January 4th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

Dad’s birthday today.  Happy birthday, Dad, I miss you…

My first thought on waking was that, once again, our departure time had been put back, since we hadn’t moved.  Still, it hadn’t been put back much, since within 10 mins, the engines were started up, + we were pulling back on our anchor rope.  There was a complication tho’, since one of the other schooners moored close to us had also decided to move off at the same time, + they weren’t making a very good job of manoeuvring – there was, in fact, a very nasty crack as they hit one of our rudders (as well as the main rudder for steering, there are 2 others, one on each side, which are presumably for stability, since they are allowed to turn freely.)  There was, tho’, no sign of damage.  Plus, encouragingly, no sign of panic or anger from our captain, crew, or even owner, who is coming along with us.  It is perhaps a signal to some yachties I know that, even when things are not going all that well, it is as well not to compound the error, + draw additional attention to oneself, by shouting, screaming + swearing.  It never does any good, + may make things worse.

Once the other boat had cleared out of the way, our own manoeuvres went very smoothly, + we were soon steaming out thro’ the harbour gates.  The sea was smooth, even glassy, tho’ ominously there were thunder-clouds out on the horizon, and we were heading for the centre of them.  And even tho’ the clouds had moved around so that we didn’t strike the darkest + most violent part, the sea was  much rougher, + especially as we were motoring, we were soon both rolling + bucking.  The crew were remarkably sure-footed tho’.  The deck is wide + clear, with nothing to provide a handhold, + only a low wooden guardrail around the outside (+ even that is missing in 2 places, to facilitate loading.)  Nonetheless, the crew treated it as nothing to stroll or trot out there (depending on the urgency of the situation), to tie up a loose sail (climbing out right to the end of the bowsprit to do so), lash down the anchor more firmly, or fetch some water from the fresh water tank kept on deck by the mast.  Or, it seemed, to take some air.

LBM gave me a huge fright when he slipped over + slithered a yard or 2 towards the edge, but he clearly regarded it as a great joke.  I only know I couldn’t have been lured out onto that deck for love or money… unless we’re talking about a heck of a lot of either.  In other respects tho’, the crew didn’t seem to be coping too well.  Once we were out on the move, + there was nothing for them to do (except for the guy at the wheel) they all crawled into their various sleeping-holes + went to sleep.  It seemed that they were suffering from sea-sickness – an amazing thing for experienced sailors, I’d have thought, but clearly the case.  In that respect, Val didn’t do too badly, just being struck by the occasional twinge when she caught a whiff of baccy smoke (that’s what a Methodist upbringing does for you), or concentrated too hard on something.  I’ve heard of people being affected in this latter way before, especially with regard to car-sickness, but being a non-sufferer myself, I can’t see why this should be.

Naturally we made some mistakes with the packing of our gear – why is it one never makes enough allowance for the motion of the boat, even tho’ one’s been at sea before, so should know what to expect.  Our food is hung in bags from a nail, but with the violent rocking the apples were being smashed to a pulp against the side.  Our eggs were in a different place, but of course were rocked equally violently – miraculously we only lost one.  It was not a pleasant motion for humans either – very straining on the nerves.  With each roll, the superstructure of which our cabin is a part (+ which is, after all, built along the lines of a sturdy garden shed), would shriek in agony, as every nail would fight against the wood it was embedded in.

As the afternoon wore on, the sea gradually flattened, + our own progress was smoother.  Val + I spent our time variously reading, writing, handicrafting, standing next to the helmsman staring at the ocean, +, in Val’s case, sleeping.  Only 2 people have taken the helm so far, the captain alternating with the bloke who seems to be his deputy.  It’s no easy job either – they seem to have to swing the wheel violently in order to keep us on course.  The captain handed over at sunset, + went to say his prayers, selecting to use the hold cover in the centre of the deck as an appropriate place, + then going thro’ the washing, kneeling, standing + bowing ritual that is part of the Islamic religion.  I cannot believe that, if there be a God, he should require us to act in such an absurd manner, tho’ I suppose it possible that the requirement is man’s own, to be showing himself that he is demonstrating to God his love + devotion.  The captain was followed out on to deck by the owner – these 2 seem to be the only strictly practising Muslims – + tho’ the rather funny little man is really quite nimble, he took a nasty spill while fetching water.

Once it was dark, there was blackout in the wheelhouse to facilitate night vision, so we returned to our cabin to try to sleep.

And so, underway at last, and very definitely on our way to Borneo. I expect I shall return to this point at some stage, but it never occurred to either of us that we might be putting ourselves into danger, first because of sea-related matters – it would not be difficult to tumble over the side – but also because we were setting off to sea with a bunch of strangers, who presumably coujld do with us as they liked. We had – and I am surprised this is mentioned nowhere in the diary – had to apply for permission from the harb our authorities before setting off, which required a letter of application and an interview. But despite Harry’s fears – he got me to re-write my draft letter sveral times, and wanted me to be particularly obsequious in my approach – neither of thse seemed to cause any problem. And it did mean that our presence on bard the Jiwa Sabar had been recorded.

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