Manoeuvre a little before sunrise


The Medina, built in 2008, 27 m long, 6 m wide and weighing in at 200 t, is jam-packed with cargo: 100 t of furniture, mattresses, refrigerators, flat screens, rice cookers, generators, stereo systems, karaoke equipment, a twin tub washing machine, two tumble dryers, red-and-white footballs and tonnes of flour. At 4 o’clock in the morning, we weigh anchor and head out into the dark. I take some pictures at dawn with a roll of 800 ASA film, the photographs are razor sharp.

8 10 hours. Captain Nidun corrects the course a tick to SSE 115° at 5.5 knots. That’s what it says on the GPS the captain has just plugged into his motorcycle battery. 11 10 hours. 4.1 knots against a strong headwind and current from the southeast. There’s a light swell, the sky is partly overcast with menacing black clouds. The young ship’s mate who has taken over at the helm is having a hard time keeping the vessel on course. A snack of rice bananas and black tea – followed de rigueur by Gudang Garam cigarettes. The ship is rolling and pitching alarmingly as the tenuously fastened cargo rocks to and fro. One of the two rookie sailors is lying seasick on the quarterdeck as the captain gives the order to set the sails. Only one man each is needed to hoist the foresail and mainsail. These blue-and-white-chequered nylon sails are light and low-maintenance, and they dry fast.

16 00 hours. 4.6 knots. Bonerate has vanished from the horizon. Despite the added sails, our speed remains constant: a heavy ship bearing a heavy load holding course towards its destination. Water and sea wherever you look – except for six little Pinisis I can just barely make out on the horizon, all of which have blue sails. I clamber astern from the forecastle and then back, taking pictures. This is no easy undertaking, what with the heavy swell, high winds and wet, slippery deck.

19 00 hours. Holding course at 6 knots. Rice and salt for supper, with no added ingredients. Nobody felt inclined to cast their line today and give it a shot: no point fishing without a net, so they say. The crew are laid low anyway, overcome with fatigue, woozy and befogged by the toxic exhaust from the diesel engine and lulled to sleep by its loud monotonous rattle.