Fueling up and running out

Elliott Bay Marina is convenient for getting fuel. Simply take the boat to the next dock over and fill it up. The cost for this convenience is paying about a 30% premium over the prices of less convenient fuel docks in the area. For example, the Port of Poulsbo is 16 miles away and sells diesel fuel for $3.01 per gallon while Elliott Bay Marina charges $3.99. This price disparity nearly always makes it worthwhile to go to Poulsbo for fuel. And so this week my friend Thomas and I made a fuel run to Poulsbo. Thomas had never been to this town previously. The weather was extremely foggy for most of the 2.5 hour voyage. We could barely see the Agate Pass Bridge until right upon it. It’s good that Fiddler is equipped with radar, GPS, and AIS electronics.

No other boats were at the fuel dock so we tied up and began the process of filling three of the four tanks. Fiddler has two 250 gallon tanks, one each port and starboard, and two 100 gallon tanks aft of the larger tanks. I keep the port aft tank empty in order to correct an otherwise list to port. With diesel fuel weighing about 8 pounds per gallon, that is a lot of weight saved. We filled the two starboard tanks and then realized the fuel hose was too short to reach around the cabin to the port side. The fuel dock attendant said they recently installed a hose that was 5 feet shorter than what they ordered and a longer one is on order. That didn’t help me now. Rather than turn the boat around, which was listing significantly with two full tanks on one side and nearly empty tanks on the other, we decided to improvise and run the hose through the cabin, in one window and out the other side. It worked with no length to spare.

We pumped a little over 400 gallons and saved nearly $1 per gallon. So you can see how it is very worthwhile to get fuel here. We docked for the night and enjoyed dinner in town. Thomas brought a rare bottle of Red Breast Irish Whiskey that he purchased on a recent trip to Ireland. We tasted a little of that too. It was a fun and late night.

In the morning, after a required visit to Sluy’s Bakery, we prepared to depart for Seattle. Fiddler has a fuel manifold that manages the selection of which tanks to draw from and return fuel to. Most diesel engines pump way more fuel than they burn and must return the unused portion back to a tank. Since the three tanks are full, I simply opened two valves to set the manifold to draw from and return to the port forward tank. Here is an older picture of the fuel manifold.

Maybe 30 minutes after leaving Poulsbo, both engines suddenly died. I had no idea why as we slowly coasted to a stop and began drifting. Fortunately we were in a shallower area with little traffic so we dropped the anchor for safety and began troubleshooting. We shouldn’t have run out of fuel with full tanks, but that is exactly what happened. I had mistakenly selected the empty port aft tank to draw from, rather than the port forward tank, and what little fuel was in there was quickly used up. I blame the Red Breast. We got out the engine manual and found the procedure for bleeding the air from the fuel lines, which I had not done previously, so it was a good experience from that perspective. About an hour later we had the engines running and were back under way. This situation could have been much worse had the engines died while transiting the swift currents of Agate Pass or in the very deep and busy commercial traffic lanes. I’m thankful it was only an embarrassing inconvenience.



One thought on “Fueling up and running out

  1. Wow – fog, a listing boat, a short fuel hose, and sitting dead in the water – that’s a lot of obstacles to navigate! But of course, it became a learning opportunity! Top it off with a little Irish whiskey, and all’s well! Another great story!


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