It was the last week of July and my friend and Senior Internet Manager at West Marine, John Gregg, found himself with a detached retina. Certainly not a pleasant experience for him, but it was to be the beginning of a most amazing experience for me. While John had quick surgery and proceeded to lay face down for a few weeks, I struggled to put together the next stories he was working on for the West Marine website. He had been gathering information for a story about an Indonesian tall ship. We were soon to receive stories from a West Marine Associate, Ken Brands, who was sailing onboard this ship from Boston to San Francisco (see Archives). My first introduction to the KRI Dewaruci was to read a very moving speech by Indonesian-American and sailor, John Hartono. Given my incredible experiences traveling in Indonesia in 1998 and the passion in Mr. Hartono’s speech, I suddenly became electrified and felt sure that I needed to somehow help this ship. Just as all this was happening, my boss, the VP of Internet walked by my office. I jumped up excitedly yelling “Tony! Tony! If I can sail aboard the Dewaruci to Hawaii, can I take the time off work? With barely a second thought or a reason why, he said “Wow!? of course you can!”.
West Marine always encourages its associates to be involved in boats in any way they choose, and a vast majority of associates here are boaters. My boss is no exception-and he fully supported my need and desire to get involved in this boating adventure. I grew up boating on lakes in New Hampshire and have sailed a bit in the Monterey Bay, but I have never taking an extended trip out on the open water. If you’ve read our previous “Dewaruci” articles, you know that this ship is in desperate need of an overhaul and many repairs. To let an historic and extremely purposeful tall ship disappear forever would be a huge loss and I wanted to help save it.
I spent the next few weeks in a whirlwind of activity surrounding the Dewaruci and the San Francisco Indonesian community. I met with the volunteer group “Friends of Dewaruci” based around San Francisco. I met the ship, her captain and crew upon their arrival to San Francisco. I attended parties and receptions both on the ship and at the Indonesian Consul General’s house. I volunteered to show some of the crew around Northern California and I spoke with several visitors about the ship during its open house. The procedure to determine if I could sail on the ship was rather complicated and even involved phone calls to Jakarta! Having a woman sail onboard a ship with 70 men in the Indonesian Navy is not an everyday occurrence. I actually lost all hope and was sure I would not be allowed to go, as it seemed so complicated and the answer kept being delayed. Five days before the ship set sail to Hawaii, I was notified that I was cleared to join them.
Leaving San Francisco was definitely a highlight. The ship was crowded with many familiar people that I’d gotten to know over the past few weeks. Soon everyone was filing off and saying their goodbyes. Suddenly, there was a crowd on the dock, and only the crew and I remained on the ship. I did a quick sanity check with myself to be sure I was doing the right thing-I felt as if I belonged right where I was-so I didn’t run screaming towards the dock as they pulled in the gangplank. The crowd on shore was cheering “DE-WA-RU-CI, WE LOVE YOOOU!!” The crew was cheering back “San Francisco, WE LOVE YOU!!!” As many of the crew raced up the rigging to wave their goodbyes, the ship was blaring Indonesian music from the loudspeakers and we were tugged out into the open water. It was so foggy when we headed out, that I could barely see the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed under it, but it was a thrill nonetheless.
It was not long before I began to feel a little queasy. I got INCREDIBLY seasick my first 2 days. Not really a highlight, in fact I think I’d rather just forget that altogether. The crew was very sympathetic and did their best to offer any advice they could. By the end of the second day I was feeling MUCH better, bouncy almost. What a huge relief-I had already started making plans to throw myself overboard if I couldn’t keep food down soon.
When the Dewaruci arrived in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of meeting West Marine trendsetter, Ken Brands. He shared a great deal of helpful information with me about his time onboard. I think the fact that I am a woman made my experience rather different that Ken’s. First off, you would never find me sleeping shoulder to shoulder with the crew on a mat in the crew room! The Chief of Engineering, Mr. Suyono, kindly vacated his room for me and I enjoyed private quarters. They also thought it better if I had more privacy when it came to bathing, so it was suggested that I always use the bathroom attached to the XO’s room-that way I had a place to change and did not have to roam the halls in my towel. I was asked to always wear long pants and shirts that completely covered my midriff. The Commander asked that I not wander around too much in the area where the crew quarters were-to avoid any embarrassment on their part when exiting bathrooms, etc. I found out later that the crew also received special instructions-they were not to be seen walking around shirtless in my presence. Luckily, with the ship being 191 feet long, I did not feel confined or cramped-there were plenty of places for me to go.
