Real Recognizes Real

Flippy Hoffman shows his colors offshore of a remote island in the Indian Ocean.

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In 1983, I was on an early boat trip in Indonesia with Walter and Flippy Hoffman, Pua Rochlen, Dick Beachum, John Creed, and Tim Watts. After a half day of sailing due south from the Port of Kupang, near the western tip of Timor, we anchored at Dana Island, just beyond the island of Rote. 

There was reportedly a fantastic wave there, rarely surfed because it was so remote. When we arrived, however, it was high tide and thus flat. Since we were investing a whole day in getting there and back, we hung around hoping to see at least some signs of what we’d heard about. 

The island was tiny, something like 4 acres total. Aside from a single rocky hump, there was a flat and sandy presence covered with salt grass, 12 feet high and 100 feet around. At the base of the hump was a low entrance. Inside was a hollow half-dome with headroom, and sticks jammed into the rock walls running on angles across the dome. We went in to check it out.

Up close, we noticed a shallow well dug at the low spot on the island, not far from the hump. In its bottom was an inch or two of dark, nasty water. Foul, but enough to keep you alive.

We marveled at the significance of this small patch of sand. In that vast ocean, it served as a source of freshwater and a place of rest for fishermen who ranged thousands of miles in small, open craft with hardly any creature comforts.

Flippy at the helm. Destination? The no-bullshit zone. See his right hand for coordinates. Photo by Jeff Divine.

Back onboard, we had begun motoring away when we were stunned by the sudden appearance of a small boat full of fishermen waving a shirt at us. Our captain, an Aussie who seemed good-natured, stopped the engine and, as they came near, threw them a line. He climbed over our railing to see what they wanted. After a few minutes, he came back up, threw off their line, and had started back for the wheel when Flippy asked what they’d wanted. 

The captain replied that they were after a can of gas for their outboard, having been without fuel for two weeks and unable to make any headway against the winds and tide.  

“Aren’t you going to give them the gas?” asked Flippy. 

“Fuck, no. If I did, every boat around would be coming at me for free gas. Fuck ’em.” 

“You’re going to leave the six of them floating out here in the current and wind with no motor and just that small rattan sail, all for five bucks’ worth of gas?” Flippy asked in a flat tone.

The captain just stared.

“The hell you are!” Flippy continued. “You fucking wave them over, get their fucking gas can, and fucking fill it. Or you’ll wish you fucking had!” 

That the captain did, and not another word was said about the matter.