National Geographic : 1945 Jan
Seafarers of South Celebes Outboard Helmsmen Steer Mula Mulai with Bare Feet The two tillers, set at right angles to the rudders, point out like horns. A sleeping steersman drops in the sea. "Tillers pointing fore and aft are no good," said the skipper, "as then helmsmen sit in comfort on deck and sleep." ber to March, which brings heavy rain. These seasons are called the east and west monsoons. In the transition periods, around April and November, and in many of the islands even during the so-called "dry" season, there are light and variable winds and frequent thun derstorms. The change of the monsoons is not simultaneous everywhere. In the south of the archipelago, for instance, the duration of the east monsoon is longer, and that of the west monsoon shorter, than in the northern part. During the east monsoon the wind picks up fine particles of dust from the vast Aus tralian deserts and carries it far over the islands, so that distant views are hazy. But when the air has been washed by the rain of the west monsoon visibility is high. A few years after my voyage in the Mula Mulai, when I had a high-pooped Celebes prau of my own and was sailing in her off Soembawa, I saw a striking example of this high visibility. Shortly before sunset one day Rindjani, the great volcano on Lombok, ap peared in the west, outlined sharply against a light-green sky. The angular lines of Rin djani's distinctive silhouette were so clear that the volcano looked as if it were a small neigh- boring mountain instead of a 12,000-foot peak nearly a hundred miles away. Day and night for nearly two weeks the Mula Mulai struggled against the wind, work ing her way slowly eastward off the coast of south Celebes. Again and again sails were torn and rigging damaged. Usually they were repaired at sea; but twice, when one of the masts threatened to fall-it was continually working loose-Hadji Badong took his ship into one of the two sheltered bays on this coast. Before the pirates of the islands were driven from the seas, these inlets were among their most notorious haunts. One night, when some unusually steep seas were making the ship pitch with sharp jerks and I was being bounced around on the poop, I went amidships where the motion was less violent. I knelt and put my head down into a hatch. Coming up from the darkness I heard shouts and noises of things falling. Someone below managed to light a hurricane lantern, so I could see what had happened. Some loose planks of the 'tween decks where the crew slept had slipped out of place, and half a dozen sailors with their baggage and bedding had fallen to the bottom of the hold.