Indonesia 1 Banda and Ambon
Arriving in Banda on 27th July, we were all pretty excited about Indonesia and our next adventure. Anchoring in the pre dawn, we sat on deck watching the world wake up with the humid scent of the tropics, and palm fringed jungle around us.
Spanning some 2500 miles E-W and over 1000 miles N-S, Indonesia is roughly 3 times the size of Texas. Encompassing some 17000 islands, it is home to around 250 million people, (although with no birth or death register nobody really knows) of which 88% are Muslim,10% Christian and a smattering of Hindu (Bali) , Buddhism and in remote regions Animist..
Banda is a Regency of Maluku, one of 24 provinces that govern the world’s largest archipelago state. It comprises 10 islands of which the three largest form a horseshoe, with a deep protected anchorage in the middle. To the west is the impressive 600-meter Gunung Api volcano, to the East is Banda Naira, the main Island and to the South Banda Besar home to many nutmeg plantations.
Known as the Spice Islands, for many years they were the world’s only supply of nutmeg, mace and cloves, and from their discovery in the 15th century until the mid 19th century the Portuguese, British and Dutch fought for control of the trade. The Portuguese were out fairly early, and the Dutch East India Company held the 3 main islands while the British East India Company held the island of Run. This provoked war and siege and after the second Anglo Dutch war ended in 1667, the treaty of Brenda was signed, ceding the island of Run to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan Island, which in 1664 the Duke of York (the future James 11, brother of Charles 11) had illegally occupied and renamed from New Amsterdam to New York.
This gave the Dutch a complete monopoly on nutmeg and mace, at the time worth more per pound than gold, that amazingly lasted until 1817 when nutmeg trees were captured and planted on the British colonies of Ceylon, Grenada and Singapore ending nearly 200 years of Dutch supremacy of the spice trade.
With this exciting history we looked forward to seeing some of the ancient relics left behind by the colonists.
Deciding to cruise through the region as part of Sail Indonesia 2010, we knew that various festivities and celebrations had been planned along the way, but really had no idea what to expect. With 60 yachts arriving over 2 days we could expect swift entry procedures and shortly after contacting the harbour master we were boarded by a number of quarantine, immigration and customs officials. After refusing quarantine a bottle of whiskey and having photographs taken with immigration they seemed satisfied and I was instructed to report to the media centre at the local hotel to complete formalities.
The hotel was bustling with various uniforms and smiling faces and we were ushered through more paperwork until we were finally registered, had our passports stamped and signed and were issued with our CAIT certificate. This certificate enabled us to cruise Indonesia without having to forward a bond for Pegasus. At 25% of her value, this certificate was pretty useful and one of the reasons we signed up for the rally. In addition I was given 5 “Sail Banda 2010” polo shirts, which was surprising, but all would be revealed in due course. Whilst at the media centre I was approached by the Australian partner of the organising body. Although I had withdrawn from the race to Banda for insurance purposes, having arrived safely would I like to be re entered? We had sailed quite fast from Darwin, so I accepted his offer and heard no more.
Ashore for lunch and a look around. We parked the dinghy at the newly constructed dock and wandered into town. There were plenty of friendly people and the boys had a lot of attention, something they would have to get used to. Feeling a little hassled we looked for a lunch stop, and finding a restaurant worked out that there was a choice of two dishes, Nasi Goering (Fried rice with egg) and Soto Ayam (chicken soup and rice) Not wanting to get too involved we ordered both and had an interesting lunch being quite an attraction to the locals. The bill came at 50,000 rupia….was that a lot?? No idea. We were going to have to get used to the money.
In simple terms there is 13000 rupia to the pound, 7500 to the AUD and 8300 to the USD. I decided that if we took 100,000 note as £10, then we would always be 30% in credit. A little convoluted but it worked for me. With coins virtually non existent, the 1000 rupia note was the stock note of the poorer economy, so it was possible to have a huge bundle of cash amounting to no more than £30. Easily enough to buy 2 meals for the family, some groceries and maybe a gift or two, still leaving change for a packet of woodbines and a night at the flix! What an amazing difference from Australia where £30 doesn’t even get you through McDonalds!
We wandered back to the boat and bought a couple of Sim cards for our phones. Having to activate them by text in Indonesian was just a bit challenging so I put them aside until I could find someone to help.
The anchorage was filling up and our friends on Orono1, Anui, and Red Boomer 2 had arrived. We called them up and parents and children came over to Pegasus for drinks while the children swam and played. They we soon joined by some local children in Canoes and they all had a great time playing in the boats and swimming in the clear dark water. It had been as long time since we were able to jump off the boat and swim and we felt great that this was now back on the agenda. That afternoon the harbourmaster arrived with an envelope addressed to the Captain…..me I guess. !0 Captains had been invited to participate in the welcome ceremony the following day, so together with Orono1 and Anui we were to be picked up by the harbourmaster at 9am the following day. It was suggested that we should all wear our polo shirts…..Ahh, our uniform!!!
