Hardy crews get up close and personal to spectacular and remote destinations in the eastern islands.
With 17,000 islands of all shapes and sizes spread over three time zones, a rich maritime history dating back hundreds of years, traders from Makassar to the Spice Islands and on to the historic port city of Banten, you would imagine Indonesia to be a world leader in the maritime leisure industry. Surely all it had to do would be to flutter its collective eyelids and the moneyed from around the world would be spending several months of the year lazily flitting from one welcoming port to another.
Imagine what you want, unfortunately that is not the reality. Red tape and security issues, coupled with a reluctance to embrace the outside world, means Indonesia is lagging behind its more welcoming neighbours like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in the maritime department.
Things are changing, though.
July sees the start of a three-month yachting rally that starts in Darwin, Australia and winds its way through some of the most beautiful islands in the Indonesian archipelago before ending up in Singapore. To coincide with the rally, named Sail Indonesia, a number of cultural events and festivals are being organised in places such as Timor, Banda, Lembata, Wakatobi, Flores, Sulawesi, Bali, Java, Borneo, Belitung, as well as the islands just south of Singapore.
More than 40 yachts have entered the event, ranging in size from the 33ft Australian HEBGB to the UK-registered Dana Felicia, which is almost twice the size, with more expected. The fun starts, at least from an Indonesian point of view, when the yachts gather in Kupang on the island of West Timor. Kupang, of course, as all maritime historians will tell you, has its own place in the history books.
Back in 1789, Captain Bligh was in charge of a journey to Tahiti to find a cheap source of food for slaves in the West Indian plantations. To cut a long story short, he upset a few members of his crew who mutinied and set him adrift with four swords, five days supply of bread and water and 18 loyalists.
For some six weeks, Bligh guided his motley crew through 6,500 kilometres of rough, little known waters, all the while keeping studious notes for posterity and attempting to keep a tight reign over his bedraggled crew.
Finally Kupang grew close and
“it is not possible for me to describe the pleasure which the blessing of the sight of this land diffused among us,”
wrote the captain using words that perhaps many of us in our Twitter/Facebook word of brevity would find a tad too much.
No doubt the hardy mariners heading north from Darwin will have their own tall tales with which to regale their peers when they get together at a function to be laid on by local officials, but none could come close to that journey made more than 200 years ago with little more than a few oars and a keen eye for navigation. Take, for example, the recollections of one of the yachts, Cool Bananas, that did the journey back in 2009.
“We left Darwin with the fleet of 135 yachts on Saturday 18th July,” says Laurel Fisher. “On board, the team has expanded by one; joining us is Lydia, one of the key organisers of the rally at the Darwin end. She happens to have a degree in Indonesian politics and speaks fluent Indonesian, so no prizes for guessing why we asked her to join us!
“We were so excited to anchor up in Saumlaki, Indonesia. We regarded ourselves lucky to be getting all the official paperwork done within a day and with little stress. We gather that the whole of Indonesia runs on ‘rubber’ time. The rally organisers advised us to throw away our clocks and trust that what you need will eventually happen. The theory has worked so far!
“In short, we found the local people really friendly and best of all they love having their photo taken. David and I spent hours the first day wandering the streets getting a feel for daily life in Saumlaki. The people were keen to interact but didn’t hassle you like they are inclined to do in Bali.”
From Kupang, the yachts head north to Alor where a cultural expo has been laid on for the sailors at the local stadium with hundreds of locals dressed up in traditional costumes for a bit of a sing-song.
After a leisurely few days sailing around the myriad inlets of South Sulawesi, the yachts get more traditional with stops in Lombok and Bali before visiting Karimunjawa and Warung Ibu Esther who can expect a busy few days meeting the needs of these ravenous, old sea dogs.
Bypassing Jakarta and spurning the delights of Bandung with its factory outlets and numerous shops selling brownies, the yachts head north across the Java Sea to the Kumai River and its world famous orangutan rehabilitation project before ending the Indonesian leg in Bangka and Belitung and heading north for Singapore.
It all sounds like a logistical nightmare, but the whole event is carried out by a loose group of organisers and everything is done via the Internet to keep expenses to a minimum. The organisers are at pains to say they get full support from government officials, be they in a tiny coastal hamlet or the real power brokers in Jakarta. Still, it has been an annual event in various guises since the turn of the 21st century and given the ever increasing complexity and numbers of competitors, it says much for the efforts of all concerned.
When you consider all the work that goes on behind the scenes it is perhaps a shame the rally is so poorly publicised around the rest of the country. Ok, so we can’t expect local papers to embed reporters on one of the yachts but surely something on this scale deserves more in the way of promotion, and after all the resultant publicity can only be good for Indonesia!