Our arrival in Saumlaki was a new cultural experience. As we approached the town on Pipistrelle we came across bamboo fish traps. These floating structures are as big as small bungalows, are generally not lit at night, and are anchored wherever there owners feel would be a good spot to catch fish. Two were anchored right in the middle of the fairway to the harbour!
We had employed the services of Ray Lesmana, of ‘Sail To Indonesia’, to smooth the entry procedures, and then look after us while we take part in the Sail Komodo Rally, organised by the Ministry of Tourism. We had 5 officials on board covering Immigration, Health and Quarantine and Customs, together with Nelis, the local agent, who acted as interpreter. Apart from a minor problem with a Customs guarantee certificate, all went well though Indonesian bureaucracy is confusing to say the least. But all administration is conducted politely and normally with a smile.
Saumlaki is on Yamdena, one of the Tanimbar group of islands in the extreme east of Indonesia. The town comprises a main street with banks, two hotels and shops, and then leading to and from the port a one way street with dozens of shacks selling everything from hardware to food, and a fish and fruit & veg market to complete the scene! Transport is mainly 150cc motorcycles, with taxis, lorries and a few private cars thrown in to jostle their way noisily through town. Fuel is dual priced, a subsidised price for locals working out at 0.35p per litre, and a foreigner’s price of double that. We found out later that the official Indonesian litre is about 80% of the international litre, so the short measure we received is across Indonesia!
Happily we could escape the hustle and bustle and take the dinghy to a very pleasant hotel, the Harapan Indah with a garden pier, where we could enjoy cooling breezes, coffee or a meal, and use their internet.
Nelis organised a local trip by taxi to show us the sights, and then a longer one to view a stone boat, in a village a few hundred feet above the sea that dates back to the 4th century and was used for ceremonies.
Sail Komodo organised an opening Welcome ceremony at the harbour for about 15 yachts, with speeches by the Vice Regent among others and dance performances. A food tasting and gala ‘dinner’ closed the week off, with most yachts departing the next day.
Children are always keen to show off their knowledge of the English language which normally extends to a greeting of “hello Mister” in the street! So it was a delight to be invited to a local school one morning, where Elaine and two other ladies were treated as VIPs and asked to talk about themselves, their travels, their country and impressions of Indonesia. Coming as they do from England, Ireland and Germany, there was a mix of experiences to offer and no lack of enthusiasm from all the pupils who had gathered in the small assembly room.
We left shortly afterwards for the passage to Alor, some 470nm to the west. Finally we managed to escape the strong winds and rain that we had found rather wearing, and enjoyed some good downwind sailing in sunshine. As we approached the group of islands of which Alor was part, and were about to log the midday fix, the fishing lure took off at a rate of knots! It was a big one, and we knew straight away it was not a mahi mahi, as they flap around on the surface. The strain on the line was too much to wind in, so first the genoa was furled reducing our speed from 8kn to 6kn, and then the engine was started and put in reverse! 30 minutes later we hauled an Albacore long tailed tuna up over the lee side, and then into the cockpit. A veritable monster, it was 4ft long and weighed in at 28lbs, a record for us. 3 hours later it had been filleted and 4 boxes of steaks were being cooled down for the freezer! No more fishing for the time being!
As we approached Alor from the south, we encountered the first of the strong currents that we had read about. We were motor sailing at 6kn, but our speed over the ground was nil! Eventually we hugged the coastline and crept along at 1-2 kn for 4 hours, until we anchored at the head of the fjord in Kalabahi. We were the 5th boat to arrive which we later found entitled us to play a role in the closing ceremony….! Here we met Bruce and Jeannie on Jabula again, who we first met by chance on the main street in Luganville, Vanuatu.
Kalabahi is another bustling town and port, with goods and passengers arriving and departing on everything from car ferries and cargo ships, to fishing boats and the traditional Indonesian long boat, which has no gearbox, so forwards only, and an unsilenced engine…!
The opening ceremony was an elaborate affair of dancing and music, attended by local dignatories, senior police and army officers. We took the opportunity to escape on organised tours, which took us to Takpala, a very attractive traditional village in the hills with thatched high roofed “houses” (talihutan). Here we saw demonstrations of traditional ikat weaving, and ancient methods of hunting using a bow and arrow. Moko drums were also on display. Prized bronze instruments, they were believed to be gifts from the gods when found centuries ago, are banned from export and still form part of a bride’s dowry. A later trip took us to a pearl farm, slightly more sophisticated than the last we had seen in the Tuamotus.
The closing ceremony at ‘The White House’ was a grand affair, with 5 sailing couples putting on a fashion “show”, comprising the costumes worn in different parts of Indonesia. Dressing us all took 2 hours, and then we had to learn the Indonesian equivalent of a greeting indicating which district on the island the costume is from. ‘Selamat Malam, dari kamen Kui’, which means ‘Good Evening, we come from Kui’. Dinner was delicious, and it turned into a fun and memorable evening with more speeches and presentations.
Shortly afterwards we left for Lembata on the island of Flores. More to follow soon!