Ireland to Azores


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In late April, we continued our journey home with a 1,330-mile, 8-day run from Ireland to the Azores. We departed Dublin in strong winds, but those settled within a day and we had reasonably calm conditions most of the way. We initially were planning to start the Atlantic crossing from south Ireland, but many ports weren’t comfortable with foreign boats due to the pandemic. Since Dirona has plenty of range, we elected to just sail directly south from Dublin.

We fueled the morning of departure, taking on 1,435 gallons (5434 l) to fill our main tanks and our three ATL fuel bladders. Of course, for the 1,330-nm trip to the Azores, we didn’t even need the fuel we have below decks, much less need to carry more above. But the second leg in our trip would be about 3,000nm directly to the US east coast, and we’d need the extra fuel for that. The reason why we carried this large volume of fuel on this first short leg is that fuel is twice as expensive in Horta as we were able to get in Dublin.

Below are highlights from April 28th through May 5th, 2021. Click any image for a larger view, or click the position to view the location on a map. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at mvdirona.com/maps.

4/28/2021
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Fueling
Tied off at a commercial pier in Dun Laoghaire, where we’ll shortly be fueling. It’s a challenging place for us to tie off, with widely-spaced pilings and nowhere to put a line except high up on the dock above. Jennifer is climbing back down the ladder after running our two 75-ft lines from the bow and stern to bollards above. To locate the boat more accurately for-and-aft and keep the fenders against the pilings, we’ve also got a small line looped around the bottom of the ladder.

The whole operation is made more difficult by a heavy surge in today’s high winds, and a large tidal exchange. The boat is moving a ton in the water motion, and we have to keep tending the lines as the tide rises. It wasn’t our most difficult fueling (Rodrigues and the Marquesas Islands score higher), but aspects of it were challenging.

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Line Parted
In this picture taken from the commercial pier where we are fueling you can see how rough it is in the harbour. This sailboat had come free at the stern, pivoted around, and had already done some damage to the bow before it was rescued and pulled back properly against the dock. You can see the waves are breaking over the dock, but what you can’t see is the dock itself is bucking and rotating, and it looked quite difficult to walk on.

Conditions aren’t ideal locally for our departure, but the winds are with us and the weather should settle down quickly by tomorrow for a reasonable passage to Horta. We expect to hit a patch of rougher weather a couple of days from the Azores as a large weather system approaches, but conditions otherwise should be good.

