13 November 2009 10:33:00 AEDT

The late 1990's were a good time to be a Navigator in the Australian Navy. Almost a decade of human resource mis-management had meant that by now we were a pretty rare commodity and as such you could just about write your own ticket. I took great pleasure in milking the failure of this system for all it was worth and proceeded to shape my Naval Career around which postings and trips would offer the best prospects for surfing. Some Captains thought I was mad, turning down lushy piss up trips to zero surf ports like Singapore or KL in lieu for a three month south west pacific deployment to The Marshall and Caroline’s. The way I saw it though, the joke was on them and they would never catch on...or understand it. ??The Navy's solution was to hold back older navigators until they could grow some new ones. Typically married with kids, the older types weren't that keen for another 3 month trip around the Pacific and would always swap with me. The got to go to Singapore, leave the kids with the grandparents and fly the wife over for a dirty weekend in a hotel on Orchard Road. Meanwhile I got to surf Arno Arno in The Marshall’s and Palikir Pass in The Caroline’s. It was perfect - everyone was happy. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better it did, the new touchy feely HR squad that was trying to plug the gaps in the exodus of people from the Navy brought in rules that meant you couldn't just order someone to go to sea anymore. Captains had to entice people with quartedeck deals and promises of 'getting them on that course' or 'making sure that shore posting was going to happen' after the trip. Pretty soon though, everyone started running out of strings to pull and favours to call in; and so when my only request was that I could bring a surfboard on for the trip and have shore leave to go surfing in port they jumped at having me onboard. I was a cheap trick, an easy buy and they all wanted me. Like I say, the late 1990's were a good time to be a Navigator in the Australian Navy.??As my scam went on, my ability to manipulate the system became more elaborate. Pretty soon I wondered just how far I could take it. Around then I decided that I wanted to surf a true, pure offshore wave, hundreds of miles from land in any direction, something off the charts. I needed a new angle to the act to pull this off though.??The Australian Patrol Boat Captain is a unique beast, their weakness is their need to always make their sailors happy. They mistake a crew's happiness for the crew liking them and wanting to drink with them in port. They have limited tools to achieve this, fishing and beer issue.??Fishing is the key to sailors happiness. Few of them are actually keen fishermen but it's what goes along with the fishing experience that has something in it for everyone onboard. Mainly, the ship will be at anchor which means the watchkeeping routine will be minimised and there will definitely be a beer issue - two cans per man...per day...perhaps. The serious fishermen bring a lot of gear onboard which makes for plenty of handlines to share around for the guys that just want to be able to throw a line in and pull a fish out right away. Even a half decent Navy cook can throw together a great fresh fish curry, page 3 on the manual - right behind boiled squash and meatloaf.??It became clear that to convince a Captain to allow me to jump overboard and start surfing an offshore reef in the middle of The Pacific, I needed to fuse fishing into it somehow. That would mean we would be at anchor, guys are lounging around fishing and drinking so someone going surfing isn’t too much of a stretch etc etc. That was the theory, it seemed solid. I commenced scanning the charts for a suitable destination immediately.??There is a unique feature in The South Pacific just shy of The Equator, a thousand miles from land in every direction called 'The Breast of The Goddess'.??I began researching the curious history of this feature immediately. It first appeared on British Admiralty charts in 1772 following 'discovery' by James Cook on his first voyage (1768-71). Cook had taken onboard the great Tahitian Priest Navigator Tupaia and Tupaia had opened the ocean to him. Tupaia's knowledge of the South Pacific stunned Cook. It was a knowledge passed down in ceremony from generation to generation. The cast he belonged to in the Society Islands became known as the Arioi, a deeply religious order who worshipped the God 'Oro. Through intense meditation, trance inducing drugs and recitation they preserved and passed down all of the knowledge gained through the 'Great Crossing' of their people over a millennia ago.??Cook relied on and trusted Tupaia fiercely. Despite never having visited New Zealand himself, he guided Cook and The Endeavour to the islands perfectly, predicting landfall to the hour. The New Zealand Maori despite never having seen a living Arioi recognised his status in their own history from tribal tattoos, he was welcomed as a Tohunga - a God....one of The Makers from their own crossing legends. The Maori immediately killed and skinned five of their most gifted hunting dogs to construct a sacred cloak of protection for the remainder of Tupaia's voyage.??Sailing north now, Tupaia began to explain to Cook an incredible island in the heart of the ocean whose name translated as, The Breast of The Goddess. Tupaia described it as a fantastic land; a double coned volcanic island with a rare natural water spring, nesting birds and turtles. It was a critical stopping point in The Great Crossing and without it, would have made it impossible for the first navigators to have accessed the deeper Pacific. Polynesian boats would take stores and rest prior to completing the next leg of their voyage. Legend held that this gift was from the God 'Oro himself. Rather than see his people perish at sea, his kissed his wife goodbye and let her fall into the Ocean. All that was visible of the Goddess were here breasts, clear of the surface in the form of the double cone mountain ridge. The water spring was known as 'The Tears of The Goddess' testament to her eternal sorrow in being separated from heaven. Oro invited his worshippers to sample the bounty of his wife’s breast on their passage beyond, into the Great Ocean. It was a land of deep religious significance to the Polynesian people. Cook had already decided to name it Avalon.??Cook realised the significance of 'Avalon' immediately, it would be the ideal location to build a fortification. The description of it being heavily wooded bode well in making it a likely port for ship repairs. Tupaia had described it as being decreed by the Polynesian peoples to remain uninhabited at all times, lest the goddess tire of mere mortals suckling at her breast. Cook saw that there would be no problems in displacing warring natives here; this would be the foothold in the Pacific that England needed. Tupaia again took over the navigation and guided The Endeavour to Avalon. The crew began to hear rumours and stories of where they were heading. Tupaia