Cruiser karma and gotong royong

Here in Bali, we are reminded again and again of the emphasis placed upon mutual aid: people helping each other out in a loose organization of community support known as gotong royong.

When a farmer’s rice paddies are ready to harvest, the job is too big for one person to do alone; left to the individual, the harvest could not be completed in time. Instead, neighboring farmers all help each other out, moving from one farmer’s paddies to another- the community together ensuring that everyone has the support that they need. The staggered planting (which provides for staggered water use) that paves the way for this system is all part of a bigger organization called the subak… but that’s another story.

This type of community help is also present in the local activities. Many hands pitch in, but the work isn’t necessarily paid. When we make plans to try and meet up with our friend Ketut, he has to work around his commitment to help the temple nearest his home with preparations for their odalan (a major ceremony that happens once per Balinese calendar year). He’s not paid for this, but as a senior member of the community, it’s part of an important role he plays and an understood commitment. This, too, embodies the spirit of gotong royong.

The cruising community isn’t dissimilar from the Balinese in this regard- at least, historically  although as some of our longer-cruising friends have noticed, there seems to be a shift away from the unspoken code that cruisers help each other out. It’s unfortunate. Some of my earliest memories, and one factor in the appeal I saw in this way of life revolve around such situations: the day we spent clustered in a cockpit in the upper reaches of the Sea of Cortez, trying to help a cruiser cobble together a needed part from some combination of materials on hand.

So when a fellow cruiser with a seized engine asked us to help tow them through the straits between Komodo and Flores, so they could break through the strong adverse current to the inland seas of Indonesia, we said yes.

Towing Sisiutl
Approaching the target

They were several months out of Darwin, and many weeks without an engine. They had paid for a tow into a small port on the south side of Flores to attempt some repair and (at least as importantly) some R&R. They weren’t in any danger, but they needed a break, and they needed some help.

Towing Sisiutl
Niall and Jamie, just after tossing the tow line across

I would like to say we always give without any expectation, but it’s not entirely true. It really wasn’t what we wanted to do. It was out of our way. We were already pressed to get to Bali for my flight back to the US, and only had three days to explore the park. Spending two of those towing a boat without compensation was not what we had in mind for those precious days.  But it was the right thing to do, and it’s part of our cruising code, our version of gotong royong.

Towing Sisiutl
Helping them get to the mooring off Komodo, on the way to Labuan Bajo

Not long after, we were made a stunning offer that reminds me that the universe was paying attention. On the path west towards Bali, we receive an email from friends at home with an amazing offer. Would we like to borrow their Iridium satellite phone? It is an open invitation, and a tremendously generous one. Wow- would we ever! Totem is an HF-radio centric boat, and on our Pacific crossing in 2010, the failure of our radio while we were partway from Mexico to the Marquesas gave some unexpected challenges (and a few worried family members). The family formerly known as the “Palomas” no longer needed this sat phone, but  from following our travels, they knew we could use it.

I am floored by their generosity, and incredibly grateful. While we still expect to be radio centric, we’ve long wanted to add a sat phone to the communications mix, especially as we begin to anticipate crossing Indian Ocean next year. We simply couldn’t afford it. And yet, there it was, offered with friendship and understanding. One member of the cruising family helping out another, without expectation. I take it as a lesson I shouldn’t question so much the little nick in our year that was dipping out of our way to tow a cruiser in need. It all comes around, right?

On the more practical side of things, we wrote about how to safely tow a boat in this month’s issue of 48 North, free online and from news stands in the Pacific Northwest.

5 Responses

  1. What a nice gesture to help those other cruisers out when you were short on time! Paying it forward didn’t take long to pay you back with that satellite phone.

    We hope that we’ll encounter cruisers as generous as the both of you, and we’ll do our best to help whenever we can. It makes the cruising world that much better!

  2. We have always found the sailing community so helpful. This is great example of how we depend on one another out there on the big blue oceans. So happy that you now have a sat phone. Ours is old, but wouldn’t go without it since we don’t use a Pactor modem.

    Stay safe and sail on. We will be on our way soon!

  3. What a great story, Behan! Glad to hear positive cruising karma cycle is alive and well. Thanks for sharing.

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