Diesel in a bag

Halfway between St. John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia, a passage of about 30 nautical miles, the diesel in my Cape Dory 270 stopped. With 40-foot tides creating sluice-like currents, entering most harbors on the Bay of Fundy requires careful timing to arrive at slack water or when the tide is flooding. If you arrive late, you have to wait for the tide to change while being tossed about like driftwood. I had departed St. John with plenty of time to catch the flood tide at Digby Gut and was moving along under sail at a good six knots. My timing was perfect. Then the wind shifted ahead and brought with it dense fog. With my ETA in mind, I started the engine, lowered the sails, tuned the radar and maintained a close watch.

Soon the engine slowed, paused, and quietly expired. Probably a fuel problem, I thought, but the water separator and the fuel filter were fine. Then I disconnected the fuel line from the fuel pump and quickly determined the problem: the fuel pump had failed. And there was no spare.

With arrival time in Digby stretching like a bungee cord, I considered putting the wind on my quarter and returning to St. John. Then my mind kicked back to a similar situation that had taken place years ago, on land. I was driving down a remote lumber road in Wisconsin in my restored CJ2A Jeep when my fuel pump died—no cell phones back then. I solved the problem by moving the fuel tank from under the driver’s seat up onto the Jeep’s hood. Once the fuel line was reconnected to the carburetor, gravity took over and I was on my way.

Although there was no way that I could get my fuel tank topside, I knew that if I could somehow get a container of fuel higher than the engine, gravity could again take over. My eye caught my 2.5-gallon SunShower plastic composite bag. Using some spare flexible fuel line and some electrical tape, I fashioned an emergency fuel tank. I hung it on the grab handle next to the companionway, slid the flexible line over the metal fuel line leading to the filter side of the high pressure pump, taped it like crazy, clamped the return line and poured in some fuel from my jerry can. Call it an IV bag for an ailing engine, but my iron genny once again had fuel. I made Digby Gut at flood.

Every engine manufacturer designs its fuel delivery system to its own particular applications, and even though my SunShower emergency fuel system worked well on my Westerbeke, there’s a possibility that this solution will not work with other engines. In fact, since my pump failure, I’ve installed a back-up fuel pump on board. Now all I have to do is flick a switch, turn two valves, and I’m up and running again (see figure). But I also carry a new SunShower complete with a length of diesel fuel line that includes an in-line fuel filter. You never know.

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