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The Passage – Chapter 2

June 27, 2012

31st May


As my eyes slowly open there’s light emulating from the glass hatch above my bunk… it’s a golden awakening from the deepest of dreams about surging swells and sunken treasure. My bed rolls as the sea slaps the hull.. vibrating only inches from my face. I manage to crawl to my feet in quiet anticipation.. keen to examine our first anchorage. As I enter the wheelhouse the crew is stirring… there’s the smell of coffee as the morning light peaks through salt encrusted glass.

Our Javanese skipper looks weary after his first night at the wheel. As I rub my eyes I comprehend the coastline… a mere 100 meters away… a familiar anchorage but this morning its battered by trade winds. As I turn my head toward the horizon dark clouds loom.. slowly shrouding those glowing rays as they struggle to bleed from beyond. Tiger drifts up from the saloon – “looks like nasty weather out there”. I nod while considering the deep emerald waters off the Raja’s stern… waters that look fairly inviting after last night’s humid slumber. Wasting no time.. I get down to the boxers and dive straight in. The ocean is warm as it delivers absolution.. but the swell is unfortunately sloppy – I can’t see us surfing here today. As I climb back onto the duckboard the Captain appears with a deep frown. I quietly enquire… only to learn that our local skipper apparently chewed through a ton of fuel last night – about a $1000 worth – while thrashing the engines at well over 15 rpm’s after switching off the auto pilot and running zigzag lines across the ocean… all well documented on the GPS. Obviously the Captain wanted to lay gunfire into the Bliwit… but inciting a mutiny so early in the game wasn’t the right play. The Captain quietly vented.. withholding his rage as he lit another Marlboro red… before slowly disappearing back into the wheelhouse. As I toweled off, one of the Cali-kids – Tyler – stepped on to the rear deck holding an instant coffee – “what’s this place?” – I gave him the brief as he nodded. We both continued to look around as it became increasingly obvious nobody was unpacking any boards this morning.

Returning to the lower wheel house… Tiger and Stone were busy in the galley chopping up fruit. As I continued forward… the Captain was huddled over the GPS. Bliwit looked a bit lost and worse for wear as he remained anchored to the keys of his Blackberry. Approaching the Captain.. I forced a half a grin.. which was finally reciprocated. Looking at the GPS I saw a new course.. away from our in initial target. As I examined the screen the Captain turned again – “we’re gonna have to go up to this port mate… its about 6 hours away… we need to grab more fuel”. I silently nodded as the Captain pointed to our revised destination. Doing the math in my head… this was at least half a day – if not more – that we’d lose off our schedule. While I’d love to say that this was an adventure without limits – without schedules – quite the opposite was true. The Captain had a deadline to jump onboard another assignment – a commission he couldn’t blow. While we had some weeks up our sleeves – every day lost – was a day less that we’d spend enjoying the treasures of waves up North. But as I turned my attentions away from the screen toward the raw virginal coast – everything made sense… perfect sense.


The sound of cancerous generators pound my ear drums as the Raja remains tied to a couple of hulking fishing boats on the North East end of the big island. As I gaze at these huge vessels it’s a collage of wood… rusted iron and brightly painted colors – fire engine reds – baby blues – blinding yellows. These boats share outlines reminiscent of the old Chinese junkets as they sway about in the oily water. Looking upon their weathered decks dozens of men work furiously to pack what looks like mounds of frozen fish – sowing them all into sizable sacks. A thick-necked pot-bellied gentleman stands sternly over the gang.. closely watching their actions as the workers sweat hard for their wages amongst the confines of a large hatch. Taking a good look across the expanse of the harbor strait.. it feels like we’d landed in a kind of post-apocalyptic pirate town. As I remained transfixed by my surroundings the Captain approaches explaining he’d landed our fuel connection – the kind that had to be delivered off the back of a truck. This was how things worked around here… cloak & dagger… under the table deals. The Captain explained that fuel was only one of the many bars we’d have to clear before departure. He encouraged anyone to go ashore… since we’d be here for a spell. Most jumped at the chance… keen to inspect the wharfs and explore this town. I gathered a couple of 100k notes and made my way out.


As I crawl across old tires and rusted rails I pull myself onboard the first of two fishing boats… followed closely by Ray and Stone. Further behind were Tiger and the Cali-kids. Crossing the decks of these scarred vessels it was a full working settlement… a sweatshop on display. As we passed some men -cooking on an open flame – faces would appear from behind chipped wooden walls and clouded windows… all curious about these foreigners shuffling through their world. As we approached the final step – a rope ladder – it required concentration since slipping between the docks and ship was fairly undesirable.