delighted in telling them of the beaches rich with turtles, cliff tops brimming with squabbling seabirds and their eggs and the sweetest water of The Pacific coursing through the forest. Morale was high onboard and Cook encouraged Tupaia to relay new tales of the land to all the men at the change of watch. It was The Botanist Joseph Banks however who took the greatest notice of what Tupaia was to say next.??A day out from the island at the change of watch, Cook ordered an hour of dancing and a double rum issue. The squeezebox accordion came out as groups of sailors broke into a forced jig. Tupaia started describing some of the other wildlife on the island; he described a type of hairless seal not seen anywhere else, fat wandering 'fish' with no scales the length of a mans arm that walk up to the beach on their fins and when roasted have the taste of hibiscus and honey, flightless birds the size of pigs that waddle through the underbrush; each of them feeding a canoe full of warriors. Then, for the first time, Tupaia spoke of the 'forbidden' side of the island.??The Goddess it seemed had three aspects. The landing area was known as 'The Mother', the smouldering cones of the two volcanoes 'The Lover' and the far, forbidden side of the island 'The Hag'. All the ships that had landed on the forbidden side had been lost. Ancient sailors had observed their comrades perishing from the mountain ridge, ripped apart on the black sand beaches by crabs the size of longboats, their entrails gushed into the waiting brood pit of a thousand hatchling crustacea. Sea snails as tall as a man coursed along the beach, first spitting venom to blind their prey and then slowly pulsing over them with a long powerful muscular foot. The muffled screams of the victims smothered as they were drawn into the coils of the shell itself. There was something more, Tupaia described the presence of an ancient carven monolith on the beach, covered in writings not known to any of The Polynesians. Bizarre images of an Octopus like creature adorning the base.??The accordion slowly stopped and the clapping broke down. The men began to look at each other as Cook shot a deft glance at Banks. Banks swallowed hard, removed his spectacles and polished them softly with a flannel. This wasn't the first time they had seen this before, the 4 dead men on the beach at Poverty Bay in New Zealand and the pages ripped from the ship's log would ensure that no one would hear of it again; now Cook wasn't so sure.??The watch changed over at sunset as the wind veered to the south as the clouds gathered. The quartermaster set sail for a squall. Tupaia moved to the bow and looked to the horizon, he pulled his dog skin cloak tightly around his chest as the rain began to fall in sheets.??By sunrise the next morning the squall had backed down but the rain continued to pass through in showers. Tupaia had been on watch all night. Cook moved closer and sensed that something was wrong. Tupaia was in a deep standing trance, his eyes open but rolled back to reveal shuddering white sclera. Cook dare not disturb him in this state, he knew what he was doing. Tupaia was accessing the deeper parts of his memory, his holy training in which he was granted the knowledge and permission to navigate in this area of the Ocean. Inside Tupaia's mind he turned to face the holy tree that housed his memories. Thoughs were stored as the texture on leaves, he knew the branch where this area of the Ocean was stored and he ran his hands over the leaves again, but the answer kept coming back the same. He snapped out of it momentarily, scanned the horizon and went back into his trance. This happened three times before he broke concentration and noticed Cook standing next to him. Tears traced down his cheek as he spoke.??"It should be here"??Cook's navigation was based on books, charts and instruments, he had been suprised that Tupaia had managed to achieve what he had on sheer memory alone; he passed an arm over his friend.??"How long ago should we have seen it"??Tupaia choked on the words "6 hours since"??Now it was panic that struck Cook, and the navigator became the seaman. In 6 hours under good sail from a horizon sighting they would be on top of the land, and what of the likely surrounding reef? The Endeavour was all but lost only a few months prior on the reefs off Australia, it was a mistake he did not care to make twice.? "SOUNDINGS"??The order echoed and repeated through the ship."FETCH THE LEAD!"??Both watches were up in a flash. An unexpected call for soundings often meant that grounding was imminent, the memories of their last one were still fresh in their memory. They had been lucky in Australia and had grounded on a low tide and used the high water to float off. If they had grounded at the high water then the results were unthinkable.??The leadsman was Alex Weir, a short dark haired man with scars from the lash down to his elbows. He would tell you that he deserved everyone of them as a young sailor, he would also tell you that every whore whose bed he woke up in the morning and had caused him to be late was worth every penny but now, trusted with the lead he was beyond reproach. As Weir cast the calico cord across the bow the sea mist moved closer. As the lead plummet struck the slick black water Cook thought he could see the bottom.??"By the Mark..." The cord ran through Weirs calloused hands. The entire crew gathered on the quarterdeck to shift weight aft, only Cook, Weir and Tupaia huddled at the bow. Cook watched nervously as the cord passed the 2 fathom mark, then the 5, the 10. Cook heaved in relief as Weir boomed out "No bottom at 20 fathoms sir"??The ship stood down but readied the anchor as they moved on with minimal sail. Cook ordered regular soundings and within the hour, they had found the 20 fathom mark. In an unusual display of emotion, Cook slapped his thigh in delight and patted Tupaia hard on the back. "My friend, you have done it for us again, when the mist clears we will have found your island"??Tupaia could only scan the narrow horizon nervously, "No my Captain, it is not here"??An undaunted Cook moved on. The bottom shoaled to 10 fathoms and he ordered the anchor dropped. He passed order to ready the longboats once the mist had cleared and to crack the hogsheads to take on fresh water. It was with mixed emotion that the crew caried out the order. Tupaia's conflicted tales of paradise and hell had shaken them and now to see him for the first time lost and broken at his post in the eye of the ship.. they hoped he would remember which was the correct side of the island to land on. Cook took his breakfast and slept, waiting for the mist to clear. It was a fitful sleep, pervaded by an odd empty, hollow anxiety. Then the same dream again. At some stage he was swimming in the water, then under the water. Somehow he felt different, as though his skin were not his own, scaly almost? Swimming underwater now he attained amazing speed and saw the bottom of the continental shelf come up to meet him. Soon he could stand and walked onto a beach. A huddle of Islanders greeted him warmly. The head priest moving towards him with outstretched arms. The wind changed and blew from his back towards the crowd. Suddenly their mood changed, the Priest sniffed the air and hissed. He uttered a word Cook had never heard before. The warriors in the huddle shook at the mention of it and edged away...something blocked out the sun...??Midshipman Munkhouse shook Cook from his nightmare. "Sir, Mr Hicks says to say the mist has cleared" ??"Very Good Munkhouse. How close are we from the Island"??"Sir?"