Debut and Tual Island, Indonesia

Six days of sailing across the Arafura Sea has brought us to the magnificent Kei Islands in southeastern Indonesia! Pulling into the anchorage was delightful, the entirety of the rally fleet tucked up in front of a small town called Debut on the island of Tual. Smiles and happy faces greeted all the boats as they arrived, everyone thankful and happy to have the hook down after passage. The shoreline is dotted with varicolor homes, churches, and mosques flanked on all sides by tropical forests, and throughout the day you can alternately hear the Catholic church bells and the Muslim calls to prayer. The national and local tourism bureuas have provided some necessary amenities and translators for the arriving yachties, helping to arrange for Indonesian SIM-cards for cell and internet signals, diesel and gasoline deliveries, laundry, and information about things to do in the area. 


Children from the local school came and participated in the ceremony to welcome us.

Debut

Debut is a delightful little town and an amazing first exposure to Indonesian culture. Initially the most striking thing is that as westerners almost all of the yachties are very rare sights in such a remote part of this country, and as such the children and locals are very excited to meet all the visitors and share everything they can about their town. For the first few days it was hard to walk around without stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked (especially if you’re blonde!), and walking around you often have an entourage of giggling children shouting ‘Hello Mister!’. You almost feel like a celebrity! 


Drums used in the welcome ceremony

The town organized a welcome ceremony for the fleet, hosting us to lunch, performing traditional dances, and blessing us by asking for their ancestors’ protection that we might be safe while we explore their islands. The people are incredibly helpful and welcoming even when they don’t understand anything we are saying, and as a whole they are amazingly hospitable and happy to have us all here.



Where we ate lunch in the city of Langgur

Difference in Culture

One of the most evident differences that we notice arriving in Indonesia from Australia is unfortunately that it is incredibly dirty. There is no expectation of keeping the ocean or environment clean and even just sitting at anchor near the town you can watch large amounts of trash and debris floating past. Walking around town and closer to the vibrant surrounding forests shows plastic in every bush and littering the roadside. Stray dogs and cats wander the towns often uncared for and in pitiful condition and to my shock we learned that parts of Indonesia use them as food sources. When we pulled anchor to set off for our next anchorage we spent fifteen minutes cutting off a mass of garbage that had gotten wrapped around our chain, a mass of plastic, shoes, cord and other detritus that litters the harbor floor. As someone who grew up in a place of astounding natural beauty with a constant expectation of caring for it, this is heartbreaking to see and somewhat difficult to stomach, but I try to see past it and enjoy the beauty that the Islands have in spades.


Goa Hawang

Goa Hawang

The highlight of my time in Debut was our trip to some caves nearby to our anchorage named Goa Hawang. A naturally formed cave system with spring fed clean water filling them, they are about an hour’s walk from Debut Harbor through the surrounding villages and countryside. Tucked back into a hill, if you didn’t know they were there you would almost walk right past them. A red brick stairway leads you down to the waters edge underneath overhanging dripping stalactite where you can peer into the small cave system. The water is as dazzlingly blue as it is clear, you can see straight down to the bottom easily and is plenty clean enough for a swim, which we indulged in to cool off after our walk there. A beautiful and memorable experience!


Goa Hawang

Breaking Away

Most of our rally’s boats are continuing north to the islands of Banda, but we have elected to forgo the northern route for a southwestern path along active volcanoes and isolated islands aptly named the Forgotten Islands before finally rejoining the rally path on the island of Flores. We will be joined by only a couple boats on this path and hopefully we will see some things that few ever do! Cheers!


Goa Hawang


The Joys of Cruising


The only thing of note at Cape Bowling Green, the sunrise.

Getting a taste of a new lifestyle is quite an intoxicating experience. Cruising is a world far removed from mountains and snow, and even what I know as work in restaurants is not the same in other parts of the world. Every day is a new adventure in a very literal sense as more often than not we wake up in a different place than we were before, and I’m finding that there is a lot of truth in the cliche, “the more I see, the less I know”. 


