The fleet sailed out of Debut, destined for the second rally stop, the famous Spice Islands of Banda!
The Banda Sea, which we were traversing for approximately 175 NM, is extremely deep (more than 5000m) in places and is inky black. It’s hard to catch a fish in so much water, so we didn’t have any success on the trolling lines, but nor did we have to dodge fishing boats or nets once we were out in the deep water. We still spotted the odd flying fish, and our friends on Stars End II saw whales, but otherwise it was a bit lonely out there. Night watch was peaceful, and when the clouds broke open, the moonless sky lit up with dozens of shooting stars (I counted 25 in one of my three-hour watches).
We detoured along the way; firstly to a place called Walir where we anchored overnight in a little lagoon in front of a beautiful sandy beach dotted with simple house-structures. As we wandered along the beach, we met the local residents and got a glimpse of their simple life and were treated to their wonderfully impromptu hospitality. One of the men shimmied up the nearest coconut tree and lopped off an enormous bunch of coconuts, which he proceeded to slice and dice with skilfull machete strokes to provide to us visitors.
And as we closed in on Banda group of islands, we made a quick snorkel stop at Pulau Hatta, but we didn’t dwell too long because the anchor holding was a bit tenuous, the current was pretty strong, and Banda Neira was calling us. Andy had sailed to Banda a few years ago and was looking forward to returning. As we started to round the island of Banda Besar, we got our first glimpse of the volcano that dominates the skyline in Banda: Gunung Api. We headed toward the northern end of the harbour and ended up rafting up to our buddies on Harmonic and tying off astern to a little guest house and dive shop.
We packed in the highlights: climbing the volcano for 360 degree views (during breaks in the fog); scuba-diving at nearby Banana Island (Pulau Pisang); snorkelling where the 1988 lava flow enters the sea; and spotting an elusive mandarin fish in the shallows behind our boats!
We also explored some of the remnants Banda Neira’s interesting history. It was once the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace, spices used as flavourings, medicines, and preserving agents, which at times was worth more than gold. In the 1500s, the Portuguese, fresh from conquering the Malacca Straits, arrived to fill their ships with the valuable spices. They were followed by the Dutch, who attempted to establish a monopoly on the spice trade, which led to violence with both the local Bandanese, and later the English. They strengthened their hold on the island with the construction of a number of forts, the most notable being Fort Belgica, a pentagonal fort which still exists (and is occasionally open for public access).
And before we knew it, it was again time to set sail – 200 NM across the deep Banda Sea to Namrole on the island of Buru – our last stop in the Maluku (Moluccas) region. The wind died halfway across the passage, slowing us down to 3 knots lots of the time which was tediously slow but we eventually arrived into Namrole’s little harbour in time to join in the rally welcome festivities. We’ve eaten really well so far on the trip, but Namrole is up there for the food highlights: our first/best-so-far satay ayam – deliciously marinated skewered chicken grilled right in front of us; bakso (meatball soup); and dragonfruit juice.
The other highlight was river rafting. It’s basically stand-up paddling on long bamboo rafts!
Anyway, shout outs to Cilu Bintang Hotel and the Nutmeg Tree guesthouse – both offer excellent accommodation in Banda Neira; Eddy and Hasim who took us diving; and to Tommy for helping us out in Namrole. Terimah kasih. Thanks for all the magic, Maluku!
Next stop: WAKATOBI!!! One of Indonesia’s diving hotspots, so I’m (just a little bit) excited!