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The Passage – Chapter 4

July 8, 2012

2nd June

3.41am… 

The vessel slams hard into a moonless sea. Upon the floor… my stomach twist and turns… salted air claws at my face. I hear voices up at the bridge… something’s happening – a commotion. I arise while trying not to fall… the boat bends hard into the swell. Ascending the upper wheelhouse… I find Ray and Stone. “What’s going on?”… Ray turns… “There’s a something up ahead”. Far beyond the gloom a beacon flashes… faint… about eleven o’clock. Stone rummages in the dark… trying to locate the spotlight. Holding the torch…. he kneels upon the bench. Flipping the switch – we immediately see – what no one can believe – an armada of fishing boats – in every direction – all with nets – a multitude of collision courses. Ray charges downstairs to a dark wheelhouse – his path only illuminated by the autopilot’s faint glow. No one’s at the helm… a dim figure lays upon a sofa  – a corpse – its Bliwit – he’s fast asleep. Ray shakes him into consciousness… alerting him of the immanent danger. Back up top… Stone desperately lights the path – left to right – back & forth. Zig-zagging through a gauntlet of human landmines… my heart pounds… tension is high. One by one… we bearly scrape by – another boat – another net – it’s insanity – I’m sure we’re gonna hit – just too many – its blind faith. Staying focused… I shout every new silhouette… on and on we crawl helplessly… a razor’s edge – emotional torture. Finally… the last death trap passes – adrenaline subsides – my shoulders drop – pulse rates lower – no one’s dead… disaster averted… reflection can begin.

Up on the bridge we remain on watch… nobody’s sleeping – not now. Stories slowly unfold… maritime tales past & present. I recall the one about a gentleman – let’s call him Ned – who had spent many years running island surf charters – long before his Colombian residency. There was this one particular voyage loaded with celebrated rock stars. As they motored through the night… they suddenly slammed into a something hard. On deck… torches revealed fragments of an outrigger and floating bodies – they’d torn straight through a local fishing boat. As the guests appeared… they encountered a human tragedy few could stomach. One particularly celebrated surf legend ran for cover once he saw what was happening – bravely hiding in his bunk. Meanwhile… Ned and crew desperately tried to rescue the remaining survivors. Ned was said to have pulled one guy out of the water… only to discover half a man. Their decks were littered with mutilated bodies – blood & guts – and many more would’ve surely perished if not for a guest doctor onboard… who helped keep some survivors alive until help was found. The final result was seven men died and Ned wound up in a cell. Naturally the fishing boat didn’t have any lights on – completely invisible… which is common across the islands. Every night… the sea is peppered with invisible targets. It’s a phenomena known as – ‘The wall of death’. I’d probably replace ‘wall’ with ‘forest’  – but that’s just me.

It was terrifying to consider that every night out here… our lives (and others) were seriously at risk. In theory this was blatantly obvious – but after tonight’s experience – it registered a bit more deeply. Textbook knowledge is one thing – first hand experience another. Out at sea you’re all alone… if you want to live… its up to you… otherwise you’re dead. Everyone is an expert until something happens… but I was a student… one who’d just been reminded that paying attention is the key… not only to learning… but to staying alive.

4.19 pm…

After spending a long day resisting nausea… I finally surrendered to those grey pills. When you’re sea sick – eating is impossible – as is any level of joy. My first plan was laying about at the rear of the boat and falling asleep to whatever DVD the Californian’s decided to put on. But this program wasn’t sustainable. To my knowledge… I was the only one feeling ill… but after swallowing those pills… life was beautiful… easier… sweeter. Sitting in the stuffy saloon with the sun beating on my back… rolling about in surging swells… I could easily enjoy oily noodles… peppered by rubbery chunks of squid… all with a gracious smile on my face. Whatever was in this medicine – it was working – I was invincible. The only side-effect was drowsiness – or a mild sedation – which onboard this vessel was actually an endearing quality. In my limited experience… manic personalities don’t work at sea… being calm is the go. In confined quarters personal space is precious – if you hijack it from others – you become unpopular real fast. We’d lucked out with the human dynamic on this tour – everyone had a routine that didn’t seem to complicate anyone else’s. Ray was fishing… the Captain running the mission… the crew trailing behind… Stone chasing his culinary aspirations(or watching that HBO series) – the Cali-kids in their eternal triad – Tiger bearly a whisper – and yours truly buried in reportage. Everyone was independently busy – while simultaneously united by the common cause of waves & adventure. This was a paradigm for success. But whether it would last…well that remained to be seen. But for now…the dirty dozen was in tune.

5:38pm…

 

The Raja is saturated in golden light as the sun sinks behind a prehistoric coastline. Its a collage of volcanic silhouettes… a rich palette of warm hues – the land that time forgot – King Kong territory. Ray reels in the last of our lures… no bites this afternoon but plenty of whale and dolphin sightings. At this pace we’re only a few days away from the island – the one that represents a long-held dream. For years I’ve imagined this isolated bay… the one with waves that defied belief – a place only reachable by boat – a haven where imagination ran free. This was our immediate focus and it anchored the team’s morale. The forecast wasn’t for monster swell… but that didn’t bother me. This place could rip you apart… it commanded respect – whether given or not. Medium conditions were ok by me – no need to be cheese grated to death. But I’d also heard descriptions of other waves… close by… one’s that didn’t demand your soul. I was curious as the next guy to see this bay lit up – but I also wanted to live beyond our voyage. Either way… boredom was the last thing I expected to find.