??"The Island boy. The land Tupaia has spoken of"??Cook was up now, invigorated. Throwing on his coat he headed onto the deck. "Munkhouse, you must develop a seaman's eye boy. An officer is judged by his ability to reckon distance at sea. How do you propose to position your ship and set your cannon if you can't..."??Cook burst onto the deck with a nervous Munkhouse behind him.??”...judge distance"??The mist was gone now, the sky burnt blue, the wind had shifted and broken the cloud away. Cook had expected to be greeted with a towering island mass like those off the Marquesas, seabirds circling the distant eeries and peaks but there was nothing. Tupaia had been in deep trance for hours, he had taken some of the berries he used to attain deeper memories. The drug would render him in this state for hours. Cook ordered the anchor weighed and they moved north cautiously. Cook began to circle the area, never recording a sounding less than 10 fathoms. Just before sunset, Tupaia rose from his trance and took his place at Cooks side. A moment later he raised his right hand and pointed at something off the starboard bow.??There, less than a mile away were two small obsidian islands, about a mile apart, one barely above the waterline and scorched black. The other around 20 feet high, a few stunted pale pine trees of a species that Banks had never seen before spattered in guano clung to life in nooks that fell off to vertical cliffs all round. A small flock of seabirds scrambled for footing among the flimsy nests built on the harsh stone. Tupaia announced in broken English through his tears, "Breast of The Goddess."??A grissly, ancient sailmaker by the name of John Ravenhill shuffled up behind Cook and his Officers "Breast of The Goddess? More like The Witches Tits"…he smirked behind his rotting black stump smile.??For a second, Cook saw red. His greatest discovery had been dashed. He would have the Sailmaker flogged for that. When his Officers started laughing though he refrained and pretended to share their mirth. He ordered sail for Batavia.??The next morning he changed his mind and had the Sailmaker flogged.??Tupaia was never the same after that. As they neared Indonesia his knowledge became more and more limited. It took more and more of his drugs to recall facts on tides and reef passes. In truth he was stretching back now to the beginning of The Crossing when his ancestors left Asia, the beginning of time. He began to see the shape of the first navigators. The Endeavour pushed further west, towards the Philippines and Tupai began to see shapes not quite human. The Grand Master had warned them all of pushing back this far...warned them of the madness that follows it, and now he was not sure how to get back from the brink of it. There was something else at work here too, Tupaia believed that the goddess had now left his people. All of the priest navigators felt the pull of this place, the longing to be one with it. Their effort to resist it forged the power of their mind. Like an atom being ripped apart, the crackling energy layers being thrown off were fuel to be consumed by their memories. Now he had seen it, the first of his people in an epoch to do so and it was gone. The Goddess had left the Pacific, the keystone to the power of The Ocean had returned beneath the waves. It was the end of an age, it was the end of everything. With his mighty faith shattered, cut off from the holy Pacific, his constitution soon followed. As The Endeavour passed through Indonesia, a wave of dysentery descended on the ship. Tupaia soon succumbed to the fever. Cook ordered his Surgeon to use the Officers own stores of medicine in treating his friend and offered his own rum ration to bring the blessed oblivion of nightly rest but it was all in vain. In his last days, Tupaia was consumed with the guilt and anguish of those he had slain in battle. He had led mighty war parties as far as The Marquesas and fell a hundred men in a day beneath his blessed mace, and now those men, grey and rotting, lined up on a beach to file past him in procession, their faces broken and ruined. In his last hours the madness took him, Cook was summoned from the quarterdeck to attend as was his request. They had cleared Bali, the mighty waves of Uluwatu smoking behind them, well clear on the starboard quarter now. Cook bent his ear close to Tupaia,??"What is it my friend, what do you see?" Tupaia's mind swam with thoughts. The star maps of the ancestors flicked past in succession, he had learnt to use the white navigators names for the main sequence stars, of Vega, Orion and Ursa, but unlike Cook, he could see them changing and he knew there was madness in them. He traveled back, back to the beginning, before the crossing now...back to the reason his people fled across the great ocean. For the last time, his eyes flicked open, he grabbed Cook's arm with the grip of death in him now, he uttered a single word and in horror, Cook knew it to be the word from his own dream.The Officers of The Endeavour gathered around the fallen navigator and Tupaia saw the grey dead from his past file in behind them and there was the one who stood shoulders above them and blocked out the light. Tupaia looked around at The Officers but knew it was his time to move on, not theirs; he never regained consciousness, and passed away soon after The Endeavour berthed in Batavia. With that, the greatest of the high Priest Navigators passed from this world to the next and the moment echoed out like a drum across the Pacific from Pohnpei to Rapa Nui.??When Cook submitted his findings from the voyage to The Admiralty, he begrudgingly included the feature of 'The Breast' on the charts. If anything, it was an unmarked danger to navigation, an area to be avoided.??The feature known as The Breast just happened to lie well off the major shipping routes from Asia to the New World which became established over the following centuries and it was not until the mid 1950's that a US Survey ship was tasked with updating the region last surveyed by Cook in the 1700's. The USS San Pablo swept the area in the Autumn of 1950 and found no islands at all in the reported location. What she did find were two shoals at around the 5 and 20 metre mark, nothing more.??Post analysis was to reveal something astonishing. It became apparent that for the past 2000 years the volcanic island had been sinking. When the first Polynesians passed the area their legends suggested an island around 1000 metres in height. When Cook charted the area with