A Little Horror Story of Diesel Fuel Sprayed on a Riviera by Neville & Val Khambatta

In August 2020 we became the proud owners of a Westerly Riviera. We had just sold our first yacht and seen her sail away with her new owner and suddenly there we were, boatless in the Western Isles. We had been searching for ‘just the right boat’ to replace her. I knew exactly what I wanted and as soon as we had been released from the first lockdown we set off around the British Isles viewing possible replacements. From the Clyde to Cardiff by way of Eastbourne, Plymouth and Weymouth and a few more, we couldn’t find the right boat. Ageing diesels, wet osmotic hulls not to mention ‘owner improvements’ – none of them were for us. So there we were standing on the pontoon looking across to an empty mooring buoy!

Now for some reason the Riviera had never been on my list of possible boats: The Seahawk, yes; but not the Riviera. Then suddenly, just before boatless panic could fully set in, there she was on the internet, a Riviera in the North of England and what is more she had a new engine. So off we went at high speed to view, offer, survey and you know the rest! It is often said that the two happiest days of a sailor’s life are the day he sells
his boat and the day he buys a boat. Hmmmm! I had felt quite peeved when then new owner of our old boat declined my offer to show him some of the things which I thought he might like to know so I was more than happy to listen to the hints and tips for making life easier and more pleasant on the Riviera from her proud owners.

There was, however, one gem of information which I frankly didn’t believe. It was the fact that when you came to fill the fuel tank you had to find a way of adding the diesel very, very, slowly. Apparently, it would spit, burb and fountain red diesel at you if you just poured the stuff in straight from the pump on the fuel dock.

Before we sailed away to take our newly acquired pride and joy home to the West Coast of Scotland we needed to top up the tank. We moved to the fuel pontoon. A very cheerful member of staff arrived, unlocked the pump and I said “Oh, by the way, I’ve been told…….” but, too late!

The filler pipe is not just spitting diesel it is a veritable fountain of beautiful red diesel, over the deck, the cabin side and into the marina. Seldom has anyone seen a member of staff at a marina move so quickly. The diesel was red and the air was blue! The next few minutes were spent mopping up. I tried to explain. He was sure there was a simple solution. He tried again, same result, and again and again and again. He wasn’t going to let it get the better of him. There wasn’t a simple solution. There was however rather too much diesel going into the marina instead of into the tank! This was not good (modest understatement!)
Eventually we persuaded him to fill our four 10 litre black plastic tanks and leave me to fill slowly. It took me between three to four minutes to very slowly pour ten litres of diesel into the fuel tank. Rivieras have a HUGE fuel tank. We have been reliably informed that it has been calculated that you can motor from Plymouth to Santander on one tank of fuel. Frankly, I can’t see why anyone would want to do this, but you get the picture. It’s a lot of diesel, especially if you have to dribble it in from a plastic can.

Forget buying a motorsailer and wondering if it would sail. We were beginning to see our new life on the West Coast of Scotland being spent bent over the fuel filler!! The darned thing burped, spat, occasionally gushed and let us know in no uncertain terms that it was firmly in charge of our lives. So what to do? I know what some of you are thinking, “why doesn’t he use one of those little siphon tubes, they are SO useful”. Well yes, they are but somehow I’ve never managed to make one work for me for more than a few moments and anyway this was a challenge I was determined to win. To cut a long story short, I didn’t win but we did I put it on the list of jobs which we asked Rob, the engineer to see if he could solve over the winter. With winter came the lockdowns, the boat was ashore in Scotland and we live in Norfolk…… No chance of a quick visit.

When the lockdown rules were finally relaxed and we were allowed to cross the border we returned to our pride and joy to discover that Rob had solved the problem. Apparently, the fuel pipe went straight down, then turned a corner, ran on horizontally for just so far and then turned another corner down to the fuel tank itself. I used the words ‘turned a corner’ because that is exactly what Rob found when he went delving into the recesses where the fuel pipe ran. Not one but two right angle fittings, real corners, not bends, corners. He kept one for us and replaced them with two lovely pieces of stainless pipe which are bent gently and smoothly through 90 degrees. Just look at that photo. The diesel was dropping straight down, hitting the bottom, then a length of horizontal pipe before another of those right-angle corners (see Fig 1) to let it ‘flow’ into the tank. No wonder the poor boat got indigestion and regurgitated the fuel. I can confidently tell you that it’s not a lot of fun trying to feed your boat it’s fuel when all it wants to do is projectile vomit red diesel over the proud owner. Curiously enough Val declined my kind offer to let her see if she could do better!

Had Rob fixed it? Was the problem about to become a dim and distant memory. We paid the bill, crossed our fingers and waited. Launch day went smoothly, the engine started and we moved out to our buoy. The next day we went alongside the fuel pontoon and Colin came to top
us up. However, discretion seemed the better part of valour, so we filled our four cans, Colin went away. I didn’t want an audience just in case it hadn’t worked. So, take off the fuel filler cap, prepare kitchen towel, old cloths, even older towels, wear clothes which could be disposed of quickly and quietly if it hadn’t worked and BEGIN POURING. Joy unbounded………. IT WORKED.

Forget the cost of diesel and the size of the tank, that was nothing compared to sense of relief and the grin on the face of the proud owner! No longer was our fuel tank suffering from indigestion and regurgitation. We could hold our heads up, go sailing and not worry about polluting marinas anymore. I could now go sailing without those four black plastic cans and motor all the way from Plymouth to Santander….. why? Anyway, roll on next season.