No Pain, No Gain

Thursday 20th Sept 2018

Hanging on, precariously against the messy seas and high winds, a masked booby taking a rest from the buffeting of these gusty conditions, perches on our dingy. I, in a similar state, sit huddled in the corner of the cockpit, his presence breaking the monotony of my night watch. The predawn sky gradually lightens to reveal another day of rough seas. The best thing that can be said about our passage from Lombok to Cocos Keeling is that it’s been fast, we covered the 1141nm in just a few hours over 6 days.

Masked Bobbie resting on the dingy

You would think that after 25,000nm, the milestone we reached a few days ago, that we would be better at reading weather forecasts and that we would realise that 12kts really means 8kts ie not enough to sail by, which is what we had for the first two days and that 20kts actually means well over 30kts, producing the rough seas that plagued us for the rest of the journey.

It’s not that these rough seas were scary, even as large waves loom over us, Raya copes with these conditions as if they are all in a days work but it is really uncomfortable. Eating and other essential tasks become difficult and sleeping is near on impossible. On our off watches we roam the boat, steadying ourselves between handrails, dragging a quilt, trying to find the best place to sleep in the current conditions. Some times diagonally across the main bed works, or perhaps wedged into a bunk bed with a lea cloth or maybe the best spot is in a nest of pillows on the sofa. Often there isn’t anywhere that works and it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to get what rest you can.

The captain clinging on while he catches up on some sleep

The big waves also brought us less welcome visitors. Flying fish flew on to the deck and into the cockpit in shoals, their frantic flapping leaving scales all over the place and making them impossible to pick up and throw back into the sea. One hit Rick square on the head, others bounced off the Bimini which must amazingly be 4 or 5m above their watery home, while others we found caught in the halyards on the mast.

We left Marina del Ray last Thursday for an anchorage away from the islands and pearl farms that surround Gili Gede to make for an easier get away the next day. We wanted to tackle the strait between Lombok and Bali in the lighter, early morning, breezes. It was still a challenge to avoid the worst of the overfalls but the 5kt current whisked us quickly out from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, we really are on our way home now. With only seven or so weeks left before the cyclone season hits this area and with nearly 5000nm to cover we will for the first time on this trip be sailing for as much as we are at anchor. As we watched the turbulent water around us, discussed whether it was worth fighting the elements to make a cup of tea or sat through a chilly, drizzly night, the prospect of weeks at sea didn’t really appeal.

However this morning the sea had calmed a little and with just 10nm to go we spotted the last of the Oyster rally fleet leaving the atoll of the South Keeling Islands. Our spirits rose as we chatted on the radio to our friends on True Blue who gave us their top tips for enjoying our stay. And as we rounded Direction Island and entered the lagoon we were greeted with clear, calm, turquoise seas and three small black tip sharks. We were promptly checked in by the friendly Cocos Keeling police, washed our salt covered decks and drank our ‘got here beer’. This life’s not so bad, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Motoring in to the lagoon off Direction Island

Lombok, Marina del Ray

Thursday 13th September 2018

As we secure the last few lockers, finish a raft of maintenance and cook enough meals for a week at sea, around us the marina has emptied of Oyster rally boats and then refilled with boats from the World ARC.

Raya and 20 World ARC yachts.

Making the best use we could of the few quiet days between the rallies, we managed to refuel, get the laundry completed and take a trip into town to provision. Town is the capital of Lombok, Mataran, which is 20miles and an hour and a half drive away.

This was not a prospect we relished with memories of the hot bumpy rides we have had so far in Indonesia. Saturdays journey started with a short boat ride over to the mainland and here we immediately realised Lombok was a bit different from the other islands. The ever present scooter drivers were actually wearing helmets, our driver put on his seat belt and the road was smooth, newly laid tarmac. The views from the window however were chaotically similar. The first third of the journey we wound around the turquoise coast dotted with a few small resorts and passed through ramshackle villages and farms.

Farm buildings for cattle and goats

We entered a more built up area, a beggar sat on a stool in the middle of the road, perilously close to the traffic, school children filled the pavements and horse and carts risked life and limb cantering between the cars and scooters. We crossed a tumble down bridge in the middle of being replaced, mosques appeared around every corner and as we entered the city rice paddy fields incongruously filled the land between buildings

Schools out, half days on Saturday

We turned into a large car park and suddenly the noise and bedlam of Mataram disappeared. The large, western style shopping centre, shiny, quiet and modern felt like it had been dropped from outer space. It took a moment to get over the culture shock and then it was straight to the supermarket to stock up for the next couple of weeks.

