Adventures in Fueling

 One thing I love about living on the hook is living privately, quietly, and having a 360 water view. Life on the hook is abundantly pleasant.

Winter moorage officially ended on May 1. Tuesday was my first day back on the dock to fuel and fill up my water tank. Like all boating tasks, even fueling is an adventure. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

I’ve never filled the diesel tank before, as Libby is the cutest little sailboat and her captain hates running the motor. Okay, perhaps hate is a strong word. Anyhow, the surveyor and boat listing put the tank capacity at 10 gallons, but Ron, sailboat whisperer, said that was pure poppycock. Turns out Ron was, as usual, totally right. But that’s not the point of this story.

Fellow liveaboards have been making plans to get the heck out of here, and I’ve been jealous. I have a boat, I should go places too! Of course I went in for fuel at low tide, so low that the usually floating buildings were tipped and resting on mud. And, as I approached the fuel dock, a gracious attendant yelled down to me that they couldn’t fuel as they were out of water. Naturally. I have such timing and luck.

I swung around and docked, so I could at least plug in and fill my water tank, and as I was pretending that I knew how to tie a rolling hitch for my spring line, a large and shiny sailboat (looked like an Oyster to me) approached the fuel dock, but was, like me, turned away. This is part of the story, I promise.

There we are, charging our batteries, hull being cleaned and sprayed by moi, when one of the looked-like-an-Oyster-to-me owners came up and asked how many gallons I was getting, as they were in line to get fuel, and would I be untying and getting fuel soon because they needed fuel but I was first. I said she could go first, as I was charging my batteries, but she insisted and said they’d be buying more fuel than me. The woman was quite gracious and friendly, but I could tell she wanted me to haul ass and fuel up.

I untied, coiled up my cord, abandoned the hose and sponge, and pulled out to go get fuel so the looked-like-an-Oyster-to-me boat could get its fill of diesel, too.

Never having fueled directly into the boat before, I had no idea it would take me that long. My boat is a 1972 Islander, and I point that out because my boat is OLD. Before my time. Before my parent’s met, even. Sorry if you’re reading this and you were born that year, or like my mother, graduated from high school in 1972. I don’t mean to imply you are old, only that my boat’s fueling system isn’t state of the art. The diesel frothed and bubbled and liked to peek out the top of the fuel cap, so I didn’t so much pump the fuel as I did drip it in  to keep from spilling. Think feeding a baby bird with an eye-dropper. I hate people who spill gallons of fuel all over everywhere and stink up the marina because they were impatient, and I’m pleased to tell you that I’m not one of them.

Keeping in mind that looked-like-an-Oyster-to-me boat owner was standing/hovering over me (she helped me tie up to the dock and seemed like a great woman, but a hoverer is a hoverer), and I’m now standing at the stern of my boat in some kind of yoga position that ensured every muscle was screaming at me, and we were approaching the magical time of 4 pm when the port, by law, must shut off their fuel, who happens to come up but another boater who needs fuel. A motor boat owner. Those guys don’t need fuel, they need Saudi Arabia. I was bird-feeding my tank a humble ten gallons, but those people need the Persian Gulf to get anywhere.

Looked-like-an-Oyster-to-me boat lady, let’s call her “Pearl,” and the fuel attendant (who’s name I’m keeping anonymous on purpose) told the guy that two people needed to fuel up before he could. For some reason this guy, let’s call him “Ned” had modified his boat electrical system to take 50 amps rather than the standard 30. Yeah, it’s a head-scratcher, but some people are that way. Ned, thinking that I’ll be fast and Pearl will be quick, goes up to a marine store to look for the proper power adapter.

Meanwhile the diesel fuel is still bubbling and frothing and reminded me of that nasty fluid the dentist gives you as a kid and tells you to swirl around in your mouth for like 2 minutes.

Pearl, still there, is carrying on a conversation and I find out that before this boat, which is not an Oyster but a Fantasy 47, she and her husband had a Baba 40. Ah! And that they still went to the Baba rendevous because wow, what great boats. This conversation did not help my lusting problem when it comes to Babas. I told Pearl that I had my heart set on a Baba or a Tashiba, and she told me all about how comfortable they are in all things sailing. Sigh.

Ned comes back, not having any luck with finding the proper cables for his 50 amp system, and makes a beeline for me. I do not even look up to see his face, so I couldn’t describe him to you, which is awfully good for Ned.

“How many gallons are you getting?” Ned asks, hovering over me, looking over my shoulder, observing the delicacy of which I’m fueling my boat.

“Ten,” I said.