Strolling the wharf I see weathered iron ships loading and unloading their cargo. Ray and Stone join me… as we remain transfixed by the sights and sounds all underscored by that familiar potpourri of diesel and dust. Approaching the security gates we are met by some generous gentleman with badges and half salutes. As the team assembles… a rusty bemo looking like a refugee from the 70’s pulls up beside us. The driver was a grubby man with a huge grin and an imitation cream woolen beanie. As his smile expanded beneath a bushy mustache… I noted a dull gold tooth as he yelled out -“transport?”. Stepping up to the window I noted Islamic prayer beads hanging from the rear-view mirror. The torn vinyl ceiling was fixed together by black electrical tape and the floor had its own telling history. I finally negotiated a price for all of us into town as the team piled onto the bench seats while I slid into the front with the driver. Speeding along a well-worn road this was the real Indo… the one with that unmistakable texture and smell… a kind of raw.. unashamed.. unmanicured version of civilization. Faded and chipped buildings pass my window… all back dropped by a hazy distant view of some volcanic ranges. Suddenly a bright yellow mini-van sped up alongside us driven by a hard looking man with some very menacing eyes. As he almost clipped the driver’s mirror… he began screaming violent words of abuse. I figured this was some kind of bemo mafia politics in session… finally confirmed by the crumpled currency that our friend threw towards this crazed maniac’s window and into his face. Looking to the rear of the van… the posse was busy absorbing the spectacle. Stone then stuck his head in and mentioned something about finding supermarket – I explain the program to the driver. As we continue along the dusted road… it an infinite parade of every custom ride imaginable… handmade bicycles… mutant rusted trucks… and those 3 wheeled Vespa’s with those rear wooden trays. These were vehicles sculpted from whatever was available – this was about using everything you had – this was about survival.


Finally we arrived to the town’s supermarket… a brightly illuminated warehouse buried in bold advertising.. blaring techno-music.. and some fairly generous parking. As we exited and walked towards the supermarket.. I confirmed with the driver to wait. Once inside everyone had an agenda. Ray and the 3 Californians wanted to stock up midnight snacks for the weeks at sea. I was after those horribly unhealthy instant cappuccinos.. and Tiger and Stone were in charge of hunting down additional supplies and equipment for the galley. Tiger was loosely in charge of food for this voyage…but Stone had decided to step up to assist due to his a keen interest in cooking. This was the last shop for a while… if you wanted it – buy it now. Standing in the confectionary aisle I looked down at my feet as these small sandals strangled my toes. Somehow earlier my thongs disappeared after Stone borrowed them.. and for the moment I was wearing footwear donated by one of the Raja’s crew. Stone suddenly appeared carrying a pair of brown sandals – the biggest he could find. I took one look and we both cracked up… as this Middle Eastern inspired footwear wasn’t even close to my number. After the retail experience was accomplished everyone drifted back outside. Our driver delivered a curious grin as his eyes darted about.. checking what we’d purchased. There were a few withdrawals made from an ATM – a lone concrete box with a glass door and a satellite dish on it – before proceeding to our next mission. The Captain asked for 20 kilos of prawns… which didn’t exist in this mega-store. So I set a course for the local market as we took off into the fractured afternoon light.


After driving through the center passing an impressively large Mosque we came upon the local market – the only one open. It appeared fairly meager… but worth a shot. The stalls were set out along an open road. Tyler expressed interest in taking some photos with that old Cannon F-1 SLR camera – the one that used real film. As we wandered about this market it was a rustic collage of colors and smells. There was meat laid across tables… fish wrapped in bamboo.. baskets of fruit and vegetables… and finally – prawns. I checked every bucket possible… but none were particularly appealing. As I lent over my last option this plump wide-eyed lady began feverishly motioning me to inspect closer – shoving handfuls of these grey limp shrimps toward my face. My interest had long waned and wanting to avoid a lengthy debate… I expressed in my politest bahasa that I had to go. Looking back… I saw Stone and Tiger bargaining for papayas & grapes… while the rest enjoyed the sights & sounds of this Nat-Geo experience. Checking my phone it was about time to return to the docks… via of course that all time favorite pit stop – Nasi Padang. Everyone including the young guns expressed keen interest in some dinner – so again we all boarded our rust-bucket of a bemo and sped off.


After a couple of failed attempts at locating a decent warung… I began to wonder whether our driver was working off percentages. Finally near the port.. gold was struck – a modest roadside warung with at least half a dozen trays holding culinary promise. Within 5 minutes there was fervent ordering with fingers being pointed at rich dishes of curried meats & vegetables. Zak & Dave had no trouble diving into this kind of stuff… while Tyler took more time deciding. Tiger and Stone were very particular about their pieces of chicken… while Ray – who wasn’t a seasoned proponent of roadside dining – kept inquiring about the degree of spiciness. After I finished my meal I ordered a bungkus (takeaway) for the Captain while the rest of our party scraped the edges of their plates. Bellies now full… it was back to the gates of the port and back onboard the Raja’s decks.


After delivering the last of those weathered banknotes to our driver’s sweaty palms… he nodded slowly while giving me one last measured grin. As he jumped back into his crumped bemo the port security guards approached… curious at what we’d forked out for this afternoon’s transport. Slowly as we all shuffled back along the darkened docks…silhouettes moved in and out of the shadows… softly illuminated by the glow of their clove cigarettes. As they drew back on that thick pungent smoke.. these characters remained curious about this gang of foreigners passing through their land. Scaling the fishing boats.. we traversed the floodlit decks…finally returning to the sanctuary of our vessel. As I handed the Captain his dinner there’s was a sly grin of recognition as exotic flavors wafted from within the brown paper wrapping – “Thanks mate… how was town?” – “Well.. I couldn’t find any decent prawns”. The Captain seemed unperturbed by my report. Meanwhile Stone & Tiger began stowing away supplies in the galley while Ray & the Californians found somewhere to retire. Bliwit wasn’t anywhere to be seen… while Doadie, Stougee and Gundee crouched upon the bow’s deck sharing cigarettes.. keeping a look out for our fuel connection.

