A rare beach break spins a few pristine waves through.
In the fifth instalment from the Calypte ship's log, Aiyana Powell describes the journey she’s sharing with Torren Martyn as good friends Drew Macpherson and Ishka Folkwell join them exploring a remote part of the Indonesian coastline. needessentials will continue to bring you updates as Torren and Aiyana make their way from the southeast Asian tropics into the Indian Ocean.
Last month, our friends Drew Macpherson and Ishka Folkwell joined us on Calypte, hoping to surf and film. The weather had other plans for us, however, as the forecast turned from bad to worse. We spent two weeks without any swell, not a surfable wave in sight, and storms smashing the boat every other day. When there is no surf, the realities of life at sea seem somehow harsher, but we managed to keep ourselves occupied. Our average speed aboard Calypte is about 5 knots, and most of the waves we wanted to check are between 5 and 20 miles apart. This means that the typical surf check, what would take a few minutes in a car or speedboat, takes us hours. Sometimes, we spend entire days en route from one surf spot to another, and then still need to travel hours into the night to find a protected anchorage. We can never be sure that the wind forecast is reliable, so it is always a gamble to leave one wave and travel to another. With the pressure of filming, the boys spent many long hours reviewing and discussing the weather forecast, the winds, and the tides. It is not easy to be in the right spot at the right time, but there is something deeply rewarding about the time and effort that goes into sailing to surf.
Calypte running along under full sail.
Drew McPherson spent some time on the boat and got to share a remote beach break with Torren.
Happily, the strong westerly winds, terrible for surfing, made great sailing weather. We had many memorable, salty days hooning around at 6 or seven knots. It was the first time on the trip that we had enough wind to actually sail Calypte any significant distance, and we felt truly accomplished after journeying full days without turning on the engine. One day, we made a 30 mile trip from our mangrove neighbourhood to an island in the southern end of the chain. The trip took us through weaving mangrove corridors, and past pristine, palm-fringed islands. We got the sails up, and made our first attempt at sailing wing-to-wing. Wing-to-wing refers to a technique for going downwind in light winds, where the headsail is pulled out to one side and the main is out to the other. It is dangerous, because there is the risk of an accidental jibe if the wind changes direction or we turn too abruptly. We managed a lovely sail, moving at up to 7 knots in about ten knots of wind, and felt very smart and savvy to be learning new skills out at sea.
Aiyana and Torren picking a path through a reef pass to anchor up for the night.
The wreck of a boat on remote reef is a good reminder that things can go wrong if you don’t get all the finer points right.
On that same passage, several hours later, I was laying in the cabin reading when I heard Drew shout. “Whales!” We all scrambled on deck, grabbing our cameras and binoculars. I peered out at the horizon, and suddenly with a great swoosh a huge whale surfaced twenty meters or so from the boat. We all yelled and laughed, as a whole pod of whales surrounded Calytpe, calm and mighty and resolute. I felt filled with unspeakable joy. It was so hopeful that the whales were here, in oceans ravaged by industrial fishing fleets and pollution. A tidal wave of emotion filled me as I looked out at the whales moving gracefully through the sea, and as Calypte moved through that same ocean. I felt a part of something, felt small and full of awe. It was a gentle and encompassing feeling, a reminder that I was exactly where I needed to be. That night at anchor we all sat around researching what species of whales we thought we had seen. We debated at length, theorising that perhaps they were Minke whales because of the small dorsal fin, but sure that the head shape was slightly different from Minkes or fin. After hours of pretending to be scientists, we finally figured out that we had probably seen a pod of Omura’s whales. We reached out to a Cetologist we found on the internet, who confirmed that the whales were Omura’s. Omura’s whales are the most recently discovered whale species, and have never been recorded in that part of Sumatra before, so we felt very lucky to have witnessed them in all their grandeur.
Torren finding the sweet spot.
Torren and Drew filling in time on a rainy day. Constant storms and onshore winds were persistent over this time a lot of days were spent tucked into a solid anchorage out of the weather.
