Gun action, Bows and arrows and head hunting!!
In the following account the names have been anonomised and some facts have been altered to protect. I am a different person now and regret any harm or loss that took place nearly 40 years ago.
It’s a funny thing what life may throw at you. I was new to Facebook, and some long forgotten friends were rediscovered. Spud was never forgotten though; after our experience together how could he be? It turned out he was still at sea, the North Sea to be precise but after only a couple of light exchanges between us – nothing. Then today, the angry daughter of a woman he is in a relationship with left a message. She informed the world that “she ates im and is no good an Mar is avin triplets by him and hees in hiding!” We are both 54 years old but now thankfully worlds apart, but 35 years ago on the other side of the world things were very different.
They say never volunteer but we always did if there was a possibility of an `EXPED`. Sailing across the Mediterranean Sea in an open boat for nine days and nights a couple of years earlier and sleeping beneath the stars in the middle of nowhere gave me a taste for adventure. This time we were to bring back an MFV (motorised fishing vessel) to Singapore Naval base from Bali. We had three weeks to do the deed. We had flown from Surabaya to Ngurah Rai in Bali, which was then quite primitive by today’s standards. This time our skipper was my divisional officer, Lt. Commander Splendid ( not his real name ). He had the reputation of being a bit of a maverick and also a keen sailor. He had planned to improvise a sail rig for the haul back to `Singers` from locally sought spars and an awning he had altered for the trip. In addition to this, the whalers sails were brought along and after lugging our gear from bar to bar, the 6 of us, eventually found the harbour and our little ship waiting. The squadies (SAS soldiers), who had used the boat for an exercise earlier, seemed relieved we had arrived and were quick to leave. For some reason they had named the 45 foot, MFV 235, HMS Badger, as someone had painted it in black letters on the front of the wheelhouse and I was now tasked to remove. We found our sleeping arrangements below very basic; the slatted bunks did not have any mattresses! Spud discovered a 20mm dummy wooden Oerlikon gun on his bunk that the army had left behind; he promptly dumped this lumber onto my bunk! For the next two days we set about preparing our thirteen hundred mile voyage. At night we locked up and went and stayed in a comfortable but primitive hotel where we ate like lords. There we were shown photographs of local girls by a nice old man before going out on the town. When we returned back to our shared rooms, some of us were a little surprised to find the subjects in the photographs in our beds!
We left in the early hours while it was still dark and sailed North into the Lombok straight; I remember my father telling me of a close encounter with death here during the war. As an asdic (sonar) operator he gave the all clear to surface so they could run through the straight and charge their batteries. Unfortunately they surfaced next to a couple of Jap E boats that immediately began depth charging them so they immediately crash dived. Instead of a quick return to base in Australia they had to remain submerged for a long time going the long way around.
How different it was for us as we motored North past the lights of a large Island on our starboard side with the lights of Bali to Port. The brilliance of the phosphorescent display that night was the most awe inspiring I have ever seen. It consisted of circles or rings of blue green light, two to four in number exploding and rotating around us that lasted for two hours or more. I rated it a life changing event but Spud could not see what all the fuss was about and irritated me. For Spud, the highlight was urinating into the bioluminescent display while breaking wind. His brashness and forceful character was later to prove a great thing to have onboard but for that moment, while lolling under the stars, I wanted to push him overboard. We were yet to test our improvised sail rig but by morning after a breakfast of pan fried fish, rice, pineapple and pumpkin, we hoisted our square sail and braced it round to catch the monsoon trade wind from the east. We had our whaler foresail on the end of an improvised bowsprit and the other as a mizzen. As we began to clear Bali, we bore away, and with the wind on our quarter and still motoring, we made a steady 7-8 knots. Despite the rig being somewhat light for our size it improved our performance. Later in the day, the wind freshened, so we cut our engine and were impressed with our speed of 5 -6 knots. The `Badger`; (the name had stuck), made excellent progress, so `Splendid` decided to make for the mouth of a river on the South coast of Borneo. Officially we were not supposed to go there but who would know?
As we motored into the estuary, we passed something in the water. On closer inspection it turned out to be a headless corpse! Even Spud was shocked; but the experience only tainted our wonderful cruise, so we pressed on to anchor in paradise. Everyone went ashore to go hunting with Robin but only after being fueled with Dutch courage after Splendid had educated us on the local `traditions` of the Dayak people; head hunting!
Robin had been the British Junior Archery champion and with his high tech bow had made a name for himself; when he first joined the ship, our Captain, honored by celebrity, thought it a good idea to replace the gun line with a bow and arrow as a means of passing the line to a supply ship. Unfortunately the line snagged. Before you could say `health and safety` the line whipped back to permanently scar Robins face! I remained on-board to take care of things. I enjoyed the space to myself; not something you get much of in the Navy. I lay on the wheelhouse roof in the sun consuming my day’s beer ration and watching the river flow out to the sea. It felt like I had my own private island and yacht and that experience has rarely been surpassed. I lay there achieving a state of mind I now long for again (or is it my youth?) My mind was free to wander in this paradise anchorage, listening to these new sounds of the orient.
Before falling asleep, I reflected on my swim to the beach earlier. I was swimming on my back, with fins on my feet and going like a torpedo, something solid stopped me dead in the water. With the headless body fresh in my consciousness, I froze, paralyzed with fear as its tentacles touched and wrapped around me! The body of the creature passed inches from my head. Whatever it was, it was dead!. I never went back in the water again.
