Monday, December 17, 2012

Pulau Pemanggil - The Journey To

This is a long overdue chapter, a continuation from the 1st part that was written almost one and a half year ago.

As the boat slowly left the jetty, we sailed through the shallow river towards the river mouth. I could see the water has receded because some of the boats appeared to be driven ashore at the river bank. Not much activity, perhaps the daily fisherman had already settled down at home. It was pretty much quiet except for the sound from our boat's engine which had me praying it was powerful enough to sail us safely for the next 48 hours at sea.

Before we reached the river mouth, I recalled an old memory from a trip back from Pulau Perhentian almost 10 years ago. Just before we reached the river mouth of Kuala Besut from the open sea, we had to sail through rough water because of the intersection between water from the river and water from the sea. The boat I was sailing in rocked wildly before we finally managed to enter the calm water of Kuala Besut.

Hence, as we were reaching the river mouth of Mersing, silently I braced myself for what was expected to come. However, after minutes of having myself in a state of alert, I realized that we had sailed far from the land as the city lights were slowly becoming tiny bright dots in the horizon viewed from the stern.

As we sailed further out to open sea, the water became rough and we started to feel sudden gush when the boat hit the rough waves. The mood began to change from the joyous crowd to almost silence. Some started to show the seasick symptoms so we started to pick a spot each for us to rest our dizzy heads. Since the boat is relatively small, some of us ended up laid down on the boat deck with our bag as the pillow.

Though I've sailed at open sea as a young boy but it was on a big ship. A reality check: I am now sailing on a small fishing boat to an island 60 kilometers away in an almost pitch dark night, with the seawater started to occasionally splash onto my face as I laid down - it really scared the shit out of me. With the fact that I don't know how to swim if the worst happens, I started to locate the life buoy and did a quick analysis of who were close to it if in any case that I need to put up a struggle to fight for it.

I thought I would be fine but even with my prior experience, it still didn't help much as I started to feel dizzy too. Only hours later that I found a way to overcome it - I have to position myself in relation with the horizon. But it was pitch dark. After hours into the situation, my eyes managed to adapt to the darkness around me and I was able to see 20 to 30 meters beyond. That helped in easing my dizziness. But with that vision clarity, it also further justified my fear because now I can see how high the waves were.

A dear friend became really sick. He walked and swayed across the deck to the side of the boat and vomited to what appeared to be out into the sea but then just to be discovered by me and another friend in the next morning that he had threw it all out onto the boat's deck. Despite that, what worried me most was that he might be unlucky and get thrown out into the sea due to the nature of the heavy rocking.

After about four hours into the journey and almost everyone was fast asleep (or still fighting over the seasick), suddenly I heard the boat's engine started to slow down. I was not asleep and so did the organizer but we kept quiet. With the silence, the sound of the waves dominated the atmosphere. At that time, the clear magnitude of the waves were clearly understood when using all sensory. It was indeed very scary.

Suddenly, the captain appeared. He asked whether either of us had noticed the lights of Pulau Tioman. He mentioned that by this hour of journey, we should have seen the lights of Pulau Tioman from our left-front side. And with that, we should have seen the lights of Pulau Pemanggil on our right-front side. What worried him though, he had not seen any of those lights and he feared that we might have by-passed those two last islands. Damn! We probably had hit the far open sea of South China Sea!

The captain returned to his bridge, revved up the engine and continued the journey. I and the organizer exchanged mixed looks. We both lit up cigarettes and puffed away our worries out to the sea. We didn't want to wake up the others.

I looked up to the sky and couldn't see any stars. It must have been very cloudy. I tried to locate the horizon but to no avail when again, suddenly the captain stuck his head out of the bridge yelling he had seen the lights of Pulau Tioman. Slowly I pulled myself up, strongly holding to the boat's structure and peeked out to the left of the boat. Far in the distance, a few very tiny dot of lights visible. I felt relieved and exchanged a smile with the organizer who later lit up another stick and puffed away the reliefs.

About half an hour, I started to notice another few tiny dot of lights on the right-front. That must be the lights of Pulau Pemanggil I presumed. Now, after hours out in the rough sea, the glimpse of lights appeared as a big hope for me. Since then, I locked my eyes to that lights with one of it beaming much brighter than the others. Later I found out it was the light of the only telco tower on the island.

As we were slowly reaching the island, it was weird because I was unable to distinguish the silhouette of the island in contrast with the night sky. The only clear visibility were still the lights. Nothing else. As we came closer, slowly and slowly the shape of the island appeared, out from the mist. Apparently, the island and Pulau Tioman too were hidden from visibility behind the mist. My eyes began to distinguish its shape and without realizing a certain chill creeped inside me. Under the dark silhouette, the shape of the island is monumental with only a small part of the island where the lights were, is inhabited. The rest of the island is dark. In darkness, I could see palm trees dominates the island's landscape.

I thought that since we had been through rough waves at sea, the captain would sail to the small settlement area and dock at the jetty to wait for next morning. My hope was crushed when our boat slowly sailed to the other side of the island and later, those lights were none to be seen.

I have studied the geographical shape of the island on the map prior to the journey. Logically, the settlement (and any other coastal settlements) would have been built at a location protected from the danger of the sea. Therefore, when the captain decided to sail to the other side of the island, I concluded  that we were heading to the side of the island that is exposed to the open sea of South China Sea. I became worried. Why we did not dock at the jetty and why were we heading to the side of the island?

Only when we reached the side of the island that I realized that the sea was much calmer. Though, the waves were still high but it's a lot better than before. I could spot another two vessels with their lights on and from that lights, I could notice that those boats, and ours, were still experiencing high waves but not as rocking as what we had been through the past six hours.

The captain released the anchor, it's time to have another puff and to get some sleep. The dawn is near and later we're going to enjoy our time fishing.

Yes, the hope was still there.

To be continued.