“Does your boat have a vent?” Ned asks, scanning.

“No,” I replied.

“Does it always take this long to fuel?”

“Yes,” I said. Yeah, I know this was my first time fueling, but still. Not his business.

Ned sees my fueling progress, looks for a vent on my boat (because what do I know about my own boat?), then talks with Pearl about how many gallons she needs for her boat (100), and she tells him that her boat has three fueling locations and they open up all of them to speed the process along. And there I am, crouched in a position that would make Buddhists proud but which made my feet numb, thinking dark and twisted thoughts about Ned.

Drip, drip, drip goes the fuel. Pause to let it vent. Drip, drip, drip. 6.5 gallons. 6.7 gallons. 7 gallons…

Ned leaves to get his boat ready to fuel up, as Pearl has decided she’ll bring her boat back tomorrow, when she has time and when her boat can make into the fueling station without hitting the bottom.

I tell the Port attendant that I could never have her job, because all I wanted to do was jump out of my boat and beat the crap out of that guy. What I really wanted to say to Ned, and I wish I had, was that as far as I knew, having five people looking over my shoulder watching me fuel my boat, did not, strangely enough, speed the process along! And good for Ned that he left when he did and did not have to experience my dark and twisted imagination, nor my kickboxing trained muscles.

I’d pulled my boat in for fueling on a Tuesday, when there was no one there, at 2:30, which had the Port not run out of water, would’ve been plenty of time. Another thing I should’ve told Ned that I said to the attendant: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Ten gallons of fuel is paltry compared to 100 or however many Mr. Ned the 50 amp boat owner needed, and anyone with that kind of fuel thirst should arrive at a station with hours of time.

Moral of the story? I wish I’d spoken my mind and gotten Ned to back the eff off as I fueled my boat, as I was there first. I hope to never fuel on the weekend, as I learned from the attendant that fueling is a blood-thirsty endeavor, akin to the gladiators entering the arena. Okay, I added the last part, but I think the analogy is a good one. Also, ten gallons brought my fuel gauge up to 3/4 of a tank, so I’m betting both the boat listing and surveyor were smoking crack, my fuel tank holds more than ten gallons.

And, when you fill up water or fuel, and some wind starts a-blowing, the liquid will slosh around the tanks. Yep, I know this from the previous night’s sleeping experience, as my water tank is below my v-berth. Since I was running on the E but now I’m closer to the F, my diesel also likes to make its presence known when the boat moves.

Second moral of the story? If you need to fuel, but see a girl filling up her sailboat’s tank, just assume that not-so-deep within her is a ferocious ninja just waiting to try out a spinning hook kick on someone who asks her “how much longer is this going to take?” Don’t let the blonde hair fool you.


  1. s/v Eolian May 10, 2012 at 9:26 am

    But… but… with no vent on the tank, does it not collapse when fuel is withdrawn by the engine? Really, there’s gotta be a vent…

    But I do understand that diesel froths, and that the fuel pump on the dock is sized to fill Ned’s tanks, so it kind of “over-delivers” when you are filling a small tank (or jerry cans, as is my case when getting fuel in Poulsbo)


    1. Courtney May 10, 2012 at 9:30 am

      There probably is, but I’m not sure where, and my fueling speed was about right for sailboats, according to the attendant, who kept encouraging me not to worry about the constant pressure of the hurry-up onlookers.

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Fueling | Courtney Kirchoff

  3. Scott Wilson May 11, 2012 at 6:34 am

    There’s no getting around the cliche: powerboaters are ignorant and self-centered (and, of course, we sailors are stuck-up and self-righteous!).

    Still, it’s worth your time to locate your fuel tank vent line and inspect it. While it’s normal for those massive pumps to cause a little bit of froth and backup in small sailboat tank filling, there’s also the possibility that you have some sort of blockage that could cause other problems later on. And (speaking from shameful experience here) it’s just generally a swell idea to know where all the various holes in your hull are for those 0430 moments where you are on your side, aground, and water is coming in (or fuel leaking out!) from somewhere and you need to plug the likely culprits in a hurry.

    In your further defense here, however, you should also remember that ol’ Ned there probably hogs the fuel dock for an hour every month filling up, whereas you may only need to visit once per season! In the grand scheme of things, you have a much lower karmic debt load for fuel-dock hogging.

    1. Courtney May 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      Scott, I thought it was a fact that we sailors are just better people. More sophisticated. Classy. Seen but not heard. 😉

      I hear ya on knowing my boat. The more I learn and sail her, the more I love her. I’ll take advantage of a sunny, wind-less day and crawl around the boat, looking and exploring, and wondering what the heck is all this and where does this lead and what does this do. I did that when I first moved aboard, searching for the VHF wiring and bruised my shins. I’m more flexible now, I think, so I’ll have another go of it.