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Dalkey Island
Running south past Dalkey Island, with its Martello Tower visible. We passed this island on our walk to Killiney Hill Park a couple of weeks ago.
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Muglins Lighthouse
Waves exploding onto the rocks at Muglins Lighthouse just south of Dun Laoghaire. Steady 25-30 knots winds are blowing from the north and generating big waves. Here the tide is running with the waves. We’ll bet it gets pretty exciting when that wind runs against them.
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Positive Current
We’re making 10.5 knots with a fuel economy of 1.38 nm/gallon in positive current as we fly south from Dun Laoghaire en route to Horta.
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Tuskar Rock
The lighthouse on Tuskar Rock stands 120 feet (37 metres) high and was completed in 1815.
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Ark Diana
The freight ferry Ark Diana off the Rosslare Europort, a major port for shipping to continental Europe. This is the fourth ferry that the shipping company DFDS has added to their new Rosslare-Dunkerque route in response to shipping delays from the UK due to Brexit.
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Negative Current
The positive current has given way to a strong negative current, and we are crawling along at 2.8 knots with a fuel economy of 0.395 nm/gallon. It’s not just the current slowing us down—the seas are huge and tight as the current runs against the steady high winds. Our average roll (bottom left) over the past five minutes is 18.8°. Conditions should settle considerably as we round the corner south of Rosslare, but this isn’t comfortable and we won’t make Horta at this fuel economy.
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Sunset
Orange sunset over the Carnsore wind farm just south of Rosslare.
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Moonrise
Pink near-supermoon rising over the North Atlantic as we pull away from the Irish coast en route to Horta. Our initial plan was to depart Ireland from Kinsale, but we were unable to get approval from the harbourmaster to enter the harbor due to COVID-19 restrictions, even though we were fully and properly cleared into the country. We also tried Dingle, farther to the west, and were refused entry there as well. Fortunately departing from Dublin worked out very well for us instead.
4/29/2021
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Conditions
We departed Dublin into 25-30-kt winds, but as predicted they dropped below 10 (right of center) now and and conditions are wonderful on our second day en route to Horta. Boat pitch and roll (lower left) are 2.1° and 2.8° respectively, and we’re doing 7.1 knots at 1.33 nm/gallon.
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Sunrise
Sunrise over the North Atlantic.
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Oil Rig
Oil rig in the Seven Head gas field to our southeast.
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Aegir
The fishing vessel Aegir was on course to pass 200 yards in front of us, closer than we like, so we radioed and they agreed to pass astern.
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Passing Behind
The fishing vessel Aegir passing behind us after adjusting course.
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Passenger
This little bird had been circling the boat quite closely, surveying. It flies well, but when sitting on the boat one of its wings hangs at a weird angle and it doesn’t fly away when we get close, suggesting it might be injured. We’re not sure what we can do for it, other than not letting Spitfire outside. We put out a small saucer of water in case it’s just tired or thirsty.
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11,800 Hours
We just reached 11,800 trouble-free hours on our John Deere 6068AFM75 main engine.
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Rossoren
The Rossoren, one of a group of all-French fishing vessels we passed this evening.
4/30/2021
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Conditions
Conditions remain excellent with light winds and calm seas.
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Two Passengers
We now have two birds riding with us—they arrived the previous evening. We’re pretty sure one of them is the original one that we fed water to earlier. If we approach the two birds, they will fly away, but if we move away from where they are sitting on the boat deck, they’ll fly back and go back to sleep. Because they are flying well and looking healthy, we think they probably are just resting. And later in the day they flew away, not to be seen again.
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Smooth Seas
Smooth seas and sunny skies on our third day en route to Horta.
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Cockpit Bladders
Our two 300-gallon standard ATL deck fuel bladders. This is the seventh time we’ve used them in the past decade, and they still are in great shape. The tie-downs, however, have corroded badly and will need to be replaced after this usage. We’ll opt for stainless steel this time, rather than galvanized steel.
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Forward Bladder
Our 360-gallon ATL custom forward bladder fills the Portuguese bridge area. The bladder fits tightly and is well secured so, like the cockpit tanks, it just doesn’t move, even in rough water. This placement for the tank protects it from wave action and allows us to make the tank very secure. And while we can’t use the Portuguese bridge with the bladder in place, it doesn’t block the door to the foredeck or either pilot house door.

Of course, for the 1,300-nm trip, we don’t even need the fuel we have below decks, much less need to carry more above. But the second leg in our trip will be about 3,000nm and we’ll need the extra fuel for that. The reason why we’re carrying this large volume of fuel on this first short leg is that fuel is twice as expensive in Horta as we were able to get in Dublin.

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Dinner
Jennifer making spaghetti sauce for dinner.
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Weather Buoy
We often see weather buoys on the chart, but rarely do we see one at their marked location. Here’s one that was, the K1 Metoffice ODAS Buoy four miles away from us.
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PredictWind
We’re using PredictWind for the first time to generate and follow a route for the run to Horta. The great circle route to Horta from Ireland is shown in pink, and the PredictWind fastest route in red is the one we’re following. The winds and wave heights are slightly less on the PredictWind route, making it a faster choice for a power boat.

We started using PredictWind more seriously earlier this year. In previous tests, we don’t think we gave it enough of a chance, or maybe it’s just much better now than in the earlier days. But we’re now finding it really useful. We initially started using it to help compare the various routes from the Azores to Bermuda. PredictWind produces data for a variety of weather models in both graphical form and in a table form that can be copied into a spreadsheet. We can then use that data to analyze and compare conditions across the routes.

5/1/2021
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Conditions
Conditions remain wonderfully calm, with winds averaging less than 10 knots behind us (just right of center), and boat pitch and roll 3.2° and 6.1° respectively (lower left) and we’re making 7.1 kts (middle left) with a fuel economy of 1.33 nm/gallon (middle right).
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Weather Data
We generally find wave height, period and direction a better predictor of conditions than wind and use that information more heavily when selecting a weather window. The larger the wave period compared to the height, the more comfortable the conditions and the better the fuel economy. 12ft seas on 12 seconds is much more comfortable and fuel efficient than 9ft seas on 7 seconds. Large swell on a long period involves lots of up and down but really doesn’t make the boat at all uncomfortable. And waves from the stern are much more comforable than waves on the bow.

