Refuelling

Tuesday, July 6th, 2204

Taipoi Fuel Dock, Raiatea

One of the tasks we had to accomplish, once the engine had been repaired at CNI, was to refuel. This required leaving our mooring at CNI and going over to a fuel dock on the other side of Raiatea.

I confess, despite having been out sailing for over 6 months now, docking remains a source of some anxiety. Accumulated miles of ocean experience are of little value when it’s time to maneuver in and out of a cramped space. By analogy, driving cross country is of little help when it comes time to parallel park in downtown Manhattan.

In this particular case, entering the marina of Tapioi  would be like entering a room with three walls. Tied-up on the left wall was a large ferry, on the right wall were several yachts, and along the far wall were more yachts and the fuel dock. The “room” itself was not all that cramped, but there was a steady breeze blowing from the ocean. Over the course of a week, the breeze seemed to be pinning yachts to the far wall. A week earlier, only one boat had been tied up. Now the length of the dock was occupied, with the exception of 30 yards reserved for taking on fuel. Getting in should be straight forward, getting out … I wasn’t so sure.

George and others at CNI agreed with my concern about being able to get off the dock with the current winds. While this made me feel better about my judgment, it didn’t resolve the refueling problem. The obvious recommendation was to wait for a break in the prevailing winds. Acting on that advice coupled with a weather prediction provided by Violetta, Peter and I selected Tuesday at 1300 as the best time to refuel. The computer weather models indicated there would be a lull in the wind as a front passed through and the winds changed directions.

Leading up to our departure, I would visual different ways that we might have to depart the dock. If there were little wind, it would be possible to simply push the bow away from the dock, towards the open water, and make a leisurely and controlled departure. But, if the wind were strong enough to blow Lillian’s bow back towards land, this maneuver would require accelerating Lillian towards the ferry boat, hoping to gain sufficient steerage in time to make the prerequisite ninety degree left turn needed not to embed Lillian’s bow in the Bora Bora Ferry’s starboard side. This is a move that an experienced helmsman could probably do without skipping a heart beat, but for me, it was one that I preferred to avoid.  In the worst case, if the wind were too strong, I could always ask a small power boat to pull us off the dock. However, for a sailor, asking a powerboat to help would by nearly as embarrassing as ramming the Bora Bora Ferry. In order to explore all options, I asked George of CNI for his advice. He provided a brief a lesson in boat hydrodynamics on why going forward is so difficult when pinned by the wind, followed by the recommendation to back out.

Armed with George’s recommendation, my own forethought, Violetta’s weather predictions, and the reassurance that we hadn’t crashed the boat thus far, Peter and I detached form the mooring and headed over to the Tapioi Shell Fuel dock around noon on Tuesday. As we approached the Marina an hour later, the weather prediction, surprisingly, proved valid. At 1300 a rain shower moved in and the winds dropped to near zero. In the pouring rain, we had no problem in coasting into the fuel dock and securing the lines. 

However, as fate would have it, by the time we finished refueling the rain shower had moved on and the onshore winds resumed. Fortunately, they were not strong enough to require enlisting the help of a power boat and we decided to take George’s advice and back out. Lillian’s bow was pointed in the direction of the Ferry. To her stern was at least a boat length of free space. No problem. Peter would stand on the dock holding the bow line just long enough to let the stern swing seaward before he jumped on.

Peter assumed his post on the dock and I stood at the helm. As the engine accelerated and Lillian began to back out, the pressure alarm suddenly began to sound. Fortunately, from past experience, we knew it to be a false alarm caused by a faulty electrical connection. (Here will go a footnote from a disgruntled Westerbeke owner, if I get around to writing it). Ignoring the din, I continued to back out while the alarm, which is designed to be heard, alerted the spectators on the dock and the Bora Bora ferry as to our departure. Meanwhile, Peter was belaying the forward dock line and Lillian’s stern began to head seaward, as planned. Unfortunately, during the process, the line snagged on the cleat and Peter had to run forward to clear it. By the time it was un-fouled, the bow was also beginning to retreat rapidly seaward. Unaware of the line problems, I was simultaneously suggesting to Peter that it was time to get onboard, but the gulf between Lillian and the dock had already become too wide. I was just getting ready to throw the engine back into forward gear when Peter leaped into the water like a Labrador retriever and made a leaping grab of Lillian’s railing. We were clear of the dock, clear of the other boats, Peter was hanging on, and we were backing out nicely. With spectators on three sides and our American flag flapping bravely in the breeze we had little choice but to stand proud and let them know that this was the way we always leave a fuel dock.  So, with alarms blaring and Peter clinging to the forward pulpit like a cross between a figure head and a gargoyle, we backed out, turned around, and headed smartly out to sea with full fuel tanks.

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