The festivities at Debut had officially marked the start of the 2017 Sail 2 Indonesia Rally.
Now, it was a 200 mile sail to our next destination of Banda Neira.
A large group of yachts left Debut together on the same day, but we needed to be on our constant guard for fishing boats, nets and the many FAD’s (fish attracting devices) that were now part and parcel of life in Indonesian waters.
These FAD’s are either drifting or fixed in hundreds of meters of water in the vicinity of nearby islands. Some have lights to attract the fish, and some even have living quarters for the fisherman to stay aboard.
It was a fast sail with the wind mostly behind us, and Stars End 2 kept up an impressive pace, making great headway.
We stopped overnight at Walia Island, some 25miles from Debut, and continued the following day with an overnight sail to the Banda Islands.
When we arrived at Banda Neira, due to the lack of shallow water near the township, we dropped anchor 50 meters from shore and then reversed back so we could attach ropes from the stern of the yacht to trees and buildings onshore. Some of the rally yachts chose to anchor in the shallower waters of the ‘Neira Roads’ a half mile away, but whilst they had good snorkeling nearby, they had the negatives of the ‘current on tide’ effect plus the dinghy ride to the center of town.
Banda Neira is a volcanic island in the Banda Archipelago and historically known as the Spice Islands , the only place in the world until the mid 19th Century where nutmeg and mace could be found. Nutmeg is a large evergreen tree, native to the Moluccas and the Spice Islands.
500 years ago, this province of Maluku was the most valuable piece of real estate in the world. Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan were just some of the explorers of that time who spread the word of god and also enthusiastically secured as many spices as their boats would hold. Although the work was treacherous, a sack full of nutmeg from Banda could put a common sailor into an early retirement if he made it back to Europe alive with the legendary spices to hand.
In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was formed with a base on Banda Neira, and in 1667, the Treaty of Breda was signed, with an agreement based around a property swap of the then English ‘Run Island’ with then Dutch ‘New Amsterdam’ now known as ‘Manhattan’, in modern day New York.
Nowadays, the town still has the remnants of the early Dutch Fort, and is only one of three inhabited islands, which also grow almonds and cloves.
95% of the population are Muslim, so we tried to respect their beliefs and dress appropriately, even in the extreme heat.
Every day, starting at 4.30am, we were woken to the chanting of the call to prayers broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the town, which occurred 5 times a day, and within a few days, I even started to recognize the same prayers.
As in Debut, there was an information booth set up on the foreshores of Banda Neira, where we could register as part of the rally, and find out all the activities and tours available. Many of the rally yachts joined in the gala dinner, with a colorful cultural performance by local dancers complete with their nutmeg collecting baskets.
The town was a fascinating collection of small alleyways and winding paths along the foreshores where vendors sold their wares and local delicacies on tables or market stalls. Many laid out their fish, dried nutmeg, almonds and mace to dry in the hot sun, and the houses were a colorful collection of Dutch colonial and local styles.
There was a large selection of cafe’s and restaurants where we could enjoy a wholesome lunch of local fare- Nasi Goreng or Gado Gado for as little as Au$2.50 or Au$3 or a 2 course banquet for $10, the beer was actually more expensive than the food at 500 RP ($5) a large bottle,. It was all so ridiculously cheap and tasty that we scarcely ate on board our yachts at all for the duration of our stay.
One thing we found a hassle at Banda was the cash access from the ATM machine- Visa was declined numerous times by many people, and so after several failed attempts we ended up having to use our credit MasterCard at the only bank ATM access for a cash advance.
We thoroughly enjoyed a most informative and interesting tour by local boat to the nearby island where they have a thriving nutmeg and almond plantation.
The nutmeg fruit produces 2 spices – mace and nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit and mace is the lacy aril covering on the kernel, previously used as a meat preservative and thought to be the precious cure for the bubonic plague.
A single mature nutmeg tree produces up to 2,000 nutmegs per year. Nutmeg has no particular season; the fruit ripens all year round, so its harvest provides the Banda islanders with a steady income. The trees are grown in the shelter and shade of the larger spreading almond trees, and they also grow cloves and cinnamon trees.
We had a wonderful farewell BBQ at the Cilu Bintang Estate Hotel/Restaurant, in the shadow of the old Dutch Fort. Abba and his wife Dilla, run an amazing hotel, restaurant and cooking school so a group of us ‘yachtie’ ladies had a fabulous afternoon learning how to cook some of the local delicacies using the spices from the island and impressing our husbands with a meal to demonstrate the results.
Watch out all my friends as I now have an Indonesian repertoire of cuisine to impress you all with when I return home and a selection of fragrant fresh spices I purchased!
On our last day at Banda Neira, Abba organized a tour for a group of us and we had a ‘hairy’ ride on a very tender local long boat to the nearby island of Ai about 10 miles away, in some brisk swells. We enjoyed some snorkeling, a tour around the village and lunch at our guide’s home stay.
We did some snorkeling, had a walk around the colorful village followed by lunch in an idyllic setting on the verandah of a guest home literally on the water’s edge. There is a lot of history to this island and many ruins of the old trading posts and buildings from the conflict of ownership between the English and the Dutch over the centuries.
We enjoyed a dive at a nearby Pisang island, but in all honesty, the snorkeling at the base of the volcano lava flow was as good as anything we saw, and even around the moored yachts in the town basin, many ‘yachties’ risked swimming in the amazingly clear water and saw some great fish and coral, despite the residue of rubbish. Many thanks to Amanda on ‘Angel Wing’ for sharing some of her amazing underwater shots.
Fuel was available via the locals who were more than happy to fetch and carry our diesel and petrol jugs to fill from the nearby stations. Petrol was 14,000 RP per liter.
It was a simple task to top us your Indonesian sim card at many locations in the ton. 100,000RP buys 2GB of data ($10).
Banda Neira had provided us with a positive impression of friendly people and picturesque surroundings. We were sad to leave but keen to enjoy some downtime away from the structure of the rally schedule and explore some less populated locations.