Finding fuel on a remote island

The winds have turned against us, and with it the currents too. I wrote about our sail out of Madang in Winds are changing, where we were fighting the conditions at the cost of our fuel reserve. Using our last drops of fuel, we barely make it to Unea Island, not sure if we would be able to find more fuel. We anchor in the darkness, waiting for the morning to reveal where we are.

As morning breaks, daylight reveals that we are nicely nestled in between the reefs outside of the island. We are enjoying some peace and quiet over breakfast when we get our first visitor – a local fisherman, who we offer some freshly brewed PNG coffee. Then a boat full of the local youth is paddling out across the reef to meet us. It is time to go hunting for fuel, and me with Naomi and Paul row our little tender to shore while Billy and Sammy are entertaining our guests.

Coming to shore we are quickly met by eager locals, more than willing to help us to get fuel. One guy has it at his house and we first have to trek up a steep hill, then through the village to get there. Dripping with sweat, we arrive at his house and they start pumping fuel out of a large and rusty drum. The fuel look dirty and I feel it with my fingers. It’s oily and I ask the locals if it’s oil mixed fuel. They say no no no, wanting to please me and possibly not willing to let a nice profit pass. But soon another man comes over and confirms it is oil mixed fuel.

I explain to them that we need pure fuel because we have a four stroke engine. Everything in the village is two stroke, so they have the oil mixed in the fuel. We continued our search through the village for pure fuel, but nobody has anything. The locals are not giving up though and say that we should try the neighboring village. We walk back down to where we came from. The other village was just around the corner and we all gets piled into a dugout canoe.

Sitting in a dugout canoe with no outrigger proves to be a good core strength exercise. We have two locals with us with small paddles and we brought our own big paddles to help. But I soon realized that there was no way I would be able to paddle. I had more than enough by keeping the canoe from capsizing. 5 people in a dugout canoe is a bit much, and we still had to carry 50 liters of fuel with us on the way back. Luckily the seas were flat inside the reef.

We arrive at the other village and we are greeted by good news! They have pure fuel there in fresh drums. Actually they were just waiting for the oil to arrive so they could mix it, but thankfully it had not arrived yet. A few more days and we would be too late. We fill up 50 liters for a worst case scenario and pay the island price, which is nearly twice the price of the mainland. Three hours after we set off on the hunt for fuel we were finally successful.

The paddle back went okay, even though this time we had to go outside the reef a little bit. We got the fuel back on the boat and celebrated with our helpers by having tea. However, we soon excused ourselves as we needed to set off on our sail. Another night sail, the third one in a row since we left Madang, this time heading for Kimbe to visit a boat builder named Paul who had invited us to visit through Instagram. This time we actually had wind for 5 hours and were finally able to sail. But the wind died a little before midnight and we motor the rest of the way. At least we have plenty of fuel!

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