The crew is about 90% Indonesian Muslim (which differs quite a bit from the Arab Muslims). Every day they would come up on deck in their prayer dress (sarongs and round hats) with their prayer rugs, facing Mecca. Although there were crew members with very different religious backgrounds, they all completely respect each other’s beliefs and religions. There are 5 main religions in Indonesia, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Protestant. This is illustrated in Indonesia’s national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which means: Unity in Diversity . I had several deep and interesting discussions with a few of the crew, about the differences in our cultures and customs and rituals. The most interesting and challenging things I had to learn were the cultural differences and expectations of women. Behaviors that were commonplace to me, things I might never think of, were actually frowned upon or downright rude in their eyes. At times it worked both ways, but certainly they had a great many more norms and mores that I needed to be sensitive to than vice versa. Many of the crew spoke excellent English (much better than my Indonesian!), but the language barriers were still very challenging, making the interactions all the more rewarding when we knew we understood each other.
The food was great, and very simple. Every meal (even breakfast) is white rice, some kind of vegetables in various broths and sauces, fried fish or chicken, sometimes meat. The first time I ate white rice and fish for breakfast seemed a bit strange, but it was really good and I even began looking forward to breakfast. I never hungered for anything else. Sometimes we were surprised with a treat of fresh fruit or cups of vanilla ice cream. I always ate in the saloon that was only for officers and the captain. It was comfortable (although you had to hold your plate when you ate, otherwise it would slide back and forth across the table). There was a TV and VCR and box full of movies donated by a generous man in San Francisco in the saloon, and someone was always watching something.
The watch shifts were always fully staffed with several crewmembers and they had a complex system of bell ringing to let everyone know what time it was and how many hours into the watch we were. The wheel on Dewaruci is about 5 feet in diameter and someone has to steer 24 hours/day-no autopilot! I had several turns at the wheel and quickly learned what had to be done. There is a huge compass mounted in front of the wheel to help keep on the specified heading. It’s actually a lot of work, as you have to constantly keep adjusting the wheel, it doesn’t just stay on course! In heavy seas, it can take 2 or 3 men to control the helm. I was assigned watch duty-8am to 12pm and 8pm to 12 am. I learned a bit about navigation, using the GPS and plotting our course on the charts. Every morning I would look at the GPS and chart to see our progress. There was a Garmin Map162 GPS used to plot and maintain our heading, a Furuno Weatherfax and a few other devices. The crew offered to teach me how to use the sextant, but it was cloudy most every night and then we just ran out of time.
The wind was very light and we weren’t able to put the sails up very much, so there wasn’t a lot of work to do on watch— watch duty became one of the best cultural and social learning times of each day. Anton, the Engineering Officer, spent quite a bit of time explaining to me the story of the origin of the name “Dewaruci”. Dewaruci is the God of Truth and Courage, from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. In this epic, the Pandawa family represents “good”, and one brother, Bhima, is sent on a quest to find “Tirta Amerta” (the water of life). In this quest, Bhima encounters many obstacles, including a huge dragon. Dewaruci appears to Bhima during his struggle, and instructs him to enter his body. It is inside Dewaruci that Bhima discovers truth and courage and realizes it is inside of him, too. Dewaruci is a reflection of the truth and courage that is inside every one of us. With this realization, Bhima is able to overcome many challenges and achieve his goals (i.e. he finds the Tirta Amerta). It is hoped that by being in Dewaruci (the ship), the crew and cadets onboard will be as Bhima, and discover that Dewaruci (truth and courage) is also inside them.
