Passengers: Jason Quinn, Glenn McMillan, Daniel Clelland, Geoffrey Fischer, Daryl Curtis, Ean Beard, Barrie Curtis, David McTavish, Ewan Wilson, Stephen Rogers, Guy Forrester.
BARRENJOEY EXTRA ... STAND BY - Notes from the 2012, June18-28 trip.
By now I was four days, a stack of waves and, thanks to an all-but-stalled internal clock, what seemed an eternity from the frustrations of work and surfing Sydney city beaches.
Our host and skipper, John McGroder, was busy aboard his jet ski, towing and dropping us - your choice depending on arm fatigue - into a “softish” 4 to 6-foot right hander, situated in yet another totally isolated and impossibly picture postcard Mentawai island locale.
I had just hauled my exhausted, dripping bulk into the rubber ducky for the ride back to the Barrenjoey, when I suggested to John’s curiously named crewman, Elvis, that his boss seemed to have a good life.
I assumed his reply, like my suggestion, might refer to the almost dreamlike days of surfing we’d been enjoying. The reality was totally different, and one of the typically candid responses that sprang from the Indonesian crewmen throughout the trip. He said, and I quote, “I think when you have a good heart, you have a good life. He is good to us and I like to work for him”.
It was at that point I realised that Captain McGroder’s mission to ensure a good time for all -including Captain McGroder - is why the Barrenjoey has gained its rep as an exceptional Mentawais charter.
On first meeting him, you could suspect from McGroder’s laconic Aussie detachment that he might have become a little jaded from schlepping a never-ending procession of surf-crazed strangers back and forth for most of the past 15 years. No way. He’s still as cattle dog keen for Sumatran surf as any first-time frother. From first light of the first morning it was immediately apparent that despite his Captainly responsibilities, John was the eleventh guy on our trip. He was so fast into the water whenever we dropped anchor next to a break I was convinced there were two of him. Particularly at Lance’s Right, aka ‘The Office’, which I’m certain he’d have happily moored next to for the entire ten days if we’d agreed to it.
John’s preference for board-snapping power was also evident in his habit of piling good-humoured disdain on the breaks he has cast into the ‘paunchy not punchy’ file. Waves he refers to in the nicest yet totally unapologetic way, as gay rights. Nevertheless, his genuine desire to see all comers grinningly surfed out pretty much ensured that everyone, burger lovers or otherwise, got what they came for.
The fact that they did was due in no small part to John’s willingness to move and move often. I’d like 50 cents for every mile and litre of fuel we burned getting to vacant, if not famous breaks. Which was what the majority of our group preferred. And whilst we shared the odd session with other crews, brooding Brazilians or extended families of local surfing wunderkind, we managed to surf alone a lot. So often, in fact, it was hard to believe we were there at the height of the peak season.
Plenty was an essential ingredient in Barrenjoey dining, too. Apart from being impressively delicious and inventive for fare prepared in a kitchen the size of an XL phone booth, the non-stop servings often felt like a trial by generosity. All thanks to our chef “Saucy” who managed to brim-fill us five times a day- always with a smile and his happy catchcry of “Extra, Stand By”.
The daily second breakfast, aptly named ‘Second Breakfast’, quickly turned from unexpected novelty to dining de rigueur, and the beer o’clock appetisers were unnecessarily plentiful - if not just downright unnecessary. Despite all the activity, a few of us managed to finish the trip looking even more like middle-aged white guys and, if it were possible, even less fetching in a clinging white rashie.
Something else that grew in apparent size as the days clicked by was the Barrenjoey herself. At first sight in Padang, it was a bit of a shock to discover how much smaller she seemed in the flesh. Then there was my first lap of the main deck. As the kind of landlubber who gets jumpy an hour into a harbour cruise, I literally doubted if I’d last the distance. Though once familiar with her nooks and crannies and the feeling of freedom inspired by at-sea peculiarities like sunset beers on the upper deck and pissing over the side (lower deck only) she developed the kind of breezy, spatial qualities you simply can’t capture in a website.
Admittedly, sleeping arrangements weren’t entirely spread eagle spacious. My ship shape bunk had me making like a parallelogram a little more than I would have liked. Still, mild to moderate deficit of hotellishness aside, the 1969-built ketch was more than comfortable enough for a bullseye bona fide surfari. And she certainly fitted the surf adventure aesthetic a lot more comfortably than did the armada of hulking gin palaces dieseling up and down the archipelago.
She was possibly also the best-equipped surf support unit out there to boot. All of which was constantly brought into play. We had the aforementioned jet-ski with lie-down tow pad. Others only had a 12-foot, 25hp tinny with a rope. We had the soft and forgiving rubber ducky to slip in and out of, where others only had a hard, square-edged, 12-foot 25hp tinny. Best of all, we had the Bynda Laut: a twin-175hp assault boat that got us to breaks very fast and very first most mornings, while others ... you get the picture.
Picture also the small but holiday-making details filled in by the crew, Salamat, Wilson, Deddie, Elvis and Jason, who constantly loaded our boards, unfailingly handed us our all-important after-surf mugs of cold water, patched and painted our reef gouges and, no doubt, did a hundred and one other things we never noticed. Then of course, there was the surf.
I could tell you about it, but it’ll only be different on your trip. As will the passengers whom, if you want John to skipper, must include his wife Belinda and their boys, Fynn and Duke. It is after all a family business. Obviously we said yes. Once you’ve met them and had a chance to appreciate the, let’s say, ‘steadying influence’ they have over life aboard, you wouldn’t choose to leave them behind either.
If you go, I’m certain you’ll find The Barrenjoey a genuinely unique and idyllic surf experience. One, I can’t help feeling, that only a shedload of generosity, local knowledge and a deep love of surfing can deliver.
For a Mentawais good time she is undoubtedly the mother ship.