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Our first visit to Indonesia with The Sail Maluku Rally

By Sandy and Phil Wise of SY Southern Wing — last modified Oct 15, 2013 08:19 PM
In two weeks time we will have finished sailing Indonesia for the first time. Before leaving Australia we discussed whether to participate in a rally or not and are very happy that we decided to do so. I have written an article of our first rally experience and of the first Sail Maluku rally for the benefit of others. I hope it is helpful to those yachts wondering whether to join a rally.

Published: 2013-10-13 23:00:00
Countries: Indonesia

The Sail Maluku Rally

The 2013 Sail Maluku Rally started in Cairns on the 25th of July and finished in Ambon around the 28th August. However, I understand it is starting earlier in 2014 around the 10th of July to give the yachts plenty of time to see the Queensland North coast. Details can be obtained on the sailmalukuarchipelago.com web site. It was run for the first time this year and is organised by Hellen DeLima, one of the primary organisers of the Darwin to Ambon Race and Rally.

Cairns, Australia

If you live on the east coast of Australia, Cairns is a great place to start your rally, with buskers and organised activities on the esplanade, picture theatre, shops, restaurants and supermarkets all within walking distance of the Marina.  A good place to stock up with fresh food is Rusty's markets which are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There are also haul out facilities and marine supply shops close at hand for any of those spare parts that you often need at the last minute before departing on an overseas cruise.

Depending on whether you anchor up river or at the port entry, a short dinghy trip will take you to the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron which has cheap lunch time meals as well as a restaurant for the more enthusiatic of eaters. If you want to save a bit of time sailing, day or weekend road trips can be taken to Port Douglas, the Daintree and Cooktown as well as the many wonderful small towns, rivers and beaches around Cairns.

Our last day in Cairns finally came and we met the rally organisers at the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron restaurant. Raymond Lesmana from the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy flew in from Ambon along with support staff and Helen DeLima the Rally organiser. After introductions, a great lunch and a briefing, we went back to the boat and I saw a huge crocodile lolling around in the water about 25 meters from the back of our boat. With all the  boat activity in Cairns I would not have thought there would be any crocodiles in the port area. This sighting didn't help my nerves when Phil went over the side the next day to scrape the barnacles off the props before we left.

The Route

This year the Sail Maluku Rally cleared into Indonesia at Saumlaki. In 2014 the rally may also be clearing in at Tual. From there you make your way to Ambon to join with the festivities of the Darwin Ambon race final. Some yachts clear out of Thursday Island while others clear from Cairns. Clearing out of Thursday Island enables you to stop along the Queensland coast especially at the beautiful anchorage of Lizard Island. From Cairns leisurely day sails can be done along the coast to Thursday Island and then its a 3-5 day sail to Saumlaki.

Leaving from Cairns avoids the often bumpy trip across the gulf to Darwin as the sailing angle to Saumlaki generally has the wind from behind making for a more comfortable sail in the often windy conditions experienced in the Torres Straight/Arafura Sea. Also, if you have already been to Darwin you don't have to endure the trip there to join a rally.

Queensland Coast

We departed Cairns 9.30 am and had a slow run to the Lowe Isles approx 35 nmiles away. Here we cleaned the hulls of weed we had collected from sitting in Cairns for a month. One of the first stops along the way is either the Lowe Isles out from Port Douglas or Port Douglas itself. From there it is a choice of the Hope Isles, Cooktown or Cape Bedford depending on the winds and what one wants to experience.

Cooktown can be difficult to get in and out of but is a must if you have never been there. Entering Cooktown is OK but beware at low tide getting across a shallow bank at the entrance to the bay near the wharf. Leaving Cooktown the stong winds can be on the beam making for an uncomfortable ride.

After Cape Bedford it is the beautiful Lizard Island with its crystal clear waters and angel fish that swim around the back of your boat. The clam garden, beatiful coloured fish and coral is within snorkeling distance from your boat depending where you anchor of course.

After Lizard, Bathurst Bay is a good anchorage, however beware of the strong winds that can funnel around the Cape just after the last set of boulders. Once in close to the shore the fury stops and a nice night can be experienced.

From Bathurst we went to Morris Island, a little coral atol with a beautiful sandy beach all the way round. Do not go in too close at Morris as there is coral along the bottom. A nice place to take a walk and stretch the legs. Each of these later stops are about 60 to 70 nautical miles apart and with the brisk winds is easy enough to get in before dark if you leave first thing in the morning.

After Morris Island it is 60 nautical miles to Portland Roads, then on to Shelburne Bay.

After Shelburne Bay there is the Endeavour River where a local will guide you in around the pearl farms.

If you have a fast enough boat and the winds are brisk you can make Shallow Bay before dark just on the other side of the Albany Pass. However, its a good idea to time your passage through the pass to coinside with the current or it can be very rough if the wind against the storng current that can go through the pass. If this is the case it can often be best to pull in at Endeavour and wait for the right tide and do the pass the next day. We experienced 25 to 30 knt winds while up here and a 2 1/2 to 3 metre sea.

From Shallow Bay it is a short sail to Horn Island where you can anchor while you clear out of Thursday Island. With onshore winds it is not a pleasant anchor at Thursday Island so most people catch the ferry across from Horn Island.