I awoke to the sounds of several native men’s voices and destructive activity coming from beneath the awning below. I raised my head but immediately pressed it down again, my heart began racing as I sensed extreme danger. It was clear to me they was unaware I was aboard but I had caught a glimpse of a rifle from a man standing on the other vessel alongside. I began to hear activity below me in the wheelhouse but at the same time I heard my colleagues in the distance shouting; to my relief the others were returning to the beach head. I remained pinned down as the visitors departed in great haste in their pinisi; a large traditional local vessel. As soon as the others were aboard, we discovered they had removed our compass, a number of brass items including our navigation lamps and search-light and also our radio. Fortunately they had not been able to break into the steel locker containing our one and only SLR rifle. Before the `pirates` could disappear we started our engine to give chase. We let go our anchor chain and marked it with a lifebelt to recover later and in minutes were under way. It was only then I mentioned the rifles I had seen and that the men had been armed, I had assumed the others already knew-they did not! So there we were- The Royal Navy chasing armed pirates with a bow and arrow, one flare gun and an SLR rifle but no ammunition! Spud appeared in the hatch with the wooden Oelikon gun. Lt Cmdr Splendid observed his initiative and said, “Splendid!” and in less than 10 minutes we had turned the Badger into an apparent force to be reckoned with. In twenty minutes we had turned the lumber with additional cardboard and black paint, into a forward gun turret! Unfortunately our speed let us down and before too long they had disappeared around one of the many bends in that river. We carried on for another half hour or so before reducing speed. As the light started to fade, we sobered up, and became anxious as to what we were doing. But Splendid had the bit between his teeth and spurred on by Spud Increased our speed again and took us further up into the river on our self appointed mission to retrieve stolen goods. In reality the pirates were only poor opportunist native fishermen but we were fired up and preparing to face head- hunting, murdering pirates! As we rounded a bend we found them. The Pinisi was alongside another about 800yards away. It was then that Splendid told us his plan; actually there was no plan! The sound of shouting from deep in the trees did nothing to curb my fears but Spud, speaking softly (that was very unusual for the Glaswegian) said the vessels appeared deserted. As we got closer some adolescent boys could be seen running away from the primitive quay from a long timber supported building into the trees towards the shouting. What seemed like forever we edged closer. Robin stood with his bow drawn next to the wheelhouse. Dusty held the dummy gun and trained it on the trees, his hands covered in black paint safe in the knowledge he was protected by a dummy, cardboard splinter shield. Spud stood ready to be the first to jump gripping his empty SLR. At this point I discovered my shorts were soaking wet and my knees shaking quite visibly; this had happened before as shore patrol breaking up fights but at least inside bell-bottoms things were not so apparent. I had a feeling I would vomit at any moment. Spud and Robin were the first to jump aboard. Three men appeared and were confronted by Spud pointing his weapon at the tallest man and exploding with expletives and aggression. It has to be said our training for this was very lacking. I do remember a gunnery instructor teaching us that in situations such as these, our authority would have to be total. He left me in no doubt what our situation required. Another man appeared from the other vessel holding a rifle that appeared very old followed by two others who held long swords. Spud went for the man who showed the most defiance knocking him to the floor and at the same time some shots rang out from the trees , one of which hit and broke the wheel house window. I looked at Robin who pointed the bow at the man with the gun. For a moment the men became submissive in the face of Spud and our apparent superiority of strength. It’s strange but despite Spuds brazen aggression; I remember they appeared more scared of Robin and his bow! Suddenly our goods appeared as if from nowhere! By now a large group of people were appearing out of the trees and two of which had guns but spud was unruffled and appeared in total control and walked up to the man closest with the rifle and just took it off of him! As he turned to step back on-board one of the men from the trees fired at him hitting him in the shoulder. Splendid shouted, calling us back and was already going full astern as we both jumped. I heard several rounds fired at us from the trees as Splendid returned fire with the flare gun, hitting the roof of the Pinisi and as we withdrew the thatched roof burst into flame. Also in that moment, Spud was seen returning fire with the old rifle and hit one of the men who fell; he did not get up! After that the old rifle promptly jammed after the next round was fired. And so it was with British Bravado, a drunken crew, a diet of spaghetti westerns, not to mention an awful amount of luck, swearing and testosterone, we got our booty back! Luckily for Spud, the shot to his arm only needed a light shell dressing, even though there did seem to be a lot of blood.
We were now almost sailing blind; we had not retrieved our search light but everyone had now sobered completely and began taking stock of what had just happened. We headed out into the sea, looking back over our shoulders but there were no signs we were being followed. The next day, Splendid told us that the incident that could have taken our lives could potentially still get us all in a lot of trouble, especially him and we had left behind a lifebelt with our name on it! Two days later we pulled into a bay and after throwing away the wooden gun and old rifle; a Patrol Craft of the Indonesian Navy appeared and came alongside. Spud had to be restrained by Dusty but after Splendid showed them our passports and other documents they appeared satisfied and went on their way.
I clicked onto face book last night and I see that Spud is no more! He has closed his account. Men like him would rather face head-hunting pirates than the reality of domestic life!