Adventure in Lombok Strait—2003

This blog has nothing to do with my novel, Five Hundred Moons. (Did I hear some sighs of relief?) No, it’s about my son and his friends and an adventure in Lombok Strait—2003. An experience they would just as soon forget.

It occurred that Blake (our son) and some of his buddies wanted to fly to the island of Bali to visit their friend, Nate Lawrence, who was just starting out as a surf photographer and somehow had procured an almost-free place to stay. I am marginally at fault regarding this decision since it was I who gave Nate a teenage job so he could purchase his first waterproof camera. Ah, such is fate.

As parents, Jennie and I were concerned about this journey. Only recently, there had been a terrorist bombing in a Bali nightclub that killed over 200 people. In fact, since 1998, there had been numerous attacks in Indonesia against western interests. Despite our misgivings, we knew once Blake had determined a course of action it was futile to stop him. And, after all, he was almost 21 years old. But we did try to scare him into capitulating. We insisted that he write his last will and testament! As I laid the paperwork before him, his eyes widened, and I detected a slight lump in his throat. Nonetheless, he signed away his earthly possessions—half to each of his two younger brothers, FJ and Kyle.

The day of the departure, Blake and his surfer friends assembled at his college butt-hut in the early morning hours following a night of revelry. At the airport, there was a slight delay as the youngest of the group, bleary-eyed Jimmie, had put on the wrong pants before embarking, leaving his wallet somewhere on the living room rug where he had slept. It was only a minor speed bump for what lay ahead.

Upon arriving in Bali, the nine exuberant boys rented scooters and weaved their way in and out of traffic on their way into town, instantly becoming familiar with the local authorities, who were able to detain a few of the culprits. It was soon learned that a five-dollar bill could work wonders in acquiring one’s freedom. Oh, to be young, carefree, and rich in a foreign country!

After surfing local spots near Nate’s place, the group sought better conditions near some offshore islands and reefs. And what better way to achieve this than to charter an old converted fishing boat that slept nine and had a three-man crew? The promise of uncrowded, ten-foot barrels beckoned out in the Lombok Strait, a twenty-mile-wide waterway connecting the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean, known for its strong currents, warm surface temperatures, and the regularity of seasonal cyclones and monsoons.

The commissioned boat, which the boys dubbed the USS Sketchy, soon lived up to its name. It sputtered forth to a small island point break where the waves were as good as advertised. After spending a beer-fueled night regaling the day’s surf adventure, the gang woke the next morning to some windy conditions. No worries, the next stop was deemed epic. But the diesel engine was not in the best condition—most likely in need of some major maintenance—and after some hours of travel, the engine flooded and died. Obviously, there was no Nautical Safety Board to perform pre-voyage inspections. And guess what. The captain had not bothered to check the weather report, and a monsoon with high winds and treacherous surf was fast approaching from the south. The sea soon became a cauldron of angry turbulence with waves washing over the deck and the current pushing them toward the shallows of Lombok Island. Of added concern: the boat began taking on water and there was no land in sight!

The Hindu captain and his two crewmen abandoned all posts, knelt on their hands and knees in the belly of the hull, and began praying to Vishnu for deliverance. They assembled dishes of banana leaves adorned with trinkets and burned incense as an offering to the Hindu gods. This activity freaked the boys out, to say the least. So what do strong, resourceful, young surfers do in a situation like this? They got their boards and leashes out, put their wetsuits on, and began stuffing candy bars, bottled water, crackers, and peanut butter into their suits. They were not going down with the ship!

But no one had to jump into the rough sea where survival odds were minimal at best. By some miracle—perhaps the pleas to Vishnu were answered—the dark clouds lifted, revealing the island of Nusa Penida in the distance. A small tender boat with an outboard engine had been towed by the Sketchy, and one crewman jumped in the craft and fired up the motor, almost capsizing in the pandemonium. A line was attached, and after much strain on the outboard, headway was made toward Nusa Penida where the leeward side afforded a semi-safe anchorage. It was there that they waited out the storm for a full day and night before getting rescued by a passing fishing boat and towed back to Bali.

Of course, Jennie and I knew nothing of what happened until after the fact when we ran into Brad Sampson, and he informed us that the kids were safe. Safe from what? Maybe it was just as well that we didn’t know the precarious circumstances that so endangered our families. One can only imagine the headlines in the local paper had things gone in a fatal direction: Nine Santa Cruz Surfers Drowned at Sea in Lombok Strait.

I’ve seen these boys numerous times in the twenty years since their trip to Bali. I always appreciate the fact that they are alive and living their lives to full measure. They are Blake Anderson, Sammy Sampson, Rob Crompton, Nate Lawrence, Jimmie Herrick, Frankie DeAndra, Taran Mitchell, Jay Weber, and Pete Kerney.

Map: public domain; source:

Follow Buzz!