Australia to Indonesia

After clearing out (allow two working days), we took 4 nights to sail to Saumlaki. We had varying winds from 12 to 20 knts from behind during the trip with the seas varying from 5 to 3 meters. It is best to keep south of the Economic Exclusion Zone and within the Australian waters going across the top, as you are less likely to encounter the long line nets from foreign fishing boats fishing in international waters. At 2 am the second night, we got caught on one of these nets. It was not possible to go around them because they appeared to go from one end of the horizon to the other. Our friends' monohull, Watusi, seamed to go over the top of them without too much trouble. We were ready for the second one and pulled up rudders and centre board to skip over the top also without a problem.

Indonesia - Saumlaki

As you go into Saumlaki beware the fish traps - bamboo platforms. I would avoid going into any of these anchorages at night if you can help it as many of the traps do not have lights on them. If there is enough of a moon it can be done.

At Suamlaki we anchored with the boat sitting at way point S 7o 58' 521, E 131o 17.444 in 18 meters and took a good half day to clear in and out. Interpreters were provided by the rally and were at our service during the whole of our stay. The interpreters can assist with buying your indonesian Telkomsel SIM card for your phone which will enable you to call home and use the local WI FI for the internet which you pay for. However none of the boats here were able to get their (already paid for) Telkomsel data download sorted out until Ambon. If you go to the main Telkomsel office in Ambon they will do it for you.

There are fresh fruit and veges at the local Saumlaki markets - sweat potato, bok choy, beans, chillies, garlic, eggs, potatoes, bananas, citris and local fruit. There is also a supermarket where you can buy most things and it is cheaper than buying it in Australia but certainly not at the level of KMart. We did not find any meat. You may find chicken and fish but it is usually unrefrigerated.

Eating out is fabulous and also very cheap - only A$1.50 a meal and it is delicious. If you eat or drink at the resorts you will pay top dollar, however some people may prefer the resort atmosphere.

Washing can also be done for A$6 to A$10 per kilo but negotiate first.

After 3 and a half days in Suamlaki we went around the corner and visted the local village at Latdalam. This is worth a visit and books, pens and anything educational is appreciated by the local school. The local school teacher Harold will very kindly show you around after introducing you to the head of the village.

Banda Spice Islands

From Latdalam we did an overnighter to the Banda spice islands, which are a must. A fabulous set of volcanic islands. To anchor, you back up to the stone wall on Banda Neira Island just up from the wharf at the local village. The locals will help you do this. Do not tie up near the wharf as the ferry will wash you away when it comes in. There is WIFI right where you tie up. While here, we hired drivers and went for a motor bike trip around the island for 50,000 Rp which is $5 Australian dollars. Phil went for a walk up the active volcano and still says it is one of the highlights so far of the trip. If you have time the cooking lessons at Mutiara Guesthouse (search google for details) are really worth every penny. The food there is the best we have tasted in Indonesia.

Ambon

From Banda Neira we did another overnighter to Ambon and had the most fabulous time with the end of rally celebrations, which included a gala dinner at the Mayor's house. We anchored at Amahusu just down from Ambon city where tents were erected for the local festivities put on for the yachty's. This included local dancing, singing and cultural activities. A trip into the markets at Ambon by local bus (called beama's) cost 3,000 Rp each (.30c Australian) if the bus is full. Some people were charged 10,000 Rp. and thought they were being over charged, but 10,000 Rp each is a minimum charge if you are the only ones in the bus.

From Ambon we decided to join the Komodo Rally. Our trip across the Banda Sea was a dream. However, beware of logs and rubish as you leave Ambon. Once you are well out to sea there is usually not a problem. The Komodo trip is another story which I will save for another article.

TO RALLY OR NOT TO RALLY?

Some people do not have good experiences of Rally's, however, I feel the benefits outweigh the negatives. The greatest benefit is the support and service offered at each port of call and the assistance given to negotiate the incredible amount of paper work required to travel Indonesia by boat . Organised tours, celebrations and local information are also provided. Another benefit is being able to avoid bribes which you are more likely to encounter if travelling under your own steam. In addition, if you get into any trouble or have any boat problems, a direct call to the rally organiser such as Helen DeLima from Sail Maluku or Raymond from the Ministry of Tourism, and it is sorted out for you. The other great benefit is that we would not have had many of the incredible experiences we had if we had not been with the rally. Patience is needed with the language barrier and there are less misunderstandings if you write things down especially when it come to money transactions. The rally organise your CAIT, give information on how to obtain your VISA, provide the sponsor letter and often provide interpreters and guides who are very friendly and helpful. They organised the customs, immigrations, quarantine and harbour master as well as getting diesel for your boat (called Solar in Indonesia).

One of the good points about doing the northern route, the Maluku Archipeligo and North East Indonesia, is that it is less affected by westernisation and tourism than Western Indonesia.  Another north eastern rally is the Sail Raja Ampat in mid June at Raja Ampat - West Papua.

The best part of our whole trip I must say is the people and the unspoiled nature of East Indonesia. If you choose to do the Maluku Rally, check the website (sailmalukuarchipelago.com) as the above details may have changed for 2014. We had a great time and would highly recommend the rally road to anyone.

Sandy and Phil Wise
SY: Southern Wing
Country: Australia

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