Water taxi delivered us and our shopping back to the marina

With all the boats on the dock there has been a friendly atmosphere, everybody helping each other out. We were recommended a restaurant over the hill. A short walk, with a steep section over rubble and mud, followed by a badly crumbling path but it was well worth the effort. Perched on a slope, draped in bougainvillea it was completely charming, the food was good and the prices reasonable. Just don’t forget your torch for the walk back!

Crumbling path to the restaurant

And so our Indonesian foray comes to and end, we have after a few days of delays our exit papers and tomorrow we will set off on the first leg across the Indian Ocean. We should reach the remote atoll of Cocos Keeling in 6-7 days time.

Volcano Adventures

Friday 7th September 2018

pBrightly painted wooden boats sit underneath the volcanoes on the dark black sand

We have arrived in a Gili Gede, an island in the South West of Lombok and are tied up in the half completed Marina del Ray. After over a week of day hop sailing, covering 300nm and 2 months with just the odd drop of rain. It feels good to not be rushing off at the crack of dawn, to be able to sleep with the anchor alarm turned off and to get some fresh water to wash down the decks.

All the islands from Java to Timor make up a volcanic arc that sits on the boundary of the Australian and South East Asian tectonic plates. Being on the extreme western edge of the so called ring of fire, a geologically active area that surrounds the pacific, it has active volcanoes and suffers from frequent earthquakes. Unfortunately demonstrated by the strong recent quakes in the north of Lombok Island that sadly killed around 500 people. Thankfully we haven’t been effected and nor has the south of the island where the marina is located, so we continue on as planned feeling that the best way to support the island is to visit and spend our tourist pounds. We sail past hundreds of cone shaped peaks, some rising to over 3000m straight from the sea.

Gunung Sangeang

Leaving Komodo our route took us along the north coast of Sumbawa. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, in the shadow of the huge volcano that is the Island of Sangeang , sits the village of Wera. A centre for traditional boat building it appeared that the whole village was on or around the black sand beach, either building, repairing, playing with or sailing boats. The boats are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, made entirely from wood and ranged from the kids built toy boats, through the common long boats, up to a 30m long fishing boat. As we walked along the sand, regrettably again dodging piles of rubbish, we were mobbed by hundreds of children and encouraged by the obviously proud boatmen to photograph their handiwork.

Traditional boat being built in Wera

Continuing our journey we spent one night in Karanga. As the early morning haze began to clear it offered us a backdrop dominated by Gunung Tambora, the volcano that in 1815 erupted with such force that it filled the air with clouds of dust. This dust spread across the planet and was so thick it partially blocked out the sun, plunging the world into “a year without summer”.

Unfortunately a swim in the green seawater lake nearby, in the Caldera of Saltode Island, wasn’t possible, the anchorage was too rough to risk leaving Raya or dinging ashore. We moved on to the island of Moyo and managed a snorkel and a visit to the beach but the continuing choppy seas thwarted our plans to eat at the resort across the bay.

It was time to find a calmer anchorage and a more tranquil spot couldn’t have been wished for. Hidden behind a sand spit at the marvellously named Potapaddu Bay we found still water.

Raya anchored in the calm of Potapaddu Bay

We had a pleasant snorkel on the coral wall on the outside of the spit and as the afternoon wore on fishing boats started to appear from the village. Eventually they overcame their shyness and came across to say hello and see if we had any gifts. And we did. We had read that the villagers of Sumbawa were very poor but Wera had been too crowded to start giving out things and at Karanga it was a bit rough. The half dozen boats that crowded around us here were much more manageable. We gave away T-shirts, fishing hooks and line, toys and the ever in demand pens and paper. However the most popular gift was perfume. Penny had bought with her two boxes of tiny perfume samples and when we demonstrated what they were and let them smell my wrist, their expressions of delight was a picture. For your Istri (wife) we told them, giggling they added them to their stash of goodies .

With only a few days left of Penny and Stephens holiday we needed to push on and our next challenge was the narrow strait between Sumbawa and Lombok. We had another early start to try to get as far through the passage as possible before the winds filled in. We stayed as close to land as we could winding through the small islands and reefs, Mount Randi towering over Lombok in the distance. As we entered the channel for real, Penny was first to spot the overfalls, with 20kts of wind against us and 5kts of tide with us we knew eventually we would have problems and a line of white on the horizon was fair warning. We avoided as much of the turbulence as we could but eventually decided that 3hrs more of this discomfort wasn’t worth it and dived into a deep bay to spend the night before venturing on early the next morning.

