Refueling in Paradise

The Tuamotus Diaries #11, Day 23 – June 20th 2016

Back on land, whenever our car had its fuel tank low, we would stop at a gas station, handle the fueling pump, swipe the credit card, and go. 5 minutes on a normal day, maybe 10 if the station was busy.

On a boat, the process can be similar, or not.

Marinas often have fuel docks. So, in a sense, the process is the same. You wait for the fuel dock to vacate, take your boat there and tie up to the dock, and generally an operator will help you with the filling up and payment processes.

So far, so good.

Then we arrived in French Polynesia. No marinas. And it’s great. We are loving it. But taking on fuel acquires a whole different aspect in these circumstances.

See, there are no fuel docks here. The few we have seen are not appropriate for yachts, and attempting to “park” Pesto near them could result in damage – which is always expensive, and even harder to fix here.

So the solution is to ferry fuel between the station and the boat.

Pesto has just over 300 gallons capacity in her tanks. I have been trying to keep her tank “half full” (pun not intended) all the time. So that equates to anything between 100 and 150 gallons of diesel. In order to transport the fuel, we use special plastic jugs, each with a capacity of 5 gallons. The most we could fit on Pesto was 6 of these jugs.


I gave this problem for Paulo on today’s homeschool class, and he told me that we need between 4 and 5 round trips with our jugs in order to fetch the amount of fuel needed to top up our tanks when they near the Half mark.

When we were in Taiohae, in the Marquesas, the fuel station was inside the bay. I partnered with my friend Geoff from sv Enough, we pooled our jugs together, and did a few trips with the dinghy back and fourth between the fuel station and Pesto and Enough. It was quite a handful – these jugs weigh nearly 20kilos each when full – but still fun to do it with a pall.

Well, then we came to the Tuamotus. Here, the fuel stations do NOT exist whatsoever. Now what ?!?

I’ve found two ways to get fuel here in the Tuamotus. One is to buy directly form the ships that come supply the Atolls on a regular basis. Some of them will sell you fuel by the gallon. But others (the majority) will only sell you a full 200 liter BARREL. It’s then up to you to move that barrel around, and have the means to transfer the fuel from the barrel on to the jugs and/or directly into the boat’s tank. While marginally feasible, I haven’t used that technique yet, and hope I don’t need to. The other way is to buy it by the gallon (or liter) from someone who stores it in the atolls. Luckily, up to now we have been able to find Magazins (aka: mini markets) whose owners were willing to sell from their own stock. Prices are higher, of course, but at least we avoid the complicated logistics of working with a full barrel.

Of course, buying from a Magazin means that we need to take the jugs there. Enter Paulo and Raquel – they have been an invaluable asset in helping me to carry the empty jugs from the dinghy dock on to the Magazins – and we often had interesting conversations in the process, a good “bonding” moment of sorts. Of course, I could not rely on them (and not even on myself) to carry the full jugs back over distances of up to 1 kilometer at times. But up to now we have always found a helping soul who was willing to give us a ride on a truck with the jugs full back to the dinghy dock.

With this, we have come to appreciate each and every drop of the precious fuel.

Luckily, we don’t use much here.

Diesel is used for moving around and energy generation on Pesto. Moving around, using our large engine, uses quite a bit of fuel – about 1.5 to 2 gallons per hour. Thus, we have been trying to avoid using the engine, timing our movements with favorable winds whenever possible. For Energy, our solar panels contribute a lot in keeping the batteries “half full”, but we still need to run the generator every now and then to top the batteries up, and also to run some heavy-duty energy chores onboard, especially desalinating water. On average, we have been using the generator about 6 hours per week. Gladly, it slurps just 0.5 gallons an hour, and Paulo tells me we are then consuming about 3 gallons per week on energy. Just under one Jug, rounding things up a bit.

It’s a handful, but a process that teaches us to be even more judicious on how we use fuel. It also gives us some stories to tell, not to mention the interesting people we meet along the way.

Just another facet of this life.

2 Replies to “Refueling in Paradise”

  1. De forma lúdica as crianças. vao absorvendo a matemática!! Simples assim!! Tudo de acordo c o jeito de viver. vcs escolheram !!! bj mãe

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