BOAT TO HELL On August 20th, 2011, Jay Johnston and nine friends left their small coastal village in Sussex Inlet, Australia, bound for Indonesia's Mentawai Islands. The boys had been saving and psyching for their fantasy surf trip for six months. It would prove to be a journey they would never forget – for all the wrong reasons. By the time they returned to port in Padang eight days later, their boat was damaged, Johnston was seriously ill, and everyone on board was thankful to be alive. Johnston, 29, returned to Indo this season for the first time since his nightmarish experience nearly two years ago. Bali Belly spoke with him and got this firsthand account of the Sussex Boys' boat trip from hell. Their story will make you think twice before booking that budget surf charter boat.
A friend of a friend back in Oz, Andrew Burton, said he could get us a good deal on his boat, the Asian Princess. I think the total price came out to about $24,000 – or $2,400 a head – flights to Padang not included. So it was a pretty good deal for a boat trip to the Mentawais.
We're leaving the airport and Burto says, “Boys, I got some bad news. I got no accommodation for you because I had you down for tomorrow night.” He takes us to this little hotel up a backstreet somewhere in Padang. The place is just a big dorm room with these flimsy bunk beds. By this time it's about four in the morning. We pile all our boards on one of the bottom bunks. Just as we're all drifting off to sleep, the top bunk collapses with my mate Mark in it and he goes crashing straight into all the boards below.
THE PICKUP When we arrived at the airport in Padang around 10 pm there was nobody to pick us up. After about an hour of waiting, the lights started shutting off and the place turned into a ghost town. Luckily we found this one local guy who happened to know Burto through other people, and he made a few calls and finally we got ahold of Burto. When he pulled up at the airport he said, “I thought you guys were coming tomorrow night!”
THE BOAT The next morning Burto picks us up and says, “I've got some bad news about the boat too.” He says on their last trip the motors blew up on the Asian Princess and it's going to take three more days to fix
them. A few of the boys in our group suggested we just get refunded all our money and take off up to Nias or head back to Bali or something. But in the end we all decided to sit still and head out in three days' time. For three days we pretty much just went to the bars and got pissed all day. There wasn't much else to do.
THE SWITCH On the third day we rock up to the boat in the harbor and the motor is still sitting on the side of the road. Now all of us are really starting to get the shits. So Burto says, “Look, I can get you guys another boat. If you all throw in another 300 bucks each, you can get on this other boat – the Saranya – and leave tonight.” At that point all we wanted to do was get out of Padang and get into some waves. We
ended up paying another $300 per head – $3,000 total – to get on this other boat. We left Padang at midnight on the Saranya, three days after we were originally scheduled to leave.
THE SURF GUIDE The whole time we were in Padang people were chasing Burto for money. Long story short, Burto had other dramas back in Padang and he couldn't be our surf guide as originally planned. He tells us, “Look, we got this other guy. His name's Eric... He's a little bit different... but he's alright. Just give him a chance.” Turns out that Eric is an ex-drug addict from back in Burleigh Heads. He told us he used to be a fisherman but he had to get away from Australia. He'd been in Indo for five or six years, living out at HTs in the village. Every day on the boat Eric would have a rollie and sprinkle crack on it. All day, every day. He kept telling us it was medicine. But it was crack.
THE DISAGREEMENT We were up in the Playgrounds area and Eric kept telling our Indonesian captain, “The boys wanna surf HTs. Let's go around the east side of Sipura, it'll be faster.” And the captain kept telling Eric, “No, we're not going around the east side of the island because of the wind.” The