[141003, 0830 UTC, Zum Zum Island, Morotai Lagoon, Indonesia, 02-03.31 N / 128-15.44 E]
Where most of the fleet of boats participating in the Davao to Sangihe Indonesia rally left a day before the planned start, we were not quite ready and so left on September 3rd, the "official" start of the rally. In hindsight, we would have been better served to push ahead and leave with the rest of the fleet. We did a lot of "Monday morning quarter-backing" after our trip to Sangihe (pronounced sang GEE hey)
Our departure point was Ocean View Marina (an odd name if you think about it - what marina doesn't have an ocean view?) on Samal Island, Philippines with a destination of Sangihe Island, Indonesia, about 230 nautical miles distant. (Look for Sangihe in any Indonesia travel guide and you are unlikely to find it. It is unfortunate because this little mountainous gem is filled with the most friendly people imaginable; more on that later.) An immediate difficulty facing all participants is to transverse south the 100 miles of the Davao Gulf during the southwest monsoon season. Along the way you may encounter wind ranging from 3 to 35 knots, up to a 3-knot current against you, numerous FADs (we talked about these in our last Dispatch Note), large debris floating in the water, small unlit fishing boats and large deep draft commercial vessels.
Most (but not all) boats were able to escape the gulf by motoring for awhile and then sitting out strong wind in a secure anchorage. But not Carina. Oh no, we opted to motor against the current when we had light wind then beat to weather against the current and large seas when the wind piped up and then finally heaving to when conditions got too rough. None of the options we chose got us very far south. We weren't alone in our woes, much larger boats also got stopped dead or tacked all day to end up NORTH of where they started in the morning. Eventually, we escaped the gulf by doggedly motoring close to the west coast of the gulf into the contrary current. Sometimes our boat speed was less than 1 knot. All in all it was a frustrating experience. We finally arrived in Sangihe in the morning, five days after leaving Samal Island, the rest of the fleet having arrived days before us. The route was about 230 nm but due to tacking and being driven backwards we put on an extra 100 nm!!
We weren't the last boat to arrive, one boat left one day earlier than we did and arrived a day and a half after us. Finally in port, we tethered to a huge orange mooring float marking moorings that had been hastily arranged for our visit. The anchorage is deep at 80+' and exposed to ocean swell.
The Sangihe Festival was in full swing when we arrived (since we were delayed struggling to get south). Red and white Indonesian flags waved on every vertical surface, bunting was strung everywhere and a stage set up overlooking the sea. Even though the boats were just one part of the festivities we were astounded by the enthusiastic welcome we got from the locals. The tourist office staff worked seemingly non-stop making sure our every need was attended too. They'd even arranged for us to get free SIM chips for telephone and 3G internet.
We felt like rock stars; children swarmed around us every where we went and adults would smile and wave to us. English was limited but we heard many people call out "hello mister!", "hello miss!" Everyone who spoke any English at all engaged us whether they were aged 6 or 66. School children carried diaries and made us sign them and virtually everyone tugged us into a crowd to snuggle and take numerous photos with smart phones. Even the sweet tiny nearly-toothless lady on the street from whom we bought honey in a used old Pepsi bottle, giggled as she tweaked Leslie's nose a few times and smiled broadly as she snuggled her tight for a photo.
Sangihe is a predominantly Christian island but there are a fair number of Muslims and the muezzin would call the adhan, call to prayer, 5 times a day from a loudspeaker from a minaret at a number of mosques. A sprinkling of women wore head scarves but the only covered faces we saw were on those on motorbikes trying to keep the dust out of their teeth. Even the Muslim women were enthusiastic in welcoming us to Sangihe and would snuggle up tight to both of us for a photo opportunity. We were actually surprised by the tendency of men, women and children alike to gather close to and hug us while photos were being taken. We asked "Marcello", a local guide, how well the Christians and Muslims got along and he said relations were harmonious; there were no issues. Christians and Muslims mixed and accepted the respective religions and differences and everyone seemed to get along. This was also true in Morotai and Tobelo on Halmahera, though Halmahera Utara (north) had previously known sectarian violence.
While in Sangihe, we missed a day trip to a nearby island village aboard a coast guard vessel but over the course of our stay, we toured all around the high lush island using various forms of transportation, including our feet. One highlight was a bentor ride up (and motor scooter ride down) to a picturesque mountain village to see the production of sagu, an important carbohydrate foodstuff. A tourist bus took us up and down and around seemingly-perilous mountain roads across the island to a seashore retreat and also a mountain top bar where paragliders jumped into the early evening sky. We were treated like visiting royalty; we were fed heartily most every day, given free fuel and always had front row seats for presentations and dancing, including a visit by a cooking show host and a closing-ceremony rock concert! Unfortunately we missed a Sangihe original due to the fact the dinghy dock was truly dangerous at night - bamboo music - that is music made from "brass" instruments constructed of bamboo. We were however able to visit a family who made the instruments and had the chance to try them.
