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Sail Raja Ampat 2014: the little rally to the World’s last paradise

By Joel Duvert — last modified Apr 23, 2015 01:23 PM
From June 12th to June 21st, 2014 my wife Mandy and I participated in the very first Sail Raja Ampat rally aboard our 42’ Beneteau 411.

Published: 2014-07-27 23:00:00
Countries: Indonesia

Sail Raja Ampat 2014: the little rally to the World’s last paradise

Hidden bay in Penemu Island © SY Jomandy

Background

This new rally took us from the Kei islands, in the South East Moluccas province of Far Eastern Indonesia, to the archipelago of Raja Ampat (which literally translates to the “Four Kings”) that is located off the far North-Western tip of the Papua province of Indonesia.

World's Last Paradise is the name by which the Raja Ampat archipelago is widely known and called today. The scenery of beautiful pristine limestone karst islands and its marine biodiversity are second to none.

Several surveys by marine biologists have found that these islands, sitting right at the heart of the "Coral Triangle", have the very highest marine biodiversity in the World, with a profusion of coral (more than 600 species, that is 75% of all known coral in the world) and tropical fish (more than 1300 species), unmatched anywhere else.

“The kingdom of coral”, “Reefs on steroids”, “The world richest reefs”, are some of the superlatives used by diving magazines to describe this underwater paradise.

Being keen amateurs of underwater wonders, we were eager to see it first-hand, and Sail Raja Ampat was a unique occasion to get to this remote location, well “off the yachties beaten tracks”.

Paperwork

Back in April, when we were still cruising in New Caledonia, Hellen De Lima, the rally organizer, (hellen_ambon@yahoo.com) was very efficient in getting us the Cruising Authorization for Indonesian Territory (CAIT), and a sponsor letter from the Indonesian government, that she emailed to the Indonesian General Consulate in Noumea, from where we got our 2 months SUSBUD (social) visa in less than 1 week, thanks to the very friendly consulate staff.

The CAIT is offered free of charge as part of the rally package.

We emailed Hellen all the required documents (scanned copies), and she got the CAIT in less than 1 week from the central government in Jakarta.

Arrival in Indonesia - Kei Islands

After a long, but fast, passage from Vanuatu, we arrived on June 11th at the much protected anchorage of Debut village, in the Kei islands (05°44S, 132°40E), 1st stage of the rally, which is conveniently located few kilometers from Tual, the far easternmost port of entry in Indonesia.

In spite of being one day earlier than the official beginning date of the rally, Hellen and her assistant Leni were already there to welcome us, and swiftly brought aboard an interpreter from the Tourism Department, together with the quarantine, customs, immigration, and harbour master officers, who cleared us in less than 1 hour in a very professional and friendly way.

One of the other good reasons to join the rally was the easiness to get the CAIT and the processing of clearance formalities in Indonesia, so dreaded by the yachties who do it on their own.

Then we were taken aboard a vehicle driven by the deputy director of the Fishery department, who drove us around the twin towns of Langgur/Tual, to withdraw cash from an ATM, get 3G internet (Hellen had previously offered a SIM card to each crew of every sailboat), and provisions from a well stocked supermarket.

We were also treated to a great lunch with delicious Moluccan food.

Welcome

On the morning of the second day a bus chartered by the Tourism Department took us to the Hawang cave, kind of beautiful fresh water blue grotto, then to the lovely Ngursarnadan beach a.k.a Pasir Panjang (Long beach).

After another very good lunch we went back in the afternoon to Debut, in order to attend the very official welcome ceremony of the rally, in the presence of the Vice Regent, the mayor of Debut, officials from all the administrations of the Regency, and almost all the population of Debut.

A shaman performed a traditional Kei island welcome ceremony, with prayers and coconut water that he sprinkled on the rally participants!

The following morning we had a nice party at the Ngursarnadan beach, with a sumptuous brunch of Kei island specialties.

First stop: The Island of Waigeo - Wasai

The afternoon was dedicated to refueling, then we left for the 360 NM passage to Wasai, the capital of the Raja Ampat regency, on the island of Waigeo.

A good 20kts southerly breeze pushed us almost all the way North, dying just after rounding cape Mabo on Batanta island: we had to motor the last 35 NM.

The arrival point was in front of the Waivo resort, 3NM west of Wasai, where 10 brand new “enormous” mooring buoys have been installed, because the anchorage is deep. Another sailboat was already there, coming from the Philippines and joining the rally at this point: all together we were just 4 boats.

Leni, from the rally organization committee, was there to welcome us, together with 2 young ladies from the Regency tourism department: they offered each participant of the rally, a nice bag, a tee-shirt, a cap, and a badge of the Raja Ampat tourism entrance fee (worth IDR500.000). Then they took us for a tour of Wasai town, where we had the opportunity to provision at the fresh market.

