FISHERMEN NIGHT OUT

By : Dr. Dietrich Lerche

Mr. Ahmad happens to be a fisherman at the Meninting coast and voter some talking he invited me to join on one of him nightly fishing trips, sailing out into the sea, direction Bali. I am generally an early riser but when the alarm clock went at 2.45 morning. I was still a little bit sleepy. One of the guards, Ben,  was ready to show my way to the beach, just behind my jogging palm grove, only 10 minutes away. It is a clear night, stars are sprinkling a few tiny clouds; it is a new moon, tomorrow the fasting period Ramadan or Puasa starts.

 

 Here in the fishing village near Batu Layar I am welcomed by Ahmad with a group of fisherman who are still half asleep or engage in small talk. Many lights from the boat far out which are reflected in the still calm sea. Low tide. The group moves toward the perahus/boats, which are lined up at the top of the sand dune. On the one hand there are the next fishers, generally larger boats, who have left already early evening with their pressure lamps, to go after the small fish. On the other hand there are line fishers, like Ahmad, who venture out with their small dug out canoes, only 60cm wide and 4m long , with 2 bamboo outriggers , a shaky affair , no sundeck either.

 

Fishing here is done by a long line pulled by the boat, with up to 20 extra side lines, each with a hook and a plastic fly as bait. With joint efforts Ahmad’s and other boats are pushed down the dune, right to the waterfront, the water now rising. A few battery lights flash up, otherwise everything is dark and silent. Like ghosts the perahus now glide into the sea, the triangular sails are set. Soon the group is separated, each going Solo on its night journey, shadows on the sea. I squeeze myself in the back of Ahmad canoe, now a frees breeze flairs up, water splashing all over me. Ahmad has covered up in a pullover and jacket, I still enjoy the cool air in a T- shirt .the first net fisher return. On the left the lights from Ampenan, on the right Senggigi; mount Rinjani still covered in thick clouds. With fairly strong back/ aft wind we zoom ahead, leaving most of the of the lamp fishers behind, night and darkness envelops us, except for the glow of Ahmads home made cigarette, its strong smell mixing with salt odor.

 

Morning dawn with a red fire ball rising at 6. a clock sharp in our back as we still head straight west to wards Bali .by now Ahmad has put the lines out and checks its tension once in a while . Little lather he hauls in the first catch, one small tuna fish (tongka , 15-30cm long) after the other is taking off the hook and thrown into the boat .

 

Many of those still keep on fighting until their inevitable death. I appears to be a lucky day (at least for us) and we must be directly in a school of fish as it does not take long and the line is pulled in again and again . I count up to adosen fish per catch; altogether it must be more than a 100. We have come pretty close to the coast of Bali, at the foot of Gunung Agung, and meet company or (friendly) competition with the Bali fishermen. Also some dolphin apparently have found out there is something to catch, even directly from the line, which is quickly hauled in, in the dolphin close to touch as we sit only about 30 cm above the water. An exhilarating feeling, but better not fall in the water as the canoe with its big sail appears not so easy to maneuver for a quick turn.

 

 The sail is made up from old plastic sacks and is simply anchored in the bow and turned according to the wind and let loose for each catch. I am surprised how well we keep course and how little criss cross we need to return against the now fairly strong wind. The morning sun feels good as the splashes and the tropic night made me shiver already. At 8.00 breakfast: nasi and ikan, for me some cookies as well. In the meantime we are surrounded by dozens of boats of all kind and shapes heading back, like a regatta.

 

It is time to return, nothing bites anymore anyway. Against a glaring sun Rinjani shows its rim majestically. In good spirit we arrive shortly after 11 hours at the village. Everyone help us to get the boat out and up the dunes again,

 

We have caught about 110 fish, 10 fish are helpers, the rest are sold directly on the beach, providing Ahmad with an income of about 100,000 Rp (12 US $), pretty good today but there are many days also where he returns empty handed and there are only certain seasons.

 

Ahmad invites me to his home, or modest hut, in the next village, across the road for a fishy lunch, his nice wife and everyone quite excited, cheerful and happy. Their pride is the 8 years old son. During the obligatory small talk I wonder if he also, like Ahmad, who inherited the boat and profession including the massaging which he does very well, from his father, will one day become a fisherman.

 

Today was a good catch, good winds, good day and everyone is happy, including me, because it was a wonderful experience. As I had left my camera on this trial trip behind I have to come again and repeat the story, plenty of opportunities, in fact almost every day.

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