Saumlaki and Banda

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Sun 2 Aug 2009 12:36
The rally's up and running.  It is a rather fragmented affair and seems at times to be directionless - a far cry from the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally that we joined in 2004.  We sadly miss the strong Turkish team under charismatic leadership and the excellent contacts they built up with marina management and tourist people in the various countries visited.  There is less evidence of strong leadership here.  One of the organizers' problems, not their fault, is that the rally, which they have run for 11 years has been partially hijacked by the government.  Indonesia is running a large maritime event in the north of Sulawesi (Celebes) to boost tourism, awareness of the marine environment, foster good relations and so on and so forth.  All sorts of senior politicians and ships will be present including three tall ships, various warships and the mighty USS George Washington.  The government literature refers to the presence of 164 boats from the biggest yacht rally ever held in the region, but unfortunately few of us will be there in spite of the offer of the return of our Aus$500 Sail Indonesia entry fee if we just turn up.  Most have decided that it is too far to go, not our scene when we get there and too far into the wind coming back.  Many boats have peeled off already.  The rally organisers, clearly miffed at having to encourage the yachties to go so far out of their way, have been forced to plan a less attractive itinerary than usual and it rather looks as if they might have lost interest in the whole thing. 
We had a good sail from Darwin but when we got to the island of Yamdena there was total chaos on several fronts.  Saumlaki is not a regular port of entry so it had been arranged for the officials to be flown in from other islands.  At first "Immigration" decided not to turn up but after frantic persuasion by the rally organisers were prevailed upon to assist.  A single officer arrived expecting to process 40 people but found he had nearer 400.  However, one has to say that the various officials have not been the problem.  All were smartly turned out, friendly, straight and efficient within the limits imposed by typewriters and carbon paper.  They were also hard-working.  "Quarantine" were at it, going from boat to boat each night until the light failed and when we were politely turned away from office doors while bureaucrats ate lunch, it was for 15 minutes.  No complaints there.  
The Gala Dinner to get the social programme off to a flying start was much as expected - 200 to 300 people in a big hall with speeches translated phrase by phrase from Indonesian, dances, the award of prizes and trophies (everything from being first yacht over the start line; first to arrive; eldest participant; skippers) and some good food.  Not everybody agreed about the food because it was set out on tables around the perimeter of the room and apparently one had to be very hungry and sharp-elbowed to get at it.  Some were, some were too well brought up.  We were fortunate because we arrived late and the ladies in charge took pity on us, dishing up excellent food in an ante-room.  We were well satisfied.  The reason we were late was the (almost) total failure of the water taxi service.  The whole fleet had been promised lifts to the shore at reasonable cost starting at 1600.  In our dinghy the trip would take about 25 minutes and we should be returning after dark so we decided to avail ourselves of the service.  In the event, and after increasingly agitated radio calls from all over the bay, nothing happened until about 1900 when a big RIB from our accompanying Fishery Protection Vessel arrived with a crew of 3 sailors and room for 8 passengers.  By the time they got us ashore it was too dark to go back to find other cruisers waving frantically all over the anchorage, the crew had run out of fuel and had no money to buy more.  To our great surprise and relief the noble matelots arrived back at the right place, at the right time to return us to our boats.  The alternative would have been................unbearable even to think about.
One must not be entirely negative.  One of the things we were advised to do before leaving Darwin was to have an "official" ship's stamp made.  We invested in the de luxe self-inking version.  Sure enough, at our first encounter with authority we were asked: "You have sheep stamp?".  We said we had.  "Pliz, here."  Bang! Bang!  on 2 copies of our crew list across the skipper's signature.  It is really very satisfying and everybody seems much happier to be dealing with a proper yacht.
Saumlaki is off the usual tourist track but we were provided with opportunities to visit villages and buy their carvings and (quite interesting, this) their distilled hooch.  I think the carvings were probably made by machine in Jakarta but the still was interesting.  Sap is drained into bottles high up in palm trees, boiled over an open fire and the distillate cooled by passing it through a long bamboo pipe.  I am told it tastes like schnapps.  We also were invited to admire a number of other attractions but I am afraid I did not find them very interesting or very good art.  Mags enjoyed talking to the villagers and their children.  It was surprising to learn that a high proportion of the people on Yamdena are Christian, mostly Catholic but with a fair number of Protestants.  Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.
We were the last boat to leave Saumlaki; perhaps we shall get a prize at the next official function.  Two or three days, off and on, had been spent struggling with a generator that would start but not keep running.  Eventually a comfort call to our friend Bill in Kingsbridge resulted in some good advice on diagnostics and I managed to crack the problem.  There's always something.  A small hotel right on the waterfront with shady seating and good food at lunchtime kept us contented as others sailed away.  
We sailed directly to Banda, taking 48 hours, but spent half that time trying to slow down before the brisk following wind so as to arrive in daylight.  This group of islands is quite different with much historical interest and European "baggage".  In the 1600s Banda was the only source of nutmeg and mace, which were more valuable than precious metals.  The Dutch were the most determined to secure the trade and strove for a monopoly.  A terribly cruel and ruthless governor reduced the population of the islands from 15,000 to 1000 in one of the most notorious incidents of the times.  As well as ensuring that they were not frustrated by the locals, the Dutch were anxious to see off any claims by other powers, notably the British and Portuguese.  A deal was struck with the British who gave up claims on Banda in exchange for Manhattan.  The Dutch remained until the outbreak of the second world war and were dissuaded from returning afterwards by the United Nations.  The capital, Naira, is now a pleasant if scruffy little town  with some nice colonial buildings and others much less substantial.  Regretably some of the finest buildings were damaged in rioting only a few years ago. There is some tourism and the people are friendly without any of the pushy begging and importuning that some of us have already found on other islands.  We have had one excellent meal ashore at the guest house of a successful young businessman who also runs an interesting tour of a nutmeg plantation.  We had to cry off our first attempt to join the tour because the stiff breeze in the sound resulted in boats careering all over the place at the end of their chains.  We had to stay on board to keep watch for a couple of hours.
There is an active volcano looming over this anchorage - two wide black scars through the vegetation mark where the lava flowed in 1988.  We are keeping an anxious look-out for any untoward activity on the summit.  All clear so far.
To Ambon next, approximately 130 miles to the north-west of here.  We shall probably leave on Tuesday.