In the screenshot, the two groups of data under the heading ECMWF are the PredictWind wind and wave table data for the ECMWF weather model for the remainder of the passage to Horta. The three columns at right are our colorized interpretations of the data using a spreadsheet. We color wave height green if the waves are less than 4 feet or the wave period is more than 1.2 times the height, orange if the wave height is less than 7 feet or the period is 1-1.2 times the height, and red for everything else. We color wave direction green if they are coming from the direction of 50° on either side of the stern, red for 50° on either side of the bow, and orange otherwise. The final column is wave period divided by height and is colored the same as for wave height, but only using the wave period part of the formula.

These tables allow us to easily consume a lot of date and get a good overall view of the conditions we can expect. For the rest of the run, the waves won’t be very large and the trip is expected to be mostly excellent with less than 10 knots and light swell. But we do have a period coming up between May 3rd and 4th where the waves will be on the bow and we expect much more boat motion and less comfort during that period.

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North Atlantic Weather
A screenshot showing the current North Atlantic weather. Right now we’re in the narrow blue section of light winds, about midway between Ireland and the Azores (the island group slightly below center above the letter H in the high pressure system). A 997mb low is moving east and will pass behind us, while another large low pressure system is forming off the US east coast. We likely will encounter the edge of that first system in a couple of days, and the second system as we make landfall in the Azores. Those two lows pack 20ft waves, but we’ll be enough out of the core that we won’t see close to that.
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Berries
Fresh berries with our breakfast this morning.
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Boat Deck View
The view from boat deck to the calm conditions behind us. Here we are operating at much higher power levels than we normally use when crossing oceans. We’re aiming to arrive Thursday morning and are spending a little more fuel to do that.
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CMA CGM America
The 883ft (269m) cargo ship CMA CGM America about 7 miles away en route to Dunkirk, France. There’s not much traffic out here—we’re seeing about one ship a day and sometimes less.
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Ditch Bags
Our ditch bags ready to go in the salon should we need to abandon ship. We’ve put our gear into two dry bags at left and right, with a bag for Spitfire at center. To each we’ve attached lifejackets and a long tether. And we also have our Mustang exposure suits in the salon, ready to don if necessary.
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Spitfire
Spitfire sleeping on a pillow in the off-watch berth.
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1.9 Kts Wind
We’re sure lucky so far with the weather for this run. The winds (upper right) right now are blowing an incredibly low 1.9 kts, boat pitch and roll (lower left) are 1.9° and 3.8° respectively, and we’re doing 7.2 knots at 1.49 nm/gallon. We are expecting this to last for another two days before the edge of a low pressure system reaches us.
5/2/2021
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Radar
We haven’t seen much of anything on this passage. The radar for 32 miles out shows nothing. (The long names on the screen are waypoint names encoded with weather information in the PredictWind-generated GPX route).
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Moonset
The moon setting over the North Atlantic on our fourth night at sea.
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Course Adjustment
Adjusting course to increase the CPA (closest point of approach) between us and the overtaking ship Mistral from 400 yards to a mile and a half. In open ocean, we’ll generally aim for two miles of separation and really don’t like to see it drop below one mile, especially at night.
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Dawn
Dawn over continued calm conditions in the North Atlantic.
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Sunrise
Bright orange sunrise to start day five at sea. We have four more nights to be before we reach Horta.
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Spitfire
Whenever we open a locker, Spitfire is inside in a flash to investigate, no matter how many times he’s been in there before. He’s doing amazingly well for a near-18-year-old kitty.
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Draining Bladder
We’ve consumed enough fuel now that we can drain the 360-gallon forward bladder. Here we have a fuel hose attached and are pumping it through a filter and into the main tanks (see Fuel for the Crossing for details on this system).

