O‑U-T spells “out”

When a wise close friend tells one on Christ­mas morn­ing, by phone from Aus­tralia no less, to take care and to say no if you have any doubts, you should prob­a­bly heed the advice.

Four hours lat­er I tossed that advice around from one side of my mind to the oth­er as I stood shel­ter­ing in the Scoot office on the Sanur beach­front, shel­ter­ing from the squalls of rain that were whip­ping across the grey expanse of the begin­nings of the Lom­bok Straits –one of the world’s deep­est sea chan­nels, and the divide between Bali’s main­land and the usu­al­ly tran­quil Nusa Lem­bon­gan. Do we go or do we stay and wait … ahhh, fuck it all, let’s go. How bad can it be? After all, Indone­sia hasn’t a his­to­ry of marine dis­as­ters, and the weath­er can’t get that bad, sure­ly. Brigid asks the smil­ing girl in the green uni­form with the clip­board who says, reas­sur­ing­ly, that it might just be “a lit­tle bit bumpy”.

So off we go, con­vinc­ing our­selves that the storm that’s been rock­ing Sanur all morn­ing is eas­ing, that the big grey blob on the hori­zon is actu­al­ly dark blue, and into the small­ish Scoot motor launch which I tell myself is well and tru­ly ready for any­thing, not­ing the life­jack­ets, GPS and obvi­ous flares. And the crew, nat­u­ral­ly, are very experienced.

a That the captain/driver (I don’t know what one calls these peo­ple – it’s a boat, not a ship, but he does seem to have a two man crew) is chain-smok­ing in direct (we are to find out on the return trip) defi­ance of Scoot rules, should have meant some­thing. But, this is Indone­sia and peo­ple smok­ing in con­fined spaces regard­less of the dis­com­fort of oth­ers is, like peo­ple who have no idea how to dri­ve hav­ing full reign over the roads, some­thing you take for granted.

The first few hun­dred metres, per­haps even kilo­me­tre or two, was rel­a­tive­ly fine. As the lady said, a lit­tle bit bumpy. Aside from the engine stalling before we passed the Sanur reef of course (although the folks we spoke to on the return jour­ney yes­ter­day, said that the day before they’d float­ed adrift for ¼ an hour before the crew had con­vinced the out­boards to return to life). Then the first squall hit and off we went. Vision, in any direc­tion quick­ly reduc­ing to about two metres, the cap­tain sent one of his crew, fag in hand, through the front hatch onto the bow, where, unat­tached to the ves­sel, he sat, god knows how he man­aged to…and the fag went out… for the next forty min­utes and direct­ed the cap­tain with hand sig­nals. I’m guess­ing that with­out his guid­ance, our next land­fall may well have been

Then the first squall hit and off we went. Vision, in any direc­tion quick­ly reduc­ing to about two metres, the cap­tain sent one of his crew, fag in hand, through the front hatch onto the bow, where, unat­tached to the ves­sel, he sat – god knows how he man­aged this – and the cig­gie went out – for the next forty min­utes and direct­ed the cap­tain with hand sig­nals. I’m guess­ing that with­out his guid­ance, our next land­fall may well have been Flo­res.

That aside, after the first twen­ty min­utes it all went rather calm again. Of course, calm is a rel­a­tive term when that means the boat is sim­ply crash­ing from moun­tain­ous wave to wave – instead of lurch­ing at an almost 90-degree side­wards swiv­el as we’d been a few moments earlier.

And, so, we thought it was over, in a good way. I guess I should’ve tak­en rather more notice of the fran­tic wav­ing from the chap at the front and the ner­vous toothy grin ema­nat­ing from the third crew­man sit­ting opposite.

The cause of the fran­tic wav­ing was, we were short­ly to find out, the impend­ing moment when we were to enter the col­li­sion zone between the famous­ly bru­tal cur­rents that rush past the bot­tom of Lem­bon­gan out of the Nusa Ceni­da / Nusa Peni­da chan­nel (which is noto­ri­ous for suck­ing inno­cent Kore­an snorkel­ers out of the mouth of Crys­tal Bay and hand­ing them back three days lat­er) and the fast-ris­ing gales whip­ping down the west coast of Lembongan.

And then we thought it was all over – in a real­ly bad way. The waves were now sub­stan­tial­ly high­er than the boat, the fran­tic man up front was lit­er­al­ly hold­ing on for his life as tow­er block sized waves crashed down on him. And the captain’s eyes bulged as he gunned the engines, which now seemed to be spend­ing more and more time in the air as the nose of our scoot plunged into the wall of water.

Then it was as calm as a lil­ly pond (rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing of course) and the cap­tain smiled and said “Ok?” And we all got off. Ok.b

The rain pelt­ed down at Tanis Vil­las and we played 3 hand­ed 500 and our pirat­ed  mag­net­ic Indone­sian Monop­oly set (includes Train Sta­tion of Tokio, Har­bour of Sid­ney and Unio Sovi­et amongst its prop­er­ties but pays $20,000 on pass­ing go – how­ev­er you go around the wrong way and noth­ing is colour cod­ed cor­rect­ly, a lit­tle like the coun­try of manufacture).

And had a drink at the local cafe, but avoid­ed the spe­cial­i­ty cocktail.

How was your Christmas?

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