The ferry bound for Flores left from the small fishing village of Pelabuhan Sape and we all caught dokkas (small motorized carts) down to the harbour from the town centre in Sape. Pelabuhan Sape was a tranquil collection of stilt houses with a backdrop of still water and hazy hills. We boarded the ferry, which had a very small area of seats and it was crowded with Indonesians and a good number of tourists as well.
The water across which we travelled was very strange. It was flat and calm and the water was the colour of obsidian with the same sheen and textures. Upwellings boiled to the surface and whirlpools contorted the water where currents rippled and roiled between patches of millpond calm water.
About 2:30 pm as we set a course through a maze of dry, steep hills, Thierry saw a small boat capsize. Our ferry turned about and steamed over to where 20 or so people with clinging, terrified, to the upturned hull of the boat. The ferry nosed against the boat and the survivors were brought on board. Several were resuscitated by a German woman who was a nurse. A small child was dead and two others were almost so.
Apparently, the boat was capsized by a whirlpool and one person had been sucked down. It was not the first time a boat had sunk in that area, which was known as Three Rocks after three pinnacles of rock protruding from the sea nearby and around which a fierce rip current was running.
About an hour later, after we had dropped some people off at Komodo Island, we sailed back past the Three Rocks where the current was so strong that the engines of the ferry could only hold it in one position for several minutes before slowly inching forward out of the rip.
There was no trace of the capsized boat…
We arrived and Labuhan Bajo at 8:30 pm and made our way wearily up to the Losman Shea Felix where we met two other guys from the ferry: Dub, who was from Holland, and Dan, a New Yorker.
FOOTNOTE: We will meet Dan again in New York in 1994 when we set off on our next set of adventures. But that is another story…