True Stories

The following is an e-mail from the captain of the surf charter boat Adventure Komodo to the boat’s owner, surf-exploration legend Martin Daily.


Before I fall over, I’ll give you a breakdown of the sequence of events:

Yesterday evening (8/3/04) at about 1800 hrs John McGroder came out to the Komodo to tell me that there had been a very bad accident at Lance’s Left (we were at the Right, getting the afternoon offshore), and that one of the passengers on the Laut India, James “Wal” Walters (age 55), had been found facedown in the water with a bad puncture wound to the back of his head and severe lacerations to the side of his head. He was blue, not breathing, had lungs full of water, and a very weak pulse.

A passenger off the Santa Lusie had just decided that he would go for a walk on the beach at Lance’s Left instead of going for a surf at Bintangs at the other end of the bay. He was headed toward the small reef pass at the end of Lance’s Left to get to the beach when he noticed a guy lying facedown in the water. His first reaction was that the surfer was resting and having a look at the coral (as we all do sometimes), but after about ten seconds he knew that the fellow was in trouble. The rescuer, Woody Boethel, is a staunch (read: pit bull) sort of bloke who is a trained nurse from the U.S.A. We shared some waves with him at big Macca’s a couple days earlier.

Once Woody realized there was a problem, he jumped in the water, dragged the casualty back to the dinghy, and single-handedly pulled him into the boat and started CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The patient was not breathing and had a lot of water in his lungs. Woody was able to revive him in the dinghy due to his training as a nurse. He then returned to the Laut India, and with the assistance of passengers and crew, they got the patient onto the deck of the vessel where they could properly assess the situation.

It was at about this time that John and I became aware of the incident, as we were asked to try to organize a medevac/demob for this guy.

Due to the nature of the injuries, John and I decided that the fastest boat was best, so we approached Ernie on the Ardika to see if he was in a position to help. Thankfully he was, and we decided to split his passengers up between John and me. The two blokes were to go to the Barrenjoey, and the two girls were to join the Komodo (guffaw). I placed on Ardika, the small medical oxygen generator that we have on the Komodo and showed Ernie how to use it (not hard). Ernie then pulled his pick and proceeded around to the Left to take on the casualty.

Once I had all my guys on board, I also pulled the anchor to go see if there was anything that we could do to help. As we came around the peninsula, I was able to see a very large buildup of storm clouds to the northwest, and I knew then that we were in error sending the patient on the Ardika and not the Komodo. The weather was going to get very rough, and the Ardika is a much smaller, lighter vessel not really made for those conditions.

I flagged the idea with one of the guests in the wheel house (Marcello) who spoke for all, saying that he was sure there would be no problem with us assisting in the rescue operation as they completely understood the need to preserve a human life if we could and that the surf was not going to be as good the next day (their last) anyway. Marcello went below and spoke with the rest of the guests, and they all came up to tell of their agreement with the plan.

At this time I called Julian to check with him and inform him of what was going on. Julian agreed that the casualty was the priority, and I started trying to raise the Laut India on the radio. This was hard to do for a while, as there was a state of disarray on the boat due to the circumstances.

I finally got a response just as the Ardika was pulling away from the Laut India to make passage for Padang at high speed with thee casualty on board. I called “all stop” to both parties and explained the situation. I tried to ascertain the reasons that the Laut India was not taking their own patient to Padang and got the response that it would take a long time and the crew of the Laut India were not confident in their ability or the boat’s in the approaching bad weather. (This was a good call from Chris, the surf guide on the Laut India, as there would have been more at stake than just Wal’s life as it turned out.)

Anyway, my plan seemed the best, so we turned the Ardika around as I dropped anchor in the middle of the bay at the Left. Ernie’s captain came alongside quite skillfully, but I was scared witless that he was going to put his anchor through our saloon windows.

We pulled the boats in tight and set up for the transfer, which went well. We got the fellow in place and proceeded to haul anchor and make way. I will say at this stage that I was quite shocked to see how bad the casualty looked-complexion was like a ghost, shallow breathing, not really conscious, head bandaged like a mummy. One of the patient’s mates was to travel with us and eventually on to Singapore with him.

Woody, who had rescued the man and saved his life twice in two hours, had opted to come with us as he had accepted the duty of care for the man, which has cost him his surf trip to the Mentawais. If he can get the time, I would be only too happy to have him as a guest one day. He is cut from better cloth than many people.

As we came back around the peninsula to head to Padang the wind had already started. I spoke with John, and he was lengthening his chain as he was getting 25-knot gusts. I didn’t really want to be heading out into the coming conditions, but we had to for the casualty’s sake. My passengers were stoic and very concerned for the patient as well. There was a lot of talk of prayers and best wishes from everyone on my boat, the Laut India, and from some of the other boats as well. We set our course for Padang, and I settled in for the long watch home.

The wind was already so strong, I was losing two knots on my average speed for revs that I attained. During the next five hours, the weather deteriorated until we were getting 50-knot gusts and were only able to make four knots and maintain some semblance of stability/comfort/safety.

Last night was the first time I heard the wind moaning around the wheelhouse on this boat. Seas were coming from four different directions: NE, north, NW, and every now and then a set would come through sideways from the west. There wasn’t one level surface on the sea.

Throughout the night I remained in contact with our medical personnel ashore, and we had established an ETA of about 1000 HRS (that’s 13 hrs of being bashed by the sea), and when we arrived S.O.S. doctors were standing by in a small boat to come and start the process of stabilizing the patient to get him to Singapore.

I have just phoned AEA in Jakarta to establish that Wal has landed in Singapore.

I was talking to Micko about the whole deal, and he made the interesting observation that this is a problem that’s only going to increase in frequency as more and more guys think that all they need to do to run a charter boat is buy one. I expect the Laut India to pick up their anchor and leave me to it the next time I pull up at a break, or at the very least show me all their secret spots.

There is a definite lesson to be learned here. Without people like Woody (and our passengers that actually care about people), the world would be a far, far worse place. I take my hat off to Woody as he saved Wal’s life, no questions asked. Woody’s a good surfer, very devoted to God, comes from San Diego, and is welcome in Indo any time-just has to call.