Boats on the reef

As the boat motored along the remote jungled coast of Enggano, we were somnolent on the deck, trying to find what shade we could, dazed by the brute force of the equatorial sun, beating down from above and mirrored off a blue sea. Three days of flatness and heat, and our spirits were as limp as the sails.

Suddenly the non-surfing skipper bellowed from the helm, “Look lively now! We’re in the surf!”

We bolted upright. A hundred feet off our starboard, which is “right” to landlubbers, a small swell barely enough to excite a boogie boarder capped on an uncharted, offshore reef.

Then all was calm and flat and hot again.

The skipper did have reason to be concerned, because as soon as we rounded this corner for an anchorage,

we passed a freighter wrecked on the fringe of an offshore shoal, stripped down and worn to a rusty hulk. We were surprised to see her bronze prop, though, always a prize item for salvagers. This was probably because it was such a remote location that it would have cost more to get the prop off then it was worth (it was also 15 years ago). Any closer to Java, though, and that prop would have been long gone. Java produces genius salvagers who could salvage the girdle off your grandma.

Here in Bali, a ship seems to go up on the reefs around Benoa with annual regularity. Five years ago a Pertamina tug said “hi” to the Hyatt reef and remained there as mostly an eyesore. Harbormaster said it wasn’t his problem, Pertamina said it wasn’t their problem, the Navy said it wasn’t their problem. Finally last year Javanese salvagers got the rights from the insurance company and proceeded to tackle the problem. They’ve been at it with nothing more than torches, hand tools, a tinny with a underpowered outboard, and a little barge made out of drums. Another year and it will be gone, twin props and all.

pertamina ship

Then this morning I went down to the beach for my usual surfcheck and breakfast of nasi jinggoe (banana wrapper with saffron rice, chili sambal, some chicken: the breakfast of locals on the go). Behold, lo! Another fishing boat up on the reef overnight. The swell had picked up last night, and was big this morning. I wonder if the skipper had shouted, “look lively now, we’re in the surf!”

fishing boat on reef

From there I drove to Serangan. Conditions were clean, but the swell was a mess, not giant, not even real big, just solid grunting punches. The odd peak here and there but if you’d paddled out it probably would have just been a one-wave affair (if you were lucky) with subsequent walls and closeouts driving you back to the channel for another exhausting go around. A pass from this aging body.

Anyway, this Pertamina ship (faintly seen in the photo) was anchored alarmingly close to the breaker line. It was bobbing up and down and disappearing from view on the back of the larger sets. In all my years I have never seen a ship anchored there (they are usually further down off Benoa proper). Engine troubles? Who knows.

serangan ship

(A decade or so ago a barge ran up on Serangan reef toward the harbor, and the hull actually created a wedge-type righthander right off the side of the barge that some of the grommets tackled. I believe they called it Crumple Car. They got the barge off on the next big spring tide, though).


NEWS: “Bones of the Dark Moon: A Contemporary Novel Exploring Bali’s 1965 Massacres” now available on Kindle. Print edition available early September.

Also available for Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, from here at Smashwords

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One Response to Boats on the reef

  1. Pingback: And what an October it’s kind of been for Bali surf… | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

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