On a sunny Wednesday morning, I was working on a story about an asshole who didn’t want to be an asshole anymore, but my mind drifted. In a few days on Saturday, six of us old Bali Bulé Boys were off to Kupang to board the Bajo Baji to island hop through Rote, Savu, Sumba and back to the boat’s home port of Labuhan Bajo on the west coast of Flores. Three weeks of surfing and fishing and diving and telling tales over sushi and sunset beers.
(the Bajo Baji is a customized high-end scuba dive boat, so owners Robert Wilson and Steve Palmer purpose-built a board rack on the stern for boards that some of us sent overland to Bajo via truck so we wouldn’t have to hassle and worry about getting them on planes)
The trip had been christened the Toast Tour, in honor of Michael McHugh, Sydney boy turned early Bali expat turned current LA resident. We were going rid him of some of that LA urban crust.
Asshole story abandoned, I debated whether to bring my SUP along. I was nearly five months into rotator cuff shoulder surgery rehabilitation, and even though the doc and physio had said no surfing for six months, surely a little bit of paddling in soft waves here and there wouldn’t do me any harm? (I couldn’t prone surf yet, but the thing about the standup paddle board, is you are already upright and the shoulder rotation is easier.)
What the heck. Yesterday I’d had a tentative experimental SUP paddle at 2 foot Serangan and caught a dribbler – just the one, doc, I promise – and felt fine. So sure, I’d bring it with me. I checked with Garuda. Yup, it’d fit into the 737 cargo hold. I was slipping the 9’6″ beast into its elephantine board bag when my cell phone rang.
“What a night, mate, we got hammered,” Robert Wilson said on the other end. He’d spent a solo week or so in Sumba, doing some warm-up surfing, getting back into it after eight years off the board. He and the boat were supposed to be in Kupang already, getting clearances, all that fine bureaucratic foo-daddle, and re-provisioning.
But as he told me on the phone, the boat had been going fine across the Savu Sea when out of nowhere they got slammed by easterly winds with gusts of 40 knots. The Savu Sea is notorious for this kind of weather, Mother Nature getting real cranky real quick. After a couple hours of battling, clawing and banging in the motorized catamaran and getting nowhere, Robert and Skipper Nasrul turned round. They were now anchored up in Savu Island. That’s where he was calling from. The wind forecast looked grim. Trades of steady 25 knots with 35 knot gusts had set in. The Bajo Baji wasn’t going anywhere upwind for the next five days or so.
(Wind just starting to blow, those little waves would soon stand up and growl)
Now I’ve known Robert since 1974, when our paths first crossed in Bali. He’s the sort of fellow who brings to mind the philosophical conundrum of the Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object. Robert belongs to the Irresistible Force category. I can’t remember him meeting an Immovable Object that he hasn’t somehow managed to at least nudge out of the way, either by direct frontal assault with associated sturm und drang and high-voltage sizzling, or with delicate negotiation, or by clever subterfuge, or engaging in the secret rituals of the Magic that Must Not Be Named.
I got on https://earth.nullschool.net and zeroed in on the Savu Sea and saw solid rays of 30- knot green blasting from the east.
(this is the screen grab of real-time wind conditions for 11 June. Savu is the small island in the middle. All that greens means that this too wasn’t a good day to be heading east to Timor on a boat — it was a lot more solid green when the Bajo Baji was trying to do it)
In this situation, the philosophical conundrum had been reversed. Mother Nature had become the Irresistible Force, and Robert and the Bajo Baji were, for a couple hours at least, battling it out as the Immovable Object and getting nowhere, with a lot of banging and crashing and not doing the boat any good.
So for Robert not to have gotten to Kupang meant that getting to Kupang was impossible for any mortal man on a small boat.
(The above GPS navigator image shows the track of the Bajo Baji — got half-way there).
(Heading back downwind to Savu, cabin steward Basti, surfing the dinghy after bailing water out of it and having a grand old time)
For this trip to get started, the six of us in Bali would have to get to Savu (via Kupang) somehow at short notice, either by small puddle-jumper plane or government ferry. That is, if the Kupang harbormaster was allowing the ferry its sailing permit. If the ferry wasn’t running, then we’d have to resort to plan C which would require some of that Magic that Must Not Be Named. Over the decades, we’d all of us been in this kind of situation before.
A perfect situation for Michael McHugh to declare in a group huddle, “This is how it is, boys.”
At any rate, it was clear that traveling with the SUP was out of the question. I opted instead for my trusty duck fins. They’d fit in my duffle bag.