The Land – ‘Benoa to Padang’
Friday – 8:36am
Stepping onto the sandy shores of Benoa… I approach an orange dive shop where local kids remain busy chain-smoking and polishing jetskis. Scanning the water I search for a glimpse of the ‘Con’ – a 30 foot trimaran that would deliver me across the Bali/Java strait and into the hook of the infamous bay of Grajagan. I was waiting for the owners – Mr Iron & Mr Slade. We were all to set sail around to Padang beach. Then Slade would break away on an assignment to the South China Sea. While Iron & myself would continue East. This was my first attempt at sailing – a total rookie – the deep end – and I couldn’t wait.
As I reclined onto my weathered beach chair, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Slade appeared and greeted me in that deadpan tone – “Howzit goin mate”. This was a stocky bloke in his late 40’s with a profile resembling a medieval Saxon warrior. A marine mechanic by trade, he enjoyed surfing whenever possible, sometimes acquiring boards that left me scratching my head. His latest acquisition – a hand-shaped 6’4 Harvey single fin with flyers – a board he loved deeply.
Finally, a grubby white ute pulled up with a small fiberglass dingy in the back. As this tall figure of a man stepped out of the cab he slung a red sail bag across his broad shoulder. This was none other than the infamous ‘Mr Iron’. This bloke was a dead ringer for ‘Robert Mitchum’ – circa 1950’s… with a slightly wilder hairdo and a permanent 3 day growth. Iron had been an islander since the early 80’s, spending much time traversing the archipelago in jukungs (traditional outriggers) – exploring east outer reefs long before they were popular. His fireside tales of wild Nusa Tengara adventures were always entertaining. Iron also had a serious passion for single fins, he was the only surfer I knew who’d never owned a thruster.
Once onboard the Con, our gear was stowed, sails unpacked and preparations made. This was the start of my education, but in reality, it was a fairly soft entry. I helped as best I could but nothing really depended on me – not yet. I was just paying attention, absorbing – storing it for later.
Once the main sail was unwrapped and reefed, the front sail clipped and ready, the centerboard down, all ropes organised in the cockpit – Iron fired up the outboard and grabbed the tiller. Slade released us from the mooring and we were away. Snaking towards the mouth of Benoa, waves broke upon an outer reef up north, a shipwreck lay rusting – a reminder of what can go wrong. To the right an old fisherman in bamboo headgear sailed past in an aging jukung. The contrast was potent.
As we finally exited the harbour, currents began swirling – the ocean suddenly shifted. Almost immediately everything was full battle stations. Loud commands…. ropes winding… winches spinning… sails violently flapping – everything was go. I watched the sails as they climbed towards the sky… huge white sheets… taller with every pull of the ropes. Suddenly these giants stood proud… muscular ribs creaking and expanding as the wind forced them into shape. Finally momentum took hold, we began accelerating, the hulls plowed a broad wake, we were flying on water – the Con was sailing.
As we sped past Mr Tim’s establishment, it was a tragic vision. From the sea you could see just how cruel the last 12 months had been to this once beautiful stretch of beach. Massive Soviet-style architecture terrorized the coastline – brutal metaphors for everything that was wrong. Once we tacked toward the southern belt, tranquility returned, but still the subtle limestone scars of passing cliffs, inferred a sinister future – the cancer was spreading.
Finally after 3 hours we had reached Padang, our anchorage for the night. I said my goodbyes to Slade as Iron & him rowed ashore. Iron was off to Uluwatu to collect the quiver, while I was left to absorb the afternoon and prepare myself a bowl of noodles. As Chet Baker crooned through the Con’s battered speakers, I was in heaven. Local fisherman passed by, the water was velvet, the Bukit breeze whistled its familiar tune. This was the sweet spot – an experience hard to beat.
As Iron returned it was a classic vision – 3 single fins layed across the bow of that compact dingy… backlit by the golden light. As we hung on the Con’s decks – absorbing the fading sunset – a big dugong circled, intermittently surfacing to exhale like a miniature whale. Finally back in the Con’s belly I curled into my bunk, listening to the crackle of crustaceans feed upon the boat’s hull. It was a sweet lullaby that drifted me toward dreams of our imminent adventure…
To be continued…
(Apologies to followers of ‘The Passage’ – it will continue after this short story)