I don't know if you've noticed, but during the past few months oil prices have ramped up to levels which, as the financial crisis of 2008 had demonstrated, tend to crash the global economy. Even the International Energy Agency has recently picked up on this fact and sounded an alarm. That was before Libya exploded, taking a couple of millions of barrels a day of irreplaceable light sweet crude off the market. That was also before Japan was devastated by a major earthquake and tsunami, damaging oil refineries and nuclear power plants. (Tokyo immediately started asking Moscow to start shipping more oil and coal right away.) Nobody knows how many other disruptions such as these are going to occur this year, but that number is probably greater than zero, and it won't take too many more to cause the global petrochemical supply chain to snap, resulting in high prices, shortages and rationing.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so I decided to pre-purchase all the gasoline we will need for the entire year. I put my two 20-liter jerricans on the dock cart, and wheeled them out of the marina, across the parking lot, down the street, through the pretty little gas-lit park that the Boston Freedom Trail passes through on the way to the Bunker Hill Monument, and to the filling station on the corner. I had to do this trip three times; the first two loads I emptied into the on-board tank, filling it. The remaining load will stay in the jerricans, on deck, shown above.
Sixty liters is a truly astounding amount of energy. At 9.7 kW·h/L, it's almost 600 kW·h. Rowing flat out, I can put out about 70 Watts, and so the energy I got from the gas station is equivalent to me rowing continuously for an entire year, or about five years of me rowing for five hours every day. Not only that, but at around US$1/L it is about the cheapest liquid available—cheaper than milk or bottled water or apple cider, none of which get you very far. Not only that, but this amazing substance is conveniently dispensed around the clock by a computerized machine at a clean, brightly lit facility that is within easy walking distance. It just sounds too good to be true; I don't think it will last.
We don't use gasoline all that much. We have a 10-horsepower outboard that sits in an inboard-outboard well under the transom and behaves much as an inboard engine would without the associated oil in the bilge, the diesel stink, the bother of seasonal commissioning/decomissioning or the expense. We use it to motor out of the marina and, sometimes, partway out of the harbor, and back. We sometimes motor slowly when becalmed, to maintain course and to avoid the unpleasantness of “lying ahull”—where the boat turns sideways to the swell and is rocked by it. And then there is Cape Hatteras, an evil place that, when heading south, is best circumvented by motoring down canals. Even if we sail Abemarle and Pamlico Sounds, we still have to motor down canals from Norfolk, Virginia to reach Abemarle Sound, and then again from Pamlico Sound to Beaufort, North Carolina.
This is why I decided to avoid running into any global geopolitical complications with the petroleum supply and stock up while things are still reasonable. I don't know that this was strictly necessary, but now my mind is at ease because we'll have enough gasoline for at least a year, maybe even two or three if we time the tides better, motor slowly when we do have to motor, and don't waste fuel motoring when we can just bob around until the wind picks up again. During these two years I might weld together a digester and start running the engine on gas produced from driftwood we can pick up along the beach.
And now the really cheerful part: thanks to all of these global petrochemical difficulties, there will be few, if any, large obnoxious motor boats on the water this season, just as there weren't in 2008, and the few that remain will move very slowly, to conserve fuel—too slowly to produce large annoying wakes. And that is certainly something to look forward to.