Ferdinand Magellan and me (38)

Gibraltar marina

Gibraltar marina, where things begin to unravel.

All’s fair in love and sailing.

Apart from the fact that I have never garrotted anyone or chopped anyone’s head off (honest) the main difference between Ferdinand Magellan and me is our respective attitudes towards women. When Magellan married Beatriz at a high ceremony in the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria in Triana he received a dowry of 600,000 maravedis, a considerable amount. When I married Robin I paid for the hire of our yacht club’s function room and the fee of the marriage celebrant who was an atheist like the rest of us. Magellan forbade Beatriz to set foot aboard his ship. I was only too happy to welcome Robin aboard Wathara, as the spider said to the fly.

This is obviously a reversal in the relationship between men and women in the space of a mere 500 years. It’s less than the blink of an eye in the inertial frame of reference described by Albert Einstein in the 20th century. Magellan proved the world is round not flat. Einstein proved that space and time are bent, so what does 500 years amount to?

A couple of weeks after Robin left, a telegram arrived. Mrs Regan’s court application. Family Court Sydney. Please arrange for your solicitor to appear. Orders sought. 1. Restrain Mr Regan from withdrawing monies from National Australia Bank and from selling, disposing or encumbering any other asserts including yacht Wathara. 2. Restrain bank. 3. Pay to wife lump sum property settlement 50,000 dollars. Please advise arrangements for service on you of documents. Mitchell & Co. Solicitors.

Holy shit! She should have been keelhauled for wrecking the boat, never mind a property settlement. She had already been given cash and property exceeding anything she owned before the marriage. I got on the phone to my solicitor in Sydney, who informed me the bank account had already been frozen.
“What a load of crap. How am I supposed to live? She was just a crew member who liked to fuck.”
“She is also your wife.”
“What a mistake that was. Fifty thousand dollars! Regard that a-postiori as the dowry that was never paid when we got married.”
“Dowries are rather out of fashion, I’m afraid.”
“I’m just an old fashioned kind of bloke. I mean, I’m here to investigate the life of a man who lived 500 years ago. Magellan would have straightened her out.”

Living aboard a yacht puts a marriage in a special category. She always claimed she was not a women’s libber. She never once complained about being called out of her bunk in the middle of the night to stand watch or change sails in howling wind, rain and rough seas, but she objected to washing the dishes. She offered to do oil changes on the engine, she would paint and varnish, repair sails and make fancy rope work. She had a charming smile and a delightful laugh that endeared her to strangers but, really, the only thing we had in common was the love of sailing. When that began to pall after the shipwreck, then the hard sail against strong headwinds in the Red Sea, then the equally frustrating calms in the Mediterranean, we had nothing left. I knew I was going to miss her, the bitch, but when it comes to a choice between a woman and my boat the outcome is clear. To top it off, Bucko fell overboard one day while I was away and drowned in the marina because he couldn’t climb out. Shit happens.