Visible is an important point on how to use bladders: when they are abolutely full, they don’t shift around at all and there’s no fuel motion inside them in even rough conditions. Here we’ve pumped off only about 20 gallons and the bladder is starting to get ripples and, as a light swell rolls through, giant waves of fuel roll back and forth across the bladder. Generally bladders are comfortable, and wear well, when they are full or when they are empty, and they take a lot of abuse when only partially full. So we pump them down as quickly as we can in a single operation. We can pump about 100 gallons per hour, so this 360-gallon tank will pump down in about 3.5 hours.

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Fuel Hose
The fuel hose snaking back from the Portuguese bridge fuel bladder to the bulkhead fitting in the cockpit that leads to the fuel manifold (see Fuel for the Crossing for details on this system).
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Shrimp Pitas
Shrimp-salad pita pockets for lunch.
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Azores Time Zone
This afternoon we put the clocks an hour back onto Azores time.
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Conditions
We’re into the edge of that low pressure system and the winds and waves have picked up a bit. We’re now pitching 11.4° (lower left), and need to take more care moving around the boat. Wind and waves on the bow really degrade fuel economy rapidly. Here we’re only getting 1.1 nm/gallon at 6 knots.
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Over Halfway
We’re over halfway now with only 552 miles left of 1,315.
5/3/2021
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Pitching
The waves aren’t very big, but are tight and right on the bow and we’re now pitching up to 14°. This isn’t at all dangerous, but we have to use care moving about the boat. We can easily sleep in the centrally-located berth in the master stateroom, but we’ve learned that in these conditions and worse, if we sleep wedged in the narrow floor space beside the bed, the motion is a lot less annoying and we sleep far better.

Using that trick, we find it takes quite rough conditions before we start having sleep problems. This also avoids the risk that befell James 8 years ago where a bigger wave tossed him out of bed and into the head wall while he was sleeping. Sleeping on the floor looks a bit odd, but it ends up being a remarkably comfortable way of dealing with rough conditions.

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Weather
That first low has passed behind us and is hitting Ireland now, and the rougher weather we’re seeing is from the trailing edge.
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Antifreeze Leak
Here we have a pressure tester on the furnace heating fluid system—the system has leaked antifreeze today in the lazarette. James has tightened up all the hoses and is now pressure-testing the system to ensure it is fully repaired.
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Conditions
Conditions settled down substantially overnight and boat motion is greatly reduced. The waves still are on the bow, but the period has increased and pitching (lower left) has halved down to 7.4° from a high of 14° last night.
5/4/2021
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Generator Autostart
We don’t like any of our engines to set around without running for months at a time. So, if an engine hasn’t been run for 3 weeks, the control systems light up an indicator light on the dash to remind us that one of the engines needs exercise. We normally never run the generator underway and just run HVAC, oven, and all other draws off the main engine. The control system today signalled that the generator needed a run, so we switched it on to carry the load until it’s fully warmed up. Nothing unusual about that, but what was weird is that when we looked down to see how warm it was 10 min later, it wasn’t running.

It turns out the autostart system has developed a fault sometime during the last 3 weeks since it was last used. Here James is chasing down the wiring that triggers a start and found the ground wire in the generator request-start circuit was faulty. He was able to find the fault at either end so ended up just installing a new ground wire and it’s back to fully operational.

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Weather Data
The PredictWind ECMWF weather model data, with our color annotations at right. Looks like we’ll have decent conditions for the rest of the run into Horta, with light winds and waves mostly on the beam.
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Horta
Chart view of our destination of Horta in the Azores. According to the COVID-19 protocols for arriving boaters, we’ll anchor out on arrival inside the harbour wall and be tested for COVID-19.. If the results come back negative, we’ll be allowed into the marina and ashore.
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Oil Check Underway
Our main engine oil level has never fallen between changes, and we’ve never had to add oil, but we still like to check regularly. The way we do the underway oil level check is to learn where the oil should be when the engine is running. This is a one-time check when the boat is new where we ensure the oil is right on the full line with the engine off. Then we check to see what the oil level is when the engine is hot and under load.