Mid-morning we enter the protected natural harbour at Alang, heading for the lovely beach at the Ekas anchorage. We were glad we had entered in good light the bay was full of fishing platforms, apparently they are farming lobsters. An intense half hour ensued as we gradually worked our way through the hazards.

The beach here is named Heaven Beach and despite a rather difficult dingy landing, there is a surf break here, we had a pleasant stroll. High on the cliffs sat a small resort that was a one hour drive to the airport, so it seemed a good place to drop Penny and Stephen.

Heaven Beach, Ekas, Lombok

While they enjoyed a day of spa treatments before their long trip home we pushed on to Gili Gede. Again we had to face a tough sail, this time the channel between Bali and Lombok. For two hours we fought against a 5kt current but although frustratingly slow at least this time the waves were behind us.

We arrived at the marina in high winds to a chaos of Oysters, the Oyster rally were preparing to leave. We dropped the anchor for the night, it would be easier to tie up in the morning after most of fleet had departed. Ashore we had a quick catch up with our Oyster friends, we may see them again briefly in Cocos Keeling.

Komodo,

Friday 31st August 2018

Wednesday morning we got up at daybreak and armed with just water and our cameras we went to find our guide to go dragon hunting. Komodo National Park is home to the infamous komodo dragons, a giant lizard of the monitor family they can grow up to 3m in length and weigh up to 90kg. They kill their prey in a particularly grizzly way. Laying in wait they ambush their victims by hiding in the undergrowth, they attack using their large clawed front feet and sharp shark like teeth. If their prey escapes this first onslaught the dragon retreat and watch, their saliva contains a rich mix of bacteria, so most bites become fatally infected. The dragon stays close by until the casualty slowly fades and becomes too weak to defend themselves, at which point the dragon strikes again. They are carnivores and will attack large water buffalo, deer, wild pigs, smaller dragons and occasionally humans. It is recommended not to explore the islands without a guide.

Male Komodo dragons collected around the Rangers housing

Having picked Penny and Stephen up from the airport Monday afternoon, the next morning we left Labuan Bajo and wound are way through the countless reefs and islands that make up the west coast of Flores. We anchored down a narrow creek, Loh Buaya on Rinca Island. There is a Rangers station here where you can pay your park fees and join guided tours to see the dragons. We booked in for an early morning walk the next day and then settled on deck to watch the chaos of tourist boats that crowd into every available space, everyone in search of that komodo dragon moment.

Tourist boats fill every available space

As the sun dropped and the bay thinned out, a dingy safari revealed the Island was home to much more than the dragons. We spotted the bright turquoise of a kingfisher perched in the mangroves, a large heron waded in the shallows, birds of prey soared above the hills, a couple of deer wandered through a clearing and monkeys foraged and squabbled on the sandbanks.

At 6.30 the next morning as we followed the path from the dock to the Rangers station, more monkeys skitter across our path, a large water buffalo wallows in a small almost dry water hole and deer graze under the trees. Water buffaloes struggle during the dry season as there is little water around and no fresh grass . The whole island was in fact very dusty and brown, the only green provided by the trees growing in the valleys. Dried river beds snaked along beside our path and scorched hills towered above us.

Penny and Stephen on the parched hills of Rinca Island

We met our guide and armed with only an ineffectual looking forked stick, he leads us off in search of dragons. This turned out to be easier than expected, despite assuring us that they didn’t feed the dragons a group of about seven lolled, labrador like, in a cluster outside the Rangers housing. This of course guarantees that everybody gets to see a dragon and is an easy place to snap some photos, but it is difficult to accept they are not encouraging them to stick close by in some way. Luckily, during our 2hr walk, we also saw a young male stomping through the undergrowth and a female guarding her huge nest. Easily visible were two hollows, one a decoy nest, the eggs, up to about ten, were laid in the larger hollow which was about 3m long and 2m deep and were covered with soil and leaves to protect them during the 8 month long incubation period.