Ferdinand Magellan

All’s fair in love and sailing


Ferdinand Magellan and me (23) – Disaster part 2

click for Ferdinand Magellan

shipwreckedwhilecircumnavigatingtheworldinMagellan's wakeA convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles appeared out of the desert and we prepared to meet our doom, expecting wild-eyed fanatics flourishing AK-47s. Wathara was easy pickings for any pirate or other renegade. The two Arabs who had found us before climbed out of the vehicles along with four or five other men. They started shouting and waving for us to come ashore and at first I thought perversely that I would force them to come out to us if they wanted to get us. Then I thought, what’s the use? They’ll get us in the end.
I climbed into the dinghy and rowed ashore, getting swamped as I landed.
“You have some trouble eh?” said one of the men, who looked European.
“No,” I snarled as I clambered up the rocky bank, “we do this once a month just for fun.”
The man looked puzzled for a moment and then burst into laughter, thrusting out his hand to shake.
“I am Lars Andersen. You can do nothing now because the tide is going down. Come with me to the camp.”
“Lars, that’s Swedish isn’it?”
“Danish. I am from Dandar Construction Company. We build the road over there.”
He waved a hand toward the stony hills and now I saw big yellow bulldozer crawling through the terrain.
“But the Arabs were shooting at us this morning. I thought they were terrorists or something.”
He threw his head back and had a good laugh over this joke.
“They do that all the time. They shoot at us when we want to build the road through their herd of camels.”
By some amazing chance we had managed to wreck the boat only a few miles from Dandar’s base camp where they were building a fish processing plant for the Yemeni trawler industry. At no other point on this coast would we have found any sign of life apart from crabs and camels.
Because of the phenomenal rain, parts of the road had been washed away and as we drove to the camp we passed backhoes, front end loaders and dump trucks pulled off to the side in the mud.
There were about 150 men in the camp, mostly Danish with some Swedes and Portuguese. Several had their wives and children along, living in comfortable, air-conditioned prefabricated houses. The camp was laid out around the shores of a bay where a jetty had already been built and factories and storehouses were under construction.

I was introduced to the project boss, an Icelander named Sigfus, a tall balding man in his forties with a totally expressionless face and piercing blue eyes. As if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to have a yacht wrecked at his door he outlined the possibilities. They had a barge with a powerful winch there in the bay.
“Yes?” I said. “But it would need good anchors and a long line on the winch so it could anchor well offshore.”
“Yes, it has that, he said thoughtfully, “but unfortunately the engine is out of action until we get some spare parts.”
“Oh,” I said.”
“We have a supply ship coming from Aden that could certainly pull your boat off the rocks.”
“That sounds great,” I said.
“Unfortunately not for another week or ten days.”
“Oh,” I said. “The boat will be wrecked in a week.”
“We also have a loader that could pick up your boat and take it out into deeper water. “How deep is your boat?”
“The draft is six feet or 180 centimetres.”
“Ah, then it is not possible, I’m afraid, to go into such deep water.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Perhaps we could lift your boat with our mobile crane and put it on a trailer.”
“Oh yes? That sounds good.”
“But of course the road is too bad now, with the rain.”
I was beginning to think this guy was some kind of sadist taking delight in teasing me.
“But never mind,” he said gloomily. “We will not allow your boat to be wrecked. The high tide is about four o’clock this afternoon, when we will try to get it off.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know how I’m going to pay you. I have no cash, only travellers’ cheques.”
Still without a flicker on his face or a spark in his eye he waved a hand in the air and said, “there will be no charge.”
That afternoon with the help of three Danish volunteers and a big truck we began trying to winch her off using three anchors and the engine. I ran the anchors out in the little dinghy, which was half full of water as I struggled against the surf to get far enough offshore to obtain a decent pull on the anchors. I don’t know how many times I made that trip with an anchor hanging over the dinghy’s transom until I reached the full scope of the warp. I dropped the anchor and rowed back to the boat to begin the heartbreaking business of winching. It was heartbreaking because we knew that every metre of line we retrieved only meant the anchor was dragging.
That night was the most dreadful of our lives. We lay on our bunks utterly exhausted, hearing the waves break as they approached and smashed into Wathara attempting to ride over them. Then she was dumped on the rocks with a shuddering jolt that jarred her from keel to masthead. Boulders were ground to pieces under her keel and the noise sent shivers down my spine. The anchors were still dragging.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (19) Goa

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Albuquerque-the Lion of Portugal

Affonso de Albuquerque did more than any other individual to establish the Portuguese empire in the east. Known in his time as the Lion of Portugal, among other names, he rampaged across the Indian Ocean from Africa to Malaya fighting sea battles, building fortresses and leaving behind many dead people, mainly Muslims. Considering the motivation for this expansion was the little black berry of the clove tree, the cost in human lives of a spicy dinner in Europe was huge.

Ferdinand Magellan participated in a number of Albuquerque’s adventures, including the conquest of Goa. An important staging point in the Arab spice route to Europe, Goa was a prosperous city with a large Muslim population. Albuquerque underestimated his foe. Although he easily took control of the port city, the Muslim king of Bijapur rallied his troops and laid siege to the invaders. With his food supplies running low, Albuquerque was forced to retreat; not something within his nature.

