Surfing the Unknown (A Surf Travelog – Day 10) After a storm comes calm…
This was the day we were waiting for. Just before we went sleep the night before we learned that again one of the engines had broken down. That had certainly given us something to worry about. This was the day we were waiting for. By now we had really lost our patience and energy to tolerate the intense heat, sand flea and mosquito bites, dehydration, and hunger.
It wasn’t just because of just 2-3 days camping – the whole journey to this far off island and especially to this part of the island had been tough for us. Just before we went sleep the night before we learned that again one of the engines had broken down. That had certainly given us something to worry about.
Our ship to Port Blair was supposed to arrive at 2 in the afternoon and we had to leave early so that we could reach Campbell Bay in time to get on the ship. There was no way we could risk missing that ship. If anything were to go wrong, we would end up stuck on these islands with nothing to do until the next ship arrived (yeah – I was already thinking about that bunk class again!)We all woke up early that morning with many things in our minds. We finished packing our stuff and were ready to leave by 6:00. It was a great relief to us that our two crew members had somehow managed to fix the broken engine.
Around 6.30 we started to head back to Campbell bay. We took one final look at our bay and the surf spots we had surfed, thinking of all the memories we would take back with us. I had written a note about our surf discovery and our short stay on the island. I put the paper in a bottle and I planned to throw it in the ocean when I reached Indira Point.
We had all had an amazing experience although things may not have gone exactly the way we had planned – I guess that was half the fun. But our adventure was not over yet. As I was immersed in thoughts of our trip over the last few days, I suddenly noticed that the wind was getting stronger and the ocean was becoming a bit choppy.
The ocean was getting rough and it occurred to all of us simultaneously that we were simply sitting on a small wooden fishing boat with no means of communication or emergency rescue facilities to help us. We were still at least 3 hours away from safety. By that time we had reached Indira Point which directly faced the swell coming in from the ocean. Here, things went out of hand, or at least that’s how it seemed. We are hitting 10-meter swell, being tossed up a huge wall of water, and plummeting down again. For us, it looked like a scene from ‘The Perfect Storm’ or ‘Poseidon,’ only we were not the audience, we were participating! We were carrying equipment worth $10,000 or more and the water was constantly splashing us and pouring through the small holes in the bottom of the boat.
The two crew members were frantically scooping the water with cups continuously, as the three of us just stared in horror at each other’s faces. In my mind, I thought, “This is probably the stupidest thing I ever have done in my life – coming out on a crappy fishing boat which runs on antique diesel generators which could break down at any moment!” The guy who was steering the boat had a blank expression on his face, – none of us knew whether it was because he had previous experience of sailing in this sort of situation, or he was just wondering why had even agreed to take a bunch of stupid mainlanders on some crazy surf discovery trip. I and Kirtan sat facing Kunja. Kirtan was holding my arm so tight that had gone numb – it made me feel that we may not get out of this scenario alive. He was so scared that I don’t think he even knew that he was holding my arm in the first place.
I sat gawking at Kunja, and Kunja sat gawking at me, both of us were thinking the same thing, “How on earth did we end up in this situation?” Amidst all this, I suddenly found myself wishing that we had a small Flip HD camcorder to shoot what was happening. “This is worth 100,000 hits on Youtube,” I thought. “If we ever lived to tell the tale that is…”I wouldn’t have risked taking out the equipment to shoot as it was worth a lot of money. All the bags were now completely soaked and we were trying hard to make sure the water wouldn’t enter any of them. After what seemed like an eternity, we got past Indira Point and headed straight for Campbell Bay.
However, the weather only got worse. I threw my bottle into the sea at Indira Point, hoping it would make it’s way to some unknown destination with a very unique message. I also hoped that I wouldn’t be joining it overboard. By this time it had been almost 2 hours and we were still another hour away from land. At certain times it seemed as if the ocean was getting better, but that illusion was smashed as we found ourselves dropping dangerously into a huge oncoming swell. I was thinking about how our lives are already so complicated, full of so many hardships that we have to face in our normal everyday lives.
On top of that, why do we take these kinds of unnecessary risks and chances and make life even tougher? Well, I’m a big fan of the quote, “If you are not living your life on the edge, you are taking too much space.” So many thoughts, ideas, and feelings of desperation went through me on that insane boat ride, and I am sure that my two amigos were going through the same thing. We still didn’t know what the boat guy was thinking? He still seemed very calm. Something told me that we were getting close to the bay. I could remember going past some of the landmarks on our way to the island. By now, we were totally drenched and the brackish taste of saltwater was in our mouths – everything was simply wet, wet, wet! When we finally sighted the bay, we all gave a huge sigh of relief.
The sea was still very rough, but we were so close at this point that I was sure that we will be alive to tell the story. When the boat entered the bay it was entirely the opposite of what we had experienced in the open sea – totally calm, with a gentle swell coming in. As soon as our feet touched the land again, we made some calls to our friend John to arrange for a vehicle to pick us up and to verify that he had got our tickets or the ship. We thanked our lucky stars (and our boat crew) that we had somehow managed to stay alive. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again – that was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. When we met John, we told him about our experiences. He thoroughly enjoyed the bit about the shark because he had told us before we had left about sharks lurking in these waters. But most of all, he was happy to hear that we got what we came looking for – surf. He gave us our tickets but also informed us that our ship would not be coming that day. It had been delayed and would be arriving from Chennai around midnight and would leave the next morning at around 5:00. We couldn’t complain – we had our tickets now and we were happy that we would be leaving soon. Since the guest house was fully occupied, John arranged for us to stay elsewhere. We aired out our bags, got changed into some dry clothes, and checked our equipment and gear. Luckily nothing was damaged.
After lunch and some rest, John called Kunja and asked if we could surf at Break Water later in the evening for the A.C. and his family. Many of the island officials were also supposed to come and were enthusiastic to see surfing for the first time. Naturally, we agreed. After all, it was our last day on the island and definitely one big plus on this trip had been the locals who had been so supportive and cooperative. At 4:30 in the afternoon, a vehicle came to pick us up and we were taken to Break Water for the show. The conditions weren’t perfect as the waves were mushy and blown out, but it was good enough to catch a few waves. The word spread real quick and the Island officials all showed up on time to witness something which they had never seen before. Kunja and Kirtan jumped into the water with their boards and before long they were there catching waves, doing turns, and some airs. The spectators were in awe. Assistant Commissioner was amazed. He had brought his whole family who was simultaneously very excited and also pretty scared. In general, Indians are thalassophobic (a big word meaning ‘morbid fear of the ocean’) – the closest the common Indian comes to the ocean is getting his feet wet on the beach. So you can only imagine how mesmerized the locals were when they saw what we were up to here. We felt really good about bringing a new sport to this distant part of the world.
Maybe one day, this place might become like Hawaii, Bali, or the Maldives, given the potential. People may remember us for being the first surfers to have surfed, mapped, and gone back with a story to tell the world. After about an hour, the sun started to set and people began to leave, they came and congratulated us and wished us all luck. We returned to our accommodation for a quiet evening and prepared for our early morning embarkation to Port Blair. I think we had definitely scored a lot of things on this trip. It was unfortunate that we were heading back a little sooner than expected, but that’s what comes when you take on a trip like this – everything is unplanned, everything is unexpected and the only constant thing is change!