Tupaia in the 1770's they reported two islands, most likely the tops of the volcanic domes at around 1 metre and 7 metres high respectively. By the 1950's the two peaks had submerged totally and were now at a depth of 5 and 20 metres. Tracing back, at the observed rate of fall, when the first Polynesians passed the area 2000 years ago, the island would have been at around a height of 950 metres, roughly the height of the tallest peak in Tonga, and very close to the Polynesian legend.??Islands rise and fall all the time in the Pacific. This island was falling at a rate about the same as human fingernail growth but in geological terms, that is a freefall. Many of the Pacific islands and atolls are arks, their own flora and fauna making unique adaptations found nowhere else in the animal and plant kingdoms. Those that sink slowly enough for their cargo to evolve often harbour incredible deep sea species and shellfish, unique to one particular sea mount. Those that sink too quickly doom their charges to the path of extinction all the way to the abyss. Tupaia's description of the incredibly specialised diversity on the island and the rate at which the island has fallen would suggest nothing could survive, but still there was only one way to find out. Based upon the 1950's surveys, I calculated the the two reefs to be at a depth of around 6 and 21 metres and about 2 kilometres apart. 21 metres was on the hairy edge of a maximum patrol boat anchorage depth but possible, so there was the fishing element of the trip. The other reef at the 6 metre mark would definitely break in a heavy swell and at 2 kilometres should be far enough away to prevent any risk to the ship. It was perfect. I only had to wait two months before a Patrol boat was heading that way up towards Pohnpei. It would be a slight detour but for a ship without a navigator it was a small price for the Captain to pay. So when HMAS GEELONG found herself in just such a position, I gathered up my books, charts and instruments and signed on for the voyage immediately.??Lieutenant Commander Graeme Washington liked to be called 'wash' when it suited him and 'Sir' when it didn't. Typically it suited him when he was pissing it up in port with the men, so he had the nickname of 'wash on the piss'. He was a run of the mill Patrol boat CO in those days - underachiever, functioning alcoholic, full of bluster and blame for others when things went wrong, and you knew, you just knew that if the chips were down and he had to make a decision that was going to save your life he was going to fuck it up. I met him with his XO Lieutenant Mike Dallas. Apart from always making a clown of himself after a few beers he was harmless. We sailed at 1000 the next morning from Darwin with our next scheduled port Kolonia on Pohnpei, Micronesia.??The passage passed mainly without incident. As we got closer to the reef I started to circulate the rumour of the fishing trip. The men were primed. The Captain soon came around and asked me to his cabin to give him a full brief. It was a squalid little room really. The smell of Vitamin E Cream hung heavy in the air. As always, he wore his Marshall Islands Fishing club T-shirt and it stank of body odour. Hustler magazines stood on his bookshelf hastily jammed between Naval books and manuals. I laid out the anchorage plan along with the latest weather fax. I couldn't have asked for more, there was a deep low drilling in the North Pacific well above us. It was far enough away that we wouldn't see any foul weather or even any wind, what we would see in a few days was about 3 metres of 15 second period NW swell. The fishing was an easy sell, he said he would announce it at both watches tomorrow; he wanted the credit for the plan in front of the men but I didn’t care. Sometime around then I confirmed with him that I was keen to go surfing on the shallow reef well clear of the ship and he bauked.??He was trying to back out of the deal, I could smell it on him. He tried to make me feel important by telling me he just couldn’t afford to loose me. He told me of the size of the sharks that circle these offshore reefs and how hungry they get. He asked me how he would explain it to Naval Headquarters that he had lost his Navigator at sea whilst the ship had been at anchor, drinking beer and fishing. That was what it all came down to, he didn’t want this 'thing' to inconvenience him. There was no way I was going to give this up now though. I had put so much planning into it and the conditions were going to be perfect, it was all or nothing, a one shot deal. We finally came to an agreement. We would anchor around 1500 and he would let the men fish all afternoon and into the night. If by the morning no one had caught a shark then I would be permitted to go surfing the next morning, we shook on it and he smiled. We both knew that the odds of not catching a shark at night on the reefs were pretty slim.??I tracked the swell system to the north closely over the coming days, everything was coming together as only truly definitive surf trips can. The first extensions of the swell were due to reach the anchorage during our first night, and by the morning it would be on top of us. The storm system remained stationary to the far north, surface conditions would be perfect. That afternoon we anchored in 22 metres of water over the eastern pinnacle of 'The Mother' I imagined the sound of steel on rock ringing out underwater across the silent drowned beaches of the forbidden side of the island; something stirring deep within the caves.??Less than an hour later and the fishermen were into it on the quarterdeck. The bulkheads of the messes and engine room taken down to reveal a horde of fishing equipment; reels, two piece rods, filament line and jigs. The boys had been stewing blocks of frozen pilchards in brine on the deck since last night, and now as the last of the four ganged hooks pierced through their glassy eyes they were hanging on the end of a line with the crew hunched over the stern in awed expectation.??I had seen some amazing things come up from these offshore reefs, octopus the size of large dogs that made it as far as the surface before parting the line. Rather than jetting under the water in a cloud of ink they would clamber up the stern onto the deck, eerily searching for prey, you would have to blast them off with a firehose. I saw a crab come up that was a metre across from leg tip to tip, the line had wrapped around one of its muscled claws, jet black in colour with a spray job like red flames either side of the carapace. It had been hoisted onto the deck motionless, the massive appendages hanging limply at its sides. Everyone assumed that it had come up so fast that it's air bladder had burst and it was dead. The second one of the sailors touched its claw to remove the line it jerked to life like an animated golem. I think it was the body temperature from the sailors’ hand that did it. Standing on reared legs now with dripping claws snapping in front of it I was reminded of a face hugger from some alien nightmare. Grown