Returning to Cannanore he raised a fleet of 34 ships with about 2000 men and within three months made his second assault upon the city, this time successfully. He ordered the entire Muslim population – men, women and children- be put to the sword. Estimates of the slaughter range between 6,000 and 9,000. Albuquerque secured Goa as part of the Portuguese empire and it remained so for 450 years. Only in 1961 did the Indian Army reclaim it.



The monsoon died soon after we left Calicut and started drifting with the Bhaktal lighthouse winking at us through the velvet night. Every once in a while a fishing boat came by and shouted at us and Bucko barked back but then the perfect silence of the placid sea descended. It was a magical night with a near full moon casting its glow in a path across the water. We were both so entranced that we sat up all night in the cockpit counting the stars. The breeze returned in fits and starts but it was a slow trip to Goa.

The anchorage in the Mandovi River was hopelessly busy with barges, ferries and ships crowding in behind the breakwater. Most of our two weeks in Goa were spent near the scene of Albuquerque’s slaughter but now it seemed a cheerful enough place and a tourist destination.

We visited the hospital seeking a cure for our lingering constipation. When we explained our problem and the cause of it to the duty doctor he burst out laughing. Then he took pity on us. He handed over his business card. He was a member of the British College of Surgeons, which seemed to me an acceptable credential. I had been reading news stories of a body organ trade in India.

“We don’t need surgery,” I said, and there may have been a note of panic in my voice.

“No, of course not but you are visitors to our town all the way from Australia. If I can be of any assistance…?”

“We’re just sort of interested in Ferdinand Magellan, you know, about 500 years ago. Actually, he blasted this place with cannons.”

“Ah, Magellan. An interesting man. First man to sail around the world.”

“Not really. His was the first ship but he never made it.”

One thing that amazed me in our voyage around the world was the hospitality we received from all kinds of people in different countries. It is usually the poorest who are ready to share whatever they have with a guest. This man was different. He was a toff; a Brahman but he took us home to share a meal with his family. I am embarrassed to admit that travellers will rarely receive that kind of hospitality in Australia.



Ferdinand Magellan and me (18) Constipation

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Vasco da Gama arrives in India

The Portuguese arrive in India.Under Viceroy Almeida, the Portuguese invaders including Ferdinand Magellan ranged across the Arabian Sea. They built forts at strategic points on the east coast of Africa and west coast of India. Numerous battles were fought as resistance grew.  Calicut, about 70 miles north of Cochin had been a  prosperous  part of the Arab spice trade for many centuries and had powerful allies. The Zamorin of Calicut raised a fleet of about 200 ships but was defeated by Almeida’s son, Lourenςo, at the Battle of Cannanore. He fought back with the help of the Mameluke Emir Hussein of Egypt and inflicted the first defeat upon the Portuguese, in which Lourenςo was killed.

Affonso de Albuquerque arrived in 1508 with a commission from King Manuel to relieve Almeida as Viceroy. Almeida had unfinished business, including revenge for the death of his son, and promptly clapped Albuquerque into prison. Almeida put together a fleet of 18 ships, probably with Ferdinand Magellan as one of its captains and  Duarte Barbosa, who was to become Magellan’s brother-in-law, as scrivener or accountant. The fleet sailed northwards towards the rich province of Gujarat and was met by an opposing fleet of 12 ships near the island of Diu. The Portuguese ships were the most formidable ocean-going men-o-war of their day; heavily armed and manned by seasoned sailors. Opposing them were small vessels designed for commerce in the relatively sheltered waters of the Mediterranean and Red Seas. They included Venetian galleys whose only real advantage was the ability to manoeuvre in windless conditions. Fortunately for the Portuguese, the breeze held and they inflicted grievous damage upon the enemy but not sufficient to satisfy Almeida’s thirst for revenge for the death of his son. He embarked on a murderous campaign against the populace that was to inform the policies of his vice-regal successor who still languished in prison: Albuquerque.