Our new friends ‘Mikado’ against a sunrise cloud bank

A sailboat is a lot of work to live on in the sense that there is always something that needs doing. Our grill is stowed away and requires some fair effort to deploy whenever we want to grill steaks, veggies, or burgers. Getting to shore after a passage is preceded by 10 minutes of wrestling the dinghy off the foredeck and then wrestling an outboard motor into place on the dinghy.  The small space is not much effort to keep clean, but it is a persistent effort on all three of our parts to keep it tidy. Stainless steel always needs polishing (my restaurant friends are familiar with this) and woodwork always needs sanding and varnishing. Even just general organization of things in and on the boat is always an ongoing process of tweaking and refining baskets and storage spaces, and there is an entire wall space devoted to post-it notes with various larger scale tasks that need doing that I have not even mentioned. 


Paddle boarding in the rain with myself (front), Nat (right), and Heidi (left)

The work pays off tenfold though. There’s a pride in living on something you actively work to keep beautiful, and when someone compliments how good your boat looks it’s hard not to beam knowing you had a hand in it. All the maintenance and projects keep us moving to and from dozens of tropical paradises each more beautiful than the next, and I’ll be damned if the work of putting the grill in place doesn’t make the food taste that much better. Reeling in and cleaning fish in the middle of a sail is quite a messy task, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re eating piles of bluefin tuna sashimi two hours later. True to all walks of life, you truly get back all the effort you put into this lifestyle.


Me trying desperately to not dunk Josh and myself into the water, 2 people on a board is hard!

The best part of it all though is the people. Even though I’ve only had a combined total of about 3 and a half months of “cruising experience” over the last three years, the people you meet and the stories you hear are the richest reward. The cruising community is small and everyone is bound by the same weather constraints, so you end up seeing the same boats repeatedly even if you don’t ever meet the sailors that belong to them. Inevitably though you end up at a nothing bar on a nothing island with some of the neighbors you’ve shared anchorages and marinas with for days and weeks on end, and sailors being a generally agreeable lot with all the same problems and similar dreams friends are made quickly and happily. 


Natalie handled her passenger much more gracefully than I did

This was the exact case with our new friends Chris, Nat, and their two boys Josh and Sam on Mikado. A quick meeting on Middle Percy Island a couple weeks back has led to smiling friendly faces at several anchorages since, and it’s wonderful to have curry nights and paddle boarding expeditions with new friends. They also are excellent at translating and teaching all of the Aussie slang that sounds so bizarre to my American ears (a barney is not a children’s TV character, but rather an argument, for example). Of course, eventually our paths will split as we continue north towards Indonesia and they round west from Cape York towards Darwin. But that’s the nature of Cruising as well, you meet fantastic people along the way and you share different pieces of your journey with different people. Everyone is a beautiful chapter in someone else’s story, but the length of that chapter in no way impacts its value or the stories and memories made therein.


The rainbow lorikeets are extremely friendly

This life is perhaps more centered around enjoying the present moment than any other lifestyle I’ve experienced or encountered. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of planning and forecasting involved, but the purpose of it all is to make now as beautiful and enjoyable a moment as possible. So it teaches you not to be sad about leaving a gorgeous postcard landscape or close friends behind, but rather to look forward to the next vista, the next ocean, the next beer and the next step with as much excitement as possible. If you’re always excited to move forward, you won’t ever be sad looking back.


Currently we’re anchored for our third day at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island (which confusingly is in no way Magnetic beyond its jaw dropping landscapes) off the coast of Queensland, preparing to move north once again. This time we are moving towards the Hinchenbrook Channel and Island, by some accounts one of the most beautiful places in Australia. The coastlines have grown less mountainous and more tropical by the day, and the weather and water gets warmer even though we can’t swim much after this stop due to Crocodiles, but who can complain from paradise? Cheers everyone, I’ll talk to you again from Cairns!


Closer shot of ‘Mikado’ under sail.