Calypte is 35’ so with four people on board, quarters are cramped. The layout of the boat is simple and smart, but not particularly comfortable. The galley is our best feature, tucked into the aft corner, and boasting a three-burner stove, cold fridge, and good storage. Moving forward from the galley, there is a central area with a table that can transform into a double bed. Midship there is a single bunk on the port side, and a small double bunk on the starboard. The head is at the front of the boat and is, for no apparent reason, the most spacious room aboard Calypte. Torren and I generally put the table down in the main cabin and sleep out there, and guests will sleep in the bunks. With four people on board, every cupboard is stuffed to the absolute brim. Food, water, camera gear, clothes, toiletries, tools, spare parts, wetsuits, bathing suits, diving gear, diesel, surfboards…everything has a spot, but because neither Torren nor I are particularly organised, nothing is ever where is should be. The more people on board, the harder it is to keep things tidy. One minute, the boat will be looking ship-shape, and the next it’s like a hurricane has come through (touch wood). There is also the fact that fresh water is not easy to come by, and is always a precious commodity. That means that bathing is more of a once-a-week or possibly never kind of thing. To make matters worse, with three big men on board, it seems like at least one of them is always pooping, creating a constant poop smell that emanates out from the little pump toilet and fills the rest of the boat. During stormy weather when we have to keep the hatches closed, I often contemplate throwing myself overboard just to escape the wretched stench.
Torren on a brighter day.
Aiyana, Torren, and Drew under sail, heading to another group of islands.
Enough of that, though. As the two weeks drew to a close, we spent more and more time like sardines laying in our bunks and contemplating things like death, infinity, e=MC and significant topics of the intelligent variety. Not really, though. Instead, our days were filled with small chores and moments of beauty: sunsets, rain drops, hot cups of coffee, fresh fish, a good song. Eventually, we were graced with a few days of really good waves, and the lead up made it all the more exciting to surf.
Torren on a speed run into the inside bowl.
Drew McPherson finding his way through a thicker one.
In order to film, Ishka often has to put himself in some unusual situations. When the swell finally arrived all the boys were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. The pressure to film what could be the only good waves for the month was real, but required Ishka to be dropped off in waist-deep water, wade through a lagoon, and walk a few kilometers through a village before he came out in front of the wave. I took Ishka in on the dinghy, where he promptly fell into the water and got absolutely soaked. Luckily, his camera gear is protected in dry bags and a waterproof Pelican case. He made his way to the shore, where a small boy stood wielding a machete. Ishka gave him a smile and a wave, and the boy stood, stone-faced and held the machete up to his neck, motioning threateningly. In a part of the world where headhunting only died out about sixty years ago, such a display of aggression is pretty intimidating, even coming from a six year old. Ishka smiled, trying to act as non threatening as possible, and continued past the boy and into the village, where he said it seemed like every person he passed carried a bigger and bigger machete. As he continued nervously making his way towards the surf, he came upon a large group of people chopping down coconut trees. Everyone would stand around while one guy hacked at a tree, and then leap out of the way just in time for the tree to fall to the ground with a loud thud right where they had previously been standing. Ishka waited for twenty minutes or so to be able to pass safely, but eventually got antsy that he was missing the surf, and ran through the weaving maze of falling trees. A day in the life.
Film maker Ishka Folkwell hard at work. A lot of Ishka’s work is done on short notice. Most days filming surf will involve an intense journey through the heavy shore break over reef, carrying camera gear onto a remote coast where the adventure always seems to follow a different path.
Aiyana stretching the legs.
After a few waves, a bit of sun, and a good meal life becomes positively dreamy on Calypte, even with the poo smells and overabundance of grubby men. It was truly lovely to have a full boat, with everyone doing their part to cook, clean and keep us afloat. Drew kept everybody entertained with his pretty guitar songs, and Torren kept everyone alive by paying attention to what was going on with the weather and swells. As his departure date crept closer, Drew decided to extend his trip, and Ryan joined for another two week stint while I took a break for a bit of land time. Life at sea continued, and everybody settled in.