9am on the 28th July arrived and passed. Clearly this would be Indonesian time, but at 10.30 the boat arrived and picked up all the Captains. We were taken to the main stage area next to the media centre and, arriving by boat, were greeted by all the heads of villages in Banda. After music, dancing and speeches we were escorted on stage where the Minister of Fisheries and Marine, the Governor of Maluku and the local “King” of the regency presented us with clove and nutmeg garlands and officially welcomed us to Indonesia. After more dancing we were ushered along the street lined with uniformed youngsters to a large marquee structure where we had a most delicious lunch with all the dignitaries. We wandered back to the main stage area where the minister was due to start the local War canoe race. It was a very busy day with lots of photographs with the locals. The boys were a big attraction but after the 100th photo became a little shy. The locals had a habit of pinching their cheeks (a gesture of good luck) but it was all becoming a bit much so by 3pm we were back on board for a break before heading ashore for dinner with Orono1 and Anui.
During the festivities I had met Randy from Convergence who had told us that Sail Banda 2010 was the focal point for a government marketing drive to attract tourists to the Eastern part of Indonesia, and that they had invested 200milliion USD to try and stimulate tourism under the banner “Small islands are our future”, I guess looking at Bali as the role model. Sail Indonesia was seen as the catalyst and therefore we were all part of it. Now we understood why there were so many people, events, flags and new uniforms.
Over dinner we discussed the days events and wondered what would be in store for us in Ambon, where the President was due to attend the festivities.
The following afternoon we were due to go to Banda Besar to tour a nutmeg plantation so after a lazy morning and more Nasi goering for lunch, we boarded a local boat for the 30 min trip to the South Island. The water quality was amazing and skimming just 2 meters over the coral we could see the massive variety of soft and hard corals teaming with small reef fish. With 2 tour guides we wandered through the small village seeing cloves, mace and nutmeg drying on tarpaulins outside local homes. There were remnants of previous occupation everywhere with stone walls and steps to former homes. We climbed up a very steep set of steps and were led to fort Belgica, built by the Dutch in 1611. Old nutmeg and newer trees were everywhere, some planted in the shade of the towering Kanari trees, which drop nuts that the locals collect. The guides showed us clove trees, hugely fragrant, and explained how the locals collect and dry the cloves, preparing them for market. It was a very pleasant afternoon strolling through the plantations and village, and informative with our local guide. On the way back we drank the local nutmeg “juice” which was sweet and refreshing, later strolling back towards our dinghies.
One of our guides inquired whether we would like to buy some old Portuguese cannons. The girls decided this was not for them, but Peter and I went to have a look.
Walking into the heart of the village we approached the guides friends house, who owned the cannons. Searching under the bed he retrieved 3 small cannons, about 1.5 meters long and 15cm diameter. They were bronze and seemed authentic. We had been warned that there were many fakes, but these seemed genuine. The guide wanted 18 million rupia for the best one which seemed fair considering its age. I didn’t feel Pegasus would benefit from a canon on board so declined his offer, as did Peter. He then started pulling out coins, and not being in the market, left Peter to have a look. Passing through the village I noticed a shack selling interesting old artefacts. In the back I found another cannon, similar to the one we had just seen, except this one was half the weight…a fake I’m sure. I’m unsure of the legality of canon purchase but suspect you would not want to declare it on your inventory entering Singapore!!!
That evening we had a drink on Orono1 and then went out for an early dinner. We found a fun restaurant and had another Nasi Ayam (variety of the same fried rice with chicken) and a few Bintang, the Indonesian pilsner larger surprisingly similar to Heineken!
We were keen to find a beach and swim before we had to make passage to Ambon, so decided on just 1 more day in Banda. I took the boys off to explore the large fort and clear out with customs while Amanda did a little shopping for provisions and nick nacks. The boys and I found Fort Nassau but it was locked up. Walking around the perimeter we found abandoned canons lying in the undergrowth. From the main gate we had line of sight to Fort Belgica on Banda Besar, a simple means of communication with the other island. We wandered back to the Harbour masters office who was out at Friday Prayers, so spent some time sitting on the dock watching a frigate preparing to leave. I guess it must have been a training vessel as it looked like it had seen better days.
A last dinner ashore, and a laugh with our friends and off to Run in the morning. The water shallowed remarkably quickly and in just 20m went from over 200m deep to 5 meters. Not ideal, but we only planned on a night there and conditions looked good. We swam in the warm water and snorkelled the amazing coral gardens. Walking along the beach we found shells and the boys played in the shallows. It was truly beautiful and we were delighted to be back at anchor in the islands.
Being due in Ambon for the rally events we left early the next morning for the 120-mile trip. We had a mixed bag of weather, but managed to fly the kite for a few hours, which was great. Some early morning squalls and a rain shower on arrival set the tone for our few days in Ambon. We moored stern to the dock and cleared in with the harbour master. There was plenty of action in the harbour with many patrol boats, a few destroyers and representatives from other navies all getting ready for the line astern display in front of the Indonesian president. At the lunchtime briefing ten of the rally skippers from 10 nations were selected to have dinner with the president, and the programme of events was discussed, comprising of a sail past the following morning and a welcome dinner in the evening.
