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!



(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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5 Responses to The no fear and unloathing surf trip, Part 4: Still At Ashmore Reef

  1. Ninja turtle says:

    Love reading your posts πŸ™‚ In the early 90s I first went to Rote. Fishing was about as good as it gets even there. Was memorable because it was one of the few places where spanish mack en masse would immitate torpedoes and jet 20 m into the air… we speculated at the time, it was to rid themselves of parasites, or avoid the sharks??? Miss those days, when ocean was still very much alive in Indo….
    Several times a week, I surf a patch of reef off a town in Sumatra. Heaps turtles bobbing around me, a healthy sign one might think. Sadly the opposite is true, reef has been long fished out, covered in algal bloom from storm water and sewerage runoff fro kampung nelayan, jelly fish have proliferated, attracting the turtles. With no fish, no sharks – they know they are safe in and around the reef… they stick there heads up to watch for approaching sets. Sometimes scare the crap out of me, and me them. I like toitles πŸ™‚ At least theres some positives to come from all the decay..

    • Thanks for the comments, Ninja Turtle. One of the downsides of living in paradise for so long is seeing how paradise gets moldy and trashed and paved out (or landfilled, as in Serangan). A sea of trash, almost literally, the national fish being these days the great white plastic bag.

  2. Pingback: No Fear and Unloathing trip, Part 5: Ashmore Reef to Savu Island | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

  3. Ajax says:

    I enjoyed your posts on Ashmore reef. I’ve heard the wave at Ashmore reef is a very long very good left hander. I was in Nemberala in the mid 90’s and was fortunate to sail on a yacht from Kupang to Lakey Peak via Sumba (and smaller islands) in July. We surfed one spot that still is not surfed much today. At the time we were told the last people to surf there was 3 months before then a year before that..

    The most memorable experience was sailing around pre-dawn from Savu to Sumba having not seen land for a day. Big lines of rolling 10′ south west swell running between Rahjua and Sumba to make landfall in Flores (or Alor) somewhere. There was only two of us on watch (rest of crew were asleep). Firstly a pod of about 200 dolphins (porpoises?) appeared. Black and white colouring. They left just as quickly as they arrived. Then the really strong scent of sandal wood wafting through the air (this is the memory that stays with me) Still couldn’t see land. We were near the south eastern tip of Sumba near Pulau Halura and another island. Pulau Halura still had thick sandalwood on it. Old maps of Sumba call it Sandalwood Island but it is mostly gone.

    Ninja Turtle’s post also reminds me of surfing in South Sumatra with big turtles putting their heads up inquisitively near my board to see what I was. Was surfing late in the day with one other surfer who had just gone in. I wasn’t too concerned although I kept looking at their large size and powerful looking beaks.

    • Thanks for this, Ajax. Scents are said to be the most evocative and long-lasting of memories. The sea does provide some amazing sights, though. Once at night we saw a moonbow, a gray-shaded version of a rainbow on a full moon night. Another night, large blobs of phosphorescent organisms in the water around us would pulsate their greenish light in rhythm. The crew (local islanders) were very uneasy about this, saying prayers. It was kind of eerie.

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