Given my interest in these stories and Indonesian culture in general, the Commander directed me to some Indonesian history and culture encyclopedias that he kept in the aft salon room. I spent an hour or more each day reading about the religions, culture and history of Indonesia-as Westerners, we rarely get more than a glimpse or overview of such cultures when we are in school. It was fascinating and extremely educational for me.
I felt that I had a pretty good basic knowledge about Indonesia already from my visit there in 1998, but now I feel I have a deeper understanding of the subtleties of their culture. I did have some difficulties simply comprehending some things about their traditions and beliefs, as I’m sure they did of mine, but we respected each other’s differences. One of the crew laughingly told me I was the “weirdest girl” he’d ever met, but that didn’t stop us from being friends.
While I was learning so much, I was also becoming a teacher. I was constantly helping several people with pronunciation, word usage and even slang. Every conversation involved me learning some Indonesian, and also helping with English. But by the middle of the trip, we actually had some formalized ‘classes’ on the deck. I would have between 4 and 11 students, and a few times they even brought me a whiteboard and markers. Everyone was at different levels, so it was a difficult, but they were so interested in learning. We practiced pronunciation of the alphabet (especially vowels), learned prepositions and articles and sentence structure, and we conjugated some verbs. I had never realized what a challenge it would be to teach English, and I found myself wishing I was more prepared.
Luckily, one of the crew who speaks English very well had an excellent sense for teaching and assisted me. He also translated many things to help the crew understand when I explained things. Many of the crew I didn’t know very well would say “Hello, Teacher!” and giggle when I saw them around. One of my ‘students’ gave me an English/Indonesian dictionary with an inscription in English thanking me for being his teacher. It was so gratifying to hear people use words and phrases I know they learned from me.
A few times following English class we would have dance lessons. I learned how to do the Komando dancing-which is basically just like line dancing. It was very entertaining, but learning dance steps on a dance floor that is rocking back and forth is quite a challenge. I’m not overly coordinated to begin with, and the crew had fun laughing at me.
On the ninth day, I noticed some dark clouds right on the horizon. I couldn’t stop staring at them, and then got the sneaking suspicion they were not clouds. I ran to the bridge and asked “Is that land?” The crew on watch had a good laugh at me-of course it was land, hadn’t I noticed it before? I guess I was stuck in the saloon watching “Air Force One” and missed the first sighting. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the length of Moloka’i. I wasn’t sure why but I felt excited and almost giddy. I never left the bow area as we made our way to Oahu. Several pods of dolphins came to greet us and escort us in. I had thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our voyage, and never grew tired of staring out at the blue, blue ocean, but finally arriving at our destination gave me a particular buzz. The enthusiasm was dulled a bit when we discovered we were not able to dock until the next morning. We spent that night anchored just offshore, staring at the lights of Oahu. We had one more typical (fun) night on board, complete with a small hot chocolate party, much singing and lots of laughs.
Pulling into Pearl Harbor was a real thrill. We were tugged in by 2 US Navy tugs, as the Dewaruci crew stood at attention, lining the decks. After always seeing them in their casual uniforms, shorts and flip flops, it was almost surprising to see them all in uniform, behaving formally as we pulled into the United States Navy base. I felt very proud of them. I was also amused by the looks on the faces of everyone on shore and other boats when they saw *me* on board-certainly not what anyone expected!
We docked in between a couple huge US naval ships, and there were uniformed Naval officers waiting to greet the ship and impart information. Shortly after they left, the Port Operations Lieutenant came on board. She was instantly friendly and interested in the ship. I gave her a tour and she let me know that if there was anything we needed, she could help us. She took the XO, Iwan, and myself back to her office to use the phone and computer.
Seeing how the Dewaruci was treated by people in San Francisco, and also by the US Navy in Pearl Harbor, has made me really proud of America. Americans can be some of the warmest and most generous people in the world. It is this spirit of caring and benevolence that I hope will come through to help save the Dewaruci. She needs a great deal of equipment and overhauling to allow her to make return trips to the United States, spreading her goodwill and rich Indonesian culture. I hope that sharing my stories will alert people to the opportunity to return some of the goodwill the Dewaruci has spread along the US coastlines.