The Little Boat That Couldn’t
How boat problems almost ruined a first-time trip to the Mentawai’s.
By Travis Mellem
On July 10, 2001 a small crew of young kids set off to a group of islands off Sumatra called the Mentawai Islands. What was different about our group was the age and talent of these surfers from both coasts that included East Coasters Tommy O’Brien and Alek Parker, West Coasters Nathaniel Curran, Dane Reynolds, Julian Mullins, and me.
[IMAGE 1]As everyone’s first time to Indonesia, everything felt very exciting and new for us-we’re very fortunate to only be sixteen years old and able to travel around the world to a place like this. In addition to all us first-timers, a photographer by the name of Jack English came along with his friend Evan Futterer, a really good surfer from Jack’s hometown of Pismo Beach, California.
Getting to the Mentawai Islands is about a 48-hour process that includes a fourteen-hour boat ride-a long way to travel, but it pays off once you get there. What you don’t realize about boat trips is that you really do stay on the boat the whole time-we stayed for twelve days. On the way out, Julian got seasick and gave the fish some regurgitated food. The first break that we pulled up to was HT’s (also known as Lance’s Right). We found sunny skies with two- to three-foot waves and glassy conditions-really fun for the first couple of hours until some Aussies came out and ruined everything. They took every wave and acted like they owned the island. This not-so-nice-feeling forced Tommy to exchange a few words with them.
On our first full day, we headed over to the left, which is about a half an hour boat ride from the right. When we pulled up, only two other boats had anchored there, but luckily for us, only a couple guys were out in the lineup. We paddled out to four-to five-foot surf-really mushy, so it was just a good drop.
Thankfully, it got windy, so we went back to HT’s. Dane charged-he got some good barrels and took a couple gnarly wipeouts. This is when the fun started: When we came back to our boat, the captain informed us it was sinking! The hull was filling up with water because a one-way valve broke, which made the generator break as well-it runs everything in the boat including the air-conditioning, refrigerator, and all of the lights. As night fell, the captain wasn’t able to get the generator to work, forcing us to sleep the entire night without A.C.-basically like sleeping in a sauna. Without the generator, our first trip turned into our first nightmare. Our boat was broken, and we had to go get it fixed!
[IMAGE 2]The next morning, things got worse as half of our food went bad. I’m not sure what food, but we had to throw a lot of it overboard as we boated back to town four hours away. Not able to surf real waves, we hung off the side of the boat and surfed its little wake-I tied my leash around the rail of the boat in case of a fall. One of us accidentally let the board go-it took a deep-submarine dive that broke my leash and forced us to turn around to get it. On the way to getting the boat fixed, we pulled up to a break called Telescope’s. We surfed as the captain and his crew went to get the boat fixed. It was a three-to five-foot left that provided Nathaniel with the wave of the day-a six-second backside barrel.
The boat finally came back all fixed up and we headed to a little left called Gillette’s, where we saw the Indies Trader 2 and its passengers-Dan Malloy, Rizal Tanjung, Jun Jo, and the Hurleys (Jeff, Ryan, and Bob). They were just leaving, but it was still really fun. We went there because the boat’s exhaust still needed to be fixed. Overall, the captain went three times to fix the boat, and every time he did, he’d start the boat up and it would break again. That took almost all day as we ended up having to go back to the town we had just left. That night, we slept outside with the mosquitos-Julian and Alekk didn’t take malaria pills (Larium), so they were forced to sleep miserably in long pants and T-shirts.
After a long night, we had a whole day to hang on the island while the boat was getting fixed. By this time, all of our food had gone bad. All we had to eat for the next seven days was rice, noodles, and chicken. If we were lucky, the captain would catch some fish for us. While waiting for what seemed like days, we took a dinghy to a little beach where we could walk around. We played tackle football in the water with a coconut used as the ball. Jack and Evan both got pretty serious, but in the end, Jack’s team beat Evan’s. The rest of the day was spent in town, where we learned a lot about the local culture-a very interesting experience indeed.
Finally, with our boat fixed we headed to HT’s again. It was small and cloudy, so Jack grabbed his board, went out, and got caught inside by a freak set. Soon after, we took the four-hour journey back to Macaroni’s only to get there and find it really small. We ended up staying for two days, just enough time to catch our last session with the Indes Trader 2 crew. Rizal Tanjung got some really good barrels, Dan Malloy did huge backside gouges, and Jun Jo came close to pulling a rodeo flip-we had fun watching those guys surf.
[IMAGE 3]On the way back from Macaroni’s, we had to stop back at the previous town we’d gotten to know so well to get some fuel for the boat. This took up most of the day, so we weren’t able to surf. We felt pretty happy to be going home after a long trip with boat problems-it would’ve been a lot more fun otherwise. If you go to the Mentawai Islands, I recommend you not to take the boat named La Natania-unless, of course, you want to spend most of your time fixing a boat and you enjoy eating rice.