After a day spent snorkelling in the most fascinating coral and a visit to the island of Satonda, we had an early dinner of chicken and rice and sat around the sides of the boat watching dark clouds roll in as the light began to fade. Little did we know that a massive storm was heading our way, one which would almost capsize our boat before we had even reached Komodo Island.
The water was choppier than before and the crew were all perched around the front of the boat. A couple of days into our journey and the boat’s incessant vibrating and the persistent burps of smoke from the engine were starting to get a little old.
Lightning appeared in angry streaks across the sky, highlighting the storm clouds’ heavy bottoms hanging close to the sea. It looked as though we were headed straight into the centre of the storm.
We had climbed up to our communal sleeping quarters to read when the crew said they had to turn out all the lights so the captain could see. The sea was getting rougher and a fierce wind whipped through the boat.
As we lay on our thin blue sleeping mats, the sea began to rock the boat with increasing sharpness. The relentless lightning was more pronounced with the lights off. Cursed with a wild imagination, I wondered what would happen if the boat were to sink.
The crew were huddled at the front of the boat, their hushed tones containing air of urgency, but no one was running around in panic, so maybe it was all under control.
Gripping the low roof to steady myself, I made my way to the ladder, surprised at how difficult it was to get down it in the rocky sea. Down below, there was an air of … something in the purple-tinged darkness.
“What’s happening?” I asked one guy who just smiled and hurried past, the grin not quite making it to his eyes.
I stood looking out at the darkness, holding on to the side of the boat as the wind whipping against my face and we swayed violently. Each flash of lightning gave me a bad feeling.
Stop being paranoid, I told myself. I gripped the side of the boat tight as I headed towards the bathroom, the swaying making each step a challenge.
Passing the room with the wheel, my stomach dropped as I saw one of the guys lying on his back with half his body inside a trap door to the engine, like he was fixing something. Another guy crouched beside him, his neck at a funny angle as shone a torch into the trap door, its beam revealing plumes of smoke coming from the engine. I asked if everything was okay and he smiled and said they were just fixing the engine.
Maybe this bad feeling wasn’t just my imagination. A broken engine in a wild lightning storm was not a good combination.
After a rocky journey to the bathroom where the toilet water sloshed percariously against the bowl in rhythm with the boat’s rocking, I made my way back to the sleeping area.
I lay down and wondered where the life jackets were. What do you actually do in a situation like this? On a boat with no real safety measures? There was no lifeboat, just a little row boat that held four max. There were at least 12 of us on board. Was there even a plan of action if the boat was to go down?
It’s hard to describe the way the boat was being thrown from side to side. Let me first describe our sleeping quarters. We slept in an upper section of the boat in a tiny space with windows either side of the walls. The low roof made it impossible to do more than crouch in the space.
Our sleeping mats were arranged with our heads close to one set of little windows. The width of the upstairs wasn’t big enough for two mats to lie end to end.
Looking out the far window, I could make out a few dots of light in the darkness, appearing to be from a faraway island, or maybe just a row of buoys. The dots made it easier to see just how severely the boat was swaying as they appeared to move drastically up and down the window frame, disappearing from sight as we dipped lower. It was like being stuck in a defective hospital bed that kept violently jerking us up and down.
Every now and then there was a loud crash that sounded like water hitting the deck.
I tried to lie on my back, to stop watching the moving view outside, but lying flat made it even easier to see how severe the rocking was. As the boat topped towards our side, I saw my legs rise up, and as it swayed to the other side, I experienced that funny tummy feeling you get on a rollercoaster and could feel the skin on my cheeks shift up and down with each rock of the boat.
It was raining heavily and we closed the little windows, which did nothing to muffle the sound of the waves bashing against the boat.
A couple of the Czech people were half sitting up, staring out the windows.
“The mats will float, so make sure you hold on to them, in case,” Sean whispered. Now I was really afraid. I told myself to remember to hold on to my water bottle if we capsized so we could have something to drink.
The mats were no more than an inch thick. I couldn’t see how they would take our body weight without getting submerged.
I hadn’t swam any distance in years, not since I did swimming lessons as a child. Nowadays I maxed out at a lap or two of a pool on holidays. I didn’t remember how to breathe properly doing front stroke, and wondered if I could breast stroke my way through the angry waves.
The boat didn’t appear to have GPS and I hadn’t even seen a radio. No one knew were we were and I morbidly wondered when our families would even realise something had happened to us.
It was eerily quiet as we all remained on high alert, watching the lights out the window sway violently up and down.
The crew were still crowded at the front of the boat. Every now and then a worrying shout could be heard over the pounding waves.
I don’t know how long we say there, afraid the next sway would be the one that tipped us over. The space we were in was so small it would instantly fill with water if we capsized. Maybe if we made it to the lower deck we could hold on the wreck for as long as possible and hope for a miracle. Unless the sea violently threw the boat to its side and we all fell in.
It was such a strange situation because the crew were downstairs and we were upstairs, reluctant to openly panic. Surely if we were in urgent danger they would tell us? Unless they figured it was pointless to scare us when there was no real plan to save us?
The night seemed to go on forever as we swayed to and fro, fighting nausea and panic.
We all lay there waiting, for what I don’t know. For the signal to abandon ship, for something worse to happen to alert us that now was the time to really panic.
It was only when the first hints of brightness started to started appear, when I could make out the closest strip of land as more than a slightly darker streak than the sky that I managed to calm down. Hours and hours had passed and the sea’s angry beating of the boat hadn’t caused it to capsize. Maybe the crew knew we would be okay, or maybe they knew there was no point panicking the tourists, either way, we had survived all that the storm has thrown at us so far.
My last memory was seeing the hint of navy clouds against a slowly lightening sky. It must have been about six am. Somehow, I succumbed to sleep.
We awoke soon after to find it was fully daylight and the storm had passed. The relief was almost overwhelming.
We went downstairs and learned the boat had broken down. So while we had managed to survive the storm, we were faced with a boat without an engine, and no idea how it would be fixed.
Pin for later!
Read more about our Komodo Island boat trip :
To keep up to date with my latest posts, follow The Traveloguer on Bloglovin!