wind was blowing hard from the east, onshore on that side. But Eric insisted we give it a go. As soon as we came around the corner at the northern tip of Sipura, we knew we shouldn't be on that side. It was just howling onshore, 30 knots or more. The captain said to Eric, “We can't go this way! We have to turn around and go down the other side.” That's when Eric said, “No we're not!” and just pushed the captain off to the side and started driving the boat.
THE STORM Eric spent all morning and afternoon behind the wheel going full-throttle into heavy storm winds. We were taking 6 to 8 footers with whitecaps all day on the nose, breaking over the bow of the boat. We were going so slow, it was just stupid. When we finally pulled in at HTs around 4 pm it was howling onshore and there were no other boats to be seen. Everyone agreed, even Eric: we had to get to shelter at Lance's Left.
THE WAVE To get to Lance's Left from HTs you gotta go around this big peninsula at the southern tip of Sipura island. As we rounded the peninsula, the swells started coming in from a different angle and peaking up. Me and three mates were up on the top deck of the boat surveying the situation and we're all shitting ourselves
because we're not in a good position. This one wave comes and peaks up right on our boat and just lays the boat on its side – a 56foot boat! We're hanging on to the roof, trying not to go overboard. Then the boat pops back up and another wave hits us. This time the wave picks up the speed boat we're towing behind us and sends it straight into the back of our boat. It smashes all the fridges and the bathroom on the back deck. There's food and broken beer bottles everywhere and there's a speed boat sitting in the back of our boat.
THE CAPTAIN I ran down to see the captain and he was pale white. He had the boat throttled as fast as it could go to try and get us out of there (by this time Eric had passed out on the ground and the captain was back behind the wheel). Our boat was getting tossed around like a bath toy. For about 30 minutes there we thought we were swimming for sure. All of us had untied our boards from the racks and were ready to abandon ship. Somehow the captain got us to the bay at Lance's Left.
my mate Woody. I figured he was seasick from the night before. I go down to check on him and he's lying in bed and looks pale white. He's wearing two jumpers and long pants and shivering like he was in the Arctic. He tells me straight faced, “Man, I'm not well. I'm dying.” I get some water into him and get him to try and sleep. Then I go surfing again and start feeling really weird out in the water, weak and dizzy. By the time I get back to the boat I'm spinning out. Sure enough, I had the same thing as Woody. Then two more of us go down in the next two hours. And by that night, eight of the ten people in our group are all really sick.
THE LONGEST NIGHT I had never been that sick in my life. It was next level. I started spewing up blood and shitting blood. I reckon I was on the toilet 40 times a day. I didn't sleep at all and spent the whole night spewing over the side of the boat. There were two of us at a time spewing off the back deck, just taking turns all night. The Indo crew really looked after us. They were up with us all night hosing us down.
THE BLACK PLAGUE
At that point we were just happy to be alive. We surfed Lance's Left that morning, 4 to 6 foot and good fun. The only one of us who wasn't surfing was
Four of us had it really cruel. Hallucinations and shit. We didn't know if it was the food or what. Eric kept telling us we had heat stroke and needed to drink
more water. So we were pounding water, and the more we drank the sicker we got. We headed to Tua Pejat, the main town in the islands, and got off the boat and took a taxi to the local hospital. While we were at the hospital, Eric was getting sick too and he jumped off our boat and caught the ferry back to Padang. That was the last we ever saw of him. The doctor in Tua Pejat hardly spoke any English and we couldn't speak Indonesian, so we just tried to explain what was wrong with us using sign language. He gave us some drugs and told us to get home immediately. I got on the phone with my wife and said, “I don't care what you do, just get us flights out of Padang as fast as you can.” At that point it was pretty clear the trip was cursed, and everyone was ready to get out of there.
HOME When I got home to Australia I went straight to the doctor and had blood tests done, and that's when the results came back as salmonella poisoning. The doctors reckon the crew had used up all the bottled water on board and were using the desalination pump on the boat for our drinking water. It was just desalinated water out of the pipes of the boat, contaminated with this strain of salmonella bacteria. So we were
basically poisoning ourselves every time we drank water. Woody lost 12 kilos. I lost 10 kilos. All of us who were sick lost between 8 and 12 kilos. My guts weren't right for a year after.
THE SNAKE OIL SALESMAN Burto said he'd never had this happen before. We came back to port four days early, but he didn't offer us a refund or anything. I didn't care. I just wanted to get home at that point. We were more focused on getting some clean water and getting some medicine in us. But you'll love this one: months later I get an email from Burto. He says, “There's a few spots left on the boat. If you can get me four paying customers, I'll let you on for free!” I didn't write back.
THE LESSON What I learned from that whole experience is don't be a tight-ass when it comes to a boat trip. If you're gonna do a boat trip to the Mentawais, make sure you pay good money to get looked after well. We tried to do it on the cheap and got burned. A couple of my mates went back the next year and paid more and said they got looked after like kings. Don't try and cut corners when it comes to a boat trip because you'll just end up paying for it later. What we went through, I don't wish that on anybody.