Cruising sailors without a car are facing an ever increasing challenge: finding a place to refill their propane tanks. Many propane sellers are now converting over to propane tank exchanges, but those bar-b-que style tanks do not fit our propane lockers. Googling propane refill is often very misleading. You need to call and ask specifically if they fill and not exchange tanks. And we learned a hard lesson even if they do refill. Here is our saga:
It was Monday, Memorial Day, and Allen had done his research. It was no emergency as we still had about a quarter full 11 pound tank, and we carry a reserve 5 pound tank. We knew, however, that we wanted to refill before we left Long Island Sound. After some Google research and a thread on the Cruising and Sailing Forum,, we learned that propane refills are available at Stratford and Groton, CT. The wind and current were perfect for a sail from Port Jefferson, NY, to Stratford,, and it was an enjoyable sail. We had to pass through the Washington draw ridge and contacted the bridge tender on VHF channel 13 as we entered the Housatonic River. We wanted to be sure there were no issues with opening the bridge, and the tender cheerfully said he would open on our arrival. What he did not say was that he would open only one half the drawbridge, nor that it went up very, very, very slowly.
Now, you have seen photos of Afterglow and noticed our lovely blue Bimini Top and surround. Well, it is fairly difficult from the helm to see a bridge above us, and I dare say I got a bit close as the half bridge was rising. With my heart in my throat, I was able to see the mast as it passed by the closed half, and we did get pretty close, but I could not see how close we were to the still rising other half. About three quarters of the way through, I pushed up the throttle, steered a bit away from the closed half and got the H-E-double-hockey-sticks outta there without touching... phew.
Now the marina we were headed for was Tuna's Boardwalk Marina, and I had emailed "Tuna" himself on Saturday to confirm that I could refill a propane bottle nearby. But by the time I saw his reply and responded asking for reservations, he must have left for the rest of the weekend because I was not able to contact him or anyone via email, phone or radio up until the time we arrived.
When we got under the bridge, the next task was to find the transient slips. Fortunately, one of the Marina residents was there, and he pointed us to the north end of the marina... right where the river current was running under the next bridge upstream from the one we just passed through. I headed down there and did not like what I saw, but then I saw Shawn waving me back. When I got there, he told me his neighbor's boat on the T-head of his dock would be gone all week, and he thought that since there was no marina staff around, that it would be all right to tie up there. Thank you Shawn!
Ok, so now it is Memorial Day, and right in front of Tuna's Boardwalk Marina is this giant warehouse store called BJ's Wholesale Club, and in the parking lot is a propane refill tank. So I detached my tank and happly carried it over. A young man filling BBQ style tanks said he would be happy to fill mine after I go in and pay. I was confused because how could I pay without knowing how much propane it would take? It turns out that BJ's charges $13.99 flat rate. O.K. So I left the tank with him and went in to pay. Five minutes later, I was at the customer service desk and asked to pay for a propane fill. "We're out of propane" the middle-aged woman told me. "But I just left my tank with the guy filling the tanks?" "Well, he just called and said we were out." "When will you get more?" I asked. "Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day." Dejectedly, I walked back out to the propane fill where the young man had locked up and left my tank outside the propane gate in the middle of the parking lot. I strode faster when I saw a guy by his car eyeing it. Phew, almost lost my tank to boot!
Now my research had shown that there is another place nearby that fills propane tanks: the Sunoco station on Ferry Blvd, about an 8 minutes walk away. I thought for a moment and figured I should call ahead. I did, but got no answer. Rather than walk over there lugging the tank, I decided to go back to the boat and call later. I'm glad I did because when I got someone, I was told that they had just run out. Then it hit me: Memorial Day, and everyone is getting their Bar-B-Que ready for the summer!
The next morning Norma and I went shopping at about 10:30 am, and an older man was filling BBQ tanks in front of BJ's. We went into the store and bought some things then paid for a propane fill. Then Norma went and stood in line with the other propane customers while I went to the boat to get the tank. We waited, chatting with the other customers while the older guy filled BBQ tanks. When it came our turn, he looked at our tank and said, "We don't fill those tanks." "What? I said, "this is just the same as the ones you are filling, only smaller." "We are not certified to fill those boat tanks, federal regulation." Norma and I knew there was no arguing with this guy. She went back inside to get a refund while I took out my phone and called the Sunoco station. No answer.
Now we noticed a car over by the Marina office so we went over to pay for our slip. The woman in the office was very nice, and when we told her about our propane saga so far she insisted that we should not walk to the Sunoco station and that she would get one of the marina staff to drive me over there. I called Sunoco, and this time got someone. They had not gotten their delivery yet and I should call back after 1:30.
We went to West Marine and Stop & Shop and a few other places. Tuna's Boardwalk Marina is a great stop for provisioning with all these stores within walking distance. When 1:30 pm rolled around, I called Sunoco and yes, they had gotten their propane delivery. I got my tank, went to the marina office and the woman called young Dillon from the boatyard shop to drive me over. The guy at Sunoco filled my tank, charged me $10 and we were back in minutes. I tipped young Dillon $5 and went back and reconnected the tank. Norma and I laughed and wrote a bad poem about it.
The Saga of Propane
Propane, propane, the story is inane.
Allen’s gone insane over getting more propane.
We went into the store and out of the door
when he spotted the cage with tanks of propane.
Without the can in his hand, he ran to the man
inside the cage near the tanks of propane.
If you hurry, I’ll fill it but alas, I leave at five.
So Allen dove to the boat, got our small can
but since it was a holiday, another alas.
The man at the tank: Damn, we’re just now out of gas.
Come back tomorrow, a new delivery, and we’ll fill it fast.
Tomorrow comes, Allen rushes with the can to a new man
filling everyone’s tank of propane. But another alas---
We are not certified to fill marine tanks. Sorry, no gas for you.
Four days looking for propane got more and more insane
and Allen more blue.
Only the Sunoco in town can fill your tank.
For that, Allen said ironically, Thannnnks..(for nothing.)
Sunoco is local, so he called them to ask
But alas the holiday left them, too, with no gas
But call again later, the gas man explained
We expect today to get more propane.
Later came, and so did the propane.
Allen again took the tank to the man
And fill it he did, at last more propane!
Until the next time, we hope the story is not the same.
(Yes we know this is a bad poem!)