  4. Jim May 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Loved your article. I hate to go to the fuel dock. Most are a zoo on the weekends, and the little powerboaters have no sense of manners.
    Fuel and go tie up elsewhere to go shopping, I say. Glad you did you biz and was able to get away without an assault charge. See you on the water.

  5. Jim May 11, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Every Diesel, ir Gasoline tank will have a vent. That obvious.Wheather it is clogged or not would be the question.

    1. Courtney May 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      No doubt you’re right, I just didn’t want to talk to Ned more than I needed to. 🙂

  6. Justin R. May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Courtney,

    Every fuel tank has some sort vent, otherwise when the fuel is pumped to the engine it would leave a vacuum, drawing the fuel back from the engine to the tank. However, some vents are integrated into the fuel line cap, so you may not see a separate vent hose leading off of your tank. You can usually recognize these by a thumb screw on the gas cap, which can be used to close the vent. These types of vents won’t speed your fueling, but they do simplify things a boat; one fewer hose and its associated fittings, one fewer hole in the deck.

    (living on a 1972 Islander too!)

    1. Courtney May 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Yeah, I’m sure my tank does, but I didn’t want to get into it with Powerboating Ned! I’ll have a better look around and may need to clean it out.

      Where do you live and sail your Islander?

      1. Justin R. May 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        I’m moored in Lake Union, in Fremont. Usually I sail in the lakes because I’m scared (I mean, um, cautious :)) about locking through to the Sound solo and I don’t have regular crew that I can call up. If you ever want to stop by to have a look and compare notes just let me know and I’ll send you my contact info.

  7. Gary Shinn May 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Bravo! Great story. Well told. I hate (is that word strong enough?) to get fuel on our 1933 wooden classic. The vents (for two 30 gal. tanks) are on the transom. If you pump too fast the pink foamy stuff backs up onto the deck and/or shoots out the vents on the transom. So we use those suction cup plastic bottles over the vents to catch the overflow and then just carefully dribble the diesel into the tank for what seems like hours. And it seems like there is ALWAYS a big plastic oil tanker (Bayliner) hovering in the background. Gary, Wander, 1933 Alden/Todd Dry Docks

  8. Kevin May 12, 2012 at 3:00 am

    How long does 10 gallons last you while living on the hook?

    1. Courtney May 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

      Since I only use diesel to power the boat, and not for cooking or heat (my boat doesn’t have a heater) I expect ten gallons to last quite a while.

  9. Pingback: The Case of the Not-Missing Fuel Tank Vent | Courtney Kirchoff

  10. Rick Dettinger May 13, 2012 at 6:46 am

    “graduated from high school in 1972”

    Thats not old, to someone who graduated from college in 1969, thats jailbait!

  11. Joe May 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    While I really like your stories of living on the boat and learning the ropes I have to say that your “I am better than a powerboater” snobbery leaves me cold. As both a sailor and a power boater (commercial and pleasure). I have seen and heard a lot of bigoted comments from “both sides of the aisle”. The sad truth is there are a few jerks out there on either side who give a boad name to both power and sailboaters. Please don’t become one of them.

    1. Courtney May 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      No Joe, all powerboat owners are jerks, no exceptions. It’s as if God said, “Let there be powerboaters and sailors, and may the sailors look down upon the powerboaters.” All sailors are pleasant, refined, and terrific people, who have excellent taste, magnificent hair, exquisite style (somewhere between Posh Spice and Luis Vuitton), and proficient table manners. Powerboaters are just jealous.


  12. Gary Flory May 18, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Hahaha…Excellent….You crack me up….In a good way. ; )

  13. Allan Smith September 22, 2012 at 5:23 am

    I agree 100%, power boaters are knobs. Back in June, our kicker (9.9 Johnson), gave up the ghost when we were returning to our marina. As the wife and I never sailed into our slip before, we decided to tie up at the fuel dock. Not to worry, it is an extremely long dock, we did not interfere with any customers. There was a cabin cruiser gassing up with about 5 or 6 people milling about. Now a sailboat approaching a dock under sail is a fantastic indicator that something is amiis….not to power boaters of course. Ellie, my wife, said they looked like a herd of milk cows waiting to be milked, bovine expressions while watching us rying to slow down a 2 1/2 tonne boat by hand. The next morning we sailed it to our slip and some real sailor runs up to assist without being asked. Enough said….Allan