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area of the Mishing people and passed many of their primitive villages as we floated or rowed along the edge of the south bank. The Mishing tribe is the most populous of all the tribes in Assam, and though they lack a written history, it is believed they migrated from the rugged Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh to the Assamese plain sometime in the fourteenth century in search of arable land. I had encountered several of their people at the Shipsagar Ghat. They looked more mongoloid than Indian and many of them, while hosting small bodies, wore the feet and hands of men twice their size. Lilu feared the Mishing as kidnappers and robbers and he almost had me convinced, for as the days went by his whiskey habit grew until it often appeared, sometime just after sunset, that the devils had snuck up and shot him. Two days of bleary drifting passed before we were woken in the morning by wind. A perfect wind. We loaded the Pork Belly as quickly as possible and were blowing by Majuli Island, the second largest river island in the world, within the hour. The river was narrow and deep and swirling grey-green in this stretch, with the jungle palms and banana trees of Majuli Island to the right and the high forested cliffs of the south bank to the left creating a long lush corridor through the wilderness. The channel was deep and fast and the current rushed along. In a flash of insight Daniel and I pulled the Macchar up alongside the Pork Belly and tied the two crafts rail-to-rail. We raised the mainsail of the Macchar and threw it over and sailed wing-onwing for the entire day. The Macchar was fragile but fast; we had repaired her with silicone the night before and now with her sails full she strained on the lines that held her alongside. The sails were taught and the water sloughed noisily between the hulls and we were flying! Flying! There was a lot of whiskey drinking and joyhowling that day, a lot of sail-slapping and laughing “bone tight!” and standing on the bow with the water rushing under you and that sound, that lovely sound. We took turns at the tiller and Daniel cooked us a delicious “feed” on the stove underway. By nightfall we estimated we had covered fifty miles – a far cry from the average ten or twelve of the days prior. All we had needed was a day like that, and it wasn’t the last. The wind was just starting to clock to the west when we moored the boats off the windward shore of another river islet. There seemed to be some weather coming and we didn’t want them banging on the beach. The horizon was just a dark undefined grey, we were expecting a bit of rain and wind, and I recall thinking it foolish to moor the Macchar with her own two poles driven deep into the sand with a hammer. But I did it anyways and walked up to our camp in time to hear Lilu make his first noise in days. “Denial,” he said quickly, and pointed at the sky. A pale yellow wall was bearing down on us from the south. It was a cloud, except it reached all the way down to the ground, and we had thirty seconds before it hit. “Looks just like The Mummy cloud!” shouted Zach. He was referring to the movie and we all laughed. Daniel and Lilu staked the windward side of the tent down and our things were sort of scattered around the general area, but there was no time to collect them. The storm was so sudden that we only began to feel it from a hundred feet off, and when it hit none of us had any idea what was going to happen. Immediately the day turned yellow, the sun went out, and as the air filled with sand our world became very small, brown, and loud. The sand began to sting the skin and it was harder to see by the second. I ran down to the water’s edge just before it disappeared from view. The Macchar broke free into the stream, and I caught her stern as the river came over my waist. The bamboo poles I had staked her with were gone. The sail was badly furled and whipping in the wind and it was all I had just to hold the boat in place. Looking back to the beach there was no longer a beach, and out towards the channel there was no longer a channel; there was just me with my hands gripping the Macchar and my

eyes full of sand and the brown wind hoo’ing and flogging us out to the river. Zach and Daniel ran out just as the Pork Belly cut loose, and we were all in the water with the boats working us down, shouting and holding and the wind getting stronger all the time, until the Macchar dragged me out up to my shoulders and I let her go with all the drinking water inside. I rushed up to the silhouette of the Pork Belly as she pulled Daniel and Zach farther out into the water and hooked my arm around the windward shroud. The three of us pulled until the beastly noises came out, but still the Pork Belly tugged us. The water got deeper and deeper until we lost footing, and with no other choice we clambered into the cockpit. “Looks like we’re going to sea!” I shouted. The Pork Belly took off. But just then the handsome figure of the Macchar appeared through the haze. She lay on her side in the young waves and in seconds we were upon her, pinned firm by the wind against her capsized hull. The water was shallower here and the wind slackened long enough for us to marvel at the dark grey hair and bodies of each other, plastered with wet dust. The only thing that wasn’t grey were our eyes; we looked just like seal people. We soon jumped back into the water, fully aware of our miraculous luck in being blown onto the Macchar, and after a couple more tug–of–war debacles the Pork Belly was moored by two poles driven adrenaline-deep into the sand. The storm kicked up again. We waited out the worst of it crouched behind the Pork Belly’s hull and then, sensing another break in the action, Daniel and Zach ran into the void to look for what was left of our camp. The sail was partly ripped from the mast, and when I climbed to tie it firm the dust had cleared so that I could finally view the scene. In the struggle the boats had been blown several hundred feet down the shore. Standing upon the bow of the Pork Belly, I squinted out into what seemed to be a bubble of visibility hovering over us in a world that was otherwise choked with sand. The wind was yellow and fast coming down the shore, and at the far end of the bubble lay the buried black shapes of our camp. I saw the sad flapping tarpaulin half-buried by the low rushing sand, and the dark figures of Daniel and Zach picking through it. Lilu was in there somewhere, acting as paperweight to our possessions. The sun filtered down and glowed a lemony yellow in the shifting pockets of clarity. Just offshore, the green hull of the Macchar lay on her side with the young waves slapping against her. It was the scene of a high-stakes, first-rate spanking, and I felt the strange gratification of doing something substantial enough that its destruction was not only a shame but an epic event. I also felt pride of ownership while looking out, from the bow of the boat we had saved, at the wreck of the Macchar. Only then did I appreciate what we were doing as something more than the comedy of errors that it had, until then, seemed to be. The next morning was full of obligations. The weather was particularly cool and breezy and clear as we set to work. The fine powdery sand had violated everything we owned, and while Daniel and Zach did their best to reconcile the worst victims among our possessions, I grabbed my needle and thread and spent the next hour mending the sails of the Pork Belly. It should be mentioned that the “sails” were actually just tarps that we cut and sewed into their proper nautical dimensions. There came a time when the items we had dealt with were as good as they would get and the others would just have to wait. We took down the drying lines, packed our bags, and loaded the boat. Daniel and I managed to pull the Macchar onto shore but, as suspected, the fragile tin was all torn up. We condemned her, the one-sail wonder that she was, to die on the beach, and with this last blasphemous act we pulled out the mooring stakes and set sail anew, one boat short with six liters of drinking water and the whole of Kaziranga National Park to traverse before we again touched civilization. The Brahmaputra boasts an average depth of 124 feet and a

24 winter 2013 / 2014 • newportnaked.com

Newport Naked Winter 2013  

Think Hwang

Newport Naked Winter 2013  

Think Hwang