The No Fear and Unloathing Trip: At Savu Island.

So where were we.

Ah, yes, chasing the Mystical Wave of Savu Island. The only person I know personally who claimed to have surfed it epic is the late great Dave Wiley, of Sumba Fame, but Dave could sure spin a tale.

But there is a wave at Savu when everything is flat. A small limestone cliff projects out into the sea, and any minor swell in the water will roll in and bounce off the cliff and stack itself into a peaky little left, a mini version of the Wedge. As far as I know it was first surfed by Marty Hoffman and Tim Watts, along with Flippy and Walter Hoffman, a quarter century ago when we were cruising East Indonesia on the tall ship The Golden Hawk. A couple fishing boats from Flores were also anchored in this little bay, and they watched the frolickings with great interest. Then one of the younger guys on the boat, a kid basically, paddled out on a piece of wood and surfed the damn thing! He told me he’d never seen surfers or board surfing before, but in his village, the kids all surfed the beach break on whatever floating thing they had around.

Anyways, your blog correspondent is beat and battered by two back-to-back swells, and will sign off for now.

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No Fear and Unloathing trip, Part 5: Ashmore Reef to Savu Island

(Part 1 here)

(Part 2 here)

(Part 3 here)

(Part 4 here)

Before we get to the travelogue, I’d like to spotlight a recent Surfline feature, Gerry Lopez commenting on his most favorite wave in the world, G’Land. You know, I was in the same general area as Lopez in 70s but I never set eyes upon the Lord of The Bukit, probably because I wasn’t surfing the same waves he was. He was the prince of heavy water, and me, having not even seen a surfboard until I was in my teens, I was still mastering the beach breaks, venturing out to Kuta Reef (where I did get to know Mike Boyem). But Lopez’s aura was everywhere. Anyway, pictures of G’land have been printed and posted in their tens of thousands, and millions of words printed and pixelated, but listening to Lopez narrate on how it was and how it is today, you (or at least, surfers of certain age) realize something. It’s partly Old People Nostalgia For How It Was syndrome, but there’s also a fundamental difference. And that is, the adventuring into the unknown only comes around once, can only come around once, for those who want to seize the opportunity. Lopez and other surfers of the era were the fortunate sons to be at the right place at the right time. Most surfers under thirty don’t know what that feeling is like: even if you are surfing a remote spot to yourself (and thanks to surf resorts, where is there even a remote spot anymore?) you just don’t know when a charter boat will come up over the horizon or a convoy appear over the hills. The unknown is known and charted, the creature is comforted, the adventuring is booked in advance.

ashmore to savu

So. From Ashmore we motored the 120 or so nautical miles to Savu, to see what we could see. The pictures below are taken from other times but gives a general idea of some of what small Indo boat motoring is like. Bedding drying after evening rainstorms, butterflied bottom fish salted and drying.

bedding on deck

drying fish

Remember that sailfish we sort of accidentally caught at Ashmore? It was a waste to throw the carcass away, so the crew fileted it into strips, which they sundried. No matter where they hung those strips, upwind or down or on top, we sailed along in our own little bubble of fish stink. The trip to Savu will forever be associated with the scent of drying fish.

We already knew about breaks in Savu, because we’d been there before. We were chasing the Mystical Wave and I will say this: It is both a hoax and not a hoax. The Wave of The Legend – and we’d seen it big several times – looks mighty and awesome – and is unsurfable, with sections bound to catch you like a hopeless prey and toss you onto the teeth of the reef. At least the times we’ve seen it. Maybe it does get good when all things are in alignment. After all, the rumor was that Micky Dora was living on the island, surfing the Mystical Wave (a jesting rumor, but who knew for sure, for this was Da Cat).

The not hoax bit? Well, there are waves in the area, and I’m not giving anything away, because this is an Indonesian island exposed to the Indian Ocean, how could there not be waves?

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Note from your blog correspondent as author: Many thanks to reader Stella for her review on Amazon of Bones of the Dark Moon. Thanks, Stella, the stoke is like getting a good set wave. If you have an Amazon account, it’d be very much appreciated if you could take a minute to write a brief review of the book and post it. You can post your review here: scroll down and look for the click button that says “write a customer review”.

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 mass murders is coming up next year, and reviews greatly help in getting the novel noticed in western countries. )

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Merdeka! Happy Independence Day, Indonesia

By the time you are reading this, that was yesterday, the 17th of August.

pix 4

This is young Sukarno reading the Declaration of Independence from the Dutch on 17th of August, 1945. In the background on right (his left) is Mohammad Hatta, who was one of the signers and Sukarno’s vice-president. Foreigners mostly know him as the second half of the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.

Your blog correspondent has been around for well over fifty Hari Raya Merdeka – from the days of Sukarno, to today, when we still don’t know for sure who is officially president. There are a lot of problems in this country, but Indonesia somehow always muddles through.

Not to mention, the best and most surf rich country in the world, and foreign surfers have been welcomed to all of it.