Calicut, now also known as Khozhikode, was definitely on our agenda since Ferdinand Magellan played a big role in the conflict with the Zamorin. Evidently, Almeida gave him a letter of marque that authorised him to attack enemies of Portugal almost at will. Magellan is credited with a few attacks upon local shipping.

For some reason that I failed to understand, the Cochin officials refused to give me a clearance for Khozhikode because on our entry form I had given our destination as Goa.

“We’re still going to Goa but I want to go to Calicut first,” I explained to the harbour master.

“Ah, but I’m afraid there is an extra fee payable for the paperwork ,” he said with an apologetic little smile. He was a middle aged man with a trimmed moustache and in our previous dealings had been affable and helpful.

I smelled a rat. I took the matter up with our friend, the father of Indira, the girl who wanted to study in Australia. He was a retired colonel of the Indian army and I guessed he knew a thing or two about how bureaucracy works.

“Oh yes,” he said, “unfortunately the wheels require a little grease to keep turning, but you should be careful. If you do offer to pay and the so-called fee is not legitimate, you could be in trouble for bribing an official.”

Robin also had an opinion. “Bloody outrageous,” she said in her endearing straightforward way. “We didn’t come all this way to miss out on Calicut.”

“Okay,” I said. “Never mind. “We won’t miss out on Calicut.”

The sailing is beautiful off the coast of India when the monsoon is right. You get a nice breeze off the land with a hint of cinnamon or coriander in the air. By this stage we were aficionados of spices which, after all, is what the story was all about. Bucko couldn’t stop sniffing.

If you read Wathara’s logbook for that period you will see that Robin and I had suddenly developed stomach cramps, high temperature and even a touch of diarrhoea. Suspected cause was food poisoning. By the time we reached the latitude of Calicut I, as master of the ship Wathara, declared a medical emergency and claimed Force Majeure under the International Law of the Sea.

We dropped anchor near the lighthouse, launched the dinghy and rowed ashore straight into the clutches of a person in a khaki uniform waiting for us on the beach.

“You are a foreign yacht?” he asked.

“Well, yes, you could say that.”

“Your papers, please.”


“Yes, your papers,” he said with infinite patience as if addressing a half-wit. “Passports. Travel documents. Clearance from last port.”

“Oh, the papers. Yes we do have papers.”

“May I see them please?”

I handed over our passports duly stamped with visas and our clearance from Cochin stamped by the harbour master.

“Your clearance is for Goa, not Kozhikode. Why have you come to Kozhikode?”

“Force Majeure,” I said.

His eyebrows lifted and he looked around the horizon at the placid sea with a gentle breeze blowing under a clear blue sky.

“I see no severe weather. Why do you claim Force Majeure?”

Now I saw why the yachties in Cochin had said the Indian bureaucracy was worse than the Indonesian. You can bullshit Indonesian officials because most don’t speak very good English but I couldn’t even bullshit this bloke in French.

“Medical emergency,” I said. “Food poisoning. You can read my logbook.”

“You require medical attention?”


“I may inspect your logbook.”

He turned and waved towards the lighthouse and before long an inflatable dinghy with a powerful outboard motor arrived from nowhere, came in through the low surf and landed on the beach.

“We shall visit  your vessel, please,” he said in velvet tones concealing an iron fist.

We returned to Wathara but had to put a collar and leash on Bucko, who was barking his head off. After verifying our medical condition in the logbook the official made a thorough inspection, opening lockers, lifting cushions and peering into the bilge.

Somewhat reluctantly it seemed to me, he stamped our passports and said, “Your medical condition will be dealt with.”

