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Into The Blue: Garden Variety Off-Shore Refueling - PassageMaker

Into The Blue: Garden Variety Off-Shore Refueling

Escorting a fleet of 18 boats across the Atlantic during the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (NAR) of 2004 required lots of planning that encompassed dealing with every conceivable problem—including transferring fuel if necessary.
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Fueling_Jim supervising  Uno Mas fueling #3

Escorting a fleet of 18 boats across the Atlantic during the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (NAR) of 2004 required lots of planning that encompassed dealing with every conceivable problem—including transferring fuel if necessary. In our NAR operations manual issued before our departure from Ft. Lauderdale, we included detailed standard operating procedures for mid-ocean refueling, and sure enough, we got a chance to put them into practice.

On the second and longest leg of our voyage, the 1,880 nm from Bermuda to the Azores, we turned to a direct course for Horta upon reaching 55 degrees of west longitude in good weather. Our speed was off a bit because of a west-setting current, and due to fuel requirements, increasing speed was not practical for Uno Mas, the smallest vessel in our fleet. Taking advantage of the fair weather, we decided to transfer about 100 gallons of fuel from the boat, allowing her to increase speed.

The fuel pump was key to our success.

The fuel pump was key to our success.

Our primary escort vessel, Atlantic Escort, was a new Nordhavn 57 with a special towing rig that would allow us to really tow any boat in our fleet—even in heavy weather. This type of towing requires the towing vessel to have a tow point forward of the rudder shaft; on Atlantic Escort, it included a reinforced tow bit mounted to the overhang of the cockpit and strengthened with compression posts to the transom. We also required each participant to have a tow ring installed at their boat’s stem and to have a specially built bridle attached to accommodate Atlantic Escort’s heavy towline.

Atlantic Escort also was equipped with a fuel transfer system, including a suction and distribution manifold to move and filter fuel from tank to tank. The system is fitted with an Oberdorfer 24-volt vane pump that moves about 3.5 gpm. On the distribution manifold we simply included a spare port with a valve and a 3/4-inch male garden hose spigot. We had several 100-foot hoses and planned to use them for the transfer of fuel or water when needed.

Uno Mas was taken into tow. Once the boat was stable, a garden hose with a closed nozzle and fender attached was streamed behind Atlantic Escort, easily picked up with a boat hook by the crew of Uno Mas and retrieved aboard. The feed end was attached to our transfer manifold aboard Atlantic Escort. Upon receiving VHF confirmation from Uno Mas, we began pumping fuel.

We had one problem to overcome. The transfer hose dragged in the water. Even at the three knots or so we were traveling, the drag stretched the hose, reducing its diameter. We were afraid it might break. If doing it again, I would follow the same procedure but would purchase higher quality hoses that are better reinforced and less inclined to stretch. Obviously, if you were setting up an escort vessel that would routinely provide this service, you would buy an appropriately rated hose. For us, the economical and sacrificial garden hose did the trick.

Jim Leishman is vice president of Pacific Asian Enterprises, the builder of Nordhavn trawler yachts.

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