After a month paragliding in Europe I thought I was sufficiently recovered from our long season in Micronesia to hit the ground running back in Bali to prep for our next round of trips. Several major projects (new mainsail and genoa, new cockpit cushions, engine spares, parts shipments, finding a chef, etc.) had kept me busy banging away on the computer and on the phone between flights and while I knew things were going to be tight to get it all done, I was under prepared for the workload. Jody and I stepped off the plane on July 16th right into a maelstrom.
Customs and immigration were all over us, threatening to chain the boat to the dock with some new “temporary import permit” that was more headache than real. The new sails were ready in Hong Kong, but getting them through customs was proving nearly impossible. Every time I turned around one problem would get solved and six new ones would materialize. We were headed to a place only the most adventurous go. A place rife with malaria; absolutely no marine services; apparently very large critters (tiger sharks, dugongs, and blue whales…); but with each passing day I felt our chances of making it were getting smaller and smaller. Four days out from our departure we still didn’t have a chef, still didn’t have the sails, one of the engines was completely torn apart, the hull looked like a moonscape from two months of uninhibited growth. I’m a bit ashamed to admit this so publicly, but the stress nearly buckled me and I shed tears of frustration more than once. 72 hours out I nearly sent an email to the incoming group that we couldn’t make it and were going to have to cancel our first trip.
Incredibly it all came together in the 11th hour. I was literally still hanking on the new main sail as we left harbor and Thomas, our new chef had been up all night storing food. We were headed a mere 330 miles SE, directly into the trades but the winds had been very light and with a continued light forecast my plan was to blast straight into it, using precious diesel but saving valuable time rather than tacking back and forth. But our troubled luck continued. The windiest day of the season fired up the evening of our departure, hitting 30 knots and raising steep seas and staying strong for the duration of the beat to windward. We averaged less than 85 miles per day, at times barely clearing 3 knots with both engines gunned. Discovery held out as she always does but I couldn’t help but wonder if this trip just wasn’t meant to be? Again I wrote an email to cancel the trip but held off pressing the “send” button. Our luck had to change.
We arrived Sumba, the most southerly island in Indonesia early morning on the 3rd day, my crew (Thomas and Sunita) and I beaten and exhausted. The landscape reminded my of Baja, Mexico- arid and majestic with striking contrasts. We anchored in a huge bay with white and red cliffs dropping down to a massive expanse of untainted white sand beach. One tiny fisherman’s shack sat in the middle and otherwise there wasn’t another sign of life. I’d heard stories of the best right-hander in all of Indonesia in the vicinity and it wasn’t hard to see how this must be true, even with the current small swell. I could only imagine what the wave would look like if it got big…
A little rest, a good surf, a couple of beers and a solid dinner and the stress of the past few weeks had all but evaporated. A perfect full moon greeted us that night, signalling my return to the sea. It felt good to be back in a world that makes sense to me, a world that has a lot less noise.
We motored a further 45 miles up the coast early the next day to pick up our incoming guests. John Amundson, famed board shaper and wicked surfer; Lono Humphries, long standing Tavarua (Cloud Break) boatman; Rob Born, owner; Chris Delp, guest; and Jody who wisely skipped the passage to get a few more days in Bali catching up. Rob Bass, another owner would join us in three days at a destination unknown. Sumba has almost no roads and very few places to get ashore and dismal infrastructure. And that is of course what makes it a place we were all very excited to explore, as it also picks up the heaviest of the southern ocean ground swells.
Rob Born and I had spent literally months going over charts, books, and Google Earth trying to piece together the best route to cover. For getting wind, which can be elusive in Indonesia we both knew our best shot was at the outer islands of Mangudu, just 5 hours offshore. It did not disappoint. For three days the trades would arrive at a very timely 10 o’clock and blow through sunset.
A nice left -hander provided enough entertainment by day that the nights were left mostly to sleep. I don’t think we ever made it past 9 p.m. One morning we ventured into the mostly Muslim fishing village and stumbled through communications but accomplished many smiles for both sides. Rob quickly had an entourage of 40 children playing tag with him on the beach and I’m not sure there was a winner in the fun category- both parties roared with laughter.
It was about this time that a thumping swell started showing up on the forecasts, due to arrive at the end of the week. No doubt the best surf would be up the coast, but we’d unlikely score any wind for kiting. This group, consisting of surfer’s first and kiters second decided it would be ashame to miss what could be one of the best waves in Indonesia and we made the call to be in place for the swell to arrive.
We returned to the mainland to pick up Rob Bass and find a way to get the boat some diesel as we’d used nearly every drop getting to Sumba. This turned out to be a rather difficult affair. It was a 3 hour one-way drive to the nearest fuel station over a difficult rickety road, then we had to cart 6, 20 litre jugs over the shore break to the dinghy and out to the boat. Ok, maybe a little “noise” would be welcome…
And then it hit.
I knew we were in the company of accomplished watermen, but when double overhead surf arrives you get to see what makes lifelong surfers really sing. Rob, Chris, John (on his SUP no less!), Thomas, and Lono just kept going bigger and bigger. One day in the lineup a lifelong surfer and old salt we’d befriended made the comment to me that Lono was the most solid waterman he’d ever seen. Here’s the photos of proof:
Considerable entertainment was also provided in long supply by John on his SUP. Other than our group there were only 6 shore-based surfers and usually guys on SUP’s are not welcomed easily into the line-up, if you can call it that out here but you should have heard the shouts and hollers when John would peal down a massive wave. It’s a sight I’ll never forget. Here are a couple for you.
It all started worse than any trip we’ve operated. And it all ended as one of the greatest we’ve ever run. To me, it goes down as The Big Score. Yes, it would have been much easier and more simple to operate where other boats do. But then those other boats, those other people don’t get the big payoffs either. It’s all a game of risk and reward and this time, we won the game.
“If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves.” –Thomas Edison.