He took us back ashore and then escorted us to a pharmacy in the business district. He introduced us to the pharmacist, who seemed to be a friend of his and described our condition as ‘loose motion.’ He watched while the pharmacist stirred up some brew with a mortar and pestle and then watched to make sure we took our medicine. We were both constipated for a week after. To this day I wonder whether he had been tipped off by the Cochin harbour master. I fondly remember this incident as the Zamorin’s revenge.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (16) Galle

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan would have visited Sri Lanka as a member of a fleet under Sequira on its way to Malacca. He spent several years in this region and took part in many battles as the Portuguese expanded their empire. The inhabitants of southern Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in several respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong throughout the region, Buddhism and Islam maintained more or less orderly societies and trade flourished among the various nations, much of it by sea.

Well before Christopher Columbus, the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho made a voyage nearly twice as long as his but the Celestial Empire was not interested in conquest, burglary or proselytising. Their benign attitude was their downfall and even China later fell victim to European cannons powered by a Chinese invention – gunpowder. The Chinese used gunpowder for fire crackers but Europeans turned it into a weapon of war. The cannon is what made the Europeans invincible. European ships carried cannons to the doorstep of major cities like Malacca, Galle and Colombo, Cochin and Goa. The British occupation was quite brutal.


Sailing is not all smooth seas and balmy weather. Chores have to be done, like periodically anti-fouling the boat’s bottom. It fell due in Galle and Don Windsor, the yachties’ agent, was only too happy to advise. No doubt he took a good commission from the boatyard where we hauled Wathara out of the water but who was to complain? First mate Robin proved a dab hand with a paint roller and especially with the fancy bits like touching up the name on the stern.

Windsor also introduced us to a particularly fiery brand of curry. I suspect he took secret glee from the startled expressions on our faces as we took the first mouthful and groped for the water decanter. By the end of our fortnight-long stay, however, it had become our favourite dish.

The first mate in action: not just a pretty face.

Haulout-first mate Robin gets to work


Ferdinand Magellan and me (15):Monsoon

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Portuguese ruins litter SE Asia

The north east monsoon provided some glorious sailing across the Andaman Sea. Day after day Wathara cruised along in the hands of our most important crew member: Fred – the wind vane self steering gear. While we humans lounged around the cockpit reading or snoozing or listening to music and Bucko kept watch sniffing the air, Fred tirelessly steered the boat towards our next destination – Galle. My role was to take star sights at dawn and dusk and sun sights at noon and forenoon, which I found almost spiritual. There is something mystical about peering through a sextant’s telescope, doing a bit of arithmetic and then marking a position on the chart. It represents your location in the cosmos at this point in history. No one has ever been at that timeplace before and never would be again. As a traveler in history I found this awesome.

In the age of sail back to pre-historic times the reversing monsoons had dictated the ebb and flow of commerce throughout the region. By the time the Portuguese arrived, sea trade routes were well established. The Chinese under Admiral Cheng Ho had penetrated as far as Africa long before Columbus found the New World. The inhabitants of South East Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in some respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong, Buddhism and Islam maintained orderly societies and trade was brisk. Then the Europeans arrived.

The Portuguese ruins in Galle are more extensive than those elsewhere, partly because the Dutch and English refrained from destroying them. The English used the Portuguese fortress as their administrative headquarters throughout their occupation of the island. Galle’s main attraction for us was the service offered by a man named Don Windsor, recommended by several cruising yachts. And upon arrival in Galle’s snug harbour we were reunited with some of them: Nangkita from Fremantle, Gresham from Auckland, Sophia from Rotterdam and Olivia from Buenos Aires – all part of the multinational cruising village.

Don Windsor was a flamboyant character given to wearing garish shirts and making dramatic announcements about the need to beware of government officials, who were all corrupt. That’s why we needed to entrust him, Don, with any official business. For a modest fee he could take the stress out of our encounters with bureaucracy. Having experienced the Indonesian bureaucracy we were happy to comply, leaving us free to explore this historic town.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (12) :Bucko

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Bucko-our defence against pirates.