Later at the resort dive shop, we organized 2 dives for the following morning: unfortunately a fresh southeasterly breeze came up during the night, and we could only dive once, at Mike’s point, the only spot sheltered from SE wind and chop. However we had a great dive, seeing beautiful and very colourful soft and hard corals, and the dive masters pointed us at some of the unique creatures found in Raja Ampat, such as nice specimens of nudibranches, and the tiny (less than 1 cm) pygmy sea horse, adept at camouflaging itself on gorgonians, hence very difficult to spot.

The 3rd day two speedboats took us for a fantastic tour of the bay of Kabui and few islands South West of Waigeo. The very closed bay of Kabui, on the South West coast of Waigeo, is a wonder of nature, with numerous limestone karst islets, of many shapes, mushroom, bee-hive, pencil, tower, etc… all surrounded by emerald water.

We exited the bay through the very spectacular “Passage” between Waigeo and Gam islands: it is a very narrow 1.5 NM channel, snaking between jungle-clad karst cliffs, deeply indented with many little coves and inlets, and one of the top diving spot in Raja Ampat.

Next Stop: Penemu Island

Next stop was the stunningly beautiful “hidden bay” of Penemu Is., one of the jewels of Raja Ampat

It is a totally closed small bay, hidden from offshore, with numerous karst islets covered with lush vegetation and like floating on incredibly emerald green water. The view from the recently installed look-out is absolutely breathtaking.

One can see photos taken from that vantage point on all the touristic brochures and websites dedicated to Raja Ampat.

Next Stop: Arborek Island

Then we went to Arborek Is. to visit its nice little village, with many “homestays” (low budget accommodation), and handicraft shops. The snorkeling beneath the jetty was beautiful and we saw a dozen of gigantic clams.

Then we were treated for lunch at a 5 star dive resort on Gam Is., before going back to Waivo.

End of the Rally in Waivo

On that evening we were invited to a gala dinner presided by the Secretary of the Regency of Raja Ampat.

Danang Rahadian, from the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, which is one of the main sponsors of the rally, specially flew in from Jakarta to also attend the dinner. After a speech from the Secretary of the Regency, then from 2 captains of the participating boats, we enjoyed a buffet of delicious local specialties.

We were entertained first by a local band with Papuan players in full folkloric gear, and later by a more conventional band with live singers: it was a great party.

The final day of the rally we were again taken by speedboat, this time to one of the most spectacular snorkeling spots we have ever seen: the Yenbuba jetty, on the eponymous island.

It has got everything: swimming along the shallow reef, on one side it’s teeming with multitudes of tropical fish and carpeted with a tremendous diversity of colourful hard and soft corals, and on the other side it quickly drops to more than 25m, and you can see, almost touch, schools of barracudas, huge snappers and groupers, giant trevallies and humpwrasses, turtles, and black tip sharks.

Post Rally - to Ambon

On our way to Ambon the following day, we stopped at a little cluster of islets just East of Penemu Is., where we went snorkeling along the cliff of the westernmost islet. It is a sheer vertical wall plunging to more than 50m, which is covered with magnificent hard and soft corals with the brightest colours of the rainbow: it’s just like a fantastic kaleidoscope!

Cost

The fee to join Sail  Raja Ampat 2014 was AUD150/person, as advertised in the website http://www.sailmalukuarchipelago.com
Considering that the CAIT was offered free of charge (value = USD270), our registration fee for 2 persons (AUD300) was a real bargain: it covered the cost of the CAIT and we had plenty of freemeals, gifts, tours, parties, etc...

Conclusion

For us Raja Ampat lived up to its reputation of best underwater paradise on Earth, and it surpasses our previous favourite spots i.e: the Red Sea, the Tuamotu, and Fiji.

We feel that we reached the final aquatic frontier, and wonder where to go now for snorkeling and diving without being disappointed!

Sail Raja Ampat was a wonderful way to visit the Kei islands and Raja Ampat, 2 beautiful places in Eastern Indonesia, unspoiled by mass tourism and westernization.

We are very grateful to the rally organizers and sponsors, who made it so easy, but also to the nice people of both this regions for their warm welcome, kindness and hospitality.

Mandy & Joel Duvert
S/Y  Jomandy

Sail Raja Ampat website:  www.sailmalukuarchipelago.com

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Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Apr 23, 2015 01:22 PM

This rally is running again for 2015, this time called the SAIL TOMINI/ RAJA AMPAT FESTIVAL 2015 RALLY. Departs from Samal Island, Philippines on August on 30 August. Find out more under Indonesia main page / Events.

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