How far can Pandora go under power?
As I write this, it’s Tuesday afternoon and we are about 1/4 of the way to Antigua.
We knew before we left Hampton that we were looking at a light wind trip, something that looks pretty appealing on the face of it.
Having done a “heavy wind” trip a few years ago with gales behind me for nearly five days, the idea of more “moderate” conditions sounded appealing. I also recall a “light air” trip two years ago when I put 130 hours on the engine. It is with all this in mind that I tend to heavy up on fuel, bringing along an additional six five gallon jugs of diesel to supplement Pandora’s three 50 gallon built in tanks.
For a boat of Pandora’s size, to carry a nominal 175 gallons of fuel isn’t all that common and it generally gives me a good amount of confidence that I can “power my way” out of most everything.
However, I wasn’t prepared for the news that Chris Parker, the weather router, delivered last night on the evening SSB net that we may be looking at nearly the entire 1,600 mile trip with little or no wind.
Pandora is a pretty good light air boat and she can generally keep up with boats that are considerably larger than she is. However, I have never motored more than about 800 miles in a single trip and the thought of perhaps having to run the engine for 1,000 or more miles was pretty daunting, as I don’t carry that much fuel.
When Chris delivered the news, we were motor sailing along in around 5-8kts of wind, not nearly enough to sail, and it was distressing to hear him say that we were facing light conditions for much of the rest of the run.
He did suggest that we might run into about 36 hours of motoring if we were to slow way down and wait to run into a ridge with wind come about Tuesday. The problem with that idea is that we were already quite close to that area and the idea of “drifting” around for several days to get 36 hours of sailing left me feeling pretty uneasy.
Oddly, a few hours after his forecast, the wind filled in at around 10-15kts from the east, although it was quite variable and required us to constantly adjust our sails and direction. Eventually the wind settled in so we could sail on a reasonable close reach, able to make a decent turn of speed toward our destination.
As I write this, around noon on Tuesday we have been sailing for 12 hour since the wind came up and while we haven’t covered a lot of distance, as conditions are light, we have traveled about 60 miles which translates to a 120 mile day. Not a lot given our normal days in the 170-190 range. I was also heartened to learn, during our SSB radio net this morning, that other boats, some 150 miles ahead of us, had similar conditions with decent wind for sailing which give us hope that we may be able to sail for some hours longer before the wind dies.
As they say, “past performance isn’t a guarantee of future results” but every mile that we put under our keel without burning precious fuel, is a mile I the bank on our way to Antigua.
So, where does all this leave us?
We have already covered about 325 miles out of a total of more than 1,200 and Chris says that even if we don’t have much more sailing before the wind gets very light again, we are only about 750-800 miles from picking up the easterly Trade Winds, which are fairly predictable and should make the last 400 miles fairly easy sailing.
All of this suggests that even if we loose the wind soon, and it does appear to be getting lighter over the last few hours, we can still make it to the trades with the amount of fuel that we have left.
Since leaving Hampton with something like 175 gallons in three 50 gallon tanks and 5 jugs, totaling 25 gallons, we have run the engine for 29 hours, consuming about 19 gallons which suggests that we have perhaps 130 gallons of usable fuel left. I say “perhaps” as I have not actually calculated the volume of usable fuel in each tank as there is always something left when the tank level gets low enough that the engine can no longer draw fuel.
I find that at low RPM I burn about .65/gph so if I have to motor an additional 800 miles I’ll burn approximately 80 gallons in addition to the 20 gallons that I have already used. If that’s all true, I should end up in Antigua with some fuel left over.
Of course, all of this depends on many variables that will come into play over the next few days.
Bottom line, if all goes according to “plan” we should arrive in Antigua sometime between late Monday and late Tuesday. And then I’ll know a bit more about just how far Pandora can go under power, or not.
As they say “we’ll see about that!”.