The passengers and crew of Putra Siamang had seen little of the Greek on deck before the storm. It wasn’t until the ship began to break up under them that they saw him rushing around the deck attempting to make some order out of chaos. The Greek had not been pleased with the trading schooner from the moment he stepped aboard in Batavia, nor was he in favor of the half-cast Portuguese captain and his dozen Javanese crew. The ship was terribly overcrowded and unseaworthy. The Greek knew it was a bad choice to book passage aboard the trader but he had no other option: there were no other vessels sailing to Ayutthaya.
In addition to her captain and crew, the supercargo and her six cabin passengers, Putra Siamang sailed under the Dutch flag with something like sixty deck passengers-Javanese, Malays, Chinese and Siamese, men, women and children, each with their sleeping mats, pandanus sacks filled with clothing, to say nothing of bundles of food stuff.
Nevertheless, it had started as a promising voyage.
Their first port-of-call after leaving Batavia was to be Songkau, a seaport in southern Siam. The King of Siam had opened Songkau to trade and, in less than a decade, she had grown rich and prosperous. Chinese merchants came down from the Chinese mainland, Arab traders from Muscat and Dubai, and Muslim immigrants from Java and other islands in the Dutch East Indies, all eager to engage in trade and, with some, desirous to make new homes for themselves. The Portuguese captain, seeing the chance to make a bit of profit for himself, overloaded the vessel in Batavia; all the same when they set sail, no one had cause for complaint, neither the regular cabin passengers nor the sixty-five deck passengers either. All had begun well and, at most, it was only a seven days passage to Songkau. There the deck passengers would disembark and much of the cargo would be unloaded.
But Putra Siamangwas overloaded, terribly. She was only seventy tons and the captain had no right to carry the mob on board that he did. Beneath her hatches she was jammed with trade goods for the Siamese market. Even the chart room was packed full with cargo. It was a miracle that the Javanese could work her. There was no moving around on decks, and to get about they had to climb back and forth along the rigging.
At night time they were forced to walk upon the sleepers who carpeted the deck, two deep. There were also chickens and a number of goats on deck, plus sacks of durians, while every conceivable space was festooned with strings of drinking coconuts and bunches of rambutans and bananas. On both sides, between the fore and main shrouds, lines had been stretched, just low enough for the fore boom to swing clear. From these lines at least fifty bunches of bananas were suspended.
The tiny ship was also pushing the southeast monsoon to its limit. The season was near its end and, once the northeast winds began blowing, it would be a difficult, if not an impossible passage to make. Sailing ships never fought the northeast monsoon. The loading of cargo in Batavia had taken longer than expected. Time was against them.
In the beginning the southeast monsoon had little wind and they could only ghost along. Then, after three days, the winds died away in a dozen or so gasping breaths. The calm continued for the next four days-with a glaring sun overhead and a glassy calm sea beneath-and thirst became constant with everyone aboard. But the very thought of drinking foul tepid water from leather goatskin sacks was nauseating. The drinking coconuts had long since been consumed.