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The no fear and unloathing surf trip, Part 4: Still At Ashmore Reef

(Part 1 here)

(Part 2 here)

(Part 3 here)

ashmore reef good
(the red x marks the allowed anchorage for vessels)

First, we have to talk about the fishing. I mentioned at the end of this post (part 3) that a shark took all of a giant trevally, leaving us only with a fish head (but big enough to feed the five thousand with fish head soup). We kept fishing around the reef, getting multiple strikes, losing some to the sharks moments after hook up. We hooked up a sailfish and had to get in the dinghy to fight it. Mike was on the rod, me for the encouragement (“you can do this, Mike, you can do this” because I didn’t want to), Bambang our deckhand on the outboard throttle. We were only 200 meters off the reef, where lines of swell were hitting straight, with blow-back on a moderate trade wind. The water was a deep indigo blue shafted by light lines. Somewhere down there were the sharks. I kept expecting the line to go slack, but after a half-hour Mike got the sailfish next to the dinghy.

“We should let it go,” he said.

Now, this is the bule tradition on the boat. The first time our buddy Jim Allison hooked a sailfish and fought it up the boat some years previously, the crew were all excited. Dried sailfish jerky is a big delicacy. You could hear them salivating. They were bugged eyed with disbelief when he released it. Crazy bules, they were thinking.

So we were looking for the hook detacher thing (I’m not a fisherman and lack terminology) when Bambang, loyal and faithful Bambang who looked just like James Brown and could play a mean guitar, loaded up the spear gun that was in the dinghy and bang! Speared it right behind the gills.

So what do you do then? You drag it back to the boat and hoist it aboard by the tail.

We continue on. Ahead of us now we could see a wave reeling off, the blow-back a perfect zipper of spray curtain. About a hundred meters from the channel, we hook up another big fish, the reel just screaming off line, the rod bent hard, then just like that, line goes slack. We pull up another huge GT fish head.

That was it for the fishing. We pulled into the channel, where the skipper threw out an anchor (Captain Steve of the coast watch vessel there had given us permission to sail around the reef but not to anchor, but hey, you know). Mike and I were watching this big thick freight-train coming up out of the deep and lunging onto the reef in eruptions of white water — and this was just a moderate swell.

“What do you reckon?” Mike said.

“I reckon it’s pretty sharky around here,” I said.

“It’s spooky all right,” he said. We looked at the wave for about an hour, set after set. I was not interested in the least. I didn’t mind the wave itself — we’d surfed heavy and alone before — but there were two GT heads up front on the bow, bitten off nice and clean.

Now Mike is an adrenaline junky, but as restless as he got watching those waves, he stayed on the boat too. The place was just too damn sharky. You get the feeling, you know?

Anyway, when we get back to the anchorage, some of the scientists on the sea-snake research vessel spotted the sailfish draped over the cabin top. Two zoom over in a dinghy. I thought for sure we were going to get a scolding, but one of the scientists asked if he could have the bill as a souvenir.

Next post — another day of Ashmore surf and then on to Sumba!

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(Note from your blog correspondent as author: If you’ve read Bones of the Dark Moon (see the new cover I put up for the Amazon Kindle edition on the sidebar to this blog) and have an Amazon account, it’d be very much appreciated if you could take a minute to write a brief review of the book and post it. You can post your review here: scroll down and look for the click button that says “write a customer review”.

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 mass murders is coming up next year, and reviews greatly help in getting the novel noticed in western countries. )

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Interlude: The Way It Was –how we got around to Bali’s surf breaks

Bill Dougherty, an off-the-beaten-track adventurer from way back, sent me this classic photo of how once upon a time we transported our boards through Kuta coconut groves and Bukit trails. This is Mike, mid-70s I’d say. Old timer Bali & Indo surfers will nod with a smile. No scooters with racks back then — the first Honda step-through scooter showed up in the mid-80s, if memory serves me right. The locals called the scooters bebeks because they looked like ducks. Now scooters are generically referred to as “motor.”

Next week back to the Ashmore trip and a wave we called “Spooks” not because we were into naming breaks but because that’s what it was.

board on bike

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(Note from your blog correspondent as author: If you’ve read Bones of the Dark Moon (see the new cover I put up for the Amazon Kindle edition on the sidebar to this blog) and have an Amazon account, it’d be very much appreciated if you could take a minute to write a brief review of the book and post it. You can post your review here: scroll down and look for the click button that says “write a customer review”.

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 mass murders is coming up next year, and reviews greatly help in getting the novel noticed in western countries. )

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The No Fear and Unloathing trip, Part 3: At Ashmore Reef (the surfing bit)

(Part 1 here)

(Part 2 here)

ashmore reef good
(the red x marks the allowed anchorage for vessels)

Captain Steve of the Coast Watch vessel on guard at Ashmore, a congenial fellow who was happy to see fresh faces to talk to, told us about the surf at Ashmore. He wasn’t a surfer, he said, but the skipper of the Australian patrol boat that did regular sea patrols in the area was a keen surfer. The navy captain timed his patrols so he could anchor up at Ashmore during swells to go surfing all by himself. He had the ultimate dinghy service.