Finally a truck pulled up loaded with large opaque containers almost 2 meters high. It had taken nearly 5 hours to score this load of diesel… not that long considering. But the way it’s bought and sold around here makes you feel like you’re running contraband – an exhaustive gauntlet of shady negations and delays that only end at the limit of your wallet. To now get this diesel into the Raja’s belly a makeshift hose was constructed.. bound together by torn rags and tape. As a lone figure pulled the ripcord of a diesel pump… it began to rattle & hum as a pipe held by many hands pumped life into the Raja’s body. As the fuel made its way across these old fishing boats… figures with lit cigarettes gripped the joins while petrol dripped onto bare feet. Gundee and Stougee were down in the engine room monitoring the tank levels as they rose. A chain of communication was installed to yell at the truck when the tanks were full. Once the job was done… the Captain disappeared to darkness of the docks to finalize the transaction.


Looking out across the dark sparkling waters of this northern island strait… dim lamps drift back and forth – small fishing boats going about their business. The roar of a generator powering blinding floodlights illuminates the Raja’s faded exterior. The latest word from the Captain is we won’t make clearance tonight – hopefully sometime tomorrow. Suddenly we get orders to vacate our berth and make anchorage out off the docks. As the Raja’s engines power up… Bliwit is at the helm… hoping to fulfill his role. Stougee climbs onboard the neighboring fishing boat and begins to unleash our ropes. Upstairs… Tiger.. Stone & myself observe as the last ropes are finally surrendered. The Captain stands along the starboard gunwale with Doadie and Gundee – while Ray monitors the stern. The Raja begins to slowly thrust forward and then stops. Bliwit continues to disengage from the fishing boat by edging us out forward…but then.. he stops again. Why he didn’t continue powering on remained unclear. Suddenly there’s some violent screaming & yelling from down below. I get up and immediately leap down to join Ray. I see the Captain’s at the bow engaging a large rubber fender to stop us from slamming into this the other boat. Ray and myself push hard off the wooden hull as it draws closer. As we continue to drift sideways Ray looks at me nervously – “this is gonna be bad”. Slipping backwards we brace for impact.. suddenly there’s a loud cracking sound as the Raja slams hard into the other boat. As we scrape the upper hull of this immovable vessel… we begin to slowly slide beneath its stern. Suddenly the alloy rails contact and start bending back towards the boat. I stand trapped between this shrinking gap realizing my legs are about to be crushed. Holding my breath – waiting for fate to deliver its verdict – suddenly the Raja’s engines begin to growl – only seconds before my legs would’ve certainly been lost. Glaring up to the Captain… his expression is pulsing with high adrenaline. Our eyes lock – the rage within his pupils radiates like an atomic blast. Slowly the Raja pulls away as I exhale deeply. Stone and Tiger come down to see what’s happened… the Cali-kids remain silent. Ray inspects the damage. Some of the rivet’s from the rail have popped.. while the rear corner of the boat has been smashed apart. The Captain arrives to make the final inspection – announcing it’s nothing we can’t sail away from. The hull’s intact – no one’s hurt – life goes on.

Once we finally we put down anchor there was a deathly silence. There are times to speak and times to remain silent. This was Bliwit’s second strike – but for my money he was already out. After this display I’d lost faith in his credentials. But regardless… he was onboard for the duration – by law. Stone cracked open some vodka and poured a few stiff drinks. The Captain and us remained at stern while absorbing the experience with the conversation degenerating into the usual gripes about local legislation. The dialogue finally closed as the Captain stood up and looked out to sea.. muttering in that gravely voice – “Mate… these guys couldn’t drive a finger full of lube up their own as%&#les”. As he disappeared… Ray.. Stone & myself continued chatting… until my eyelids collapsed from one too many vodkas. This was the voyage’s first installment of adventure… and so far we were getting what we signed up for.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Dee permalink
    June 27, 2012 7:14 am

    Superb story telling. Was right there with you whilst all that was happening. Great writing – thanks.

  2. June 27, 2012 1:32 pm

    Great stuff, BB! Throw in a murder (which might happen in the next few installments by the sound of things) and you have a bestseller.

  3. Ray from WA North West permalink
    June 27, 2012 8:10 pm

    Awesome mate….keep em coming…Im printing to hard copy and will have myself a book for the grand kids to read in years to come!!! So well written…brings me back to the actual moments!!

    • June 28, 2012 6:01 am

      In that case mate…. I better keep writing you up as a nice bloke… :D

  4. July 6, 2012 8:23 am

    I was loving it Bear til you put the dead chickens on view…eeeuuuwwwwww

    • July 6, 2012 9:09 am

      If I’d posted the other meat shots – you would’ve immediately de-clicked ‘following’…

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