"Arctracer" Letters

Banda Arrival, Aug 2005

We arrived in Banda August 21. The passage had its ups and downs. We started from Darwin on Wednesday with a speedy sail to the corner of Bathurst Island, arriving there as another typically red sun set through the smoky haze from Australia's seasonal bush fires. In the lee of Bathurst we found contrary breezes and miserable waves on our bow, and slowed way down to make conditions on the boat somewhat more comfortable. It was not an easy first night. By morning we were away from the island and the winds were at a better angle, though 25 knots was a little stronger than we would have liked. The southeast trade wind was excellent, providing reaching conditions all the way as our course was almost due north. We crossed the Arafura Sea (or Timor Sea), and entered the Banda Sea. We caught a small tuna on the second day, and Nina made a great chowder. We encountered a huge oil drilling rig called "Ocean Bounty" and its tender/tug "Billy Joe Ramey" at a spot in mid-ocean where they'll stay for forty days before moving on. We saw dolphins, several false killer whales and a sperm whale. The winds gradually decreased, and was generally 15-20 knots after the first two days, so we slowly unfurled our jib and increased our mileage per day while maintaining comfort aboard. The nights were pleasant, with a full moon rising behind an extinct volcano on our last night. We were enjoying some of the best sailing conditions we have ever had, and expected to easily exceed 150 miles between noon Friday and noon Saturday.

Then on Saturday morning at 8:30 the port lower shroud broke. Immediately we rolled up the jib. We were worried about our wobbly mast while Nina kept the boat facing into the waves and Jerry rolled up the main and tied extra ropes over the lower spreaders to secure the mast. Nina was especially scared as she thought there was a possibility of the mast falling while Jerry was working beside it. Jerry felt relatively confident we would manage okay. We were fortunate that the wind and waves were relatively gentle and the problem occured in daylight with both of us awake. We continued slowly, at less than 5 knots with just staysail and engines, the last 125 miles to Banda. Now we are in a very protected spot with no waves and little wind, waiting for a new shroud. Last year it was the lower shroud on the starboard side which broke the same way in similar conditions. Perhaps the fittings which were used for these two shrouds were from a defective batch? We have sent email to the rigger in New Zealand who helped us last year when we were in Kiribati, so we hope we will not have to wait here too long.

We motored into Banda's harbor from the north, dropped our anchor in deep water and tied our stern to an old wharf. Hussein, the Harbormaster, helped us tie up, and came aboard to get copies of all our official papers. Abba, a local businessman, came aboard too, and welcomed us to his island in excellent English. There are no other tourists here, except the couples on two Australian yachts anchored nearby. From what we understand we are the first three sailboats here this year. The two small hotels are empty. In addition to the Bali bombing two years ago, there were riots in nearby Ambon four years ago which spread here temporarily, and now tourists are afraid of the whole country. Everyone we have met here is very friendly and welcoming, and we expect to have a lovely visit. The landscape is spectacularly beautiful. The perfect cone of Gunung (Mt.) Api dominates the scene. This volcano rises 2100 feet, and last erupted in 1988. The nutmegs still thrive, as do many other trees and plants on islands which one guidebook refers to as "indecently lush with tropical vegetation." Three main islands surround a peaceful lagoon. Small boats with motors, paddles and sails are used for fishing and transportation. Old forts and colonial buildings are still somewhat preserved and accessible. The main town has perhaps ten thousand people, four trucks, five cars, a couple hundred motorcycles, and some bicycle rickshaws. The market is full of wonderful fruits, vegetables, fish, and other necessities, all at much lower prices than in Australia.

Indonesia is a huge and complex country of over thirteen thousand islands, over two hundred million people, many different languages, cultures, and religions. It is totally different from Australia, where the twenty million people all speak our language and share our culture. We will only see fragments as we pass through in just a couple months, and will not be able to understand much of its complexity, but we will try to learn some of the language and make contact with some of the people.

Banda (4deg30'S, 129 deg 54'E - one of the Molucca Islands) was one of the key locations in the history of world exploration. From ancient times the nutmegs which grew only here were carried by Arab traders throught the Malacca Straits, across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea, then by caravans overland to Europe. The value of nutmegs (and mace, a thin covering of the same nut) was enormous. Cloves grew here, and also on nearby islands, and were transported the same way and were also very valuable. Columbus, Magellan, and other explorers of their day were trying to find a sea route to these islands after the caravan routes were cut off. Columbus didn't get here, but kept trying on four voyages. Magellan got killed in the Phillipines but one of his ships managed to carry one ton of spices back to Spain, paying the entire costs of his expedition and making all the remaining crewmembers rich for life. Drake loaded the "Golden Hind" with spices at a nearby island, adding to the Spanish gold he brought back to Queen Elizabeth on one of the most successful voyages of history. The Portugese finally established direct trade in the 1500s, but this was contested by the Spanish and English, and the Dutch finally gained complete control by trading Manhattan for an English island here. The Dutch monopoly lasted from the 1600s into the 1800s. The Dutch were particularly cruel colonizers, using Japanese mercenaries to kill almost all the Banda men who did not escape to other islands. Then they divided the nutmeg trees into Dutch plantations and brought in slaves to do the work. The result was enormously profitable, for Holland. After nutmegs were smuggled out and planted in Grenada and other places, Banda became less profitable, and today is a nearly forgotten, quiet place.

We toured the town of Banda Neira and Fort Belgica (1611) with Hussein in the afternoon. We tasted mangosteen for the first time at the market - removing the purple rind to suck the white meat off the seeds - not bad, but not fantastic either. We bought a few nutmegs, and some nutmeg jam. We visited Abba's huge and luxurious new house for cinammon tea and a sort of cheesecake with nutmeg jam. At Abba's shop, Nina acquired new earrings and a necklace. He deals mostly in pearls and antiquities, some of which are probably real. We were happy to eat supper aboard and go to bed early for a long, peaceful sleep. We are so close to the dock that many people come down for a look at the Americans, and Nina is starting to learn some Indonesian words from those who have enough English for a little communication. It's going to be an interesting stay!

(view photos of Banda scenes)