May thru July 2013 Logs
Sunday July 21, 2013, Banda Naira, Banda Islands, Indonesia
Roger tells me I wait too long between log entries. That’s probably true but I don’t see that changing anytime soon. So sorry.
It’s a rainy Sunday morning here in the Spice Islands. Tomorrow we leave for a three day passage to Hoga Island off of Southeast Sulawesi. If you’re a diver you can just think of it as Wakatobi. Our last log update was strictly photos and came to you from Sorong, Indonesia where we checked in a little over two months ago. Since then we have run the gamut, emotionally speaking. My Dad passed away as I was making a mad dash back to the States. Roger stayed behind in Raja Ampat to care for the boat which was anchored behind the tiny, uninhabited Island of Yum, on the north side of Batanta. Cruising can be very tough when your heart is in one place and your body is in another.
After a month at home I returned to a lonesome but well fed Roger. The wonderful crew at the nearby Papua Paradise Dive Resort had taken him under their wing and made him one of the gang. Dinner invitations and dive trips kept his spirits buoyed.
Our original intention on coming to Raja Ampat (off the northwest coast of West Papua) was to dive what is considered by some to be ground zero for marine biodiversity. We had also hoped to explore some of the more remote Islands in the area but in the end exploration was not to be. I can’t say that we’re unhappy that we spent seven weeks in one place because the diving was, in fact, spectacular. Chris and Leah, the managers of Papua Paradise went above and beyond the call of duty both in getting me on a plane headed west and tending to Roger’s needs during my absence. Their dive staff including Brian, Ashley and Deni, introduced us to the underwater world of the Dampier Strait which was breathtaking. I can’t begin to list the creatures we saw. Five tasseled wobbegong sharks in one dive? The clarity was almost always “wow” as Deni would say.Roger had close to 40 dives and only on our first two dives at fam did the visiblity not cooperate. We were expecting to experience the off season green which we had heard about but we avoided it almost all together. The coral was vibrant and the fish always seemed to occur in great masses. All those attributes, in combination with the fact that we were always the only boat around for miles and miles, and , the only two divers on our boat, made for an absolutely unbeatable diving experience. As you can tell, we recommend Raja Ampat and Papua Paradise for your next dive experience!
We weren’t quite as successful with the wildlife on land. Our hike to see the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise, though very interesting, was less than 100% successful. A five a.m. departure from the boat via wooden canoe took us up a winding river into the interior of Batanta Island. A reasonable climb up a hill took us to our bird viewing blind. I blame my application of bug spray and an apparently not brief enough question about using my camera for the lack of a bird sighting. We did hear our quarry but there was no success on a visual. We have not bothered to include a photo of the log where the BOP was supposed to do his mating dance.
July 11th – July 14th Passage to Banda Islands
Finally, after getting Roger’s visa renewed we headed south. It was a reluctant departure from Pulau Yum and the crew at Papua Paradise but we hoisted our barnacle encrusted anchor and pointed the bow towards our next destination, the famed Spice Islands.
With all that had happened over the previous two months we were running a bit late as far as the sailing season goes. The transition period, where the wind is changeable in direction had passed us by and we were now firmly in the southwest monsoon which creates the southeast trades. Once we leave Banda this is a good thing. Getting from Raja Ampat to Banda was another thing altogether. We needed to head southeast to round the corner of Seram Island before we could head the final miles west to Banda.
Day one passed uneventfully. There was absolutely no wind (a good thing in these circumstances) and lovely puffy clouds. Naturally we threaded the reefs and small islands east of Misool in the moonless dark of night. Happily we came through unscathed. We had some heavy rain late in the night but there was no wind accompanying it. Again, a good thing.
