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March 16, 2023
A ship's log from the Indian Ocean - Part 4
In the fourth instalment from the Calypte ship's log, Aiyana Powell describes the journey she’s sharing with Torren Martyn as they cross the equator and settle into a peaceful rhythm amongst the mangroves and remote reef breaks. needessentials will continue to bring you updates as Torren and Aiyana make their way from the southeast Asian tropics into the Indian Ocean.
It has been nearly a month since we arrived at our current anchorage, tucked away in a small island chain off the coast of western Sumatra, and surrounded entirely by mangroves. It’s the longest we’ve stayed in one place so far, and it feels nice to find the rhythm of a place and begin to feel more at home. From our new secure anchorage we can’t see any signs of human life. No structures on the shore, no smoke from a nearby village, no air traffic. There are villages close by though, and every once in a while little boats full of people pass by, gawking and laughing at us as they go. Often, a fisherman will motor past in a small canoe, the put-put of his engine melding into the jungle sounds, the wake from his boat moving steadily through the water towards us. The wind has been blowing at ten to twelve knots from the west for the last few days, meaning that all of the surf-able waves nearby are onshore.
As we wait for good winds and a new swell, Torren and I have been keeping busy with chores. The timing belt on the alternator was completely destroyed from the last 2200 miles of sailing, and we’re lucky to have caught it before it snapped. The impeller was also due to be replaced, so we spent a full day fidgeting around with the engine and trying to give the tender some loving care. Our anchor winch has been acting up for the last month or two as well. We’ve managed to fix it a few times, but lately it’s been losing power and refusing to bring the chain up or down, which is annoying and could be straight up dangerous in a tricky situation. Torren has been trying to figure out if maybe the windlass is dead, or if the chain is feeding improperly, but so far we haven’t been able to determine why it’s not working. Yesterday, we spent the afternoon re fuelling and refilling our water tanks. There’s a small port town on an island about half an hour away where we’re able to buy everything we need. Provisioning was made a bit more difficult by the fact that the outboard engine on our dinghy hasn’t been working well lately. Sometimes it starts first pull and works perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t. Generally that’s fine, and I can honestly relate being a bit temperamental myself, but when we’re ferrying 200+ liters of diesel back and forth to the boat, it’s a nightmare if the outboard dies. To make matters worse, I was stitching the dinghy cover back together after it came apart in a patch of stormy weather, and managed to spear the inflatable with a big sail needle. It’s definitely losing air, but slowly. Despite a few setbacks, we provisioned well, and even managed to fill our cupboards with beer and soda water, rare finds out here and as good as gold.
Torren and I left the island of Nias last month after a truly dreamy run of waves and weather. We spent most of our time anchored just outside a small village surrounded by coconut palms. The locals there were not accustomed to seeing foreigners, and we shared some hilarious and tender moments with the kind and welcoming community. Most days, we took our dinghy through the estuary and tied it off to a tree. From there, we would walk with our surfboards for a kilometer or two through the forest to a long, open beach on the other side of the headland. Every day on our walk, we would watch the locals cut down coconuts, or haul the harvest to town, or forage for greens in the jungle, or collect palm fronds to weave into hats and homes. I felt truly lucky to have this glimpse into a way of life that is entirely self-reliant and inextricably linked to place, to environment.
We loved exploring Nias, and I’ve never seen Torren as happy as he is hunting for new and empty waves. There is a vibrancy, a positive energy, an enthusiasm that he has found living on the boat that I’ve never seen from him before, and it is really inspiring. We are cut off completely from the world we grew up in, immersed in this new place, on this small vessel that we barely know how to sail, and there is so much to learn. I am grateful that Torren has thrown himself into the adventure without looking back, and it’s happy to see that the world is rewarding him with all the waves he could ever want. My parents visited for a few weeks, and it was a real gift to have family on board, sharing in this other world where time is slowed down and no one is busy. It’s rare to find that- real time - in regular life, and it felt significant to spend whole days with the family just watching the sun move, seeking shade, cooking dinner. So little, and so much.
We made our way slowly from up north to a southern bay on a larger island. After so long away from other tourists, it was a bit of a culture shock to be back in busy surf destination, but it was also nice to see other surfers and surf Nias. As we made our way into the bay, Torren was freaking out and frothing to be able to watch Calytpe go past the point on the surf cam. A surf cam. I had forgotten those even existed. We dropped anchor, and paddled out into the line up, and immediately I was reminded what it means to be a traveling surfer. There is a sense of community, a commonality and a comfort there. No matter how far from home, surfing is always sure to provide a familiar scene and a group of people who you know you’ll understand. It’s an interesting dynamic; as surfers, many of us seek out remote places, uncrowded waves, a sense of adventure and isolation. Still, a wave like Nias will create its own community, and attract people from all over the world. There’s the push and pull between appreciating the like mindedness, the camaraderie, the spirit of surfing, and wanting to be away from the crowds, to marinate in the expansiveness of the ocean, to feel alone with it all. On an adventure like this, there’s been plenty of time to be alone, so we genuinely appreciated the liveliness and comfort of our time in Nias, surrounded by other surfers for the first time in a while. We stayed about a week there, spending all day every day in the water, meeting people from all over, and remembering that surfing is, fundamentally, about connection.