men leapt out of it's path as it clattered across the hot metal deck. It sensed the gap in the guardrails and the escape to the ocean they offered. Sprinting now, seconds from freedom a well aimed marlin spike hurled from behind a capstain smashed into it's right claw and severed it cleanly at the carapace. Undeterred, the crab motored on, clockwork legs an incredible blur of speed and then it was gone, floating down in a long spinning arc into the abyss. Back on the deck, cheers died down as a quivering claw the size of a human hand opened and closed, leaking ether, powered by some invisible engine. Thinking back on all of this I was reminded that they are things far worse than sharks in the Ocean.??Dusk came, and a double beer issue followed. The nibbles that the early fishermen had shared soon turned to fierce bites and then the first of the fish were landed on the deck. Giant Trevally, landing hard on the metal deck, one a 30 kilo monster almost a metre long. I had seen these all over the Pacific, a beautiful fish, so undeserving of the packet mix batter and warm tin of beer they were destined to be served with tonight. There was something different about these fish though. I knew that open ocean species sometimes show unique variations that make them a micro species unto themselves. The black spots on these GT's were twice the size of those seen elsewhere and the spots had a unique white fleck in the centre. I bent down to explain this to a sailor as he wrestled with a 20 kilo specimen on the deck.??"You see the spots...they're bigger and I've never seen that white strip in the centre there. It may be some form of adaptation or something because of the sinking reef"??He looked up at me nodding his head, genuinely interested and with one hand held open the fishing book to see what I was talking about...with the other hand he swung a metal marlin spike across the bridge of the fish's skull and didn’t stop until it's brains splashed onto his shoes.??"Yeah, Nav, I see what you mean, weird huh?"??I quietly closed the book. There was only a small long period background swell passing through the area at the moment, but looking out to the west I could see the slightest of disturbances, only just creasing the flawless slick, it had to be the western pinnacle of The Lover and tomorrow morning there would be three metres of swell on top of it. I went below to check the latest weather fax, still, my heart was sinking, with this much fishing activity and blood in the water I didn’t see how we could not attract a shark tonight.??I decided to plan the detail on the rest of the trip past Pohnpei, it was rare to have water this calm for an extended period and it was the best time to do chartwork. It was soon dark and I grabbed my trevally and chips to go and headed out onto the quarterdeck. The scene was laughable, a steel deck parody of life in Darwin, most of the crew with their overalls tied about their waists, VB singlets burnt onto their backs from the equatorial sun. Smashed beer tins skidded around the deck, the blood beading over the cheap aluminium. I rarely drank at sea but Wash was on it, His Marshall Islands fishing shirt strewn in scales and blood, he was backslapping every sailor that pulled in a fish. The cheffo could barely keep up filleting them. There were so many on the deck that he became lazy, just slipping the knife behind the gills and flicking it out towards the tail, he did it once each side and threw the rest over the side, kilos of meat wasted. Every 10 minutes or so someone would charge up the firehose and blast the scales and blood over the side. I asked around though and still no shark had come.??An early 90's boombox pounded out Fleetwood Macs greatest hits, a battery powered military spotlight propped up next to it cast an eerie tint over the freshly spilt blood. The usual equatorial light show of an uninterupted starfield blazed down from above and I realised that we were now far enough north to see Polaris. About that time there was a massive commotion at the stern. Something thrashed wildly just out of view, a call went out for a second gaff hook. More people rushed aft just as the two at the stern hoisted the thing up from the deep. There was an unholy hiss, both hooks came free. There on the deck a 3 metre Moray Eel whipped and corkscrewed amongst the crowd. The scene descended into chaos, those closest to the eel ran to get away while those unsure of what it was pressed around them for a closer view. The eel lashed out at someone’s leg and they tried to run. Someone tripped, falling heavily and took another two men down with him; buckets tipped over, hand reels unwound and rods collapsed along the guardrail like dominos. A young sailor tried to take off aft with his ankle wrapped around a line on the deck, he went down face first and as Stevie Nicks echoed from the boombox across the Pacific she went overboard attached to a 30 kilo MILSPEC waterproof floodlight...singing Tusk all the way down.??In true military style, waterproof lighting does not float and it spun down on battery power attached to the boom box like a brick. There was another of those terrible cat like hisses, the fact that this was coming from a fish made it easily the most unsettling noise I have ever heard and then it was gone. The bulk of the tail had found the edge and the sheer weight of the body dragged it over. Once it was clear no one was seriously hurt some casual laughter broke out..but it soon stopped. I moved to the stern to take a look for myself. The eel was gone, the light must have been at 100 metres now and still it spun around. As it arced up towards us I saw a glimpse of the silhouette of a massive mountain peak. It was the shape of ‘The Lover’ trailing down into the gloom, it became clear now that we were perched high on what was once the peak of The Breast of The Goddess and the torch light was falling down onto what was once known as the forbidden side of the Island. I often wonder how long the music played for underwater, the Tusk drums beating out under The Pacific. A few seconds later the light ceased, probably at around 200metres, folding under the pressure. Then, in the darkness on the deck we witnessed something amazing. From the deep there was a faint shudder of soft light, it buzzed for less than a second like some faulty switch and blinked out. Another one a few hundred metres away came on and snuffed out, then it was like an unseen reaction. Like underwater lightning, sheets of light up to a mile away turned on in patches, their action triggering yet another wave of organic light further away. A dark silence descended on the deck as everyone looked on. The whole event lasted for around a minute, fading away into the odd discharge in the distance. I knew that it had to be bioluminescence but I had never seen it behave this way before, like we triggered something? I went below after that, the ripple on the far western pinnacle reflecting in the starlight.??I slept a tortured sleep, weird dreams of trying to paddle for waves and slipping behind