Cheap Fuel and Cheap Thrills

By Tom Neale, 9/8/2005


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I’ve got this sign on my engine room door that says something about not throwing away oil. I don’t know exactly what it says, because it’s got so much oil splattered all over it I can’t read it anymore. All I know is that the government told me to put it up and that’s why it’s there. What I don’t know is, Who are they kidding? Do they really think I’m going to be throwing away oil? Or gas? Or anything remotely like oil or gas? When I get a drip of oil in my bilge I scoop it up in a cup and put it in a bottle and keep it in a lock box in the bank. I’ve been reading that BoatUS is worried about people spilling a few drops when they take on gas or diesel. We don’t see any of that around here. It’s hard to spill gas or diesel when they’re selling it to you in a syringe because the dollar meter runs so fast that they’re afraid you’re going to max out your card before they can turn off the pump.

Oh, for the good ol’ days. I dream of being young again. But I don’t dream about sex in the sixties and the age of innocence and all those good things about being young that they say you’re supposed to dream about. I dream of Cheap Gas. Cheap Diesel. When I started boating in the 50’s I could fill up the tank for my 5 hp outboard at around $0.15 a gallon and it would get me through half the summer. You know about the cost of gas and diesel today. A lot’s happened since then and I sometimes feel like it’s out of control. But not so. You and I have a better handle on things. We own a boat.

On High Fuel Prices

1. Never trust a fuel gauge in a boat.

2. If you run out of fuel and you want to lie about it to keep from feeling stupid, “my fuel gauge was wrong” is the thing most everybody will believe without question.

3. Don’t ask me how I know these things.

Click Here for More Tips

A waterman told me about a time when he went out half empty because he couldn’t fill’er up because fishing had been “purty poor.” A storm blew up and he had to get back into the inlet.

“She was rolling so bad that the little bit of diesel we had in the tanks started sloshing right past the pickup tube and the engine started dying, right outside the cut. I thought I’d lost her for sure.

“What did you do?”

“Well Tom, I had three cans of WD 40 aboard and every time the engine started to quit I sprayed that stuff in the intake until she took off again. I did that over and over, every time I knew she was affixing to die, and we just did get into that cut.”

“Well, didn’t you ruin your engine Cap?”

“Well Tom, I reckon I did, but I still had a boat to put another one into.”

No, don’t do this at home, but it reminds me of the fact that people on boats have long been known to make do when they have to with whatever they have to make do with. And there are indeed things that I can do to control these fuel prices.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I’m having to deal with my love of speed. I run a 53 foot motorsailer that burns around 3 gallons an hour if I go for her high speed, racing through the water at around 8 knots. This might not sound like much, but when you typically take trips of one or two thousand miles, it’s a bear. Of course, I could pull ‘er back to a stately 7 knots and burn a third less fuel, but I always feel I’ve got to go as fast as I can, even if I’m acting like a turtle hurrying to cross the road when there isn’t any road to cross. But I’m going to head south at 7 knots this year. I’ll have double savings on fuel. I won’t burn so much moving and when I run aground at a slower speed it won’t take so much fuel backing off.

But my real speed fix comes from my 20 foot Mako with the 20 year old 200 HP Yamaha. She really rips and the high speed power is a high that I think I can’t do without. But I can’t even tell you what she burns. That boat burns so much fuel that the tank is empty before my calculator and clock can make the calculations. I think it costs about five bucks just to get out of the slip. (And that’s when I remember to untie all the lines first.) But when we run her slow, don’t get up on a plane, and just go out tooling around for a boat ride, she just sips instead of gulps and she gives us a nice easy beautiful ride, kind of fun. So why don’t I do this more? Then I’ve got my 12 foot aluminum dinghy. She’s tough but light. With a 25 HP Yamaha she’ll go at least as fast as the Mako. And a 6 gallon tank seems to last forever in comparison. But she is a bit wet, she’s not what you’d call commodious, the waves that the Mako doesn’t even notice will send her airborne, and she’s ugly as sin. But I kind of like sin.

You’ve probably got a lot more sense than me and therefore you probably have less boats than me. But even with one boat there are options because boats are special. They’re not like those big RVs or air planes or even cars or lots of other things that people have fun with—and that’s where you and I are really lucky.

One of the great things about boats is that you don’t really have to go anywhere in a boat to have fun. Sure, it’s fun to pick a destination and get there, but it’s also fun to just go out in the river and sit. It’s fun to go to a nearby beach and hang out. It’s fun to sit in the marina talking with friends and maybe going out for a slow evening cruise. It’s fun to find a nearby hole and hang a line over—bring home a little dinner. None of these take a lot of gas or diesel.

And can you imagine just hanging out in your back yard in your big expensive RV? Or can you imagine fishing from it? Or can you imagine taking a leisurely evening cruise around the block in an RV? And if something else were your fuel consuming passion, you probably wouldn’t be much better off. All-Terrain-Vehicles usually involve hauling them in the pickup truck (and you know what those beauties are drinking today) to get to some turf. Suppose your passion was flying a small plane on the weekend. Maybe you could sit around in the pilot’s lounge talking with your buddies, but I can’t imagine hanging out on the runway or in the hanger having a barbecue like you can on the dock or off your stern. And you can’t exactly take off and turn of the motor and just drift—not for long.

And I doubt that, with any of these other pleasurable pursuits, we’d have as much fun talking with others who also share the passion about effective ways to save fuel. I’ve been noticing on the BoatUS chat boards some really good ideas. Like don’t keep your water or fuel tank full if you don’t need it and you don’t increase risks, or adjusting your trim. I’ve been noticing people reporting fuel prices at their marinas. We ought to all report good prices, even if it’s not really what you’d call cheap gas or cheap diesel. That’s good stuff that helps others. And it’s good to see a BoatUS fuel discount at some marinas.

As bad as it is, we’re pretty lucky to have boats. With a boat, even a fuel guzzler, we can have a hell of a lot of fun without burning a hell of a lot of fuel. We don’t have to go fast or far to have fun. A boat is fun all by itself, just hanging out. It may not be the fun we’ve grown used to, but it’s still fun. Yep, I miss those 25 knots in my Mako, I really really do. But the other day when I got aboard to start the engine to keep her cleaned out, I continued sitting behind the center console after I’d turned it off. And I continued sitting. I turned the seat around and looked out over the stern. If felt good. I enjoyed it—just sitting. I’ve done this a lot more since then. It reminds me of those days back before I was 9 years old, which was when I got my very first boat. I used to go down to the riverfront and just sit in other people’s boats—just sit. It felt good and I could dream about having a boat of my own some day. A boat’s a great thing to have.

But that’s all I’ve got to say right now. The wind’s up. The first nor’easter of the fall. I’m going to set up my board and do some wind surfing. Man, am I going to save some money this afternoon—in my littlest boat.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale