Long periods of sustained hard blowing wind isn’t something common to the jungle. The predictable mid afternoon thunder storms that sweep in from the east during the transition between seasons bring hard blowing winds but last only only till the storm blows through.
Aas noted in previous posts the dry season wind which is really just a steady breeze tries to get going in August but tends to die down again till December when the dry season really gets going. These light but steady breezes very much affect the navigation on the bigger rivers.
Keeping a heavily loaded rig in the channel of a wide and shallow river in the dry season is hard and challenging work. Mostly you know where to steer by reading what the water is saying on the surface. The water on the surface is always reacting to the rocks, snags and sand on the bottom and will tell you what’s down there and how deep the water is. If that dry season breeze is blowing however, it’s kind of like a person sitting outside reading a book and the breeze keeps blowing the pages around. The same principle comes into play with reading the water. The breeze blowing over the water’s surface makes reading it more difficult.
So on a breezy dry season day the guy standing on the prow of a jungle rig, guiding the pilot to the deepest water not only must read the water but he must contend with the distortions that even a very light breeze adds to the mix. Getting it right is of utmost importance! Running up on a sand bar might be more of an inconvenience than a disaster but hitting a rock could easily ruin your propellor or even knock a hole in the boat itself. If you happen to be the guy standing on the prow of that boat carefully nosing it’s way upstream in late December you have a couple of tools to help you plot the safest course for the rig and the precious cargo on board till you finally pull into that tiny cluster of dirt and thatch homes perched on the river bank far, far upstream.
Fist and most important you have eyes to see what’s happening on the surface. You also have a long, light weight, sounding pole which helps you gauge the depth of the water. Working against you is that breeze which messes up what the river is trying to tell you by distorting the reading on the surface. Also not helping matters is the horrendous glare and shimmer of the tropical sun off the water’s surface. As if that weren’t enough, the reality is that in some places there is no deep channel anywhere.
Of course it’s a given that you know where to go in a general sense. An example would be knowing which side of an island to head for and where the big sand bars are. These details don’t usually change from year to year although it’s not good to assume too much. The stronger the current the harder your outboard has to work as it pushes your rig up the river. But that same current is invaluable to you because without it you wouldn’t know what’s there under the surface. It’s the water’s reaction to what it flows over on the bottom which makes it readable on the surface. Sometimes there will be a little deeper channel on the back side of an island or prominent sand bar where there isn’t much current. In such places the transition from that little stretch of deeper water to the inevitable shallows beyond can be tricky. If there is almost no current you won’t see that sand bar just under the surface and you’ll run right up on it. A Previous post tells the story of how this writer in just such a place ran full throttle up on a sand bar about an inch under the surface with a motorized dugout. All of the people on board and all the cargo went flying forward. If I remember right the guy on the prow went flying into the river, I at the back ended up in the bilge and the guys in the middle of the boat crashed forward smashing a big aluminum cooking pot. Nobody got hurt but if we’d run up on a rock the outcome would have been less amusing. A word of explanation as to why those who navigate the jungle rivers depend on the surface to tell them what’s on the bottom rather than just looking down through the water. Most, though not all, of the jungle rivers run with a chocolate color which means they carry a lot of silt. Fish thrive in these waters but it’s not so good for visibly peering through the water to see what’s on the bottom.
One final word. You can fast forward to the end of any book by reading the last chapter. The river however is a different kind of read folded between its green jungle covers that won’t allow you to fast forward to see how the story turns out. You can’t know if you’ve gotten safely home till you finally ease into port as your story comes to a close. Now you can finally rest easy because you’ve read the last chapter or in jungle jargon, you’ve read, “THE LAST BEND IN THE RIVER”.