them, water passing by my board and forming strange eddies that I was too scared to look down into. I got up around 4am to check the anchor and put a fix on the chart, we hadn't moved. Few people were up, only the critical watchkeepers drifting off to sleep in the messes and doing their hourly rounds, there was finally silence out on the deck and so it was then that I finally heard it.??A deep booming echo across the dark waters, broadband noise trailing off to a stillness and then again, three more times and silence; it had to be the first of the sets hitting the reef. I ran back up to the bridge and grabbed the low light binoculars. I scanned a few kilometres away, everything cast in a false green colour image through the viewfinder but the clarity under the faint moonlight was incredible. It didn’t take long to find the reef. Through the green tint in the darkness I could make out a tremendous spilling white wall. A full second later I heard the rumbling of the impact. I watched as many impacts as I could, never quite catching the takeoff, only the face of the broken wave. It was tricky to pick the size but the three metre swell was on us now so that was a good bet. I got to bed at 5am, hoping to grab an hour of sleep but it was just an odd drifting sensation. I started having small starts that would wake me – worrying if my board was where I stashed it or if someone had dropped a box of spanners on it, snapping the fins. I had spare fins, were they still in the locker under my rack, should I check? Was my fin key in my wallet, was my wallet in my locked drawer? On and on it went. It hit 6am just as I was drifting of to sleep. It took 10 minutes to get up and I felt like crap. I grabbed a cup of tea and went to check the reef.??Full sun beat down across the scene, eerily calm. You didn’t need binoculars anymore to see the reef. There it was, 2 kilometres away, a rising bombora wave surging out of the abyss and splintering into rolling, spilling foam. This was it, The Breast of The Goddess. The full swell was here now and I noticed that even on our much deeper reef we were starting to rise and fall ever so slightly. This would make Wash very nervous. He would be sleeping off the grog now but I knew that he would want to get underway the second he saw the movement. It was time, I threw down as much of the tea and sugar as I could for energy and cut myself a once inch slab of meat from a strasbourg roll hanging in the galley. I munched it as I stole down the passageway into the forward stowage where my board was lashed down. I passed the galley, it was a charnel house of wasted fish. Two massive deep fried fillets over a foot long sat limply on a white plate. A 10 kilo specimen had been shoved into the deep fryer whole probably as a joke, only the front half was cooked, the rear half coming away to reveal a blood flecked backbone. In the sink, three massive fish with beautiful colour and shine that no one had bothered cleaning lay face down in six inches of blood. Moving on now through the sailors mess; hardcore pornography screamed out across a darkened room to an empty audience. Discarded titles lay strewn about the table like spent streetwalkers.??My board was still in one piece, I was only able to bring one on the ship so I had gone with an eight footer, I figured it would fumble through any possibility on the trip. Having seen the spilling foam on the reef I though it was in hindsight a pretty good choice. Back on deck it was getting hotter, the sun already well clear of the horizon. I checked who had the watch, it was the Buffer, Petty Officer MacRoth. I got on well with MacRoth and had served with him a few times. He was an Irishman who had been in the Falklands with the medals and the scars to prove it, he had come across from the Royal Navy a few years back. The only people he hated more than the English were the French for selling the Argentineans the missiles that had burnt his ship to the waterline. MacRoth was the fully illustrated man, Frankenstein bolts tattooed on his neck, spider webs on his elbows, hinges on the back of his knees and a blow fly on his cock. After a few drinks, MacRoth would often put forward his theory that Australia was really founded by the Irish owing to the larger concentration of Irish as opposed to English convicts on the First Fleet. Any doubting of this theory was typically met in MacRoth performing his goto drunken feat of picking up an empty aluminium beer keg, raising it over his head and throwing it across the room. This feat had earned him the nickname of 'Donkey Kong'??I got to the bridge and MacRoth was already looking over at the reef through the binoculars.??"Aye Navie, its looking the goods"??I asked him if the boys had caught any sharks last night.??"Nay sharks but tween you and me I know some had some big bites, feet of gear and metal trace snapped clear through. I told the boys to keep it down lest the boss cans yer surf. They know twas you put the show on for em."??A dull sick ache hit me and it took a lot to pretend that didn’t scare me. MacRoth took up the binoculars again,??"It's a long paddle I think. I'll have the boat ready if ye need it to get back, I'll keep an eye on ya. You want a flare?"??I just nodded, struck with the reality of this now. It had all seemed so different to me when I was planning it out on a paper chart 6 months ago. Looking back across the deck, a few people were up now and were stretching their legs in the sun, durrys in one hand, tea in the other, some had gathered around the board. Another set cracked across the reef. Even the ones that didn’t surf saw the significance of it, it had all come together, perfectly. They smiled when they saw me, the older ones amongst them realizing what I had done, the perfect rip off. They knew that I had used them to get here but after that fishing show last night, they had forgiven me in instant. I had shamelessly used a million dollars of Naval Resources to do nothing more than organise a surf trip behind everyone’s back and they loved me for it. They didn’t know that it was an average looking peak surging into foam, all they saw was a wave in the middle of the ocean that someone had worked tirelessly to surf. Not one of them had ever ridden a board but that day they understood surfing.??I did my tough guy act, "What are you blokes doing up off watch, you shit your racks?"??Everyone smirked at the tireless joke. Without uttering a word, one of them picked up the board carefully with his bent durry wedged in the side of his mouth.??"Buff wanted a volunteer boat party right to go in case you needed it. We loved that fishex Nav."