Female dragon guarding her nest

Returning to Raya the creek was beginning to fill up again, we motored off to find a quieter bay and do some snorkelling, as the National Park is also renowned for its crystal clear waters and stunning coral. We have had some marvellous snorkelling in Indonesia and off the north coast of Komodo Island and again off Banta Island the reefs didn’t disappoint. Especially impressive here was the amazing variety of soft corals and brightly coloured sponges. In the exceptional visibility and midday sun the extensive coral garden at Banta was stunning.

Coral gardens off Banta aisland

There is however a continuing problem with plastic rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. It is a tragedy that some of clearest waters we have experienced are also the most polluted.

Labuan Bajo

Sunday 26th August 2018

Sitting in a calm bay, with hardly a ripple to disturb us, this anchorage is perfect to spend a week catching up on paperwork, doing some regular maintenance and preparing for our next guests, my sister Penny and husband Stephen. We have arrived in Labuan Bajo, a once small town on the west coast of Flores. It has grown rapidly over the last ten years or so, to support the tourist trade centred around trips to nearby Komodo Island with its giant lizards and the amazing diving that is available in the clear waters and coral drop offs. It has an airport, crowds of backpackers and hundreds of tour operators.

Traditional style phinisi awaiting the next group of tourists.

We originally sailed to a bay south of the town and near the entrance to the harbour. The Puri Sari Beach Hotel opposite the anchorage has set itself up as the go-to place for visiting yachts, helping with everything from laundry to organising transport into town. They have a small pool you can use and a nice restaurant. However we found the bay rather busy, a constant stream of passing tourist boats churn up the murky water, the dark sand beach and water are strewn with rubbish and there is no dock for easy crew pick up.

So we have moved a few miles north to Wae Cicu Beach, a pretty curve of sand backed by more resorts but there is less traffic, there are dingy docks available and the water is clean enough for a cooling swim.

Raya anchored in Wae Cicu Bay

Ashore an unfinished road curves steeply up and down the coastal hills. The streets are full of overloaded trucks with precariously perched cargos, a selection of cars most of which are way past their best, rickety buses and a million scooters dodging between it all. A trip into town is a hair-raising experience. I hold my breath as I watch a tiny girl trying to cross the road, a group of old ladies stumble as they tackle the uneven, half completed pavements and to further confuse things a school band marches across the junction. Noise, heat, dust and a strong smell of drains.

Downtown Labuan Bajo

Despite all this we rather like Labuan Bajo, it has a friendly feel and everyone has been incredibly helpful. The market, a bit out of town and off the tourist map, was very ‘local’, large bags of rice and other unidentifiable grains line the entrance, a buzz of flies comes from the fresh fish stalls, rows of clothes and plastic goods fill makeshift shops and the fruit and veg stalls are bursting with goods. I swoop on a pile of broccoli, a rare delicacy for us and fill my bags with melons, mangoes, tomatoes and much more.

We have also managed to find some high quality diesel and someone set up to bring it out to us. Fabio, a ‘cool cat’ with long hair and flashy sunglasses, with some helpers came to Raya, his boat piled high with Jerry cans, he pumped 500l through a filter and into our tanks

Unfortunately, it would seem that was not the only thing they delivered, the next morning I found a small snake on the galley floor. After much girly squealing Rick came to my rescue and trapping him under a bowl tipping him overboard. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a rather good swimmer because today he reappeared, washed out of a deck drain on the swim deck as we cleaned the stern. Rick caught him again and this time flung him with the boat hook about fifty metres away. We watched incredulously as immediately he swam back to us. We then tried to get him to stay in a bucket so we could take him into shore but he was getting rather cross and aggressive, unsure of his identity we sadly felt we had no choice but to dispatch him more permanently.

An unwelcome and determined visitor

Still squirming slightly and convinced snakes would appear from every crack, it was back to work. We’ve got a lot of sailing to do over the next few months, Raya needs to be in tip-top condition.

Balancing precariously, replacing the rusting SSB aerial connector

The Great Cap Giveaway

Sunday 19th August 2018

Dipping further off the rally radar, we have had some lovely quiet days in a couple of anchorages in the NE corner of Flores. The dry northern coast of mountainous Flores is very different from the jungle clad islands we had visited to the north. Ever increasingly high hills turn monochrome as they disappear into the haze that cloaks the centre of the island.

The 48hr sail south from Hoga was slow in the light winds and where normally we would have motored to keep our speed up, we persevered under sail to save fuel, fuel of the right quality is difficult to find here. Slow, however, turned out to have its advantages. Even with a good look out, in daylight, we barely avoided the hazard of, seemingly drifting, small fishing attraction devices or FADs. How many near misses we had during the hours of darkness is best not contemplated.

