Confession: Playing the fuel with a V-shaped tank

In this month’s Confession, we hear how one Conway owner’s calculations for a weekend’s cruise didn’t quite add up

The weekend was forecast to be a perfect; sunshine, blue skies, calm seas and the company of a good friend. My wife was away for the week, and our boat, a 35ft Conway lay on our pontoon on the River Itchen.

I decided that me, my seven-year old daughter Ella, my friend and his daughter should head down there. It would be two dads and their daughters on a great weekend break, a chance to have some father/daughter bonding and have a great time as well!

Arriving at 8am for a 9am departure on Saturday morning, I quickly checked the boat over, oil levels, coolant, belt tensions etc, to ensure the two 235hp diesel MerCruisers performed well and didn’t let us down, as my friend sat and read the paper.

The two girls were chasing around, very excited at the prospect of being together on the boat and at the prospect of an afternoon at the Needles leisure park.

Our plan was to motor to Alum Bay, find a buoy to moor to, and dinghy to the beach. A short ride on the chair lift and we would be at the park, ready for a beer, a pub lunch and the girls could run around to their hearts content.

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The fuel gauge read three-quarters full, but just to check, I dipped the tank with a wooden baton, and it was just over half full. At a capacity of 120 gallons, that gives me 60 gallons, or at least three hours cruising at about 20 gallons an hour. Still, I would fill up at Itchen Marine on the way down.

Approaching Itchen fuel pontoon, I looked for my wallet and realised I had left it behind. A quick shout to my friend (a solicitor, so bound to be loaded) revealed he didn’t his either, but the tank was still half-full.

Past the speed limit at the dock head, I opened her up to full speed. 36 knots, calm sea and fantastic sunshine what could be better? Arriving at Alum Bay with no money, we anchored for a while and tried to placate the girls with some mackerel fishing, but it was is no substitute for the Needles Park.

Deciding to take a trip around the Needles before going back to Yarmouth for fuel, I considered phoning my wife in New York and asking for her card details (even though it would be 6am).

Full speed into Hurst Channel and the fuel gauge still showed half a tank. Suddenly we were down to 20 knots, then 15, and then it dawned on me.

I installed a new stainless steel tank three years previously but had never allowed it to drop low on fuel. The tank was installed across mid-ships and shaped to fit the bilge.

So the bottom half of the tank is V shaped and tapers to nothing at the bottom. The top half is the same depth as the bottom half.

For those who know their geometry, the bottom half of the tank has a capacity of half of the top half, so only a third of the total capacity ie, 40 gallons, not 60 as I had thought.

A call to the coastguard was made, and we dropped anchor. The Yarmouth lifeboat appeared and took us in tow, heading for the Yarmouth fuel pontoon.

Picture the scene, early evening on a sunny summer Saturday, Yarmouth is packed to the gunwhales with boats on every available pontoon, rafted three-deep everywhere and the G&Ts flowing fast and loose.

Enter a lifeboat towing a 25-year-old motorcruiser, and we had the sympathy of the onlookers until we were steered unceremoniously onto the fuel pontoon.

With no hiding, I decided to keep a low profile and try to be nonchalant, but there was no chance. A thousand critical eyes watching as we re-fuelled (thanks to my wife, who did answer the phone in New York and supplied her card details, too).

Finally with full tanks and a bleed of the engines, we had missed the tide, so had to tie up at Drivers Boatyard and wait until 2am for the next tide before finally getting home. The result? Solicitor friend and daughter swear they will never go boating again.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


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