January 7th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
The crew at work

Enjoyed, for once, a good night’s sleep.  There was some shouting, I recall, in the middle of the night, but I was too sleepy to pay much attention.  More shouting early morning, + this time I did investigate.  At first glance I thought we’d somehow run over someone’s fishing net + got it tangled in the prop, since, with a great deal of fuss + agitation, the whole crew, plus captain, plus owner, were busily hauling away at it.  I soon discovered however that this was our own net, + that we’d switched off the engine to do a spot of fishing.  Without conspicuous success tho’ – the net result (if you’ll pardon the pun) was 3 rather puny little fish.  They didn’t excite me overmuch, so I returned to my bed to get some more sleep.

Val was the first up 2nd time around, + she announced that there was land ahead.  Not Kalimantan, of course, just some intervening island, but my sighting of land while at sea after a day or 2 of just plain ocean is quite a major event, so I hauled myself out of bed for the 2nd time.  As we drew nearer, there was a great deal of pointing + general agitation aboard.  In the bay of the island could be just seen, as yet indistinctly because of the distance, another Makassar schooner.  Harry gave us the information that it was wrecked, or at least disabled – his English isn’t always clear – + that it had left only a little before us.  He was also mysterious about someone falling overboard, + it appeared he had obtained his information when we had met another ship last night – those nocturnal shouts?   All very exciting + Mystery of the Sea-ish.  So it was rather disappointing when, steaming into the bay ourselves, we discovered the other boat to be quite sound, sitting happily at anchor, a little low in the water, true, but only as a result of a heavy load.

We dropped anchor ourselves, + our next information was that we would spend the rest of the day here to wait out bad weather + heavy seas ahead.  I don’t really know how they knew, being without radio, but their information was entirely correct, + before long we were being lashed by fierce rain.  This was the signal for frantic activity on deck, being a perfect opportunity to wash clothes, + in no time three–quarters of the crew were busily scrubbing.  Val too got in on the act, washing most of what we own. 

Untying the canoe

In addition, during a lull in the rain, 4 of the crew went paddling off in the canoe on a tour of the many fishing boats anchored further in, + returned in due course with 3 large fish.  These, I must say, were excellent.  Val + I had 2 thick steaks that she fried for us – the flesh was juicy, the skin even better, crunchy + salty like the crackling on a lamb chop.  It was, quite honestly, the only food I enjoyed on the whole trip.  We soon didn’t have to worry about getting fish from elsewhere, however, since the crew were soon pulling them in over the side by the dozen, + as fast as they came over, they were being cooked.  Small ones, but tasty enough, I believe – Val polished 2 of them off anyway.  She also had some crab – I don’t know how they got hold of that.  It’s the first time she’s ever had it, but she found it really tasty.  I even ventured to try a small morsel myself, + it was indeed very fine, but with my stomach still upset, + being still nervous of the crustacean family, I did not dare go beyond the one bite.

As the weather improved during the day, spirits rose.  I had some fun with LBM, challenging him to an arm-wrestle.  This caused great amusement, especially considering the relative sized of our biceps (Val took a picture – I hope it comes out.)  Officially we agreed, after a time, to call it a draw, neither one of us having downed the other.  I suppose this means he was being kind to me, tho’ I like to think that, in my left arm at least, I’m a little stronger than I appear.  Little Big Man is our favourite among the crew.  I explained before that we christened him that because of his small stature yet quite remarkable build.  None of the crew are skinny weaklings, but he stands out even among them. + so I imagine he’s expanded his muscles in some additional way.  His real name, by the way, is Bedu, but I can’t get used to that, so LBM he must remain.  He reminds me of an Indian brave – I can just picture him vaulting into the saddle to head some hunting party – but would also be a good model for the Noble Savage in Huxley’s “Brave New World”.  I don’t know if he’s literate; the one time I had pen + paper out for a couple of the crew to write down their names, he seemed to shy away from it, + I didn’t like to test the issue for fear of embarrassing him.  However, he generally takes an interest in this diary whenever I write it on deck, + he is clearly intelligent.  Not only is he a fine chess player, he is one of the few people aboard to go for a sensible answer to a question (such as “When are we going to get there?”)  He is sensible about his life – seeming, for example, to have a larger + more varied supply of private foods than most – yet generous too.  Offering to share a hard-boiled egg with me may not seem like much, but in the scale of things here, it’s a very generous offer indeed.  I turned it down, as graciously as possible, as being too rich a gesture.  He has a handsome face, a little pock-marked, + 2 or 3 steel teeth.  And he is 30, my age, which probably accounts for his greater maturity, but also provides some cause for worry.  He clearly has not made it onto the promotional ladder (there’s room there for so few) so what will happen to him when he grows older + his great strength starts to wane… like the carthorse in “Animal Farm”.  Their work being so physical, one doesn’t see many old Bugis seamen.  Still, for the time being, + for some time yet, he doesn’t have a bad life, by Indonesian standards.  And he seems happy enough.  One of his pleasures at the moment is to lie in the crew-cabin tootling away on Val’s bamboo flute.

Bedu and Chris

Come evening, we had 3 visitors – they had paddled across from the “shipwrecked” schooner.  And it was pleasant enough, with quite a party of us sitting in the wheelhouse, drinking coffee, eating biscuits, + chatting – mostly making fun of my Indonesian.  Harry challenged me to a game of chess, so we played (1 game apiece) + then Val + I went to bed. 

All in all, a pleasant day, but we can’t help being a little worried.  Reports have varied as to the length of journey remaining, but the general consensus seems to be 3 days.  (How that can be when the entire trip was only supposed to take that long defeats me, but never mind.)  Which is alright, it still gets us there in time for our deadline, the Kuching flight on the 13th… provided we leave straight away.  After all, it took us so long to get moving from port, how long will it take now that we’ve dropped anchor?  The other schooner has been waiting here 5 days!  But it’s no use worrying – there’s nothing we can do to alter the situation.

A really pleasant day, with good food, some socialising, some excitement. some chess…

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