Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting fuel.

This is Lembongan an island just a few miles East of Bali with a nice village and plenty of activities for the many tourists brought here every day from Bali by the big ferries such as the yellow one in the picture. We had no plans to stop here and the story I want to tell you is not about the place but the reason we had to stop here. It is about getting fuel. In Bali we moored at Bali Marina where they actually have a very rare infrastructure in Indonesia called a fuel dock at which we can attach the boat, pull the nozzle from the pump and just fill up the tank. Ahhhhh the beauty of modern technology! Of course this is in contrast with everywhere else where we need to find a guy who will come in his boat, sometime a dugout canoe, filled with jerry cans dating probably from the last ice age, and then siphoning it into the tank. This is a lot of trouble but on the other hand I must mention that the local guys who help us with this are very helpful and are not afraid to literally bend backward to help us with our fuel needs. As the marina guy asked me to do I went to see him the day before, which is the 14th, to tell him that I’d need about 200 liters of diesel fuel the following morning on our way out of Bali. He said, sure no problem. The next morning we were ready to leave and I went to see the guy to make sure no boat block the fuel dock and the person responsible for the fuel was ready. When I told him that we were ready he started to look a bit embarrassed and told me that he may not have all the fuel we needed. He showed me his register to prove that many people just came and empty the tank. I took a look and sure enough he had sold a couple thousands liters of fuel recently. But the date on the register showed this happened the 12th which was three days ago already but I didn’t notice that immediately as I was now focusing on the more pressing issue of getting fuel since we didn’t have enough to get to Borneo. He then pointed on the other side of the bay and told me I should be able to get fuel there right at the dock in Benoa. I looked and could barely see the tour he was pointing at but I thought I’d well find out once we get closer. We quickly left and headed toward the place in question. As we got closer we indeed saw the typical rectangular shape of a gas station sign with a large concrete dock. Of course it would have been way too easy if we only had to tight to it and refuel. For one thing we were at low tide and the dock was way too high for us to attach to it but anyway this was not even an option as the dock was completely occupied by so many other boats that they had, at some place, to attach up to three boats to each other, the first one attached to the dock the second one attached to the first one and so on. There was a large steal fishing boat attached directly to the dock and using signs we managed to get permission to attach Chocobo to her. We threw the lines to the fishing crew, climbed in their boat and finally got on the dock. There sure was a gas station here in Benoa but it was a regular gas station for cars and motorcycles with regular short hoses very far from the 100 feet I needed to get to the boat! The place around was quite rundown and there were people everywhere, all talking only Bahasa Indonesia, including a guy with something like 100 jerry cans probably emptying the station of all its gasoline. But what I needed was diesel, the only word I knew in Bahasa was “solar” meaning diesel and clearly I was not going to get fuel here. Plan A and plan B had failed I needed to be a bit more imaginative. I was maybe at the other end of the world, in a country I don’t speak the language, in a town looking like a deportation camp; we’d cross half the planet on a sailboat so I should be able to find fuel here no matter what! I came to a guy passing by and asked him “solar?” pointing at the tanks. With patience and using all the hand signs he had in his vocabulary he managed to tell me there was no diesel left in the tank, which corroborated what the fishermen tried to tell us earlier but we didn’t quite understood. Equipped with a sophisticated arsenal of hand signs I wanted to start debating with him about the socio-economical effects of such a shortage of fossil fuel in this Indo-Asian part of the world but all I managed to say is “Where else can I get fuel around here?”, which was complicated enough trust me. My good fellow pointed me in the direction but it was too complicated to make me understand where it was exactly and elected to lead me directly there himself. He then took me to a place and I looked around. From my foreigner’s eye it looked like a shed filled up with all sort of junk but I think down here they refer to it as an energy broker as there were old propane tanks and jerry cans everywhere. The lady behind the counter didn’t speak a word of English but she told me to wait a second. As I was waiting I took the time to take a closer look at her store and once my eyes got accustomed to the exotic decorating scheme the place started to look not as rundown as I first thought. In fact it was quite tidy; all propane tanks and jerry cans were piled properly. They were maybe old and not esthetically to the North-American standards but were clearly sound and proper. The lady finally came back with her cell phone, dialed a number, talked on the phone for a minute then gave me the phone. A man was at the other end of the line and appeared to be the lady’s husband and talked decent English so we could have understood each other easily if the phone had cooperated a little bit. Between the many “Can you hear me now?”’ I told him I needed 200 liters of diesel for my boat. “Do you have the jerry cans?” he asked. “Yes but only two 20 liter jugs, it’s not enough.” He sounded a bit embarrassed and I could imagine him scratching his head to find a way to help me. “The problem is the jerry cans I have have no lids” he muttered. I was too close to my most wanted combustible to be deterred by a technical detail such as having a proper lid on a container to carry an inflammable liquid. “Couldn’t we just put a plastic on the top with an elastic band or something?” and as you can see I started to know the trades of this part of the world. He talked to his wife for a second then she told me to go back to my boat, which I did. Danielle was waiting for me, “Did you get fuel?” she asked. “Well I think so.” “How much did you get? I’m not quite sure but I asked for 200 liters. So when would it be here? I have no clues; I guess we’ll have to wait.” And so we did and sure enough after about 30 minutes the lady showed up at the dock pushing a two wheel cart with 6 large jerry cans in it with their opening properly sealed with …. plastic bags and elastic bands! Helped by the fishermen we carried the jugs on Chocobo then I asked one of them if he wanted to give me a hand with the siphoning. After about 20 minutes all six jugs were emptied and filtered into our tank. I gave the young man a little monetary thank you for his help and Danielle gave him a glass of juice to rinse his mouth of the diesel he swallowed while siphoning it! I then spent about half an hour cleaning the cockpit from the inevitable spills that happen when we use this method of filling up and finally sat down. I was quite proud of myself that against all odds and in the middle of a completely alien place to me I managed to get the tank full of “solar” and be ready to go. But by the time we were out of the harbor it was already close to noon and we were not in the shape of leaving for an overnight of sailing to Kangean Island, our next anchorage on the way to Borneo, and decided to just cross the Badung Strait and spend the night in Lembongan; we ended up staying 3 nights! This story is just to show you that sailing may look from the outside like a long vacation but in reality it is hard work; what we take for granted should take 20 minutes always end up taking 4 hours and sometimes two days!