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It is a truth known among seafarers that life on a boat either forges the strongest of friendships, or breaks them. Nothing tests character like being confined in a hull while withstanding the whims of the sea in foul weather. Even in fair weather, people’s fine points and flaws share deck space equally. Some will jump ship, but others will find themselves wondering if it’s just a coincidence that ‘ship’ is tacked onto ‘friend’ to make friendship.

Words by Keri Algar // Photography by Steve Arklay //  Illustration by Kat Charles
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Five years ago Darty offered to help Undies, and wife Jude, refit their 23m ex-prawn trawler for use as a charter boat in Papua New Guinea, “a full-fledged remote surf weapon,” as he puts it. He figured he’d stick around for a couple of trips, but here is another truism about a sailor’s plans: they’re written in the sand at low tide. One barrel led to the next and before Darty knew it, he’d traded his building company in Australia for a life aboard the Explorer. From the start it’s been a family affair with Jude cooking up a storm as chef for the first couple of years, followed by Undies’ sister, and now Darty’s cousin is looking forward to her second season in the galley, loving the fresh produce and abundant seafood. Such is the case with Darty and Undies.

 

“It’s not too cheesy, oh, it’s a little bit cheesy,” admits Darty, as he talks about what it’s like to live, work and surf alongside his captain aboard the PNG Explorer.

“He’s an awesome captain and he’s also just a really good bloke to be around. It’s unreal, I get to surf epic waves in the middle of nowhere with someone I love going surfing with. I froth out going surfing with Undies. He’s one of those guys whose like an out of control staffy, racing around all over the joint, always amping. Even in pretty average waves you end up having a really fun surf with someone like that.”

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“It’s amazing…we all get along! In my experience that’s a really rare thing. I think everyone knows the feeling of not getting along with the people you are working or living with. If you didn’t get along up here it would be totally shit. It’s not to say we’re laughing and smiles all day, but we’re respectful, and all bring different things to the table. I feel like the luckiest bloke around, that’s not me being flippant either. I love what I do, and I love the people I do it with. That’s fuckin’ epic.”

Running a business in PNG is no mean feat, and the Explorer is the country’s only surf charter vessel. PNG is like one of those edgy African nation states that remain untamed and unstable, which is of course its charm, especially for Darty who has done his laps around the world.

“It’s fluid, in a constant state of change. Life at home in Oz is great, but it feels predictable and set, all very safe and padded softly, lots of rules and regulations. Life in PNG just isn’t like that. My mate says that it’s not the land of the unbelievable, it’s the land of the unexplainable. Culturally amazing and backward or forward or sideways…then you add water to the mix and it’s epic.”

Life at sea is already wildly dynamic, but life at sea in PNG is something else. In such a remote corner of the world, maritime support networks are limited, there are very few yachts cruising and no other charter boats or surfers to chew the fat with. No phone calls, messages or forecasting websites to suss out where the waves are. It’s up to Undies and Darty to work it out.

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“We get along really well because his strengths are not mine and vice versa, so it’s a good mix where we compliment each other. In the end we seem to be able to find epic waves on an epic boat.”

Darty recalls one particular wave from last season, one that stands out from all the rest.

“It was a wicked day. We were on day three or four of a trip and it had been pumping so everyone was rooted. There was a lunch time session with no one surfing. Undies and I went out just for a quick houry that turned into two hours then three hours then four hours, and eventually into a five-hour barrel fest. It was offshore, and probably five-foot with the odd six-foot set—surfing the slab, that real heavy right-hander…it was filth.”

“We’d been getting that many good barrels—at least a dozen good kegs each—and then I caught the first one of this pretty big set that came in, it was not a bad little barrel but nothing special. I turn around to see Undies take off on a absolute bomb set wave, big double up in it. I was just screaming from the channel to go. He airdrops to the bottom and just stands into a massive keg. He reckons it was the best wave he’s ever caught. And I was definitely there to see it from prime view in the channel. Everyone’s had that view before, right into the barrel where they can almost high five their mate. It was wicked.”

“I think he was as surprised as I was that he’d actually made it to the bottom and stood into it. Standing tall in it. Fuck it was sick. Like absolutely filth keg.”

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“This wave, for Undies, it was the culmination of years of work building the business in PNG, providing for family, putting everything on the line for the chance to surf these epic waves with no one else about.

“Yeah, there’s something to be said about how nice is to be able to share the stoke at the end of the day.”

“I got asked not that long ago what was the best wave I’ve had this season. It’s been an awesome season of waves—we’ve had seven months of just swell after swell…just cooking. I don’t know why, but that was just the first wave that came to mind, it wasn’t even a wave I caught, it just put me in the right position to see a really good mate get the best wave of his life, and I was there to hoot him. He was just so stoked that there was someone to see it because no one would believe it otherwise, it was just an awesome moment.”

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To have a peek at more of Steve Arklay’s goods, head here where he keeps a tidy portfolio. Keri Algar chronicles her adventures and shenanigans over at her Unstuck Travel blog and for more of Kat’s splendid creations, be sure to check out her creative space here