6ft high bamboo FAD

As we approached our first stop Bari Bay, the wind completely died and we had, eventually, to turn the engine on. As we motored in calm seas, accompanied by dolphins, we came upon a fleet of small fishing boats. The frantic waving of one fisherman alerted us to his net that stretched across our path to another boat half a mile away, it’s top marked by tiny almost invisible floats. We immediately turned off the engine but stopping a sail boat takes time and even in full reverse we only just made it..

It was therefore with relief we put down the anchor in pretty Bari Bay to rest overnight. The village here is very basic and with midday low tides making things difficult, we decided not to go ashore for a visit, this however didn’t stop the village visiting us. Our first callers were four teenagers who paddled out to say hello and ask to come aboard for the enevitable selfie. As with all the kids we have met here they have a few set phrases in English – ‘how are you?’, ‘my name is’, ‘where are you from?’. They are always extremely polite and delightfully excited to be picturing themselves, with us, in various poses around the deck. For the past few months every rally meeting and every information pack has contained a peaked cap, we had gathered quite a collection. So Rick found four and gave them one each, ‘cool’ they smiled.

Word obviously got around, as gradually more children paddled their canoes out to us. Despite the language barrier I can happily report that ‘can I have a hat please’ was easily understood. By dusk our large cap selection ran out.

The kids from Bari Village loved the caps we gave them

The next day we were again motoring in very light winds avoiding more small fishing boats. The glassy seas a perfect palate for the flying fish that draw lines with their tails as they take off to skim the water for sometimes hundreds of metres. The route took us between the reef systems that line this coast and we were glad yet again of the satellite photos from Google Earth that clearly identifies them, making avoidance a lot easier. We slipped through a small break off Bodi Island and dropped the hook in a beautiful anchorage on its west coast.

With its white sand beach, shallow lagoon and turquoise, crystal clear water it really was stunning. We swam off the boat, snorkelled the reefs and wallowed in the shallow lagoon with a cold beer.

Anchored off Gili Bodo

The island itself is uninhabited, so as we sailed into the bay we were surprised to see smoke rising from behind the hill. As the light began to fade and the wind direction changed, rather disconcertingly, lines of flames started to appear over the ridge and spread down towards the beach. Luckily as it smouldered through the night the wind took the smoke away from us and it appeared to burn itself out.

Flames spreading across the hill side

The next day with the flames gone, we were excited to see monkeys on the beach. They walked along the tideline presumably in search of food. We jumped in the dingy to get a closer look but at low tide the shore was unreachable across the surrounding reef. Even with the telephoto lens capturing a photo of them was impossible. More easily photographed were these amazing feather stars in deep crimson and brilliant lemon that we found while snorkelling on the edge of the reef.

Colourful feather stars

Hoga Wall

Monday 13th August 2018

We have just snorkelled off a coral wall, the edge of the encircling reef around Hoga Island in the Wakatobi National Park. Wow! Thousands of reef fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. A mix of healthy soft and hard corals, nudibunch, feather stars and dazzling giant clams.

The edge of the reef – Hoga Island

The prize of snorkelling this reef however has been hard won.

Last Tuesday we started to raise our anchor from the deep waters at Banda Island. Not the quietist of windlasses at the best of times, this morning it started to screech and strain horribly. We let the chain back out, a day of boat maintenance was obviously in order.

For the rest of the day Rick, with me as his plucky assistant, disconnected, stripped and cleaned the windlass motor and gearbox. It, encouragingly, looked in pretty good condition, one oil seal had disintegrated, could this be our problem? Could we find a replacement?

Unbelievably for a small town, with seemingly nothing recognisable for sale except cheap Chinese plastic goods, the hardware store turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave and actually had the exact required part.

Innards of the windlass motor and gearbox

With the windlass back together, the noise gone, we went to bed happy. The next morning however under the strain of trying to pull in 80m of anchor things didn’t look so good, every 30m the motor would overheat and cut out. Our time in Indonesia is limited, there are so many places we want to see. We could of course let the anchor out easily enough, so we decided to carry on with our plans. We gradually coaxed the anchor up and set off for Hoga, we would tackle the problem again with a different view from the cockpit

I, and a lot of the rest of the fleet, had had a cold while in Banda, miraculously Rick seemed to have avoided it, unfortunately, a few hours into the journey Rick started to feel unwell. It was a long 48hr sail, with Rick trying to maintain a brave face and me doing as much as I could of the watches. Luckily Friday he began to feel better and by midday we were anchored off Hoga Island.

