The bewitching breezes that had vexed our northerly course along the bleak, rocky coast gaveway to an absolute calm as we steamed into Sunda Kelepa Harbour and brought up under the ornate, lofty spires of Jakarta. It was as though the anchorage were under the spell of somevengeful deity that held the stagnant seaport in irons– a fitful sleep of waking dream.I gazed up at Jakarta’s towers and heard, high on the ramparts, Rama’s gong-struck plea to deliver a flute-weeping Sita from Ranga’s jangling curse. A sword held against a blood-red sky by masked Barong tragediennes brought down the threadbare, red curtain in the ritual re- enactment of the primal leave-taking and arrival; when carved gods glared from the bowsprit, holding vigilant watch against marauders while we were moored off the savage isle of dreams. I too, have sat hungry around those ancestral fires, a villan, hero or common swab, subject to the changeable turns of karmic law..
.“Skip lively, Mister Spencer.”
The resonant voice was hoarse, as if weathered by eternal watches on the Greenland ice, or worn ragged from hurling oaths into the teeth of a gail. I flaked out 5 fathoms of chain from the locker with hamfisted elegance.
“Nicely done, lad. Ye’ll be a sailor before long.”
McWhirr is a pain in the ass sometimes. He’s a relic of working sail and can be as dark as Ahab in rehab on a bad hair day. He stood stark against the red sky like a weathered piling on a rocky cape. Light flickered through the dark shrouds, his shadow looming on the limp stays’l behind him, as if projected on a movie screen. The harrowing passage through the Sunda Strait had frayed my nerves and I groped clumsily the 3/8ths chain from the locker.
“All right, Mister Spencer.”
I let go the anchor. There sounded a low rumble as I paid out 3 fathoms of chain into the muddybottom of Sunda Kelapa Harbour.
“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”
“I cast the anchor in 6 fath…” I said.
“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at suchlubberly misuse of sailing language.”
His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.
“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”
“That’s true, sir.”
He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture. And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.