??and with that he motioned that he would throw my board to me in the water. So that's when I casually jumped over the guardrail into the warm water of the Pacific. My board soon followed and fighting a rising tide of anxiety I started out on the 2 kilometre paddle.??The flare was wedged into my vest and it was painfully uncomfortable from the start. It was basically a waterproof firework with a wax seal around the striker, once you broke it off you used the striker pad to light it up. Anyone with a few kilometres would see the light or the smoke. Cold comfort really in the event I needed help. It would take the boat at least 5 minutes to get to me and that was providing they were looking in my direction. I decided that if I saw anything at all, a fin, jumping fish, that unseen disturbance of the water that I would light the flare. Everyone would be watching behind me now, I paddled a full kilometre before stopping for a rest.??My shoulders and back were just screaming, didn’t want to look like the tool stretching on the deck before I went in and now I was paying the price. I laid face first on the board with my hands hanging limply straight down and just sucked in the big ones. Pretty soon when I started closing my eyes I was seeing images of sharks. Stupid mechanical scenes from Jaws at first but then, more visceral footage of white pointers in full flight, black eyes rolled back breaking the surface with water filling their mouths. Pink flesh framed in jagged white razors. I kept going. Down this low in the water it was only now that I saw the first sets breaking properly, it was a suprising sight.??It became clear now that from the ship we were really only seeing the left hand ride of the wave, and it was an average foamball bombie routine. This wave was actually a true righthander. As the next set tipped past breaking point I could make out the thickness of a cascading lip that fell slowly at first and then raced along before ending abruptly in deep water. The wave form moved on, shrugging the surface foam away and then shifting off again into deeper water, a cresting shape at first like the bow wave of some leviathan just below the surface and then a mere ripple as it passed back over the abyss into the deep Pacific. I started focusing on paddling for the right spot, with 2 kilometres to get it right it was unforgivable to be caught inside... but I still managed to do it. I was cursing myself for drifting too far across the reef between the sets. A dark shape of a wave shifted under the water and began lifting towards me, it teetered to the left and then a little to the right as it felt 'land' for the first time since it spawned off the Aleutians. Then it speed right for me. 100 metres away the crest broke and the sound genuinely frightened me, I was suprised how far ahead of the wave the spray was shooting. I was hoping that the wave would just reform but with less energy and then pass unbroken towards me but it wasn’t to be. The entire face, 100 metres across closed out in one dissolving wall of foam, maxing out the reef. What really caught me was the speed at which the wave was moving towards me. Coming straight from the deep ocean there had been no continental shelf or fringing reef to slow it down, it was breaking on the peak of a mountain and I was in the way.??The concept of trying to dive under this wall just didn’t even cross my mind. I thought about bailing but was almost certain I would snap my leash. I was always impressed by surfers that 'knew' when the time came to take off your legrope and dive under a wave as deeply as you could. I had never done it before, just found it hard to weigh up the 20 minutes of trying to find my board as opposed to the 30 second gut kicking under the wave. Looking back on it there were a few times I probably should have slipped my leash but instead I took the mother of all hidings that left me close to death, out of breath with saltwater leaking down into my throat..fingers tingling... ??Instead, on this occasion am much as it shames me to admit it, I turned around in the water like a spastic duck and paddled to catch the foam. I couldn’t' feature the speed of this wave at all. Barely had my hand entered the water to start paddling and it was on me, over me...and around me like a fist. I had been basically still in the water and now 10 feet of 30 knots of foam was blasting me. Before I knew what had happened I felt the board nosedive 'underwater' and flick me forward. Flailing through the aerated foam into the cool depths, so strange that the water gets so cold right under the surface on the Equator.??My mind raced, I saw my hands passing uselessly in front of my face as I rolled deep underwater. My vest peeled opened under the pressure and the sudden relief I felt to the side of my chest was the flare being sucked out into the maelstrom. Instinctively my left hand shot out but there was only water. The flare would float but I knew I would never find it again after this. I think it was probably a subconscious thought of what happened last night but I swore I heard that old boom box on the bottom of the ocean pounding out Tusk. Surely it still couldn’t be playing? This was shaping up as one of those times I probably should have slipped my leash. I broke surface by chance and knew I was off the reef into the safety of deeper water, the foam faded behind me as the wave steamed off south. Another set hit in front but I was safe here, in fact I was in the best position on the planet to watch it. Smaller than the first but a perfect size for the reef, I sat on my board to take it all in. The black water wobbled into focus like before but now the wave kept shape and tripped on a single atom of reef, the left faded off sharply as always but the right curled over slowly, shredding itself into a square. The barrel breathed twice, pulses of air and foam ejecta spraying out across a glossy face before speeding up into a long cylinder the colour of beaten lead, then abruptly ceasing in the channel. Not, 'shutting down' ceasing but just stopping. I pictured a surfer of twice my ability exiting the barrel at that point at tremendous speed, the wave stopped in it’s tracks behind them as their board chattered over the glossy ocean, washing off the speed for a good 20 metres before they sunk back down into the water.??I watched another few sets go past and found a few markers. A near constant patch of surface foam that was 5 feet from the take off, a slight boil 10 feet to the left of the peak. There was a random disturbance behind the peak that made my heart jump. I felt the emptiness in my vest and remembered that my flare was gone, there were no chances left...no lifelines. It was after 0800, Wash would be up soon and the Buffer would tell him I had gone surfing. It wouldn't take him long to get nervous at how the ship was riding at anchor, the swell was clearly getting bigger. It had to be now.??I paddled out to the spot and ran through how I wanted this to go. The takeoff looked fine but I was always going to struggle to get enough speed and projection on my forehand out of that bottom turn, that was just me. I opted to go for a set line on takeoff, I was on an eight footer so I planned on staying well forward through the first barrel and then moving back to get some weight over the fins and control my passage in the longer tube section. It would have been great to run through it one more time but there was no time left. The bowhead of a massive set lifted ahead