No rest for the wicked however, having worked out a plan of how we could raise the anchor on another of our winches if necessary, Rick had one more thing to check. He hadn’t looked at the drive shaft that runs down the centre of he windlass, so back he went into the cramped anchor locker.

Not the most comfortable place to work

The shaft was almost completely seized, after a bit of encouragement from a hammer, another oil seal replaced and a good clean up, he put everything back together yet again. We had originally anchored in the cruising books suggested spot, through a pass in the reef, into a lagoon. However it was on the windward side of the island and gave little protection in the brisk SE winds and at each high tide the fetch was breaching the reef, making things a bit uncomfortable. So nervously we tested the windlass, the chain came up quietly and efficiently we breathed a sigh of relief, then motored back through the pass and anchored off the reef in a less windy position.

The edge of the reef clearly visible

The reef drops straight down from one to thirty metres, we are anchored very deep yet again but the coral wall here is spectacular. With my ears still a bit suspect from my cold we haven’t dived but at low tide we have drift snorkelled along its edge, the variety of corals and fish just 100m from the front of the boat is amongst the best we’ve seen anywhere.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of wonder as you dip your mask into the water and the coral garden comes into view. With the sun high and bright in the sky the colours are at there best, pinks, purples, blues, whites and yellows shine back at you. All the normal reef characters are here from tiny turquoise damsel fish, through white and blue puffer fish. Multi patterned yellow angel fish, royal blue and yellow striped sturgeon fish and incandescent blue, fork tailed, redtooth trigger fish. A shoal of black sturgeon with a pink tail and sheer white fins passes by and a pair of black and white striped, yellow finned oriental sweet lips pose for a photo. I hear Rick yelp, he has almost bumped into a sea snake, at a metre long it is by far the largest one we have ever seen. The wall drops straight down fading into the depths. A 3ft grouper emerges briefly from the blue and larger shadows suggest life beyond our vision.

A clown fish, the sea snake, a colourful puffer and two sweet lips.

A small dive resort sits ashore, a large dive boat overnights one day and our friends onboard Il Sogno, another oyster 56, joined us yesterday, but for most of our time here the only people to be seen are the few locals in their motorised dug out canoes. We donate swimming goggles and buy bananas but decide not to attempt the mile and half choppy crossing to the village. Stocks of fresh food are getting low however, time to move on.

Spice Islands

Monday 6th Aug 2018

We are anchored beneath a volcano in 30m of dark water, surrounded by traditional fishing longboats, opposite tired but substantial colonial Dutch buildings. We have arrived in Banda, the centre of the spice Islands.

Api volcano dominates the view

Sitting isolated by hundreds of miles of deep ocean, a unique but fairly indifferent tree evolved here, the nut these trees produce was to generate great fortunes and inevitably in turn to be the cause of wars and atrocities. Nutmeg was first introduced into Europe when traded between the Venetians and the Arabs. As spices increased in popularity and there value grew, the emerging powers within Europe sent exploratory expeditions out to the Far East to try and find the source of these prized and exotic flavours.

Nutmeg was tracked down to the Banda islands and eventually in the 17th century the Dutch won out as sole controllers of its trade. They created the Dutch East Indies Company, the VOC, and earnt a reputation for extreme intolerance, the native Banda population was almost exterminated until the Dutch realised that they still needed the skills of the islanders to successfully grow the nutmeg trees. The English very upset to be missing out on such a lucrative trade attempted to raid Banda many times with only limited success, holding on to just one of the small outer islands, Run.

Run however turned out to have greater value than expected as from here not only did the English manage to spread the nutmeg tree to other parts of the World eventually reducing the Dutch stranglehold on the spice but also in a treaty drawn up in 1667, Run, was among islands swapped by the British with the Dutch for a strange new land called New Amsterdam. Not happy to keep the obviously Dutch name the British renamed it New York. From this has grown the local story that the tiny island of Run was swapped for the Island of Manhattan.

Evidence of the islands violent past is everywhere from the ruins of forts topping many of the islands hills to original cannons littering the streets in Banda Niera. It is not often that we tie the dingy off to a 400 yr old bronze cannon!

