By Captain Jimmy Blee
The small town of Kupang in West Timor is not on everyone’s travel list. However, I found myself with other guests jetting from Singapore via Jakarta to this city, one of the most Eastern in the Indonesian archipelago.
Here lay the modern lines of the52m luxury yacht M/y Latitude, anchored in a bay thirty minutes from the airport and presenting somewhat of a contrast with the array of fishing boats and other local vessels.
I always have a feeling of freedom and of returning home every time I get back on board Latitude. Anticipation and excitement was running high amongst us all as Captain Ed and our Asia Pacific Superyachts guide, Arif, explained with the use of charts the impending 25 day voyage we were about to undertake through the ‘Forgotten Islands’.
“Basically, Mr. Thadani, we are starting in the very southernmost islands and cruising in a roughly northern route to Sorong in Papua, one of the most Northern ports in Indonesia. We will be taking you to places and locations due to their remoteness that hardly anyone have the opportunity to see or access”, beamed Arif proudly, “It is one of the few real adventures left in this modern world”, added Captain Ed.
Starting in late November, we were on the edge (actually too late) of the weather window for a very exposed trip like this.
The “Forgotten Islands” are literally just specks of volcanic islands jutting straight out of the depths of the Banda Sea, in central-east Indonesia. Depths in this part of Indonesia are their deepest with consistent depths of over a kilometer and the deepest point being 7.2km at the Weber Deep. This is also the world’s largest exposed fault line and we will be sailing directly over top of it!
A trip like this recovers top support as the vessel will be days away from any civilization or ports of assistance.
“The weather gods have blessed this trip very well!” said Thomas Taatjes of Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia, adding, “We’ve been keeping a close eye on all aspects of the weather, whilst this is indeed a late start to this trip, the seasons have been late this year and this is shaping up to be an all-time trip!”
Built into the trip plan is logistical stops every 8-10 days with APS organized fresh provisions, tender fuel and other logistical requirements to be ready for us at our short port pitstops. We departed Kupang and settled in for the first of what was to be a pattern of overnight passages in between day anchorages and activities.
As my passion is diving and underwater photography, Arif and Thomas’ trip plan had us diving each day with the potential of ample snorkeling for the other guests and an absolute goldmine of locations for my other interest, drone photography.
The new day saw us steaming in glass smooth conditions through the Alor group of islands. By midday we had arrived our overnight destination. The afternoon we were picked up by the local villagers in their small dugout craft to see the resident ‘Dugong’. This massive sea cow as it turns out, is quite the amorous creature. He hears the local boats arrive and is quick to come and say hello. For those who have never seen this quiet and rarely viewed sea mammal, this was an amazing experience.
Even in this short period, the guests and I were now ensconced into boat life. A feature of this being the delicious and healthy meal our chef prepares each day, and the wonderful service and care our crew provide for us. I could dedicate pages to describe this element of our cruising adventure however I need to stay on the destinations. With that after visiting a local tribal village who, in a previous era, were head hunters we that night moved overnight to Romang group of islands.
Now here the serious diving started. It was so good we extended our stay here to two nights. This set of islands are so remote that evidence of humans is virtually nil. The waters are clear of rubbish and plastics and crystal clear with staggering abundance of coral and marine life. This first location blew our minds.
We did 3 dives a day here and was so good, it could be best to describe what we didn’t see on the cumulative total of them all. Purely out of this world.
Next stop was Palau Serua, and again the diving was of a caliber not seen in many places in the world. The highlight was diving with schooling hammerheads. We had three runs at this amazing deep water dive experience. This was one of main draw cards for us on this particular trip and it didn’t disappoint.
Our dive guide, Mr Arif, was as usual right on the money! Not many places you can see schooling hammerheads of this magnitude and we were extremely grateful to have shared their habitat for our dives.
It was with great reluctance we had to leave our diving heaven and move on to Tual, the provincial capital of the Kei group of islands. This was the first of one of our scheduled logistics stopovers.
At this quaint little fishing port we had to take provisions, take gasoline for the tenders, do a guest change out and receive previously ordered spare parts and engineering supplies and enjoy a guest shore exploration of the town. This program could not have been achieved without the faultless support of Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia and their ground person, Fitri. She was always there for us with a big smile and her usual happy self. I get the feeling she likes these adventures as much as I do! All aspects of this program were fulfilled in the one day allocated and before we knew it, we were steaming to the Tayandu group.
This white sand beach dominated area was seen as more regroup time, given the dive program to date had been so bountiful and intense. We all felt like having some beach walking and snorkeling. During this time I found the droning in the area had to be seen to be believed, with large white sand shoals and beaches surrounding the atoll vegetation as far as the eye could see.
After a wonderful two days in Tayandu we once again steamed overnight to historic Spice Islands, locally known as the Banda group. The morning greeted us with the imposing view of the volcano Gunung Api (Fire Mountain), the large volcano central to the main island of Banda Niera.
Well anchored, the dive party were soon in the water with what was yet another magnificent dive. The intense history of this area is well documented where nations fought ruthlessly for control of these little specks of real estate that at the time were the only places known to have nutmeg and mace, a meat preservative so needed for the long ocean voyages which punctuated the era of colonization.
Interestingly, a tiny island in this group called Run Island was swapped for Manhattan in 1667 between the Dutch and England battles of the Nutmeg islands.
Our guests did a quaint island walk though, visited the local museum, climbed through the large old Dutch battlement fort and saw nutmeg and mace first hand from the tree. After a delicious local lunch everyone was back to the boat. The small town of Banda Niera with its old colonial buildings and rich history is a very special place to visit.
The next day saw us dive one of the best dives we had done so far on the trip. The ‘Cathedral’ was a swim through cave lined with the most beautiful array of sea fans and filled with fish. Over and above the exciting swim through was a hammerhead shark school of Bumphead wrasse and mixture of cruising pelagic fish and all varieties of coral based fish. The life on this dive was incredible.
The two days at Banda had flown past and it was time to move on to our next destination location the southernmost island group of Raja Ampat, Misool. This was a 22 hours passage that had the same flat sea conditions we were accustomed to.
In all we spent four magnificent days of diving, snorkeling, exploration and beach walks in the Misool islands. The pure beauty and geographic splendor of this area is a must-see for any boat owner. Aptly our Misool time coincided with Christmas. Celebrating this joyous occasion in such a unique location really did belay a feeling of gratitude and blessing that this time of the year invokes.
We have visited Misool and Raja Ampat before, but we never tire of going back to this spot which is one of the most beautiful the world has to offer.
Our time in Misool sadly brought the first phase of our voyage to a close. The good ship Latitude then made its way to Sorong, the main port servicing the famous Raja Ampat area and the second phase of our Indonesian cruising program.
Once in Sorong we were serviced in an amazing twenty-four hour turn around by Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia.
Stay tuned for a second installment story of the adventures onboard the M/y Latitude Indonesian cruising program.