of me. I wasn't going to get cleaned up this time but I had to fight hard not to over react and paddle too far past it. The wave started to break well to my right as the foamball left turned on a straighthander. I pushed the nose through a thick unbroken wall and felt the cool power wash through me. On the other side now I scannnd the horizon carefully. It was tricky to focus at first but the next set was almost on top, it had a perfect shape. The passage of the previous cleaner had dipped the water level momentarily on the reef and now this wave had just enough angle on it to sheer perfectly against the bombie. It looked like 10 feet as it felt the bottom. I put everything I had left into the paddle, the face was rising in front of me but it was still very flat, I couldn’t risk moving any further forward so just kept stroking. As I pushed up onto my elbows and stopped I though it could have gone either way at that point, but then I felt something. It was gentle at first but then I felt the speed. I popped up and moved forward immediately, it was a strange view from up here, to my left I saw the distant ship at anchor, the sun framing it in glare. A few boils from the previous set rolled up near the nose of my board as I cut across them. The right hander just wasn’t there, it was as though I was only on a very long sloping ramp with the next piece of land 1000 miles away. The speed was all consuming. I started a few little turns around the face, throwing around an incredible amount of spray. It was only when I heard a massive discharge to my left that I focused. We were right on top of the reef now and the wave was breaking like every other set I had seen. I was cursing myself for those stupid, pointless turns, I had wasted all that speed that I knew I was going to need. Had to go back to the plan, I trimmed high, set a long line and put some pressure forward. My speed picked up but there was no weight over the fins now, I was stuck on this line. The discharge behind me became a constant roaring boom, the heavy section of the lip was unloading now and I sensed I was in the shadow of it. Ahead of me the gentle curve of the face began to steepen. I could never resist putting my hand in the face just a little when it was like this, although I knew slowing down was the last thing I wanted to do. Then, I just stood there and waited to see what would happen. Through dumb luck I had ended up in the pocket...the sensation of water rushing overhead..sound of massive impact to my left...surface tension breaking down to my right...almond of light in front of me. A few seconds later I realised I had forgotten to step back and I would not be able to turn well if I needed to. As deep as I had ever been now I caught sight of an imperfection in the face of the wave around 10 metres ahead of me. I knew that if I moved my feet now I would blow it so I pushed on. The imperfetion became a boil and then that boil became a ridge of backwash inside the barrel ahead of me. I hit it at speed and felt the board and fins disengage for a fraction of a second. It was as though someone had turned the volume down...changed the channel, just the sound of the internal mechanics of the wave as it ratcheted over the reef, free of my interference. I landed a heartbeat later and lost my balance immediately, my back leg collapsed at my knee with a sharp twinge, I didn't realise it at the time but I wouldn't be able to put pressure on that knee for another week, my head dipped into the back of the wave. I pulled back to the centre but couldn’t see a thing. Waiting for the inevitable thumping there was a massive gust of foam from somewhere behind me. Vision cleared to reveal that the airburst had stained the barrel ahead of me in white flecks, it was a beautiful sight and it gave me cause to study the face of the wave intently, and so it was that when the foam cleared and the innards of the face returned to a flawless azure it was like looking through a lens. The black outline of the reef rippled along beside me, cruel basalt once covered in earth and trees a thousand metres in the air that had saved the ancients now rifling along beneath my board. I couldn't take my eyes off it, and the second that I started to pick up the outline of a mountain...a ridge, a sunken valley, the fist closed around me again, this time for good. Air became stinging saltwater in an instant as my vision failed and the beating engine of the wave consumed me. I popped up quickly, easily. A few strokes later I was in the safety of the channel. Behind me now the wave shuffled off into deeper water, I saw it reconnect with the swell line it had been briefly separated from. There was a slight wobble in the section, testament to my encounter but it would soon be forgotten, leveled off and averaged out as it descended into the blue.??For a second I wondered if anyone saw what had just happened and I shot a glance towards the boat, she was still at distant anchor but there was something closer, the seaboat was on its way. ‘Wash’ must have been up and predictably wanted to get underway. I had never wanted to catch ‘just one more wave’ in my life but before I could paddle around the reef the boat was there and they were waving frantically. I paddled over as the crew cautiously motored towards me. "Boss wants you onboard Nav, he's pissed."I shot a glance out to the peak, it was mid set, the water calm but stirring amongst the foam flecks. The meaty thrum of the seaboat’s outboard echoed through my chest cavity...and I knew it was over. I slipped my leash and passed my board up before hauling myself inboard. The boat heading back to the ship at full speed, plaining up on the mirror finish surface. We tore up the distance that had taken me so long to paddle in a few minutes. I thought back to where I had rested to catch my breath as the boathook came down and winched us onboard. On deck I could feel the ship riding the swell now. Wash was on the bridge in his filthy, stinking fishing shirt shaking his head at me, I didn’t care. He was later to go bezerk and scream at me for going surfing in the middle of the ocean without 'final permission'. I thought about asking to see a definition of 'final permission' as opposed to 'permission' in his order book but thought better of it. Besides, the troops loved to see an Officer getting boned in and I couldn’t take that away from Wash. I could never hate him for what he had unwillingly helped me to do.We pulled up the anchor and sailed for Pohnpei, I stood there dripping on the deck, the metal heating up beneath me. My right knee was already swelling up but it was a dull ache. As we got underway I heard a massive booming somewhere behind me, like some enormous music. Everyone was turning around to look at it, even the non surfers were pointing in fascination. I knew what it was, it was the reef unloading again, I should have still been out there..

…I couldn’t bring myself to turn to look back at it…

…a single cloud passed across the face of the sun…

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