Day two was overcast and we encountered a half a dozen fishing boats and their little float sticks marking nets. These sightings came to mind during my 6-9pm shift as the heavens opened up and dumped awesome amounts of rain on us. We couldn’t see thirty feet in front of us. The radar naturally showed lots of showers which can be very difficult to distinguish from tiny fishing boats. We turned on every deck light we thought would make us more visible. The rain didn’t ease up. By eleven we were both on deck. It was still pouring and we were getting ready to head through the islands east of Seram. There was a short steep chop which added to the action. Would the chop be worse as we passed through the Islands? They were ten miles apart so we hoped not. Strangely enough, once we made the right-hand turn, the pounding stopped. Were we now going with the current? Whatever the reason, we were very relieved. The rest of the night was significantly more relaxed. At ten a.m. we hove to in order to time our arrival in Banda for daylight. There was now no wind and we actually wanted it. By four p.m. the SE wind had filled in again and we were underway for our final leg. After a dry, uneventful, engine-free night we arrived in the Bandas early Sunday morning. After quibbling about where to anchor (stern tied to the quay so the locals could watch us shower or in the giant anchor-eating boulders north of town) we finally opted for the anchor-eating boulders, dropped the hook and went to sleep.
July 15th – July 21st, Banda Islands, Indonesia
From 1599 to 1799 Banda was the center of the world’s spice trade. The wealth the spices created was astounding. Was Columbus looking for the Bandas when he “discovered” America? Hmmm.
The Dutch East India Company created a monopoly here, completely controlling the export of Nutmeg and mace to the west. In the first twenty years of their tenancy they slaughtered 90% of the Bandanese who were, apparently, not as cooperative as the Dutch had hoped. Today the Islands have reverted to the quiet, laid back place they must once have been. The airport has not seen a plane in the last six months. If you come to visit, it is by the boat that arrives every two weeks. It is not a destination undertaken lightly.
On Monday, our first day ashore, we met the cast of characters who would direct our one week stay at Banda. Dede, manager of the Maulana Hotel. Hussein, (self appointed?) Harbormaster and manager of the Laguna Hotel. Bakri, tour guide and general jack of all trades and Eddie, the one and only dive guide, seemingly shared by every dive operation in town (at least in the off season.)
They all want to organize fuel, water, laundry, tours, lunch and whatever else you might need. They become misty-eyed as they remember the wonderful days of Sail Banda 2010. So much fun, so much to do. So lucrative. Since Hussein had secured our “important papers” for the duration we opted to go with his offer of assistance.
On Tuesday Bakri, a relative of Hussein’s took us on a nifty tour of Banda Naira and the plantation island, Banda Besar. From the quietly crumbling Dutch buildings of downtown to the renovated Fort Belgica which perches above the town we made our way from sight to sight. Bakri’s explanations of what we saw were helpful and informative. Our only trouble came when he tried to explain the current taxation scheme applied to the nutmeg crop. We gave up on that topic after minimal discussion.
Wednesday was a dive day. The weather was overcast and the water felt chillier than we were used to. After nice dives off of the Island of Sjahrir and Gunung Api’s lava flow our teeth were chattering. We were blissfully happy to return to our nest on the boat. We ventured out later in search of internet but instead encountered Bakri who led us to his house for cinnamon tea and fried potatoes.
Thursday was a rain day. Roger made a successful trip into town to fetch our cash from Western Union. Amazingly there is an ATM here. Unfortunately it accepts only MasterCard. Bakri, his wife Mila and their daughter Sakira joined us on the boat for dinner in the evening. Mila brought eggplants with almond sauce as well as Ramadan cakes.
Friday was another dive day, this one sunny. We were joined for the outing by a Canadian couple. On the agenda were Batu Kapal and Batu Belanda. Both dives were wonderful with an amazing array of stuff to see. The first was a set of 3 pinnacles rising from 120 feet to 15 feet and the second was a beautiful wall rising from 120 feet with many caves along its face. The Bandas seem to encourage the growth of giant sea fans and huge barrel sponges. There were also dozens of moray eels. Red tooth triggerfish and pyramid butterfly fish were in clouds above it all. In the afternoon we went to the market and secured some veggies. Shopping for other stuff is a bit more difficult and requires an open mind.
Saturday was a boat work day. We cleaned dead barnacles out of the anchor locker and transferred into our tanks the fuel that Hussein turned up with. Bakri appeared at the boat during cocktail hour with a giant hand of bananas. They are all going to become ripe simultaneously and we’ll be eating bananas to beat the band.
Today we’ll head to Delfica Guest House for Nasi Ikan (fried fish) and tomorrow we’ll finish boat prep before departing in the late afternoon. We have enjoyed the beauty of the architecture and the energy of the people here. We are even (almost) used to the seven competing muezzin’s sending their calls to prayer in our direction.