Down in the galley Stone was prepping dinner – a Japanese chicken curry. This creation was his debut – his litmus test. I noted some gold wrapped stock cubes… I guessed this was the key ingredient. Stone had talked up this dish the last 24 hours and I was eager to experience it – perhaps it was the start of a new career. Tiger was circulating the saloon with a bowl of guacamole & some corn chips – a snack he’d slaved over for an hour. Honestly… it didn’t amount to much… considering the time he spent in the galley. That’s not to say it didn’t taste ok – but after a few scoops – it was over. Portions needed slight revision… but maybe the fact that several avocados in the stocks were completely rotten… had something to do with it. I ‘d overheard some talk from the Captain in relation to stock control earlier. Our supplies had to stretch across the entire voyage – running out of vitals was unacceptable. But after examining the freezer’s meat supplies… I think Ray would soon be pressured to land us a nice mackerel.

8.53pm…

While the young guns were buried deep in slumberland… the old-guard had claimed the upper wheelhouse. Tiger.. Stone.. Ray & myself lounged about the bridge… while the Captain remained firmly in the central driver seat. A fiery ember glowed in his corse hand as he drew back deeply on its fumes. A delicate breeze tantalized my neck as waves lapped against the Raja’s hull… a blanket of tiger-striped clouds veiled the moon’s enigmatic glow. This was the spot – the place to be – Captain and council retiring after a day’s motor – trading war stories and plotting campaigns. Tilting my head back… it’s was art across the universe… a spectacular abstraction shared by souls who believed in the dream. This sweet saltwater wilderness that was better than heroin.

Tiger returns to the bridge as he passes out a round of Bintangs. Conversation was graduating toward tales about life on the high seas. Silhouettes drank and listened… while the Captain talked about a once glorious vessel – a piece of history – a boat infamously known as – ‘Pacific Street’. This was a yacht that had long since passed… but one that still was deep in his heart. A 30 ft vessel he’d sailed all over… with pirates… and on his own.

As we reclined into oblivion… so did the dialogue…

“Mate… we used to get ‘Pacific ‘smoking on nights just like this.. seriously… every sail was up. You’d get it so dialled mate. Tone and myself would sail it alone… on watch with the spinnaker up. One thing you never do… you never run a spinnaker at night… and two.. you never run a spinnaker solo sailing. But we’d have everything so f%#kin dialled mate. I’d be asleep right beside the tiller… nobody had to wake me… I could feel it… if it’d move different – if anything happened – it’d be up in a matter of seconds. We surfed ‘Pacific’ through swells – we’d be on 10’s… 11’s. It was beautiful. Not like these f%#kin ‘stink boats’. With stink boats you’re on edge the whole time… waiting for something downstairs to make you obsolete. But with a yacht… you never anticipate that. The more wind the better – cause the wind generator’s going harder… the more sun the better – cause the solar panels are going harder… my fridge would be freezing cold mate. All these c%#ts talking about green gases and being organic… 20 years ago I used $9 worth of fuel in about a year. I had a solar panel – a wind generator – and a 12 volt fridge. I nearly put that fridge on this boat… just in case our one broke. When I sailed up here years ago with the kids… they never went without a cold drink.. or ice bags… all from this 12 volt fridge I bought in Caloundra. Refrigeration on sail boats is real hi-tech mate – you don’t have 240 power – it’s all 12 volt. Years ago me mate tells me to buy one of these fridges… it’s all made of alloy – he used it camping. Anyhow… one day it fell right off the back of his truck – full of roo-meat… steaks.. beer – rolled right down a dirt track. He went and picked it up… put it back on the truck… plugged it straight in – right off his car battery. I had one of them fridges for 10 years mate… still in the house… never sell it – ever. The only thing I ever replaced on that fridge – I swear on my mother’s grave – was one 15 amp fuse – in all them years. It’s still sitting in me junk room… like a Sphinx… in the pyramids mate. I could plug that c%#t in tomorrow… and do it all again.  I tell ya… I never could understand how everyone got it so complicated – and me being a dumb c%#t – all I ever had was solar panels… a wind generator… and a little Landmark motor… I could go anywhere mate – anywhere.”

Stories and beer continued into the night as the ocean lulled me toward a dream state. Ray… Tiger.. & the Captain finally hit the sack… while Stone and myself took first watch. After last night’s insanity… my eyes were staying well open. Tonight’s chartered course was much further out to sea… to reduce chances of an impact. But still I wasn’t relying on anything – vigilance was everything. Stating alive was something I believed in… and I wouldn’t surrender that notion for anything… not just yet…

As Stone and myself settled into the evening… it was a beautiful – but measured freedom… one that would remain firmly in our hands… as long as we took it seriously…

8 Comments leave one →
  1. tony permalink
    July 10, 2012 2:20 pm

    ahhhh,,, pacific street……if its old hull (now probably BBQ plates) could actually recall stories…..

  2. Ray from WA North West permalink
    July 14, 2012 9:25 pm

    That was a heavy night…..i still break out in a cold sweat thinking about it…they were everywhere!!! We live to tell the story!! Love ya work Bear!!

  3. July 22, 2012 12:15 pm

    hope you’re doing backup on this bear – copies under your pillow. plus you’re all over conrad’s tracks up there. his stuff of yours is pretty rivetting mate, gracias a lot.

    • July 22, 2012 6:50 pm

      Thanks for the support mate… value knowing someone actually reads this shit.. instead of just trawling for gratis surf porn. But it don’t matter – free press beyond anyone’s control – that’s why we like it… that why we do it…

  4. July 22, 2012 12:16 pm

    oops – this stuff of yours -

  5. July 26, 2012 4:08 am

    the value is for the reader bear…and it ain’t shit

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