Out of Gas

After our boat's steering cable broke on Memorial Day we brought the boat home and waited until we could afford to get it fixed.

Time went by and we managed to get it into the shop to have the cable replaced, a new relay switch on the foot and a 100 hour service done.

This is the busy season for boat repair so we expected it to be in the shop for a while. I don't know how the mechanic got it done so fast but we dropped it off on Thursday and on the following Monday it was ready.

The Island King and I were on our way home from running errands when the guy called to tell us the boat was ready and even though it was 4:30 in the afternoon we changed plans, picked up the boat and were on the water an hour later.

The Island King tells me that he wants to run the ½ tank of gas in the motor out so he can fill it up with fresh gas since it's been serviced.


We went to our favorite spot along Okaloosa Island to watch the sunset.

The water was calm and after the sun set we decided to make a run from Brook's Bridge to the Midbay Bridge and then back to the boat ramp.

That should put us back at the ramp on just about empty” he says.


So we cruised over to Brook's Bridge, turned around and then we were off, flying across the Bay.

We passed a tug pushing three loaded barges right near Brook's Bridge but he was in our rear view mirror in a matter of minutes.

I absolutely LOVE riding in the boat at night. The moon was full and the water was calm and we thoroughly enjoyed our ride.

As we came up to the Midbay Bridge it looked like it was completely foggy on the other side. We knew it was an illusion from the moonlight but we couldn't resist flying under the bridge into what looked like an abyss.

Of course it wasn't an abyss and as soon as we were under the bridge the foggy abyss look disappeared and everything looked normal again.
We slowed to an idle for a minute and the Island King told me to look at the gas gauge.

The needle was bouncing back and forth between a ¼ tank and empty.

Which one do you believe?” he asked.

Hmmm. Probably empty because it's bouncing which means that when the bow goes up the tiny bit of gas we have left goes back into the tank and when the bow is down the gauge runs back to empty since there's no gas in the tank.

Time to head back to the boat ramp.


As soon as he put the boat in gear it died. He tried it a few more times and it would spit and sputter and then die.

AND the gas gauge was no longer bouncing back and forth – it was firmly planted on empty.

We were standing there kind of looking at each other when I remembered the barge we'd passed earlier.

Damn. We're floating in the middle of the channel just east of the bridge and I know for a fact that barge will be coming along shortly.

He managed to get it cranked one last time and we made it close to the edge of the channel, but not out of it, before it died.

He dropped the anchor to keep us from drifting but this was the best we could do as far as getting out of the way.

We were both a little nervous because we knew that once the barge came under the bridge he'd have to make a right turn to stay in the channel but because of where we were anchored he'd have to make a HARD right turn.

Which would not be easy for a tug pushing three barges that were loaded to the waterline.

It was about then that I saw the giant spot light from the tug sweep the bridge.

Crap. We've got about fifteen minutes before he gets to us.
As we're watching the tug's light, our running lights went out right in front of us. The mast light was still working but one minute we had running lights and the very next minute we didn't.

This is REALLY bad. We were pretty sure the barge would be able to make it around us but now we have no running lights so all they'll be able to see is a mast light.

Thank God the Island King keeps a small box on the boat with extra lights and the tools needed to change them.

Within minutes he'd replaced the lights and we could be seen again.

He called Sea Tow to bring us some gas and was told it would be about 45 minutes before they got to us.

The Sea Tow captain asked if we had our lights on and we happily told him yes.

We laughed a little because you'd have to be crazy to sit out there with no lights on and we were extremely glad ours were now working.

Meanwhile, the barge is getting closer and closer.

Because we were so close to where he needed to pass I walked over to the VHF radio to hail the captain. I wanted to tell him why we were anchored so close to where he needed to go and to please watch out for us as he made his turn under the bridge.

And believe it or not – the damn thing was dead.


The Island King tells me that it's ok because most captains are using cell phones these days so it's no big deal if our radio doesn't work.

No big deal? Cell phones?

I might have yelled at him a little when I told him that the cell phone thing might be true but that I didn't have the tug boat captain's phone number and that I'd REALLY like to talk to him.

As the barge got closer he trained his flood light on us and it never moved.

I know he was thinking that we were fishing or something and that we'd see his light and realize we needed to move so he had better maneuverability coming out from under the bridge.

Only we couldn't move so we just sat there hoping like hell he didn't hit us.

We did grab two life jackets out of the hatch and two floats and decided that if it looked like he was going to hit us we were going over the side and swimming like hell towards the shore.

We're both fat and out of shape but we knew all we had to do was get far enough away from the boat to avoid any debris from the collision and not to get sucked under by the barge. From there we could rest on our floats and kick our way to shore.

Oddly, I was nervous but not scared. I'd studied the channel markers with my light and really believed the barge had enough room to clear us and still make his turn but I knew he wasn't happy about it.

The barge came under the bridge and cleared us by about 50 yards but the captain blew his horn at us and kept one light trained on us while he had another spotting the channel markers.

I swear I could feel the stink eye coming right out of that light. He's used to people getting out of his way – and rightly so – but there was nothing we could do.

If our radio worked I could have talked to him and he probably wouldn't have wanted to run over us.

Whew. Near disaster averted.

Now all we had to do was wait for Sea Tow.

We had sandwiches, chips, drinks, a radio (useful only for listening to music by the way) a warm breeze and a gently rocking boat so the waiting was heaven.

The Island King pointed out that I'm always saying that getting stuck is an adventure and that he had to admit that now that the barge was gone this was the best “crazy adventure” I'd dragged him on in a long time.

