to a new house, and met my neighbor. He had a Ram with quite a few years on it, and after it turned 150,000 miles, he only used it for hauling his boat. He hauled it to Florida, he hauled it to North Carolina, and he hauled it to Maryland, among other places. Recently, that Ram turned 250,000---and he still trailers his boat with it today. If you demand this kind of longevity out of your tow vehicle, you need one thats built tough, has gobs of towing capacity, and comes equipped with heavy-duty towing accouterments. And the new Ram fits the bill as well as my neighbors old one did.
The Ram 1500 is rated for up to 9,150 pounds, and even the base model Tradesman can handle over 6,250 pounds, which covers the vast majority of the boats on the water. If you have an even larger fishing machine, up the ante to a Ram 2500 and you can haul 13,600. You want even more towing capacity? The 3500 is rated for 18,550, the 4500 for 18,400, and the 5500 is rated for 18,350 pounds.
What about the extras a truck needs for towing? Even the base-model Rams come with a pre-wired seven-pin trailer wire harness and a four-pin connector. They also have heavy-duty and/or auxiliary transmission oil coolers, which are imperative for serious tow vehicles. And Rams electric shift-on-demand transfer case ensures you can climb hills and take downgrades with ease. Options you should consider for improved towing include extended mirrors and a receiver hitch, though higher-end models come already equipped with a class IV receiver. You also get electric trailer brake controls, which allow you to automatically or manually apply the trailer brakes as needed.
Of course, youll also have to choose your powerplant. Options range from a 4.7L V8 to the 5.7L HEMI to the 6.7L Cummins turbo diesel. The king-daddy is, of course, the 350-hp turbo diesel---which creates 800 lb-ft of torque. With this bad boy under the hood, the tow rating gets boosted up to 22,750. If your boat weighs any more than this, you probably should be towing it with an 18-wheeler and a "Wide Load" escort. Not sure which version of the Ram is right for you and your load? Ram has a towing guide on their web site, at www.ramtrucks.com, that lets you sort out the different models and options by tow weight or load type.
Grate Chef FireStarters
I have finally found a product that works all the time ...rain or shine. Made by Grate Chef, these Firestarters work like a charm. I took some camping and was glad I did. What a campsite without a little rain? I thought Id give these Firestarters a real test on damp wood. I was amazed at how long they burned and yes, they started a nice fire to keep these old bones warm and dry.
Each package contains 6 Firestarter packets. You only need one but I used more just to make sure. I always seem to go over the top. These Firestarters are not only for a good campfire either! You could use them to start your stubborn charcoal as well and have your dinner at a decent hour!
Grate Chef FireStarters Photo: Grate Chef
What is really nice is that there is no odor that may seem harmful. I used to hate the smell of lighter fluid on my steaks.