Water in the Fuel Tank? It’s Always Something.

It’s Sunday morning and we are happily sailing along on a close reach at about 7kts after motoring much of the last few days through a high pressure ridge with no wind.   If the wind holds out, we should enter the Gulf Stream around midnight tonight and I expect that it will be a pretty “salty” 12 to 18 hours of sailing before we make our way to the north side and into calmer waters.

They say that you don’t want to be in the Gulf Stream when the wind has a “N” in it, North West, North or North East.  The problem is that when wind blows over water it makes waves and when the current opposes the waves, and the GS flows north, the waves get big and steep.  Think of the rapids in a river and how steep the waves get.  Well, think about trillions of gallons of water moving along like a massive river, add an opposing wind and you get “salty” conditions, really quickly.

On my trip north last spring I was traveling in the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions and a large thunderstorm came up.  All of a sudden the wind was strong, around 20+ knots from the NE and in less than an hour the seas had built and it got really rough.  After bashing around for an hour I decided to tack west to get out of the stream and as soon as we passed the western wall, things calmed right down.  It’s pretty remarkable how quickly it went from nasty to fine and all that changed is that I left the north flowing current of the Gulf Stream.

Earlier in the trip the forecast called for near gale winds in the GS so we have been very focused on getting across it before the really strong, near gale force, SW winds hit.  And, based on that forecast, many of the boats in the Rally decided to bail to Bermuda and wait for better weather.  After thinking about our options I was pretty confident that we could get north of the GS before the nasty weather hit so we pressed on.

However, that was a week ago and what looks like a sure thing weather-wise from that far out, can change a lot in a week.  Fortunately, that’s been the case here and the conditions don’t look that bad now.  However, the near gale force SW winds which would have been behind us are now expected to be from the north so even if they aren’t strong, conditions will be rough and we will be heading into the wind and waves.  Not a great combination.  However, we can always tack to the west and get across the stream.  If we do that, we won’t be in nasty conditions for more than about 100 miles, say 10 to 12 hours, verses the 150 miles that we had hoped to cover if the weather forecast was more positive.

We expect to be in the stream as of around midnight tonight (Sunday)and there will be a new forecast this evening so I’ll have the most current information to work with.

What’s going to happen with the wind as we work our way up toward NJ and NY is uncertain as there are a number of small lows coming from the midwest and it’s hard to say what sort of conditions they will bring.  Usually, lows bring NE winds which would make going toward NY a chore however, Chris feels that the winds won’t be that strong so it might not turn out to be too bad.  We will know more on Mondaymorning when he gives his next morning forecast.  I guess all we can do at this point is to keep moving and be prepared for whatever we run into.

A complication in all of this is that yesterday, when I switched fuel tanks, Pandora has three, the engine started running rough and died.  After messing around with filters and such for over an hour, I realized that there was water in the system suggesting that one of the tanks is contaminated.  I don’t know if I got some water when I filled that tank earlier in the winter or if seawater got in at the deck fill when we were in heavy conditions over the winter.  One way or the other, it caused a lot of anxiety when the engine died as we were more than 100 miles from an area with any wind and to sit for days, 350 miles from land, waiting for wind was quite upsetting.

However, as with everything else aboard Pandora, I carry plenty of spare parts so I was able to put in new filters and get rid of most of the water in the system and isolate the tank with bad fuel.  Good yes, but the bad tank has left us with about 30% less fuel and perhaps not enough to get home without stopping along the way.  And, there is the added anxiety of worrying that we might have some water in one or more of the two remaining tanks that might cause problems down the road.  Fortunately, I have an extra 25 gallons in jugs to use if needed and I put most of that supply in the nearly empty tank that I had been running on from when we left Tortola.

Happily, we are now sailing but that may come to an end in a day or so when we encounter winds from the north and with some 500+ miles to go a lot can happen.  Assuming that we have burned a good amount of our remaining fuel by the time we are near NJ, we may opt to stop in Atlantic City to fill the two clean (I hope) tanks to make the rest of the trip.

So there you have it, and as Gilda Radner used to say “it’s always something”.  And that’s particularly true when it comes to boats going long distances.

Well, wish us luck as we continue to work our way north.  Hopefully we will be home by Wednesday or Thursday, even if we have to stop for fuel.

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