The saga of a fuel tank

July 24, 2014

Posting by Dennis:

On the way from New Zealand to Fiji we noticed that we had fuel leaking into the locker under the nav station seat.  I ended up cleaning it up a couple times a day so it was doable.  Then once we got to Savusavu it seemed to have stopped leaking so we thought that it must have been operator error, I had not closed a valve on the fuel polishing system.   Then while we were on the sail to Vanua Balavu it started to leak again.  It was not leaking too much so I thought that if I just cleaned it out a couple of times a day we could put up with it.   Eventually it got to the point where it was just bothering me to much.  I could tell that it was starting to wick up the wood and I had a really hard time watching it discolor the wood.  So we decided to just leave the Lau group and head for Vuda Point, a couple hundred miles away, where we would be able to get the tank repaired.  It turned out to be mainly a motor trip as we meandered our way through the reefs, and there were many.  Once we were about half way I went to clean up the fuel and found I could not keep up with fuel that was leaking.  So we used the fuel polisher to empty out the tank into fuel cans we had on deck. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We had sold some of our fuel to a couple of boats in Mbavatu Harbour before we left so we had empty cans.  We then cut the fuel lines off the diesel tank and stuck them into one of the fuel cans and used that to motor the rest of the way to Vuda Point.

The day after we got to the marina we ended up taking the tank out.  Tearing the boat apart is always such a pain, you end up with stuff piled all over while you are working on it.  I am so glad we have a Shannon, it is built knowing that someday you will have to repair everything.  Other people we know have had to cut their tanks into pieces to get them out of the boat.  So with great effort we got the tank out.  I then went and talked to Mildred about getting it welded and I asked her how much it would be and she said three to four hundred dollars which seemed really high considering most of the people that work here only make $2.87 Fiji dollars ($1.58 US) per hour.  So reluctantly I agreed knowing I was getting robbed but feeling like I had no choice.  She said it would be done in a day and that she would give me a ride to the repair place to talk to them and also once it was repaired so I could witness the pressure test.  After waiting for three days and going to her office a couple times every day, she finally said she OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwould take me over to the shop.  It was an amazing place; I counted over thirty guys working on everything from rebuilding a big truck engine to repairing a riding lawnmower.  Most of the equipment was old and looked pretty wore out to say the least.  Lying out in the back on top of a pile of other junk was my tank.  It had a chunk of old wood driven into the fill hole to keep water from running out.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I asked them when it would be done and they said it was.  I asked when it was going to be tested and they said it did not need to be because they did a good job.  I know that welding an old tank can be tough because it is hard to not get any pin holes in it which would not show up with water but would with diesel.  So they said to come back in the morning and it would be ready to be tested.  I returned in the morning and it was sitting in the exact spot it had been the day before.  I asked them what was going on and they said that they didn’t have anything to plug the holes with (it has eight holes in it all of which are standard size and any shop in the US would have if not the local hardware store would have).  So they said that they would have to make some on the lath.  I said no it is a standard size so they went and found another guy who said that yes they were and they would get them and if I came back on Monday morning it would be ready for the pressure test.  On Monday I went there (using the local bus) and it OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwas still sitting there in the same spot with no plugs in it.  I talked to the guy that I had been dealing with and he said that it was good and it would not leak.  I said no I want it tested. He went and got another guy who spoke better English and he said that the plugs would be there in the morning so I took the bus back to the boat.  The next morning I was on the bus by 6:45 heading into town.  I walked in and by now I was like a regular so no one paid much attention to  me but there it sat with plugs installed and a gage all ready to do the test.  They pumped air into the tank and we soaped down the repair and we did not see any bubbling at all.  So it is good and they said that they were going to the marina and would drop it off and also give me a ride.   So we all piled into the van and off we went.

As Barb and I were getting the tank onto the boat Mildred came by and handed me the bill which I shoved in my pocket with my one free hand.  After we got the tank on board I looked at the bill and it was for $837.00 over twice what the agreed amount was.  I went down to her office and of course she was gone so I went back to the boat and Barb and I proceeded to get the tank in and connect the network of hoses.   The next day I did talk to her and she said that that was the price, but she backed down easily and I paid the four hundred and the deed was done.  So we now have a repaired tank that we have put some fuel in and we shall see what happens.  Dealing with people of different cultures and the way you go about getting things done is very interesting.  It seems that here in Fiji people never will tell you ‘no’ even if they know it can’t be done. They will always say yes and then deal with the consequences later.  They are wonderful people and are always wanting to please everyone, even if they can’t.

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3 Responses to The saga of a fuel tank

  1. Dave Newberg says:

    Dennis- Thanks for attempting a birthday phone call. So sorry we missed you – we were on a noisy restaurant deck overlooking the water celebrating and didn’t hear the ring. Corny always misses you but life sounds sweeter in Fiji. We’re in the only spot on the planet that has been colder than normal this summer.
    Janet and Dave

  2. michael says:

    of god: tearing the boat apart & repair in a foreign language….are you getting accustomed ? On the other hand, such joy in meeting fellow travelers on small boats…worth all the frustration, delay, confusion: finally someone understands. love,

  3. Sheryl says:

    hope you turn this into a book, you have the craziest experiences.

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