Wait. What?

I reminded him that HE wanted to run all of the gas out of the boat and that HE miscalculated how much gas we'd need to get back and that HE should have brought along a gas can in case his calculations were off AND this was his idea not mine!

I actually enjoyed the look on his face when it hit home that he was the one in charge of this Donner Party Mission, not me.

Sea Tow arrived and the first thing the Captain said was “I bet you made that Tug Captain nervous.”

Not as nervous as he made us!

The Captain tells us that he's glad we were able to make it as close to the edge of the channel as possible and that we had our lights on.

He then talked about the many “idiots” that he helps that don't drop an anchor and are drifting away as he's trying to get to them, or the ones who break down at night, do drop their anchor but turn off all of their lights.

The Island King and I are feeling pleased with ourselves that this Captain doesn't think we're idiots.

Until the Island King actually told the man he was trying to run the boat out of gas and miscalculated!

I was going to go with “gas gauge must be broken” but no, he tells him that he wanted to run out of gas. Needless to say, the Captain looked at him, laughed and said “maybe bringing extra gas would have been a good back up plan.”


He then hands the Island King a regular gas can with a long, odd shaped nozzle with a valve on it.

He's explaining that this is what they use in NASCAR because it transfers gas really fast – which he needs to be able to do in rough seas.

He tells him to put his thumb over a hole in the gas can, put the nozzle into our tank, turn the valve and then move his thumb off of the hole.

Except our gas cap is at an odd angle on the side of our helm and the Island King was busy trying to figure out how to get the long nozzle into the hole so he wasn't listening to the Captain.

The Captain handed him the can and the Island King managed to get the nozzle into the hole but then he just started lifting the can and since he didn't cover the hole with his thumb, gas went everywhere.

The Captain explains again but the Island King has noticed the valve and is trying to figure it out so he isn't listening and again starts to pour the gas without putting his thumb over the hole.

Gas goes everywhere, the Captain sighs and once again explains the entire thing.

This time the Island King is paying attention, gets the concept and successfully pours the gas into our tank.

Ok, so now we've lost a lot of credibility with the Captain but he still doesn't seem to think we're complete idiots.

He's going home the way we are so he says he'll follow us to the bayou just in case we have any more trouble.

Off we go, under the bridge and towards home.

I sweep the water ahead of us and the Island King snarks at me to stop with the light because I wasn't doing it right.

I'm not even going to defend myself on this one. Unless you're facing the back of the boat it's pretty damn hard to “do it wrong.”

Fine (bad word), take us home.”

Not two minutes later we look over and are passing a non blinking can with about 100 feet to spare.

There may or may not have been some cussing on my part and I immediately picked up the light and started sweeping the channel again.

The Island King was more than a little surprised himself and said “I bet the Sea Tow Captain just said “Damn that was close.”

He doesn't say anything else about my sweeping the channel but after a couple of minutes we're both looking at the markers and realize that since we never come this way, nothing looks familiar.

So we get to the marker for the first bayou and head in towards it. It didn't take but a minute to realize this wasn't the right bayou so we went a little farther back out into the channel and continued onward.

We're scanning the shoreline looking for something familiar and nothing looks right.

I've always said that I could find Joe's Bayou because there's a water tower right at the end of it that has a blinking red light on it.

I see the water tower and tell the Island King that's where we need to go.

He doesn't agree but once I explained the water tower theory to him he agreed this was it and turned in.

Meanwhile, Sea Tow has stopped out in the channel and is just idling there, thinking who knows what.

We get closer to the bayou and realize it's not the right one either.

Well I'll be.

This bayou has a water tower at the end of it too.

We turn around and cruise back out into the channel, where Sea Tow is waiting.

Just call the Captain and ask where the damn bayou is!”

Of course, we had his number since we'd talked to him earlier when we called for help.

The Island King called him and blamed it all on me, saying that I made him call because I thought we were lost.

Which is pretty funny if you think about it. I've been with this man for 30 years and I've NEVER been able to make him do something he didn't want to do.

Ok so by man code you have to blame me to save face with the Captain. I don't care.

I know now that the Captain DOES believe we're complete idiots and it just didn't matter, I just wanted to find Joe's Bayou.

The Captain tells him that he'll lead so we get behind him and continue on.

We both kept trying to decide what was what on the shore but just never could.

Until we came around the point and suddenly we were back in home territory and everything looked familiar.

Sea Tow idled in the channel and pointed his light on the markers at the entrance of the bayou.

That fact that he sat there with his light pointing the way until we were well into the bayou proved my assumption that he believed we were idiots had to be true.

Finally, hours later, we made it back to the ramp and home.

The Island King has finally admitted that taking an extra gas can would have been a good idea but he refuses to admit that he had no idea where the bayou was either and that while I may have suggested it, he called the Captain for directions on his own accord.

Later, one of the kids asked why we didn't pull gps up on our phones and see where we were in relation to the shoreline but that didn't actually occur to either one of us.

The good news is, we had a fun night on the water, we accomplished the mission of running all of the gas out of the boat and we're a member of Sea Tow so we didn't have to pay the $300.00 they charge non members who run out of gas at 10:00 on a Monday night.

The better news is that the new VHF radio and the navigational system/bottom finder we ordered will be here this week.

Boat captains might be using cell phones these days but I'm positive they still have VHF so they can talk to people like me. And since we can't remember to use our phone's map, we've decided to go with old fashioned waterway navigation.

Hopefully, we won't need them but we'll have them if we do.