The Captain’s Tour – Chapter 1
Sitting in the humid foyer of a hotel that rents by the hour, everything smells like stale kreteks and moldly durian. Across from me lays a mother and daughter fast asleep on a vinyl sofa. The hotel staff occasionally appear and then vanish. Nothing happens quickly here. It’s been 5 days for myself, a few weeks for others and many months for the Captain; but finally the mission has a green light – we’re out of here. I look at the clock and close my eyes, I visualise open seas, lush islands and endless waves peeling across coral reefs. Suddenly there’s the sound of screeching tyres, I open my eyes, a dusty van stands outside the office. It’s the Captain and crew.
I arise from the slimy couch and see Tim and Lance exit the car. Lance is a seasoned seaman from Tasmania in his early 50’s. He has the charge of ‘food & beverage’ amongst other things. Tim is a 60-something Indo surf veteran, an old associate of the Captain who’s travelled far to be here. Tim suffered a stroke 8 months ago but miraculously recovered when the doctors told him he’d best hang up his board. This is possibly his ‘last hurrah’ or the ‘second coming’. The last to exit was Chris, a tall broad-shouldered bloke in his mid fifties with a grey beard, tattoos on both arms and an inch of body fur. This frontiersman was from Carolina and the father & husband to the two sleeping in front of me – Chrissie an ex-gymnast and Reilly their 11-year-old daughter. As I exit the office the Captain walks towards me, he looks like he needs a beer. He glances at me and mutters – “I’m getting something to eat mate… we’re leaving in an hour.” I nodded and joined the team for lunch.
There’s a sharp honk from below, it’s the signal to go. Down in the muddy car park I find the Captain in the driver’s seat. The family and myself pile in between cartons, boards and luggage. The Captain looks about – ‘Where’s Lance and Tim?” I explain their still arguing their hotel bill. The Captain looks ahead – “Ok… they can get a taxi”. The doors slam and we take off. I catch a brief glimpse of Lance through the reception window – it looks like blood, sweat and tears in there.
Speeding along the main street, its potholes and mudslides – the road is thick with ferry traffic from Sumatra. Chrissie grimaces as her fused lower vertebrae sends pain signals to her brain. Those morphine pills Chris scored for her should be kicking in soon. The Captain puts his foot to the floor with renewed aggression. After 3 months in this town, breathing toxic fumes, eating dust and getting screwed by locals – he’s ready to commit murder. I look back and see Reilly curled up with her stuffed puppy, absorbing the ‘real Indo’, a thousand miles away from the Bali bubble.
Standing on the upper decks of the ‘Raja Elang’, I gaze into the afternoon light as it illuminates the shipyard. All the supplies are onboard and the Captain’s busy with the local crew making last-minute checks. The family is stowing their gear and getting familiar with the vessel. Lance and Timmy are still missing. I go below and discover the Captain’s on the phone – the conversation sounds like trouble. Our clearance has hit a wall – a pretty big one. The harbour master is demanding eight times the normal rate. It’s always the same corrupt bullshit trying to leave port but this situation is particularly insane. The Captain gets on to the blower to a gentleman who’ll hopefully wave a magic wand over this scam. Meanwhile, gangs of dock-rats mill around the boat hoping for a glimpse of Chrissie. White women are rare in these parts – especially those wearing denim hot pants.
Lance and Tim finally arrive in a rusted bemo, Tim looked exhausted. Lance joins me on the upper decks with his board bags. He explains how he negotiated their hotel bill down by 30%. “In the end I just threw down the cash and bailed… no way I was forking out full price for that shit hole”. Right or wrong it was good to have the team finally assembled, but our clearance still remained unresolved. There was also the situation of fuel, which we’d hopefully score off a barge later tonight.
As I return to the wheelhouse, I see the Captain on the phone again – more trouble. He turns to me – “Where’s Lance?! It’s the Hotel… they want him to come back and pay the bill… or they’re calling the cops”. I see the expression on the Captain’s face. Lance appears and the Captain gives him the look – “Its for you” – Lance takes the phone, the Captain walks away.
Before long, Lance and Tim are back in a bemo and off to the Hotel, meanwhile the Captain and crew carry on, while we all wait for some good news.
Sitting in the wheelhouse, its dark. Tim’s asleep on a sofa while the Captain works on the GPS. We’ve finally made clearance and the port is now well behind us. It’s a few more miles south before we meet our fuel connection and tick the last box. Nothing is straight forward in Indo and you need plenty of patience – but if it was all easy – they’d be no adventure. I stick my head out the door and let the cool sea breeze wash over me. My imagination is alive. The shore lights sparkle, the ocean remains calm and the stars are out full force. I know we’re still not clear and the future’s unwritten, but I can taste the freedom… and I want more… a lot more.