Running Out of Fuel in the Indian Ocean
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Last Updated on May 15, 2020 by Amy
We knew that we needed to leave Gan, our last port in the Maldives, with as much fuel as possible. With temperatures so high, we were struggling to make it through the day without running the air conditioning, and being so close to the equator, winds were light or non-existent.
We left Gan with a full fuel tank (125 gallons), a full fuel bladder (50 gallons) and 6 jerry cans (5 gallons each, 30 gallons total). That gave us 205 gallons of diesel to try to make it from Gan to Chagos to Seychelles, 1500 miles as the crow flies.
Of course, we wanted to sail as much as possible, as we always do, but we had one problem: we’d just booked flights out of the Seychelles to fly to the States for my grandmother’s memorial service.
Sticking to a schedule as a cruiser is notoriously a bad idea, but we needed a place safe enough to leave Starry Horizons. Gan has no marinas and the fit anchoring in the harbor was tight. So we discussed our options and decided we had enough time to make a stop in Chagos before moving to the Seychelles. While we had hoped to stay in Chagos for the entire 28 days of our permit, that wasn’t going to happen, but at least we would have a stopover.
We motored the entire way from Gan to Chagos, as expected. The path was due south, and while the waves were big, they had a very wide period.
The trouble was after Chagos. We stayed 11 days in Chagos and enjoyed every minute of it, but in order to get into the Seychelles 48 hours prior to our flight, we had to arrive into the Seychelles June 13th. We should be able to make it from Chagos to Seychelles in seven days. Based on the weather forecast, we planned to head southwest, to get south enough for the tradewinds to fill in and turn due west.
Unfortunately, the wind that was forecasted never appeared. We struggled with our strategy then. Do we turn more south to try to find more wind, realizing that if the wind didn’t fill in, we had added unnecessary miles to our journey?
David ran calculations all the time. How much diesel was left? How many miles were left? How many miles did we need to sail to get into the Seychelles?
Finally, on day five the wind filled in and we had a glorious 24 hours of sailing.
And then the wind died again. David ran the numbers and thought we were still good to make it in with the diesel we had. However, the morning of our arrival into the Seychelles, a storm hit us. The wind was 20-25 knots on the nose, we were bashing through the waves. David and I were both up from 1 am to 5 am, as the boat was too loud and rough to sleep. I wouldn’t say I felt seasick, but I was definitely on edge. The boat banged so much!
Finally, the storm passed and I was able to get some sleep. After my nap, I excitedly sat at the helm and watching the depth underneath us rise. Our fuel gauge was on empty, so we were barely going to make it in. We counted down the depth. One hundred feet, and if we ran out of fuel we could reasonably drop anchor and dinghy in to procure more.
Shockingly, we made it all the way to the quarantine zone. Our officials showed up and finished our formalities. I fired up the engines to move us to the fuel dock. David started raising the anchor, and we got it about halfway up before the starboard engine sputtered and died.
How lucky was that for us? Without the following current and that 24 hours of sailing time, we would definitely not have made it into a safe anchorage before running out of fuel.
What could we have done differently? Well, our fuel tank wasn’t 100% full when we left Gan, though it wasn’t short by much. Of course, we didn’t expect such an insignificant amount to matter. Friends of ours that we left behind in Gan skipped Chagos and sailed directly to Seychelles. It took them 14 days, no doubt they bobbed around for a while with no wind to push them along.
Overall, it was one of our most stressful passages. Trying to work within a schedule is very hard, but we miraculously pulled it off. I want to say thank you so much to David, who worked really hard to get me to the Seychelles on time to be with my family for my grandmother’s service.
Wow, Amy. This sounds so stressful for both of you. I’m glad it worked out well and am thankful you made it safely and within your timeframe. Again, sorry for the loss of your grandmother. Sounds like she was a special lady. Hugs from TTR to SH
Hi Amy and David, can I ask do you run on one engine or two and at what revs? You have a 50 gallon bladder in the starboard hull, was there an option for a larger one, as we are thinking of puting one in before we head across the Pacific in Itiki. Is the bladder connected to the existing fuel system with a changeover switch or is it just like a large spare tank to syphon from? If connected to existing fuel tank system how difficult was it and do you get any diesel smells in the owners cabin. Thanks Keith
Hi Keith! We run one engine at 1800 RPMs. This is the most efficient for the D55s I believe. The fuel bladder is not in the hull – it’s in the cockpit when its full, or stored in the locker when not in use. It is not tied into the system, we have to siphon it.
Stressful indeed. Glad to know that you were able to make it there (almost all the way with fuel) and get home for your grandmother’s service. Actually, you were very fortunate. I know a few boaters that saw 0 wind on that passage in 2018.
Yes, we were incredibly lucky! I still can’t beleive it!