Updated on August 1, 2017
Getting what we need
How’d you pick up fuel this week? Did you drive a car to the gas station? Maybe you’re like us, on a boat, and you pulled up to the dock to take on some diesel? Nice! Convenient, easy…and not our life at the moment.
Before we left Shelter Bay, we picked up a few extra jerry jugs for schlepping diesel. We were warned of long stretches of motoring, and our fuel tanks just don’t hold that much. We already had one jerry can for diesel, for the days when we can’t just pull our boat up to a pier; sometimes, we’ve had to fill our five gallons and dinghy it back to the boat—either there is no pier, or there’s not enough water depth for us. And sometimes, it’s a bit more involved.
Today, for example. We were running a bit shy on diesel. If we could be certain of good sailing for at least half of the trip to Boca Chica, we’d be fine; but Panama in the rainy season is not renowned for it’s consistent winds. We knew of one possible place to purchase fuel, from a barrel on a moored boat inside a bay that was exposed to not-insignificant swell—less than ideal, and with a big dollar premium to be paid as well. Checking our resident bible—Eric Bauhaus’ Panama Cruising Guide—we found one other spot a few miles away from our island anchorage that looked promising. Active Captain seemed to confirm reports of diesel at the “medium-sized village” of Hicaco, so we decided to check it out.
There were two spots near some buildings that looked like they would be ok places to beach and leave the dinghy, but as we approached, we asked two local panga drivers to confirm that there was, in fact, diesel to be had; they both directed us around a nearby point to a beach a bit further south. Approaching the beach, we saw two things: a complete absence of buildings that looked like they might sell anything (one vacant-looking house was the sole structure), and a pretty good breaking wave that would make landing dodgy, not to mention the challenge of an exit in a boat weighted down with four people and fifteen gallons of diesel.
We considered our options, and decided to beach the dinghy on a small beach on the north side of the point and explore. Hiking up the steep, muddy embankment above the beach put us right in several backyards. This is the point where we had to be a bit shameless: being as polite as possible, with fairly hideous Spanish, we asked the group of locals relaxing in the privacy of their yards where we might be able to find some diesel. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind the gringo family popping up from the bay, and one very kind man offered to walk us over to the “store.” Of course, it was the abandoned-looking building; after much yelling on the part of our new friend, the owner came out with two small blue barrels of diesel, which we siphoned into our jerry jugs.
In the end, it all worked out great. The diesel looked really clean—we could see it pouring into the jugs—and was cheaper than we were paying in Panama City. We got to meet some local folks and practice our Spanish, as well as getting a glimpse of the village as we trekked through people’s yards. And we even got back to the boat before it rained.