We headed off from Banda Neira with five other of the rally yachts on one of our best sails in a long long time. It was 375 miles to the small island of Hoga in the Regency of Wakatobi, an archipelago located to the southeast of the Island of Sulawesi. The name Wakatobi is an acronym of the names of the four main islands that form the archipelago: Wangi-wangi Island, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko.
We scooted along, under full sails with the wind behind us at 15-20 knots and SE2 made an average speed of almost 7 knots, over 160 n miles a day. We almost kept up with the 50 ft performance yacht ‘Unwind’ from South Africa, who had been a continuous sailing buddy since leaving Port Moresby, and Nils and Margret (our lovely friends who originate from Holland) kindly slowed down sufficiently to keep us within hailing distance on the VHF radio.
I must just mention, very proudly, that Stars End 2 is starting to gain a reputation as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ in the rally. Although of advancing years and modest size, she simply loves the down wind conditions we have been constantly experiencing, and whereas we often start off in the rear of the fleet as we leave port, over a long passage, our ‘pocket rocket’ seems to slowly catch up and then overtake many of the other yachts and catamarans. People are impressed with our performance, never having come across a Freedom ‘cat rig’ with our free standing masts, that we are able to swing right out to the side due to no fixed rigging, to catch optimum wind.
So on this passage, we couldn’t help but notice a continuous flow of debris in the water making it somewhat of an obstacle course. There were the inevitable FAD’s (fish attracting devices) that were quite an enigma, being anchored in hundreds of meters of water, (and occasionally floating free), but we also passed in close proximity to a large number of huge tree trunks and logs that could have caused serious damage to a boat. A large buoy with antenna passed close by, having come adrift from it’s original fishing net but it wasn’t until I noticed a number of yogurt cartons and empty crisp packets floating past, that were the same brand as we had purchased in Port Moresby, that Frank came up with a theory.
He had noticed that the predominant winds head from Papua New Guinea, through the Torres Strait, through into the Arafura Sea and on into the Banda Sea where the gap between land narrows. This was where the concentration of debris increased so he suggested the cause was because the wind and the current pushes all the rubbish through this path?
Hoga is part of the Wakatobi National Park, and as soon our little fleet of yachts arrived, we were visited by a boatload of officials who demanded our fee to anchor here, 150,000 RP per person, and 100,000 for the boat for a maximum of a 2 week period. (That’s approx $40 all up). Interestingly enough, another 10 yachts gradually turned over over the next few days and no one came back to take their fees.
It was the first time that Stars End 2 had to anchor in a depth of 34 meters, but the alternative was to pass through a narrow entrance into the lagoon where you risked anchoring in over 20 meters of water riddled with bommies and reefs, and getting caught up, like one boat already had. It did not prove a problem being in such deep water, and at least it was on a sandy bottom.
The island looks so pristine & inviting, and we had heard that this area boasted some of the most spectacular dive sites in Indonesia.
We visited Hoga Resort further along the beach, to make inquiries and book some dives for the following day. We were not disappointed, as the reef that runs along the side of the island is a veritable paradise of cliffs and drop offs full of amazing coral and schools of fish. The snorkeling around this area is also spectacular and we spent hours following the reef along the island’s shoreline, admiring the coral and marine life. Amanda, from Angel Wing, is fast becoming our rally underwater photographer extraordinaire and is kind enough to share her amazing shots.
Frank & I, Margret & Nils had a great day diving with dive master Asrul and several of the resort guests. Among them was a charismatic Dutch couple Leanne and Cynthia with whom we became fast friends. In the few days we were there, the girls went on board several of the rally boats & were soon all hyped to pursue a future as diving instructors on board their own yacht they hoped to buy!
The resort has been run for the past 20 years by a delightful Dutch lady Geertje, and as it was her birthday whilst we were there, a group of us yachties were invited along with her guests & the local villagers to a lively beach party evening with bonfire, music and a fantastic buffet meal.
I must admit, however, that one of the highlights whilst staying at Hoga, was visiting the Bajo tribe in their village of Sampela, built over the water within sight of our anchorage, on the shoreline of Wakatobi Archipelago.
From when we first arrived at Hoga, we had daily visits from villagers in their narrow canoes, often bringing their entire families along, to offer us fish, fruit and local treats and delicacies. The people of Bajo, known as the gypsies of the sea, are famous for their fishing and during the day, the horizon was dotted with their little canoes that carried colorful triangular sails to push them across the bay to ply their trade.
They are a shy people who do not speak much English, but we were lucky to meet brothers Kundang and Pandang who came often to our anchored yachts and were both able to communicate well. Pandang organized for a group of us to visit Sampela and share lunch with his family, and it was an unforgettable experience.
We were taken over in one of the long narrow village canoes that are very tender and heel scarily in the swell if the weight is not well balanced.
Sampela has a population of over a thousand inhabitants and the homes are all built on wooden stilts spread out in random rows with wooden pathways and bridges to connect them all together.
We learnt that the Government provides the wood, so it was surprising to see many of the pathways in a bad state of disrepair, and we were constantly told “Hati-hati” Meaning “ careful, watch your step”.
The houses appear very simple and quite fragile, and we learnt that the wooden stilts and tree trunks they are built on need to be replaced each year due to rotting in the salt water. Many homes had little verandah’s attached where families gathered and chatted with their neighbors as they passed by.
As well as homes, there is also a school, a clinic, shops and even a mosque in Sampela.
I admit that I felt somewhat intrusive wandering around the village, and as keen as I was to take photographs of such unusual surroundings, I did not wish to offend the people by appearing disrespectful of their space and privacy. I asked permission if it would be alright to take a photo (by showing my camera, and smiling), and often showed parents and their children the images I took of them afterwards.
However, I think they were as intrigued by us ‘foreigners’ as we were by them, as they all smiled, called out greetings and seemed eager to talk a few words with us, however little they could communicate.
Whilst wandering around the village, I spotted Sofia, Kundang’s wife, who had visited us at the anchorage in a canoe with her family, and she greeted me like a long lost friend, grabbed my hand and insisted on taking me back to her home which was made up of 2 rooms.
One room held their mattress and a pile of personal belongings, and the other was obviously their cooking and eating area, with a wood fire.
They had no furniture at all. Kundang had an accident a few years ago, and is unable to walk, but he welcomed us profusely in his near perfect English and we chatted comfortably.
Their homes may appear humble, their simple lifestyle connected to the sea, but what the Bajo tribe lack in material wealth, they more than make up for with their happy friendly faces and welcoming demeanor.
It would have been easy to stay indefinitely in this idyllic location, but we wished to take advantage of the last of the wind before it died for a week, in order to sail to our next stop, the large town of Bau Bau in the south west of the island of Buton.