Our defence against pirates was more creative than James’s. We bought a dog. He should probably be called a doglet. He was a silky terrier, one week old, just about big enough to fill the palm of my hand. Why should I get a dog to save us from pirates? you may ask. And why not get a real dog, like a Dobermann, instead of a toy like a silky terrier? My thinking was this. These pirates nearly all came from Indonesia, which is the most populous Muslim country in the world. I had been told that Muslims regard dogs as unclean. All I had to do was wave the dog in the air and they would be repelled in disgust. At last, an ethical approach to piracy. I eschewed the path of terror and besides, we fell in love with him. I rigged netting on the guard rails all around the boat to save him from falling overboard.

We called him Bucko, as in bucko mate, and set about training him to do his ablutions in a tray of kitty litter in the cockpit. Poor little bugger probably thought he was a cat, never able to cock his leg on a lamp post, but he had the heart of a lion. Eventually, I did build him a lamp post out of an old broom stick in his kitty litter tray and witnessed what has to be one of the great marvels of evolution. No one had ever taught him to cock his leg, he just did it. What’s more, by the time he was a couple of months old he could climb the ladder from down in the cabin up to the cockpit so we didn’t have to lift him up there any more. We just had to be careful not to step in anything nasty.

We left Singapore after a farewell barbecue at Ong’s and headed up the Malacca Strait on the lookout for pirates. Before long the weather was up to its old tricks, with a heavy rainstorm and brief but violent squalls. I dropped the anchor to sit it out. Bucko spent most of the time asleep, not worried by the storm, but sudden noises like the engine starting frightened him.

Some time in the early hours of the morning when the weather had calmed Bucko started barking up on deck: ‘Yap, yap, yap,’ waking us up.

“Shut up, you stupid dog,” I said, but he paid no attention and, eventually, I had to get out of bed to investigate. He was barking at what looked like one of the local fishing boats returning to port. I went and got the spotlight and trained it on the triangular shape gliding through the anchorage. It wasn’t the sail of a fishing boat; it was the dorsal fin of the biggest shark I have ever seen in my life.

“Holy shit,” I said. “Shut up, Bucko. You wouldn’t even be a snack for that thing.”

But then I realised I had to give him a pat for doing a good job.


Ferdinand Magellan and me(10): Singapore

Ferdinand Magellan and me(10)

click for Ferdinand Magellan

oil rig in the South China Sea
Oil has long since replaced spices as the world’s most sought commodity likely to send nations to war. In Magellan’s time Singapore was a deserted, swampy island infested with mosquitoes and bugs. The economic powerhouse then was Malacca, about 100 miles up the strait.

A few centuries later, Singapore had become the hub of business and maritime activity. This was an opportunity to top up the coffers because a company I had worked for in Australia was hiring. Smit Lloyd was a Dutch company specialising in oil rig tenders servicing rigs in the region. They needed a mate so within a few days I was heading back the way we had come from while Robin minded Jabiru in Ong’s marina in the Johore Strait.

The Norwegian skipper, Lars, had ways of dealing with Oriental bureaucracy that topped my paltry graft in Bali. Our first rig was working in Indonesian waters and had a resident immigration official on board. Lars explained that this individual could waste a couple of days on paperwork, checking stores and searching for contraband, but Lars had found the answer. He sat the official down in the mess room in front of the television and while we got on with our work the official watched pornographic movies.

Singapore’s only natural resource is its location at the crossroads of maritime traffic between Europe and the Orient. Singapore harbour is always crowded with all manner of ships but canny businessmen and politicians have developed service industries making it one of the most prosperous little countries in the region. It has a large expat population, a fair proportion of it based in Ong’s Marina, and we soon found ourselves drawn into a multinational social circle. Somehow the weeks turned into months and the months into nearly a year. Magellan was put on the back burner for a while.

Next: Pirates.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (9) :Headwinds

Ferdinand Magellan and me(3)

click for Ferdinand Magellan

We had tarried so long among the Thousand Islands that we had missed the favourable monsoon. As we sailed out into the Java sea again it was very different from last time. Now the sky was a purplish black with sheets of lightning and rolling thunder. Sudden gale force winds came from nowhere, blew for 20 minutes and then disappeared, leaving a confused, choppy sea in which Wathara attempted to throw her mast out.Then the fierce Sun would reappear and try to roast us as we prayed to the wind god. Day after day we logged runs of 30 miles, 15 miles, 20 miles. One day we went backwards. The lesson was clear – never, never sail these waters at the turn of the monsoon.

