Saturday, 3 August 2013

Lost at Sea -18


...continued from Stories No 16 & 17
The unexpected beaching of our 23-foot Sampan on the small Burmese island of Regon and subsequent friendship with its village community was a blessing in disguise, for we were able to enlist the help of the local villagers to replace a broken kicking strap and repair a sail.
Burmese children - by Bob Martin

     We were also given a walking tour around their community, and a supply of fresh coconuts, before being assisted to sail out over the surf into open water on our quest to reach Singapore from Bangladesh.
     We had cause to venture into shore again a few days later, this time to caulk some minor leaks and repair another torn sail. As we busied ourselves with chores, we were approached by a group of tribal Burmese, whose village was just along the beach.
     Despite our non-existent  linguistic communication skills, they kindly helped us with caulking the leaks and then invited us to their village, where we were made very welcome, and the centre of much curiosity. As far as we could understand, we were about eight days walk from the nearest township and the first foreigners the villagers had seen since the Japanese had passed through during the 1939–45 world war.
Our sampan was similar but smaller and with a mast.
     They gave us a wonderful meal of boiled yams, duck eggs and pork. Whilst eating, I noticed the headman's son had a badly infected finger. It was swollen, full of pus and causing him considerable pain.
     I returned to the boat to fetch a razor blade and first-aid kit, then with instructions to Eric to firmly hold the young man’s hand flat on a table and on my command, to look him in the eye and start talking a lot of nonsense to distract him, I quickly lanced the wound. It was a messy business, but once dressed with plenty of antiseptic cream, the young man smiled with obvious relief.
by Bob Martin
     Everyone had crowded around to look on in amazement. Word must have quickly spread around the village that a doctor was present; for I was suddenly inundated with people presenting me with all manner of ailments. My only knowledge of medicine was from a Boy Scout first-aid course and a smattering of old wives’ tales given by my grandmother, basic to say the least.
     As I started dressing a few cuts and handing out aspirin to buy myself time to think, a group of young men carrying small crossbows implore Eric and I to follow them. They led us for two kilometres along a track that went deep into the jungle, to an isolated hut on high stilts. I climbed the bamboo ladder while Eric stayed below to keep a lookout. I was shown a man who had apparently lost his grip whilst climbing a coconut palm and had slid down, tearing the skin off the inside of his arms and thighs. He was obviously in a great deal of pain.
Burmese villagers - Bob Martin
     I pulled out the shards of palm bark, dressed the wounds as best I could, and quickly returned to the village. I was not only out of my depth, but quickly running out of creams and aspirins, so we made our excuses to leave, swam out to our boat and continued an offshore southerly sail.
     The most south-westerly point of Burma is called Cape Negrais and it was there that we had problems trying to sail southeast around it. The winds, currents, and tides were against us. After much discussion, we decided one evening to try sailing south into the open sea of the Malacca Strait, then attempt to sail east again the following day. It was our first time to sail out of sight of land.
Always a happy smile- by Bob Martin
     The idea seemed sound enough, but in practise it didn’t work quite as we had hoped. A full six days passed before we sighted land again, during which we had tried to flag down a passing ship to ask directions, but they had just waved back at us.
      Spotting land was a huge relief, but we hadn’t a clue where we were; our best guess was somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, off the coast of Thailand.
     We had, by now, been at sea about two and a half weeks, our food store was dangerously low, and to make matters worse the coastline disappeared again overnight. There were suggestions and recriminations that perhaps one of the night watches had fallen asleep and sailed off course!
Burmese coastal fishermen - by Bob Martin
     However, land was eventually sighted again and we made for the shore in the hope of finding some form of habitation. Four pairs of eyes scanned the coastline, but all that could be seen for miles was the debris of fallen dead trees, no doubt the result of a violent storm. Beyond the debris lay dense verdant jungle.  
     We spotted a tiny, protected, clear cove where we beached on to a sharp sandy fall-off, threw the anchor over a dead tree and stood there in the quiet heat of the day not knowing quite what to do next.
     ‘Eh up!’ said Jim, pointing into the dense forest, ‘that there’s a deer in’t it?’
     ‘Aye, ’tis too’ whispered Sam. ‘We’ll eat well tonight lads.’
By Mamunur, Bangladesh 
     Excitedly, we made plans to hunt them. Sam decided to rely on throwing his knife, Jim made a fearsome looking spear and Eric and I decided to rig up a rope trap. We set off through the line of dead trees and into the forest; the plan was to keep within earshot of each other to avoid becoming lost.
     Eric and I worked together setting up our trap with bait and then hid behind a tree. For two hours we crouched in the hot, sticky humidity of the forest, barely moving a muscle.
     Two small deer were spotted moving slowly toward our traps. We dare hardly breathe in case we frightened them, ‘Come my little beauties,’ I murmured to myself, as they inched their way unwittingly toward us. They were within two feet of our trap; should we take the chance and spring it now or let them keep coming? Ah …decisions, decisions!
     Suddenly their heads jerked up in fear and they dashed off as a loud crashing noise came through the forest, of someone or something approaching,
     ‘I bet it’s that ruddy idiot Sam,’ growled Eric.
Komodo Dragon - by Adhi Rachdian
     It was every man for himself. Eric and I suddenly found ourselves high up in a tree without any recollection of having climbed there. Meanwhile this ... this thing, which we were later told was a Komodo Dragon, continued on its purposeful drooling way toward the beach.
     We yelled for the others to join us and abandoned the hunt. We stayed close together whilst gingerly making our way back to the boat, en route we spotted several more of these monsters. It was with great relief that we clambered back on board to sail out into the relative safety of the sea and a supper of cold chapatti.
A fearsome creature - by Adhi Rachdian
     During the next twelve days, we lost sight of land on all but two days. On the first occasion, we ventured onto a small island in search of food, but to no avail.
        Much of our food supplies had either gone off or had been damaged from seawater; we were surviving on a small amount of flour and the remains of rusty water kept in the oil drums of our ‘life raft’. For all intents and purposes, we were out of food, and had been so for eleven days. Our failed attempts to fish were pitiful. We were lost, hungry and exhausted...This tale continues in story No 19 When disaster strikes
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This is the 3rd episode of this series of short stories.
Click here to read the first one episode

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