The weather was turning, with squalls and wind. We returned to Pegasus and at that point 6 of the moored boats started dragging their bow anchors. We jumped aboard not happy with the situation and quickly left the dock. Motoring 3 miles up the harbour we found another anchorage and secured for the night. Venturing ashore to a hotel we had a great evening with our friends on Anui and Orano1 returning to Pegasus far too late.
Walking up to squalls, rain and wind we found that at 9am we were in 150m of water…we must have dragged anchor!!! We pulled in our bottom gear and gilled around waiting for the appointed time to join the sail past. All the Navies proceeded and at the end came the rally participants in alphabetical order. In the driving rain we motored past the podium to cheers and waves from the crowd, knowing the president was there but unable to identify him!
We were keen to go back to the dock as that was the venue for the party and after securing stern too again, I pulled out the trusty Admiralty anchor and ran it out in the dinghy. We weren’t going anywhere! After a quick lunch we went by bemo into town. A bemo is a small minivan that provides cheap public transport in Indonesia. You just hail them to stop and hop in, paying about 20p for the ride. Whilst in town we did a little shopping for provisions at the local market and we took a couple of rickshaws around the centre of Ambon. Great fun, but you felt a little exposed as the drivers peddled you through the traffic to your destination.
Having bought some local sim cards that were not activated we went to the telecomcell offices to get our communications sorted. After about half an hour we had mobile phones activated and my computer modem was up and running. Fantastic, we were going to have Internet at some locations over the coming months.
A little more shopping and back to Pegasus in the pouring rain. We were running late so a quick change and down to the reception area where many cruisers were seated in front of the stage being served cinnamon tea. On our way in we were stopped by a crowd in traditional dress. The leader, who we later found to be the local “King”, was very interested in JJ and Louis. After 5 minutes of chat we found some seats and watched the traditional dancing.
Whilst sitting JJ and Amanda were ushered away with others, and unbeknown to me JJ was presented with a large picture as a gift from the king. Some other cruisers were given traditional welcome Ikat cloths….really beautiful. The speeches started and after a time the winners of the yacht race were called. I was surprised that we were called up on stage, so taking JJ and Louis with me we waited to see what would happen. After a little confusion where the winners trophy was presented to the 3rd placed boat…and taken back…the right sequence was found and we were presented with a huge trophy, topped by a sailing boat, as the 2nd winner in the Yachty race (as taken from the trophy) In addition we were given a small plaque and a fat envelope!!!
It was really quite a laugh as the 3 winners had our pictures taken by many photographers. JJ, proudly holding the trophy, tripped coming off the stage and our little sailing boat took an emergency reef, with the 3 sails lying in the mud at his feet. Poor old JJ, he had just been distracted by the mass of photographers. He stood at the bottom of the steps, head bowed, not knowing this strange emotion he was encountering. My heart went out to him and I immediately went to comfort him. Poor boy, he was very upset. Seeing this, the local King took him aside and JJ sat on his lap whilst they talked. He presented JJ with his name tag as a memento.
The Indonesians love children and all the villages we had been to thus far had been teeming with happy children. We were to see this all through Indonesia. As such, the boys were always a star attraction and were the centre of attention wherever we went. This could be a little overwhelming at times with faces being pinched and lots of photographs. We said to the boys that if they didn’t want their photos taken they should just say no, so when we were asked we always referred the request to the boys.
After the bizarre events of the previous evening we decided that we wanted to head off to the islands. Looking at the weather files it seemed that the rain and squalls were mostly in the N and if we could get to Wakatobi, the next rally venue, we should have better weather, being S of the rain band.
On the morning of the 5th August we were planning to leave. We bought our plans to immediate execution as the yacht 20m to our starboard side suddenly lost its bow anchor, as it was backwashed by the propellers of a large ferry leaving the dock. Slamming against the wall, missing Pegasus by inches, we decided enough was enough and motored 30 meters off the dock and retrieved our anchors. As we made our way out of the harbour in 30Kt winds and driving rain we reflected on the strange time we had had in Ambon. It had been a dirty harbour with bad holding, but the people had been warm and friendly. I think we would have had a better experience if the weather had been with us, but everything was wet (including the laundry which hadn’t be dried ashore) and we wanted some clean water under the hulls.
Just 30 miles round the corner, we found a secure anchorage off a tiny beach at Pulau Tengau. We swam and walked on the beach, and were joined by Anui, so the boys had some playmates. We decided to push south to Wakatobi the following day, some 280 miles SW.
Opting to leave at lunchtime, it gave Sarah on Anui some time to prepare food for their journey. We readied Pegasus, removing the canopy, pulling up the dinghy and stowing the large engine to keep the weight off the davits. We knew that we were in for a windy trip, but were relieved that we would see little motoring on this next leg.
At 12.15 on 6th August we weighed anchor and set off through the narrow pass between the islands, saying goodbye to Maluku province, our home for the past 10 days.
See our photographs of Banda and Ambon below
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