Monday, May 11, 2015

Essence or Gasoil??? Parlez vous le Franglais?

We've been enjoying a totally different experience here in the Tuamotus, in Makemo atoll. We have flat water anchorages, with clear water, and no land higher than 6 feet above water level. The speed is slower, much of it influenced by the lack of people, and the total lack of other cruising sailboats. We shared the Makemo village anchorage with two other boats, and for the last two nights we have been the only boat we can see for the horizon, all while anchored in turquoise water in front of white sand beaches dotted with palm trees. Its nice to slow it down and have new experiences.

A new experience for me was getting gas and diesel from a source other that a fuel station. We actually have enough diesel to make an Arab Sheik jealous, (thats a story for another time), but we havent been able to get gasoline recently for our outboard engines, and I knew we'd be using the dinghy a lot in these islands as we do diving explorations. We had been told you couldn't get fuel in many places in the Tuamotus, so I was pleasantly surprised when, with my limited french, the young store clerk in Makemo said they could supply us Gasoil! I happily got our jerry cans and returned to a shed behind the small store, hoping to score 60 liters of gas. The shed itself was a sight to see, built with corrugated tin roofing material and housing two rows of 55 gallon drums of fuel- and in the open drum stood a manual siphon hose pump. I asked to make sure we were getting the right fuel, as I had read some cruising article about this- and she showed me a recent model Dodge truck that supposedly used the fuel- so I felt pretty good about what we were getting. Filling the jerry cans took a while, tipping the drum to get the fuel out of the bottom corner, and after looking at her inventory, she said she could only sell us 40 liters- which was a good enough start for us. These islands seem even more remote than the Marquesas, and they have to make fuel last a long time, and make every rain drop count in to their water catchment systems - it isnt an easy life.

I happily returned to the boat, and added some oil to our new dinghy fuel, and set up for a diving exploration with Tristan- we scooted out to a site, dove around the reef a bit and reloaded to head back and get the other snorkelers. Our trouble started almost immediately, as the engine bogged down dramatically and started smoking and belching unburnt fuel - it eventually sputtered to a halt, and no coaxing would get it started again. I immediately suspected the new fuel, and sadly wondered whether we had unfortunately been sold diesel, and now had diesel in our 3 month old two stroke gasoline outboard. We thankfully had brought a radio, and Heather brought us our small backup outboard on the kayak, so that we could get back to our boat and assess.

Bummed on many levels - language issues, brand new outboard harmed? what resolution? I knew I needed to use the last bit of our good gas, and to clean out the fuel system and carb- but would it need a rebuild? I puttered over to Yara, a 40 foot catamaran from Germany we had met the day before, and whom we shared the anchorage with. Ursula and Robert were welcoming and Robert helped me diagnose the issue by both of us sniffing different fuels from different sources- and then talking about how to rehab the new outboard. He assured me that Diesel in a gas engine was Much better than gas in a diesel engine- which can be terminal. Heather encouraged me to go back to the store before they closed on a late Saturday afternoon, and when I got there, I found another person with a bit more English, and together with a local fisherman who looked at my outboard belly up in the dinghy, we determined that Gasoil is indeed Diesel..... and that what we were after was "Essence". The store clerk was very apologetic and embarassed, and I let me return our uncontaminated fuel, and pick up 60 liters of "Essence", and a free Hinano beer. I drank the beer first, and with a headlamp that evening I went about draining the carburetor and fuel system and getting the outboard to finally start up again and begin spewing out its remnants of diesel in bursts of oily clouds. Now that its run about a gallon more through it, it seems like we avoided major harm, and I gained more "experience" to draw from. Its also a great reminder that I need to keep working on my languages for future cruises!

Makemo has otherwise been a very pleasant surprise with wonderful locals, crystal clear water, and even pay-for slow wifi in the anchorage! We'll update you more on our latest adventures of fires, octopuses and sharks!


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