Not a normal dingy dock, we are having to use this old cannon as a cleat.

Nutmeg is a complex fruit and every bit of it is put to good use. The sour tasting flesh is sweetened to create jams and syrups, the bright red mace that lines the nut shell is used in sweet and savoury dishes, as well cosmetics and of course the inner nut produces the spice we are familiar with.

Fruits of the forest, a cut nutmeg fruit with an almond on the side

At one time in Europe just one sack of nutmeg could buy you a small house, today although not quite that valuable its still the main income for these islands. We took a boat to the largest island in the group and passing through another brightly painted village, the houses perching on the side of the hill, we walked up to a nutmeg plantation. Nutmeg prefers to be out of the midday sun and so is grown in the shadow of magnificent stately almond trees. In the plantation they also grow cinnamon and cloves, the latter is dried in the streets in the sun and the pungent scent fills the air.

Ancient almond trees cast shade over the nutmeg forest.

Back in the main town Banda Niera, there is an eclectic mix of buildings. There are a fair sprinkling of crumbling grand colonial buildings, now mostly hotels or museums, In the Cilu Bintang Hotel we drank a cold beer on the columned terrace, sitting on beautiful period chairs, surrounded by all the trappings of its wealthy Dutch past. Outside scooters scurry back and forth down the ever narrowing lanes that lead into Arabic style souqs or tightly packed areas of small colourful sometimes Dutch influenced houses. On the sea front, homes appear more ramshackle, docks and boats competing for space. And encompassing all this are the steep volcanic hills rich with lush greenery and the once priceless nutmeg trees.

One for the dodgy dock collection

The main volcano, Banda Api, erupted just thirty years ago and two large streams of lava run down its steep sides. We were told there was good snorkelling where the barren black rock reaches the sea but as we approach through the deep dark water this doesn’t seem likely. So it’s a surprise when we put our heads under the water to find the best coral we’ve seen since Fiji. Banda gets the thumbs up.

A Right Royal Welcome

Monday 30th June 2018

Selaya Fishing Village

This must be how royalty feels. Each village has been lavishly decorated with flags, their streets flanked by dancing warriors with crowds waving from their doorsteps.

A right royal welcome to Selaya

The villagers have all entertained us with music and dance troupes, the boys armed with spears and swords perform a traditional war dance, the girls, heads demurely tilted, sway with fans or tassels. The cruisers, or yachters as we are call here, have been invited on to the floor, our clumsily efforts paling in comparison. Food has generously been prepared, mostly fish and interesting dishes made from seaweeds, a speciality of the region, all deliciously spiced as is the way with Indonesian cuisine. I drank a ginger tea, that thick and sweet, can be best described as a cup of liquid ginger cake.

The effort each village has obviously put into our visit has been humbling and we feel we have given little but our presence in return.

An evening of entertainment at Wab Nagufur Beach

Of course along with all entertainment comes speeches from the local dignitaries and people high up in the ministry of tourism, often full of self importance keen to be seen by each other doing their bit. The villages have gone to great lengths to supply English speakers to translate and the message is ‘please tell other people to come and visit our islands’. Tourism is currently centred on Bali and the rest of Indonesia is keen to share in the spoils.

There is certainly plenty of traditional Indonesia to explore, the colours every where are incredible and the people welcoming. If there is enough infrastructure, transport, accommodation, freedom of movement is another question however.

The children especially are delightful, bright smiling faces greeting us at every turn. Most have a few phrases of English and are excited to use them. With over 30 boats in the anchorage, parking of each dingy is quite a challenge especially with a two metre spring tide added into the mix. We returned one evening to the dark dock all wondering how we were going to reach our dinghies which were now three metres down below the quay. No problem, adults armed with torches had assigned one small boy to each dingy, who on request paddled it to the steps so we could get on. Such small attention to detail by the locals continued to make us feel special.

Hundreds of smiling faces

By the end of four days, however, our enthusiasm for coach trips over pot holed roads and sitting sweltering through official pronouncements of welcome were beginning to wane. So Saturday we took a last trip into the larger town of Langgur, cajoled a couple more million rupiah out of the ATM, stocked up with what we could find at the market and prepared to set off.