“He surfed right over there,” Steve said, pointing his cold beer in the direction of the main channel entrance. “Coming up to one Christmas, the surf was too good so he stayed over schedule. The crew mutinied. They wanted to get home.”

A late afternoon sun burnished the sea. An easterly wind that wasn’t strong enough to be trades groomed the lines of a swell starting to show on the southern stretch of reef, but there was no white water anywhere around the channel entrance.

The next day, Mike and I went diving. We had a compressor and gear on board the Hati Murnih. As I said, there was another vessel at Ashmore with a bunch of scientists studying the banded sea-snake. Mike and I saw hundreds of these things, swimming up and down like ribbons. We later talked to one of the scientists and I said I was sure glad the snakes couldn’t open their mouths wide enough to bite a human. He chortled genially as science experts do and said that sea snakes could bite you anywhere they wanted, it was just that they were docile and not genetically programmed to do so. But, on rate occasion, they do bite. And you’re dead.

We’d caught a wahoo earlier, fresh fillets on ice, and for dinner we invited Steve over from his grand spit-and-polished ship with its air-conditioned salon and well-stocked galley for dining al fresco off our coconut husk barbecue, by the light of kerosene lantern. Chilled bintangs from the eskie. After the wining and dining, Mike put it to him, as only one Aussie can to another, “Hey, mate, about letting us sail around the reef and go fishing and having a look.”

Sure, no worries, said Steve, except do not go ashore on the eastern islet (see photo) or go reef-walking. Strictly prohibited by marine reserve law, nothing I can do about that.

Fair enough, although reef-walking sometimes can’t be avoided if you lose your board or get caught inside, but we didn’t spell that out for him.

Next morning we woke to a pure glass sheet conditions and a medium-sized five foot swell, but not quite enough oomph or angle to wrap into the channel entrance, although we did see the potential.

Now, let me say this: I am uncomfortable with x-marks-the-spot type public surf reporting. So in I will keep things general, but anybody who is well-schooled in surf search will see the obvious potential points on the photo above.

What we first did, though, was throw out the trolling lines. We had two rods. In a minute we got a double hook-up. Ten minutes later, another double hook-up, but losing the fight on one on them, reeling in GT head about the size of a washtub. Something bigger with really sharp teeth had gobbled the rest in one bite.

Hmmm. Food for thought, you know.

(to be continued—blog posts shouldn’t be more than 500 words. More surf to come.)

******

(Note from your blog correspondent as author: If you’ve read Bones of the Dark Moon (see the new cover I put up for the Amazon Kindle edition on the sidebar to this blog) and have an Amazon account, it’d be very much appreciated if you could take a minute to write a brief review of the book and post it. You can post your review here: scroll down and look for the click button that says “write a customer review”.

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 mass murders is coming up next year, and reviews greatly help in getting the novel noticed in western countries. )

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The no fear and unloathing surf trip, Part II: At Ashmore Reef.

(Part 1 here)

ashmore from rote

ashmore reef good

(The x marks the spot where we anchored up)

The sky was a big blue bubble over a big blue puddle of sea. This was in late April, or early May, in order to avoid the trade winds. But it had its own risks, especially in those days before Internet forecasting, because that is also the tail end of cyclone season. Many traditional fisherman from Papela Rote who had rights to fish the Australian reefs and islets (one basic requirement: sail only, no engines) never returned home, vanished in cyclones. One of the largest ever recorded was in late April, 1989 (producing one of Bali’s biggest ever swells.

The birds led us to Ashmore reef, marked by a hump of sand that was the main islet, although we first saw the radar mast of the ship anchored there. An Australian Coast Watch vessel, a private boat hired by the Aussie government and stationed there with crew. At the time, Ashmore was in a kind of territorial limbo, not sovereign Australian territory that required us to show our passports (Mike had checked with the Aussie government earlier), so many migrants aimed for Ashmore, as it was quasi-legal for them to land there.

They saw us too. The Aussie captain zoomed out in the Zodiac. The Hati Murnih sure looked suspicious, a slow wooden diesel chugger, the kind often packed with illegal immigrants. You should have seen the Aussie skipper’s face when he saw me and Mike, two sun-crisped bulés, hanging out on the back bed with our books and ice chest of cold beers. White folks in these parts were normally found on yachts.

“What are you lads doing here?” he asked.

“Looking for surf,” we said.

He ordered us to anchor up beside the ship and zoomed back. We trundled along, our local skipper Taone at the tiller picking his way through coral heads. He and the other two crew were in great high spirits. They knew these waters by way of illegal poaching, and here they were, in broad daylight without a care in the world.

Mike and I had been eyeing the reef setups and counters, but the surf was flat.

Another ship was at anchor, a bunch of scientists doing research on the banded sea-snakes, of which Ashmore has an abundance. After the Hati Murnih was anchored, we dinghied over to the Coast Watch ship, bearing our gifts of whiskey for the captain. Let’s call him Steve. The booze considerably softened his stiff upper lip and he showed us around his command but sadly said that we were not permitted to cruise around the reefs.

(to be continued)

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