In the age of sail, monsoons governed the movement of ships throughout the region. When the Portuguese arrived they found a thriving seaborne trade dominated by the Chinese junk, which had some advanced features unknown to Europeans. The Chinese invented the magnetic compass, the transom hung rudder, watertight compartments and the battened lozenge-shape sail that enabled them to point higher into the wind and outsail square rigged carracks. The sail plan was easier to manage because the battens, controlled from the deck by lines, enabled sails to be quickly reefed.

Before the time of Columbus and Vasco da Gama a eunuch slave in the court of Emperor Cheng Zu was given command of a huge fleet of about 100 ships. Over the next year and a half various elements of the fleet cruised through the Indian Ocean as far as Africa seeking trade. The 15th century more than any other can be called the century of exploration although the Chinese failed to exploit their sea power. They had also invented gunpowder but later fell under the thrall of the invading Europeans.

Since our cruising permit had now expired we were not allowed to land at an Indonesian port again and we hadn’t enough fuel to motor all the way to Singapore. Inch by inch, it seemed, we crept up the Karimata Strait by the coast of Borneo, staying clear of the Sumatra shore, where pirates had recently been reported. Piracy is an ancient profession in these waters. One day I found Robin in the cockpit in tears.

“Oh God, how long is this going to last?” she wailed.

“Until it ends,” I said in my oracle voice.

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded a bit of a cry myself but we men have to keep the flag flying. The entrance to Singapore Strait was still 200 miles away across the South China Sea into the teeth of the new monsoon.

When we did eventually get to Singapore I reported to the harbour master, who asked, filling in a form, “What is purpose of visit? Business, education or pleasure?”

I had to think about that for a while. It wasn’t business, it wasn’t education so it must have been pleasure. “Pleasure,” I finally said. “Yes, we do this for pleasure.”

Distinctive Chinese craft.Next: Singapore.


Ferdinand Magellan and me (8): Shaky ground.

Ferdinand Magellan and me(3)

click for Ferdinand Magellan

There is much to surprise and delight in Bali and a couple of weeks slipped by as we savoured a unique culture deriving from Hindu beliefs but we left the famous temple of Besakih until nearly last. We travelled by bemo to Ubud, a town that is one huge garden where cheeky monkeys pick your pocket. Being old hands in Indonesian hotels by now we brought our own toilet roll and light globe. The inn where we found a room was built in the fashion of a temple, with high mud walls adorned with stone gargoyles and a maze-like entrance designed to confuse evil spirits. The rooms with bone-breaking beds surrounded a leafy courtyard.

On the slopes of Gunung Agung stands the mother of all temples, with ornate spires piercing the mist. With grace and reverence, the Balinese leave their offerings on high altars to placate the god of the volcano, which has been responsible for many disasters over the years.

It was early when we went to bed that night, tired out by the climb and it seemed only minutes later that I sat bolt upright, wide awake.

“What was that?” I asked no one in particular.

“What was what?” Robin mumbled.

Then the entire building rumbled and shook and I watched in fascination as a zigzag crack crept up the wall from floor to ceiling.

“Shit, we’re aground,” I cried, and jumped out of bed.

“No we’re not,” Robin said. “It’s a bloody earthquake.”

We scrambled into clothes and rushed outside. The Earth rumbled again and the gargoyles fell off the walls. The innkeeper and his terrified family fell on their faces before a shrine in a corner of the courtyard, moaning and wailing. Dogs and chickens beyond the walls went mad.

Evidently, the god of the volcano had not listened to the supplications of the faithful but was not too angry because the tremor was brief. Much as we loved Bali I decided it was no fit place for a sailor. Give me a storm at sea any time. First thing in the morning we headed back to Jabiru to take our chances with storm, shipwreck and pirates.