That sinking feeling

My long time pal Michael Owen, first class ulua fisherman and veteran of many G-Land adventures reading Journals From The Edge on the SE tip of Java.

Big Dog and book
One such adventure occurred during the time when there was no regular boat transport between Bali and the surf camp on the SE tip of Java. In those days we did it overland.

Driving is simply a nightmare in Indonesia and the road trip was very long… eight to ten hours long. But the trip into the camp was always full of anticipation about rising surf and tube time so we eagerly piled into whatever vehicle had been provided and tried as much as we could to switch off our senses. A middle of the night departure from Kuta Beach made the drive more tolerable yet… while this avoided the heat, our drivers were hopped-up on who knows what to keep them awake. Getting ‘on the bus’, was a leap of faith spurned on only by an addiction to high powered surf. Waking up from sleep to check on our progress provided only the terror of witnessing multiple near collisions. A glance at our driver’s face revealed no emotion. Business as usual? Yet somehow we always made it to the smelly, mosquito ridden village of Gradjagan where fish was out drying in the early morning sun. From there, we would take a short boat ride across the bay to the surf camp.

After a spectacular two week run of amazing surf, duty called and a group of us had to head back to Bali even though the surf was still pounding.

The trip back to Bali was always very different than going in. Because of the ferry schedules, we usually did this leg during the heat of the day, sweating with our eyes open to the mayhem on the roads…. uhgg.

But a Brazilian, Fabio, who operated a restaurant on Bali, offered to take us back on his boat. Five of us, Newcastle pals, Michael Owen, Peter McCabe,  along with Gerry Lopez, Jose Fernandez and myself jumped at the opportunity to avoid the dreaded overland route for a much faster two hour journey across the forty mile strait between Bali and Java. It seemed like a no-brainer. We launched early morning in a thick fog. In our infinite wisdom (space was an issue) we had loaded his boat with our heavy bags and sent our boards overland on the bus. All except Michael. He brought his boards.

Fabio began to head east, directly towards Bali and what little we could see of the rising sun. The problem was that the surf camp is located on a point that faces west with surf wrapping around it. With our heading we were maximizing our exposure to breaking surf. Immediately we noticed white water around the boat and urged our captain to head directly out ninety degrees in order to clear the surf zone as soon as possible. In the nick of time we aired out a few sets before getting into the clear. Then, he turned east again. Our confidence in Fabio’s navigational skills was ebbing. Still shrouded in thick fog we again found ourselves surrounded by white foam. This time a mutiny was staged and Fabio was replaced at the helm. We made a line directly for west away from the white ball we knew was the sun. Unfortunately the boat launched off of more waves on the way out. Each landing resonated with a loud crack. Soon however, we escaped the fog and everyone’s spirits were lifted. We were finally clear to make our turn to the east.

I was taking a turn at the wheel just as we began to distance ourselves from the coast of Java. It felt invigorating to be able to push the throttle wide open on a glassy surface. Our course was clear and sunny. We would be back to Bali in record time.

Suddenly Gerry came forward and said, “Billy, we’re sinking.” His delivery was matter of fact and I thought he was speaking metaphorically about the previous screw up in the fog. I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah that whole deal back there was a little sketchy.” “No” he said, pointing to the rear of the boat, “we’re really sinking.” I glanced back and saw water creeping up the inside next to the engine mount. The others were already emptying any containers that could be used for baling. Fabio frantically began working on his faulty baling pump. The hand baling was looking like a losing battle. All real hope rested in Fabio getting his pump to work but he seemed frustrated. We quickly took in the sight lines for the shortest distance to shore for our imminent swim. Land was still visible about four to five miles away and if our lives depended on it I knew we were going to make it. We all got our passports, placed them into plastic bags and stashed them inside our surf shorts for the swim. But despite our almost methodical preparation, the thought of having a boat sink under us and a long ocean swim in a strong current to an uninhabited part of the shoreline was unnerving.

The water continued to rise. When the level inside reached the level outside we knew the sea would pour in and sink the boat. We half heartedly joked around with Michael to see who would get the use of his second board. Last ditch efforts had a few of us getting forward with as many of our bags as possible in order to level the boat. We needed to buy more seconds as Fabio had finally isolated and exposed the wires necessary to make the needed connection. A few coughs and sputters.  Then we were all astonished as he held the two ends together with his hand, receiving a good amount of the charge through his body in the process. He looked like some cartoon cat I’d seen on TV when I was a young boy. The pump coughed again and finally kicked in solid. The water level inside began to decrease.  We looked out over the 40 some odd miles we had left to go.   The hull seam had split open from jumping previous waves so our problem, although contained was still present.  Would the pump hold?  No one wanted to take that chance and we headed in for the near shore of Java.

Beaching on a remote jungle area, we finally found a means of transport for our rescue… a square wheeled contraption with interior exhaust. Fifteen hours after we had left the beach at G-Land we made it into Kuta, sunburnt and weary.

As time has moved on, a ferry boat service from Bali has become a regular thing and the trip is much easier.

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