Britta Slippens is the founder of Blue Ocean Cruises which offers charters for diving, surfing, health retreats, and lifestyle cruises sailing on the Al Isra, a traditional handmade boat. Leaving from its port in Mentigi Bay, the most popular cruises sail to Flores and the Komodo Islands.
Where are you from and when did you come to Indonesia?
I am from Cologne, Germany. I came here in 1993 when I was 21 years old. I went to the islands of Bali, the Gilis and Sulawesi. Upon my return trip the following year, I put a deposit on a beautiful traditional boat, the Al Isra, which means ‘night journey’ in Arabic. It is in chapter 17 of the Qur’an and refers to the spiritual trip of Mohammed.
Did you know about sailing when you invested in the Al Isra?
No, not at all! Cologne is landlocked. I learned from the guys in Sulawesi where everyone works with boats in some way. The older men work on land building boats after having been sailors or fishermen. I stayed there for three years. When I was involved building the boats, I was pregnant. I had to stay in Sulawesi where there was so much work still to be done. My daughter was born in Makassar and the people there looked after me; the whole village was like my family. Traditional values of family and community are followed and respected there as they have been for centuries. It was an experience which initiated my love of Indonesia and its people.
Do you still maintain a close relationship to the people of Sulawesi?
Yes, of course; they are a permanent part of my life. Being people of the seas, I am always learning from them and cherish the relationships we have built over the years. Some of the men who were involved in building my boat are keeping it in top shape and maintaining it over the years. The daughter I gave birth to so long ago there has grown up and is now a new mother. I still see a few of the women who helped me during my pregnancy and the birth.
I started the company in the year 2000 out of Mentigi Bay. We offered boat cruises and speedboat taxi services to neighbouring islands. I have three boats but at present I am only running the Al Isra. I want to slow down a bit and focus on doing unique trips on my original boat. It keeps the experience on a more personal level for all involved and we are able to do interesting adventures which make our offerings unique.
Tell me about your cruises from Mentigi Bay, Lombok, to Flores.
We run this route from April to December. In January and February the boat is docked and maintained in Sulawesi during monsoon. We set sail from the Gili Islands and the first stop is the west coast of Sumbawa, where at sunset the sky is black with millions of bats. The next stop is Moyo, a tropical paradise where we hike, swim in the many waterfalls and visit the remote traditional villages with Sulawesi-style houses.
Then we go to the island of Santonda, where there is a sunken volcano crater with a brilliant salt water lake, which the locals believe has magical powers. It is a tradition to hang stones in the trees and make a wish. If there is time we stop in Banta Island; an uninhabited National Park with pristine growth and many diving places in the clean and beautiful blue waters.
Next we go to Komodo National Park, where we visit five of the many islands. There are islands with reefs for snorkelling and great diving spots, and, of course, the most well-known island of Komodo where most of the dragons are. After that, the final stop is Flores where you may choose to fly back to Bali or Jakarta. Some people prefer to fly to Flores and sail to the Gilis with the same agenda.
The cruises are on traditional schooners with modern safety equipment and are reasonably priced and comfortable, with good food prepared by our chef. We always have dive guides on board. People can join our groups or charter the whole boat with their own group. Lifelong friendships are made on this experience!
We started with bamboo structures to achieve the curvature and strength. The materials are all sustainable and the process is a mix of ancient building techniques with modern technology. The terraced buildings and swimming pools have stunning views of the ocean and it is a short walk down to a white sand beach. It is an oasis of tranquillity and beauty.
Tell me about the ‘art cruise’ you recently organised.
I had just completely renovated the boat which is now 20 years old. Wolfgang Widmoser, the renowned German artist, was at the launching and suggested we should do a special cruise. He and Aubrey, the artist who painted the sails, came up with the idea of an art cruise and I loved it! The Slam Jam Brothers came along, who shot a video for our cruises last year. We flew 62 kites to give thanks to the universe, created by Ebon Heath, who made the kites in Indonesian, English, and the lost font of the language of the Bugis. We wanted to celebrate the Bugis, the sea gypsies and all those who are still living from the bounty of the ocean.
The theme for the sails was researched and done in Makassar, in the Bugis special font and addressed the global problem of trash, a problem this cruise was raising awareness of.
We sailed to remote islands where there are no people or none of the inhabitants use plastic, yet there is plastic and trash on the beaches; the garbage of our modern society greatly affects the people who are not even creating the garbage.
It is a problem which ultimately must be addressed by the huge corporations who choose to use these toxic materials with no plan to recycle and who take no responsibility for the effects of the packaging they continue to use.
What are your future plans?
I plan to continue the life I have created in these diverse islands and to focus on bringing awareness of the environmental problems which are endangering our planet. There are solutions and it is time to implement them. We must all be conscious of our role and place nature and our survival over profit.
Thank you, Britta! Visit www.bluewatercruises.com