We stayed in Sangihe a few days after the festival ended waiting on weather for our trip SE to Morotai Island of WWII infamy. The passage began with another frustrating series of tacks into steep seas and contrary currents but by 2 pm the first afternoon we were close reaching and sailing with the current in the right direction. In all, it was a pleasant passage and Carina showed her skills at windward work.
We got a similar welcome at Morotai, on an island that IS predominantly Muslim. A young smart tourism office manager, Arfi, assembled a crew of bright smiling helpful twenty-somethings - Isra, Derwin, Choco, Anna, Tal & Nofa - who were highly organized and who enveloped the whole fleet in their warmth and wriggled themselves right into our hearts. These people were wonderful to us and we all bonded so much so there were lots of tears at a going away dinner a group of us threw for them on our last evening
A morning welcoming ceremony after a bus tour to WWII sites, included the ceremonial washing of the feet of our representatives, a subtle traditional dance and then a number of other upbeat songs done on local instruments. Everyone in the fleet was dragged in to dance and there was much laughter from the audience of dignitaries and locals. Indonesians seem to love to laugh - at you, at themselves, at situations. After an abundant brunch of Indonesian specialties such as gado gado and fish (ikan) done a number of ways, the inevitable karaoke began, and Glenda from Helena once again saved the day by singing. (Glenda was a celebrity amongst celebrities in Sangihe after singing a song in Spanish one evening to about 500 spectators. After that EVERYONE in Sangihe knew - and adored - Glenda.)
At Morotai, we joined in a number of excursions such as trips to out islands - including Zum Zum, because "Zum Zum MacArthur Island" was General Douglas MacArthur's base during WWII - Dodola and Rau, visiting schools to be interviewed in English by both teachers and students, waterfall hikes, etc. We smelled Batu Kopi - so called Coffee Rock - a scenic arch on an isolated beach that does indeed smell like roasting coffee. On one waterfall hike, it was interesting to watch Isra, in full cover head to toe (though in the end she took off her socks) enter the water in a pool at the base of a waterfall after a wet walk through the woods. None of the Morotai tourist "kids" wore bathing suits and most didn't know how to swim except perhaps for saucy Nofa who bravely jumped off one of the waterfalls after being teased unmercifully by her peers.
From Morotai we moved on 26 miles to the island of Halmahera as we were invited as special guests of the bupati of Halmahera Utara to the opening of a festival of semi-precious stones (Festival Batu Alum Mulia). There we dropped anchor in a well protected anchorage at the small island of Kumo a short local water taxi ride from town from Tobelo's busy port where we could walk or take a bentor (motorcycle taxi) anywhere in town.
Being an area of active volcanoes, semi-precious stones are mined in Halmahera and finished for the jewelry market. The festival was much like a small trade show, with regional or island-specific booths. Participants were competing for a whole list of prizes and showed their wares at their best. Stones of every imaginable color were being cut and polished, though the predominant style was of big bold rings set in massive settings of silver. The festival was NOT for tourists, we were just lucky enough to be amongst the only foreigners in town, so our presence demanded we receive an invitation. So, we put on our best batik, showed up for the buffet dinner and then we were given seats in front, right behind the dignitaries and their wives.
The bupati was an interesting person; clearly a politician and clearly popular. He offered every one of us a firm handshake and a sincere welcome smile. A short stocky man, he was dressed in a bright blue satin tunic with matching pants and with a wide belt and stylish head wrap of a bright red tapestry. He sat in an overstuffed chair, tapping his big (batu alum mulia) ring to the opening act, a mezzo-soprano rock star, and smiling approvingly at all who bowed when going to and back from the stage. When his turn came to speak, he spoke animatedly without notes, told jokes and then thrilled the crowd by belting out a song as he strutted across the stage. (Accept our apologies for forgetting to bring our camera that evening.)
Tobelo sits under a volcano that is continuously active, which means that you cannot escape being blanketed in ash if the wind blows in the wrong direction or stops blowing at all. Evenings were calm, so Carina got (and remains) covered. We were only in Tobelo a week but thanks to a man named Yus at the Tourism Bureau we not only attended the opening of the festival but snorkeled an amazing wall at Pawole Island, hiked into a magnificent waterfall and wallowed in a hot spring. Tobelo's traditional market was reputed to be one of the finest in the province and - being public market enthusiasts - we were not disappointed in the expansive area of stalls selling everything from perfume to multi-colored chicks to clothing to fresh local veggies and fish. Few vendors knew any English at all, so our market excursions involved much pantomime and lots of laughing (mostly at our expense)! So, despite the pesky ash, Tobelo was a good side trip.
Tobelo marked our turn-around point; we have decided to skip Raja Ampat and slow down our pace a bit. Instead, we are beginning our slow trek back to the Philippines by moving back to the Morotai lagoon at Zum Zum Island, dealing with a backlog of maintenance items neglected during our festivaling, including a mysterious coolant leak...
This does not mean our tour of Indonesia is complete, we're just half way through, so stay tuned for more adventures!
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake