Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fart of Darkness

I was recently lucky enough to be able to put some distance between myself and Jakarta's boggy boulevards. Leaving “Dry” land behind, I ventured out onto the high seas for a day's drinking bourbon on deck in the hot sun whilst turning a virulent shade of lobster pink.

Traditionally, the city's bourgeois weekend yachtsmen have moored their fabulously expensive toys at Ancol Marina. However, a few months ago, the new Batavia Marina opened the business just next to the traditional cargo docks at Sunda Kelapa in the north of town. This new Marina boasts a pristine new building which contains a bar, a restaurant, a billiards room and a full conference hall. The contrast between this glittering high-class clubhouse and the ragged trousered, weather-beaten old coves with dental work like burnt out villages who unload the battered old ships next door couldn't be more marked but that's Jakarta to a tee I guess. The perennial highlife-lowlife contrast.

My friend the captain, the good Mr Hans, is a long-time German expatriate. With a beard full of barnacles and many years of sailing experience behind him Mr. Hans had some amazing yarns on the subject of piracy on the ocean wave which he spun with great enthusiasm as we skipped across the diamond sea.

In fact though, the sea wasn't actually very diamond like until we were well out of Jakarta Bay. The two or three km of ocean closest to the shore aren’t so much diamond as diarrhoea. It never ceases to amaze me when I see kids swimming through the sludge at Ancol beach whilst a Chernobyl-esque power station belches industrial waste in the middle distance and estuaries of turds spill out into the open sewer of the sea. Er.. I'm sorry; I hope I haven't put you off your Sunday lunch.

Rather optimistically, one of our number elected to come on the boat with his fishing rod. His line baited with finest supermarket squid, he cast his line into the sludgy industrial toxins of Jakarta Bay as we headed further out. Funnily enough he caught nothing whatsoever during the entire trip although I guess there was always an outside chance of snagging a six-foot long radioactive mutant with two heads and four tails.

The fish weren't biting however and so I turned to our sea captain for entertainment and a few tales of yore. He confirmed that navigating the waters around Indonesia could often be a risky business due to the large number of nefarious nautical types ready to pounce at the first available opportunity.

Indonesia's seas, some of the most pirate ridden on the planet, hit the news a decade ago during the financial crisis when economic hardship caused crime on the ocean wave to rocket. Various tales of cruise ships held to ransom by desperate local fishermen and the like surfaced at the time.

Captain Hans assured me that piracy in Indonesian waters has decreased somewhat since those desperate days but that there are still plenty of Jolly Roger hoisters out there ready to chance their arm. Sailors consequently need to keep their wits about them at all times even though pirates in this country are much less likely to have guns on them than their peers in the Philippines.

There are various danger signs to watch out for apparently including boats some distance off that appear to be moving parallel to your own. This technique is used by pirates to try and match and gauge their target’s speed before attacking. Also sailors should beware if there's no one on the deck of a nearby ship ready to exchange a friendly wave.

Our captain has apparently had various narrow escapes in his time. He once had to smash his way through a ring of smaller boats surrounding him. Another time he had to emerge from below deck screaming like a banshee with a large kitchen knife in his hand in order to scare off some would-be attackers. On another occasion he saw off a suspicious boat by brandishing a length of tubing as if it was a rifle which evidently, at the distance they were at, fooled these would-be assailants into thinking twice about assailing the good captain’s vessel.

I was starting to feel a trifle nervous after all these stories. Eventually we moored off the coast of one of the nearest of the Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands) and swam through the clearer waters onto the tiny island.

About 30 local Jakartans were packing up ready to depart as we arrived. They had been enjoying their annual day trip out to the Thousand Islands although seemingly hadn't found any buried treasure. For them it was enough to have a nice swim in some clear water without catching some interesting new skin disease presumably.

They soon set sail in their overcrowded, creaky old wooden crate of a vessel; its filthy, spluttering superannuated outboard motor shattering the peace for miles around. Pretty much the oceangoing equivalent of one of Jakarta's orange Metro Mini buses. And good luck to them too. Bloody 60 foot long luxury catamarans draped with bikini clad lovelies. Who needs ‘em?