Leaving behind the ugly port of Sorong, Susie and I set sail for Raja Ampat. Meaning ‘the Four Kings’ it’s renowned for being one of the world’s best diving destinations and was one of the reasons we had chosen the route we were following. First we had to find a safe spot to get ashore and into a town called Waisai to get our permits to go diving. The coastline is however on a lee shore with south-east trade winds blowing onto it. We found a mooring buoy but after a lumpy night decided to try and find shelter in the small town harbour. And small it was but the local boats were considerate of a yacht anchored in their path.
We contacted the Raja Ampat Dive Resort who were a very friendly bunch and agreed to pick us up and take us diving. And the diving lived up to its name. Lots of strong currents means lots of fish life. Oddly no adrenalin style dives with sharks etc. but a huge variety of fish. Our guidebook on fish species was getting well used and new sightings were being ticked off left, right and centre. And then there was the coral – all sorts of colours, fan corals, it had the lot. Happy customers we return to our little harbour and notice Adina had dragged. When first anchoring we were a little bit suspicious of the muddy bottom and yes the mud was indeed a little soft and with strong winds whilst we were away she had moved. So in the pitch dark in a tiny little area with strong winds, we anchored again. The next morning we’d had enough and hiked on up to Friwin island where peace rained and we sat still at anchorage and the dive company happily picked us up from there instead.
Raja Ampat is also home to the magnificent birds of paradise and we signed up with a local guide to try to spot them. That meant a 4.15am wake-up call to hike up a hill and wait to see if they come out to the tree tops where they then parade to attract the ladies at dawn. Monday clearly isn’t a good day to attract the ladies and away we went empty handed but bless the guide, we were invited to try again at 4.15am the next day. Another murderously early start but this time with success.
The joy with Raja Ampat is that are there are many islands to see and we headed off to Kabui a very sheltered and picturesque bay with lots of karst mushroom style outcrops. Snorkelling was on the menu and we enjoyed ourselves taking some time out.
To get to our next destination we could either sail for 38 miles or go through a narrow gorge with steep rocky sides which would reduce the trip to 8 miles, saving us 30 miles of sailing. Of course most yachts take the sensible option and go the long way round, certain people however can’t resist a little challenge. We downloaded the satellite images and could see the shallows and worked out a winding route. Off we went in the dinghy to test it as the channel is only just over a mile long. It worked a treat. The only one snag was that the current was strong, very strong, very, very strong, so now we needed to work out slack tide or make sure we were motoring into a little current as current from behind us would give us a little steerage and surely end in disaster. In the meantime we hopped in the water and enjoyed some great drift snorkelling in the channel with Susie spotting four turtles, a favourite of hers. The next day we went back trying to check the tide and rebased our calculations. A bit of tossing and turning the night before, double-checking whether we really wanted to do this, we woke and set off! Entering the pass you have one chance to turn back and that’s it. It looked good, the usual swirling tidal pools were absent, indeed we had hit slack water bang on. There was lots of talking from the helm to Susie up the coral ladder and back. I don’t think we’ve ever focused so much. Out we popped – Adina can add her name to those who conquered xxx. Relief. Why do we do these things?
We headed to Pef Island home to Raja4Divers which has a well-protected lagoon with mooring buoys. You pay €20 per head for the mooring buoy and that entitles you to use all of the resorts facilities and indeed Maya the owner and her team were very welcoming. To us it was like a little holiday, just a bugger we both got flu and were somewhat run down. But we kept up the scuba diving and enjoyed all the variety even if it meant fighting strong currents at times. We met Marcel and Rene a couple working at the resort who had chucked in the corporate life and now work in resorts around the world. Both qualified professionals, they would be a welcome asset to any resort and we admired this concrete example of prioritising lifestyle over a dreary working life. We were enjoying it all so much we stayed another day and then another day.
But time marches on and we wanted to get north to the Wayag Wayag islands. Getting north was no problem as the trade winds were blowing strongly but we also knew we had to come back down and would have to pray for lighter winds as it would be upwind sailing. Wayag Wayag was simply stunning and took our prize for best collection of karst rock islets. The highlight was to climb to the top of a hill and look down on it all. And then the weather improved and our plans of staying a few days went out the window as we seized the gap.
Our strategy went to plan as we headed south-west sailing upwind and doing some good speeds. As we moved around the many islands of Indonesia on a five day passage we covered every angle of sail and even the parasailor came out for a shake-out. Our destination Kampongpasar where big traditional wooden Pinsi boats are built on the beach. We had hoped to see some other yachts as were now in theory back on the main thoroughfare for yachts, but alas not. Tired to the bone we spent a few days exploring and indulging in the tasty and cheap food of Indonesia. We’ve both somehow lost weight so it was time to pile it back on. Nasi goreng, avocado and chocolate milkshakes, fresh doughnuts, it was rather exciting compared to our life of coconuts and assorted potatoes in Papua New Guinea.
Up ahead we were planning on visiting Borneo to see the orangutans but getting in touch with other friends on yachts we learned there were bad forest fires. One yacht had gone to the town of Kumai where tours are run from and sent out a very negative report. Most yachts take part in organised rallies when sailing through Indonesia and they were all rapidly pulling out. It was a blow and we had to start re-planning. But then a more positive report came through from a British yacht and we mailed them and they confirmed while there was smoke it wasn’t that bad and the trip was well worth it. Game back on, we decided to go and investigate and if it looked bad we’d simply sail on. We really wanted to see our closest relatives, the mighty orangutans.
More pictures – click here