Saturday, May 23, 2009

We Got Lucky

We got lucky. We made it in and out of Sorong in 24 hours. We have never succeeded in fueling, checking in and out of a city, hung out with new friends and reprovisioned in one day. Like I said, we got lucky.

Passing rusty dilapidated wrecks, Philippine fishing fleets with outstretched arms, and local dugouts equipped with the familiar "putt putt putt" of a very powerful lawnmower engine we motored into Sorong's outer harbor following our friends' waypoint to the "fuel barge" on Sunday. We passed a village with over a hundred people lining the beach and searched for the rusty black wreck across from the fuel barge that was supposed to be our marker.

A man lingered in the doorway of a very new white vessel with what looked like barrels on deck, so we did a drive by. "Bagi. Solar?" I enquired hopefully. "Solar," (diesel), the man pointed across the shore. We motored to what we thought was the fuel barge. "Solar, hari ini?" Today, I asked hopefully. "Ya, Ya," came the response as more and more young men poured out of the barge onto the deck. The sky over Sorong city darkened as cumulus clouds began to ascend higher and higher yet somehow they never reached the scorching sun above us. Boom, Boom, the thunder roared. Still we were cooking.

Our friends had gone through this routine a couple of weeks ago and warned us it would be a really messy fuel because of their high-pressure hose. But it was cheap at 6000 rupies a liter equaling about $2.40 US a gallon and we needed to top up. So after using our rudimentary Bahasa and consulting with one of the young guys working at the barge we negotiated the price of 6000 rupies a liter, communicated we wanted 270 liters (giving us 5 extra gallons of space for overflow with the high pressure hose), found a small hose fitting to work with our deck fill, got to inspect the amber clean looking diesel and then, finally, fuel. The guys were thoughtful, making sure Gar knew the meter was at zero when they started and they did an excellent job making the connection between huge fuel hose and our tiny one. Within 20 minutes, after 15 guys participated or watched the process, we were fueled without spilling a drop, had photos taken of us by them and the other way around and paid with a receipt to prove it.

Next on the list was where to berth for the night. We called our new friends, Dave and Din on Shakti, a live-aboard boat, hopeful they were in town and wouldn't mind moving, or on a charter and their mooring was free. Again we got lucky. Dave's crew moved Shakti to a steel mooring and we took her oversized plastic one. Visiting Shakti later that afternoon we learned we might have fueled from an illegal fuel barge owned by an illegal logger. Well, there was a police boat side tied to it. I guess that doesn't mean much. OOPS. Even when we try to be conscious maybe we aren't. The extra bonus was that we could hang out with our new friends and also a friend I originally met in Palau years ago who now lives in the Bay.

Monday morning started at dark thirty when we woke with the sickeningly sweet putrid smell of fish mixed with oil flowing past our hull and the loud "putt putt putt" of local boats motoring close by. We rocked in their wakes and dressed for the officials. Gar and I were wearing long pants, shoes and button down shirts for the second time in less than three weeks. This time we got smarter though. We motored super dingy directly in front of the harbormaster's office, swirling past plastic, fish, and coconuts and side tied to an old engineless boat. I wished Gar luck while I sat in the sun guarding the dingy and watching kids playing in the water while waiting for his return.

During the hour I waited for Gar the local kids entertained me. Shanti was the bravest. After about twenty minutes of me smiling and all of them staring at me directly or out of the corner of their eyes she finally approached, sticking her wet belly out and shaking her curly hair so I could see the water clinging to her Papuan curls. "Good morning my friend," she blurted out in English and readied to return to her 6 friends watching from a safe distance. "Good morning my friend", I replied. "What is your name?" "Shanti," she said through sparkling white teeth. And then, just like that, we were friends. She sat next to me or did jumps off the pier always looking back for a thumbs up. The boys got braver and started sidling up beside me and we talked about the tiny dried shrimp that sat beside us getting smaller and smaller in the baking sun. Well, we didn't talk really. They talked in Bahasa Indonesian and I talked in English. It worked though and before long Gar returned.

I knew we were good when Gar strode down the dock smiling with a big thumbs up. He narrowly escaped the all day run around to Immigration, Customs, and Quarantine and to play host to the harbormaster on the boat. This was the third harbormaster he had met in Sorong and he wanted to send Gar to do more paperwork and to see DreamKeeper. Luck was still with us as Gar managed to smile a lot, make jokes, sit relaxed in his office and tell him he was welcome to the boat but it was all the way down the harbor. Instead, the harbormaster signed and stamped our exit papers and were clear to leave without more officialdom.

Only two more things on our list: Fill the gas jerry jug for super dingy and provision. We were doing great, it was only 10:30am. Gar sauntered down the pier to the petrol station and returned within minutes. We said goodbye to my new friends after they helped us untie Super Dingy and we were off to find a pier closer to Saga, the supermarket and DK to drop me off on.

Cruising past large fishing boats packed together like sardines, put put boats, and large ferries we found a dock peeking out of it all that had a ladder leading up from the sea. I hoped I could find Saga and return to the same pier with all of the groceries. You see there is nowhere to safely leave the dingy so I was alone on this mission and my sense of direction isn't my strong point. Walking through thirty men lingering on the dirt side road saying "Bagi," morning to all I almost made it out without conversation until a man stopped me and smiled. We shared morning pleasantries and then I asked him where Saga was, hopeful I might be able to walk. Left right right he motioned with his hand. And I was off.

Navigating over pot holes and bamboo poles, passing a motorcycle shop, beauty salon and shops selling everything made of plastic I was distracted, waving to kids in uniform, who shouted, "good morning mister" or "good morning misses" from across lanes of traffic smiling and waving frantically. At last I made it to the salmon pink building that was home to Saga. Shopping was uneventful except they didn't have eggs. Well chicken eggs. They had spotted brown and beige quail eggs and some pinkish eggs and some big blue eggs but no chicken eggs.

By noon I was calling Gar from the back of my taxi on the VHF. He heard me and asked if I was on the same pier. I don't know who was more surprised that I was, Gar or me. The backup plan was that he would just cruise the waterfront looking at all of the piers. No need. So after getting severely ripped off from the cab, two dollars, with help to lug all 12 bags of groceries out of his van we debated returning to town for eggs.

We decided leaving Sorong was much higher on our list. We b-lined it back to Dreamkeeper and a little after noon we were free from our mooring and headed out the channel with the tide. Goodbye Sorong.

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