Banda Islands

Mon 2 Aug 2010 03:28
Todays date, after much thought, and corrections, 2nd August, 2010.
Recent Location 04:31S 129:53.9E.  Anchorage between Pulau Neira and Gunung Api
Current position: 3:48.3S 128:04.5E.  Approaching Ambon.
We are motoring accross flattish seas with zero wind, but a long swell sufficient to roll the boat and slide the computer about! It ain't harf hot, Mum. Cockpit shades and curtains drawn, but little air moves. Our washing from yesterday (see below) lingers damp in the humidity. Hope to arrive with the last of the remaining fleet in Ambon ths afternoon.
Banda was great and with hindsight well worth the discomfort of getting there. We were relieved to find that the everyone that we spoke to admitted some sea sickness, and several boats had considered 'jacking in' the Banda Islands trip and retreating to downwind Kupang. As only between thirty and forty boats ever showed up here I conclude that many others perhaps chose the easy option. One near miss: a yacht lost some of its mast rigging in the worst of it, and the skipper went up the mast to try to fix things. The boat was then dismasted, and the skipper thrown from aloft into the sea. Somehow it was possible to recover him, and the crew were then able to cut the remaining support wires so that the mast could be allowed to sink (alongside in a big sea, a damaged mast can puncture the hull like a battering ram). They proceeded under engine, but the gearbox failed a few miles short of the Islands, and they somehow got a tow for the last bit. Our friends on Orono 1, a huge cat, have now very kindly towed the striken yacht to Ambon where they will at least be able to get mechanical repairs done, once the spares have been flewn in, and luxury goods import duty paid!!
The anchorage off Bandaneira was deep indeed, and we anchored in thirty metres of water. Once our thirty three metres of chain was let out, we had to detatch it from the boat and insert another fifty metres of rope warp, to allow the anchor and some chain to lie horizontally on the sea bed, and dig in. Carelessly, and also perhapsbecause we have never done this manouvre in anger before, I caught my right hand between the forks of the bow roller and the chain. I still don't remember just how we extricated said hand, but Hannah was very cool and helpful, despite a lot of blood! Quite miraculously there was no significant damage, just several areas of torn/sheared skin which so far are healing well Secondary infection is apparently a real risk in tropical salt water, so I am watching for the gangrene! Good also that it was my right hand, I am left handed. Interesting aside, the Indonesians don't use toilet paper, they wash with water and their left hands. Greeting handshakes are therefore always conducted right hand to right hand!
We were boarded by sweating Officials, Hannah says that there were six: that constitutes a crowd in our cabin, certainly. At this point our decision to join the rally seemed to pay off: very straightforward officialdom, just a gentle telling off for not having prepared eight copies of my crew list, and some sideways glances at my little drinks store. Ashore then for another round of officialdom, and we were in, no charge, no bribary or corruption. We had not secured the boat, or thought ahead, as we went ashore with the Customs guys, but onshore we were just in time for the end of the welcome ceremony: traditional dancing in the old fort, and fireworks. Just time to fall into a cafe (plastic stools, plastic tablecloths), but managed to order fried chicken and vegetables and some rice which even Hannah could pick over quite effectively: the Nutmeg Cafe became our favourite!. At the dancing we were seated just behind the dignitaries, including the self styled 'King of the Bandas' The important people arrived via a four wheel drive Toyota, the only car that we saw on the Island. Mortals walk,a chosen few have motorbikes. Pedestrians suffer as a result! The streets are packed volcano ash, with some metalling here and there. There are of course no pavements. 6,000 population, and lots of small shops selling foodstuff and other basics. The buildings reflect the Dutch Presence on the Islands for so many years, some are original, others have been restored. The traditional dancing was at times quite sombre, retelling the atrocities of the Dutch in former times.
Next day off to P Banda Besar, the largest island, and where the nutmeg comes from. The trick is the climate, and the fact that the nutmeg trees thrive if grown under the shade of huge root butressed 'almond' trees. The almonds are not the european type but distinctive and tasty: a local dish is aubergines with almond sauce: delicious. They also grow cinamon and cloves. I had no idea that the cloves we buy in Morrisons are dried fruit. We watched the process: the farmer lays out the picked cloves in the sun, and sits down beside them. Job done! So spice farming is quite simple, it was just that for a couple of centurys after the Europeans discovered the Islands and their trade to the East, no one could figure out how to do it in other parts of the globe. Meal that evening with friends Nancy and Commodore (its a long story) from the US at perhaps the best eatery on the island. UK prices, but a delicious buffet. Day after was 'school day'. Hannah and her friends Heidi and PJ were set before the local school, and songs were sung and halting questions posed in English. The visit had been proposed by one of our guides who had been seconded from her job as English Teacher to help the influx of sailors. During the lesson the headmaster sat to the side of the room, chain smoking and flicking his ash out of the glassless window! Hannah gave an excellent and entirely improptu rendition of 'replay' to great applause. So, an interseting incursion into island life. In the afternoon, Hannah was off swimming with her new friends. In the evening supper at the Nutgeg, and an early bedtime: we had a 05.30 date onshore next day to climb the 2,000 foot volcano. The climb is at first light, you get to the top in time for breakfast and sunshine photos, and you are back down for elevenses. However pouring with rain at 05.30, and our guide anounced that it would be best to put off the trip for at least a day. Instead we visited the Dutch Fort, Bentang Beligica, built more to repel the English that to quell local trouble makers who were rounded up, beheaded, and quartered! Cleared out with the Harbour Master for departure the next day (very unusual to be allowed to do this, you normally depart at once). So, our last evening and just time to take the dinghy out to the northern tip of Gunung Api, where recent hot lava had fallen and promoted some impressive new coral. I had not been swimming since New Caledonia, two years ago, and it was delightful, but still cold after 20 mins with white fingers. Hannah came along and really enjoyed herself, her previous swims over coral have not allways been 100% sucessful. Next morning up at 05.30 as usual, but frustrated to find no sign of the guide, despite clear skies, and the tip of the volcono free from cloud. Back to the boat in a bad mood to doiscover that the clock was wrong: we had been half an hour early. I have never in my life been half an hour early for anything. Just got back to the shore in time to make the climb. It was truly a grim affair, very hot, and very steep, with loose shale and scree everywhere. The Guide kept us going, and his presence may have prevented a mutiny! Finally the trees gave way to bracken and then just hot smouldering rocks as we approached the precipitous summit. Fissures have opened, and clearly the summit will soon fall into the crater below. Indeed our guide would not come up the last 100 yards, but other parties were already there, and we were not detered. Great views, not ideal photo light, but a great sense of achievement. Going down was worse. Hannah went for most of the 2,000 feet on her bottom, but she has outgrown her jeans, so not a big problem!. We met Nancy and Commodore going up: They looked just as I had been feeling, drenched in sweat, but worse, they were in shorts, and had forgoten their mossie repellant: Boy, they were sure glad to borrow out bushwhacker spray!!
Back down on the dockside we were so busy getting ready to leave, that we didn't realise how whacked we were. We did get our jobs done, and washed our filthy clothes, and followed the fleet out of the Islands at 15.00 hours. The anchor came up a treat, thank goodness for the electric windlass, and nothing slipped, and I kept me fingers out of harms way. Our passage to Ambon has been pretty windless as predicted, and we have motored for most of the distance. I hope we don't have to motor all the way to Bali. Hannah fell asleep last night even before Jane Eyre had been opened, I slept quite well, although there has been some fishing boat activity to keep an eye out for. We should be in there by four o'clock. Keep you posted!