After my parents left us in Nias, Torren and I continued south towards a new anchorage. It was the first crossing of any real length that we undertook alone. Up until that point, we had always had someone with more experience aboard Calypte, someone to relegate to or fall back on. After five months or so on the boat, we were finally out on our own. It felt like a massive step forward. Luckily, we had perfect weather for the entirety of the crossing. Not a breath of wind, a silken ocean, a blanket of blue sky. Flying fish darted over the water, leaving fans of delicate design across its surface. Big pods of dolphins surrounded the boat for hours, joyous companions, dancing and spinning under the bow. There was no wind, so we couldn’t sail, but there is something real to be said for the doldrums. The vastness, the pearl-like quality of the water, the absolute calm. Heat shimmered before our eyes, the horizon moved, and it felt like we were in another world.
Five or six hours in, we crossed the equator for the first time. We sat in the cockpit and watched as the latitude dropped closer and closer to zero. For sailors, crossing the equator is a bit of a right of passage. It’s customary to stop the boat and jump naked into the water. ‘Poseidon’s baptism’ my dad calls it. We stopped Calypte, and jumped out into the dark blue Indian Ocean. It was a moment beyond - unforgettable, spacious, warm, and weird. Floating over hundreds of meters of water, looking up into the sky, acutely conscious of the dimensions of the Earth. The planet felt both big and small, and I felt filled with ecstatic gratitude to even be alive at all. Torren and I climbed back on the boat, took a celebratory shot of tequila, and cheered for having made it. We entered the Southern Hemisphere in good spirits, and it wasn’t long before we reached our new, mangrove home.
These mangroves exist within a chain of islands that is protected from much of the predominant weather and swell in the region. There are small, friendly waves everywhere, and we’ve been exploring within a radius of about thirty nautical miles. Many of the routes we follow are not well charted, so most of the time one of us stays on the bow to watch out for shallow patches and bombies. The boat is a microcosm, self-reliant and homely, and our surroundings are surreal. Long sandy beaches are peppered with coconut palms and thatched hut houses. Everywhere, there are fishermen casting ancient nets into turquoise water, and pulling up hauls of sparkling fish. The locals on these islands are hearty and brave. Most people live relatively hand to mouth, surviving off of rice, coconuts and whatever they can catch from the sea. There is very little infrastructure, almost no access to health care, and not a lot of money exchanging hands. To be out here, experiencing it in our own way, is a gift. Torren went to visit family for a week, and during that time I couldn’t stop thinking about the strength and fragility of life on these remote, wild islands. At night, fishermen would bring their canoes into the mangroves and dive for octopus and stingray in waters shared with saltwater crocodiles. I would sit on deck and watch, their little lights twinkling and the water itself aglow with phosphorescence. It is compelling, and inspiring to recognize how connected the community here has to be to the natural world. Really, there is no separation between the health of the community and the health of the ecosystem on these islands. Environmental degradation, climate change, and pollution have very real impacts on the people of Indonesia. Overfishing from industrial fleets, plastic pollution created by a global economy bent on mass producing single use products, sea level rise, and unpredictable weather patterns are all having significant effects here and now.
There is a resourcefulness, a calm beauty, a melodic quality to island life and there is a harsh side. Nature is everything, and for the locals living here the impacts of the wider world on their environment, their livelihoods, and their homes are very real. Aboard Calypte, where our world is small, it is impossible to ignore the waste we create, the fuel we use or don’t use, the sources of our food. In regular life, back in suburban Australia or America, it is much easier to ignore the environmental externalities of our day to day habits. Life seems much more complicated at home, and there is an ease to living excessively that is dangerous for the overall health of the planet. Out here, I am constantly reminded of how privileged we are to be able to access everything that we need, and I’m also aware of how our lifestyle impacts our direct environment. To have the time and capacity to experience what a simpler, more sustainable life looks like is rare in the world as it is today, and both Torren and I are so grateful for this profound learning experience. More than anything, we’ve realized just how much the communities who live out here, close to the Earth and to each other, have to teach the rest of the world about reciprocity, resilience, and needing less.