On our John Deere 6068AFM75, the full level when running is the “add” mark on the dipstick so it’s easy to remember. As usual, on this check the oil level is fine. Another advantage of the underway oil level check is it allows topping off the oil without shutting down the engine. For example, if we developed a serious oil leak while underway, we could just keep adding oil to keep the level correct and not risk damaging the engine through too much oil (aeration) or too little oil.

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Calm Seas
Wonderfully calm conditions 400 miles north of Horta.
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Pizza
Jennifer preparing a pizza for dinner. Unless its very rough, we choose to cook on passage and enjoy eating well along the way. But we have some pre-prepared meals for when it is too rough to comfortably cook.
Show locations on map Click the travel log icon on the left to see these locations on a map, with the complete log of our cruise.

On the map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at mvdirona.com/maps.

 
 


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9 comments on “Ireland to Azores
  1. Richard Koller says:

    Hi James

    Did you enter a polar for your boat in PredictWind and if so , how did you develop it?

    • We did enter polars but we’re experimenting so trying many different values to understand the impact of them. We’ve been changing them frequently and a few times using factors other than Predictwind to select our route. Where we think the polars should be set to is average ocean conditions with different winds. The polars matter greatly in the recommended routings from Predictwind so getting these right seems quite important. When we enter very low speeds into the polars, the route recommended can change greatly but there are important routing decision factors not modeled by polars that are very important for a non-sail boat. For example, if you take a more direct path that covers less distance you may burn less fuel. So there might be times when the routing recommended by the polars might force somewhat slower operation since more power could have been applied on the more direction route.

      For example, on this passage, we are way south to avoid the large low pressure area north of us. There is no question that this was a good decision. But this morning we were playing with the impact of very slight changes in the direction between more northerly (more direct) and more southerly (less direct). Predict wind currently recommends a slightly more southerly path that the one we are on but we run a 1/2 kt faster on the northerly route only because it covers less distances and needs less fuel at a given speed. That means the northerly route saves a bit of fuel that you can spend by applying a bit more HP and get a tiny amount more speed.

      Overall, we love Predict wind but really understanding the optimum route for conditions and a given fuel burn is complex. We’ll keep tuning the polars but there will always be some judgement needed as well.

  2. Dean Russell says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip back with us. I look forward to the next instalment.

  3. Alec Peterson says:

    Having the bladders totally full makes a ton of sense, but how do you get them that way physically? Do you have a check valve on the fill neck so that the pressure can’t push the fuel back out? Do you need to ensure there is little or no air in it before you fill?

    • It’s deceptively easy. The only problem is that there is a natural tendancy to want to leave some space for expansion or to say “that’s pretty close.” We did that the first time and they moved a lot. Getting them full, stops any shifting. What we do is tie rope around the inlet and lift it up a couple of feet as we start filing. This stage isn’t really needed but I do it to ensure that there is no fuel spilled during that initial period where there is little in the tank. After the tank gets to 1/2 to 2/3 full, I remove the rope and keep filling. Once it’s “full”, I keep adding fuel until the fuel line start to rise in the filler inlet. It seems crazy to let it get right up to the filler but the fuel is very stable and none is ever spilled. In the Dublin fill we were in a 2″ swell rolling through the harbor and it’s still rock solid. There is no need to remove air, the fuel just displaces it and when the level rises.

      The ATL bladders are well designed and easy to manage. I’ve heard many reports of bladders moving around but we’ve been in fairly tough weather with bladders on deck and they never shift. Full seems to be the primary contributor to stability. The other is we attach the ratchet straps quite tight. With those two steps, nothing moves.

      • Alec Peterson says:

        Huh, the ones in the cockpit seem to have the inlet in the middle; where do you put your feet to give you the right angle on the inlet?

        • I straddle the tank corner with one foot on either side and I can fill fairly easily that way. I think this video shows me filling the bladders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM4NLuNmZOQ&t=70s

          • Alec Peterson says:

            True enough, I clearly was over-estimating the dimensions involved. And now that I see it being filled, of course, gravity will spread the load out, since there is nothing pushing the fuel up the intake there’s no reason for it to go up there. Mentally it seemed more fragile in my head, but the physics makes sense seeing it in action. Thanks!

            • Your reaction pretty closely matched mine. I was quite concerned and careful but the right thing happens and, intellectually, it makes total sense. It’s just not what you might first expect.

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