24 // OLD SCHOOL
adrift This version of Old School comes to us fittingly from the OG of media, the newspaper – the August 26, 1988 edition of the LA Times to be exact. Our friend Richard Lewis dug through the Times online archives and found this tale tagged under “Missing Persons,” “Rescues,” “Surfing,” and “Boat Accidents.” Something to consider the next time your friend invites you aboard a rickety Indo fishing boat for an open-ocean surf expedition.
“ J AVA S U R F I N G E X P E D I T I O N TURNS INTO OCEAN ORDEAL FOR THREE CALIFORNIA SURFERS” August 26, 1988. By JAMES RAINEY, Times Staff Writer
For three Southern California natives and their buddies from Hawaii and Australia, a visit to the remote west end of the island of Java was to be the highlight of an adventurous summer surfing expedition. The eight young men left the port of Labuhan, Indonesia, in a 52-foot charter boat Aug. 10 in search of the most unspoiled beaches, the most remote jungles and, of course, the perfect wave. Nearly two weeks later the surfers and their four Indonesian boatmen were happy merely to be alive. Their boat, crippled by a broken engine, chugged into a Sumatran fishing village, 120 miles from its intended destination, after 10 days adrift in the tempestuous Indian Ocean. “This was an adventure. We stepped out on the edge,” said Troy Alotis, 22, formerly of Dana Point in Orange County and now of Hawaii. “Actually, we got a
little bit beyond the edge.” Alotis and Chad Beatty, 30, of Redondo Beach, explained in a telephone interview from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta how they survived on the open ocean with lots of rice, a little ingenuity and a few gifts from the sea. The converted fishing boat Tirta Kencana left Labuhan for a nine-day cruise that was to include stops at Panaitan Island and the famous Krakatau volcano. Aboard were the four Indonesian guides, two Australian surfers and six Americans--Alotis, Beatty, Danny Camplin, 30, of Redondo Beach and three men from Hawaii, Bruce Hansel, Kenneth Bentner and Bob McGinness. The Tirta Kencana, or Water Jewel, traveled west along the coast of Java, where the men enjoyed two days of surfing and hikes into the jungle. On the third day, they reached Panaitan Island.
The boat, without a radio, flares or other safety devices, had experienced some mechanical problems along the way, and at the island, the tired engine failed. A furious current was rapidly pushing the Tirta Kencana away from land, so the surfers decided that Camplin and Hansel, veteran long-distance paddlers, should ride their surfboards the three miles to the beach and look for help. The current almost carried the two away, they later told authorities, but they reached shore after three hours and began to hike barefoot in search of a ranger station. Hansel and Camplin reported that they spent a harrowing night in the jungle, where they saw a cobra and two panthers, and then reached the ranger station the next day. Two days later, they arrived in Jakarta, where they told U.S. Embassy
officials about their missing comrades. Air and naval search teams from Indonesia began looking for the boat, and were joined a few days later by ships and planes from the Australian and American navies. Meanwhile, the Tirta Kencana had slipped out of sight of land. “We knew it was really serious at that point,” Beatty said, “but we just knew we had to do the best we could and that we had to stay on board and keep our heads.” The group had plenty of water and food, mostly rice and dried noodles. Beatty said they kept their spirits up by working on the boat, fashioning a rudder from a seat and turning mats and sheets into sails. But the makeshift riggings didn’t appear to bring them any closer to land. The boat seemed to be drifting west, away from any significant land mass. “After about three days the morale of the group had really dropped,” Alotis said. “We had a mopey morning. Everybody was very low.” Alotis said he was praying for a sign that things would get better. In rapid succession, rain began to fall, convincing the men that they would have adequate water. Then a rainbow appeared. And, finally, a large mahi-mahi swam up and circled the boat several times, seemingly permitting itself to be speared, Alotis said. “The odds were one in a billion that that would happen,” said Alotis, who lost 20 of his 175 pounds during the ordeal. “That helped us all a lot. The 12-pound fish provided two dinners. Later, the men captured and ate a sea turtle that swam up to the boat. Nighttime was the most difficult, Beatty said, as seas of up to 12 feet washed over the boat and water poured through windows
onto the sleeping men. The surfers and the Indonesians had assumed for several days that the ancient two-cylinder diesel engine was beyond repair. One piston had exploded entirely through the engine block. But with Alotis giving directions and the Indonesians assisting, half of the engine was cut away, leaving one undamaged piston. After eight days adrift, they got the motor started. Alotis said he then set the boat on a more northerly course, which he hoped would land the Tirta Kencana on the island of Sumatra. Could It Be? On the morning of the 10th day, one of the guides thought he spotted land. “We couldn’t really tell,” Alotis said. “We thought it might just have been cloud banks. Out there on the water, your eyes play tricks on you.” But as they drew closer, they began to make out trees. Alotis dived in the ocean and swam the last few yards to shore. “I just rolled around in the sand,” he said. “I was so happy to be on solid earth again.” The boat landed at a small logging camp near the town of Krui, on the west coast of Sumatra. The Indonesian Coast Guard then transported the group to Java, where they caught buses to Jakarta. There they had a joyous reunion with Hansel and Camplin and Alotis’ mother, Barbara O’Hara, who flew from Orange County to urge on the search teams. The Tirta Kencana had apparently given its all. While being escorted back to Java, the boat sank. Recalling the beginning of the ordeal off Panaitan Island, Beatty said with a laugh: “About the time we started to drift away, the surf got bigger. I think we missed the good surf.”