Finding anchorages here is not easy, coastal waters are very deep right up to the surrounding reefs and information from those that have gone before is sparse. From the charts and google earth I picked out a likely spot about 40nm in the direction towards our next rally stop, with the potential for shelter and a chance to swim and snorkel. A few other yachts were heading the same way and between us we felt we could narrow down the choices of bays. The one I had picked, turned out to be full of fishing and seaweed growing rigs and exposed to fetch. On the north side of the same island, Palau Walir, another boat found a quieter spot and we all converged there.

Finally we could swim, the water was 26 degrees, a reef sat just a hundred metres from our stern and there were no crocodiles or deadly jelly fish.

Colourful beneath the water as above

The reef was best snorkelled at low tide where as the beach was only reachable when it was high. Unfortunately the turquoise water and white sand was spoilt by more of the rubbish we are finding everywhere in Indonesia. The beach was backed by coconut trees and there was evidence of a small amount of copra production reminiscent of that in French Polynesia. The odd long boat came past and we found a small traditional dug out canoe full of fishing nets. The rubbish is obviously not being produced in this bay but must arrive on the tide from other more populace parts. How the country starts to tackle this enormous problem is difficult to say but if they want to preserve their beautiful surroundings and the life in their seas that they depend on for food, and attract tourists, it is something they are going to have to do.

Traditional dug out canoe.

D├Ębut in Debut

Wednesday 25th July 2018

It has been a long time since the Call to Prayer has acted as our alarm clock, we have arrived in Debut, Indonesia and sit anchored in sight of three mosques. The Call here is much more tuneful than we remember from our time in the Middle East and adds to the exotic atmosphere we have immediately felt.

It is a beautiful day, the light is soft, the bay calm and in the cool morning air we sit, for what seems like the first time in months, without being battered by high winds.

It was, after eight months, strange to be leaving Australia. But we didn’t have much time to dwell on the matter, with the wind behind us, Raya was in her element, we flew out of the Torres Strait and into the Arafura Sea. After the first day it was rather rolly, with often flogging sails, in a lumpy sea but it was good to reacquaint ourselves with the challenges of longer passages after day sailing for so long.

Small dolphins joined us a couple of times to play at the bows and with the moon setting in the early hours we had the best of both worlds, half the night was moonlit, the other full of stars. We had been warned that their would be a lot of fishing activity, especially at night and to keep far offshore where possible. Huge, unlit, fishing rigs can be very nasty if you don’t spot them in time.

Bamboo and wood fishing rig tied up in Debut

Luckily we didn’t knowingly come close to one, we did however nearly get caught in one of the large nets that are trailed up to a mile behind small fishing boats, their ends only marked by tiny flashing lights. Others were not so lucky we know of at least three boats that got caught.

On Sunday, as dusk fell, we began to realise we were surrounded by brightly lit boats. These delightfully, rustic craft, amazingly anchored in over 40m, shine lights down into the ocean to attract and then catch squid. In the growing darkness an intense glow appeared on the horizon, we checked the chart more than once for a possible city but the shore was over 30 miles away and from what we could see was sparsely inhabited. As we came closer we concluded it was in fact a city, a city of hundreds of squid boats.

Fishing boat city

We arrived in a Debut, after working hard to slow the boat and time our entry, at around 9am on Monday morning. The route into the port was unmarked and uncharted. Luckily we had come prepared, marking the chart with waypoints I had taken from satellite images of the reefs while we still had internet in Australia.

Once anchored safely we managed to celebrate with a ‘got here’ before a continuous stream of officials began arriving at the boat. They arrived by traditional long boat, their approach announced by the lawn mower putt putt of their engines.

Quarantine offers arriving by long boat

It has taken us two days to process all the paperwork, fight through the confusion surrounding the data and phone systems and equip ourselves with, at 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah equal to only 50p, literally millions in local currency.

We did get the time to wander around a few of the streets close to the dock. The colours here are vivid, the prettily painted houses and brightly coloured flowers are all backed by lush greenery and the blue of the sea.

Main street down to the wharf at Debut

This is only the second year the rally has started their Indonesian travels in Debut and the sailors on the yachts are pretty much the only outsiders that ever come here. The town is in festival mode, friendly faces excitedly gathering at the dock offering to help us in anyway they can. And in this world where the smart phone is king, everyone is desperate to have a selfie with the visitors.

Tomorrow the official celebrations start, local dancers will greet us, there is a trip to a fishing village and dignitaries all the way from Jakarta are hosting a welcome dinner.

Loved this local wooden boat in construction at the bottom of the garden.