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The Great Mightabeen…!

When it comes to marine propulsion units, it’s not my wont to eulogise sterndrives, primarily because I’ve never liked them much and consider them a fiscal black hole. Also, there is too much power loss and parasitic drag through the universal joint and two gear clusters – not to mention that the only thing between a floating boat and a sunken one is the rubber gaiter between the drive unit and the gimbal bearing.

A new ME432 with TRP drive in a custom-built mahi-mahi fishing boat in Papeete, Tahiti in late 2009, shortly before Yamaha ceased production.

Occasionally, though (as in all genres), there are products that, given a chance, could have totally changed people’s perceptions of such technology, and one such product was the Yamaha Hydradrive sterndrive. Earlier, Yamaha had in fact entered the gasoline sterndrive market in the US in 1989 – bad timing, as it happened, as many major boat companies had already aligned with (or had been bought by) Mercury and OMC, guaranteeing sales for their MerCruiser and Cobra sterndrives respectively.

Yamaha could therefore only deal with smaller and family-owned builders. Not to mention that due to the compressed introduction timescale, Yamaha was unable to source and marinise its preferred Toyota engines and had no choice other than to compete with a “me-too” product in the form of the de rigueur GM V8 marinised by Crusader. The sterndrive leg, however, was always a cut above, with a multi-plate clutch for gear shifting that was silky smooth in comparison with the “baulk and crunch” of the competition, and a neat little aesthetic touch of a tilt button on the leg so that it could be tilted or lowered from outside the boat or while trailered.

The Yamaha gasoline sterndrive programme was not a resounding success, but the Hydradrive really came into its own nearly a decade after the US exercise when coupled with Toyota 4- and 6-cylinder diesels – virtually the same engines being marinised by Yanmar (who still had to use a Bravo 3 Mercury leg at that time). The marinisation and power delivery of the 6-cylinder Yamaha ME432 and ME432 HO (285 and 315 hp respectively) were exceptional, and that engine actually used to “spool up” on the turbo much earlier than did its Yanmar cousin.

The apotheosis of the project was the magnificent twin-prop TRP drive, and had Yamaha gained traction with major European sportscruiser builders like Sunseeker, Windy, Bavaria and Botnia, their power systems would almost certainly have been the default choice. It was not to be, however, and Yamaha, ever prescient, saw the writing on the wall for the ever-declining world sterndrive business as far back as 2009, ceasing sterndrive production for good the year after. My good friends in Red Bay Boats in Ireland were probably the largest users of Yamaha sterndrives in the Northern Hemisphere (if not the world) and got to the stage where they could nearly install them in their sleep!

Below, a couple of shots of a new ME432 with TRP drive in a custom-built mahi-mahi fishing boat in Papeete, Tahiti in late 2009, shortly before Yamaha ceased production.

Danny Casey is highly experienced, undoubtedly idiosyncratic, and immensely knowledgeable about things mechanical, new or old.  His knowledge and passion are as a result of spending his whole life in or around anything power-driven – especially marine engines.  His passion for boating is second to none, with his life a montage of fabulous memories from decades spent in or around water and boats, both here and in Europe.  Danny has spent myriad years in the recreational marine industry in a varied career in which he has bamboozled colleagues and competitors alike with his well-honed insight. 

His mellifluous Irish accent, however, has at times been known to become somewhat less intelligible in occasional attempts at deliberate vagueness or when trying to prevent others from proffering a counter-argument or even getting a word in.  Frank and to-the-point, but with a heart of gold, it can be hard to convince Danny to put pen to paper to share his knowledge. Marine Business News is grateful that he took the time to share his thoughts and insight.  Connect with Danny through LinkedIn.

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