Monday, November 17, 2014

Change of Plans

I mentioned before, 2 or 3 entires ago, that my primary reason for making this trip to Indonesia in the first place was to assist a client who had hired me to act as a sourcing agent for furnishings, antiques and other asian art.I had hoped that if all went smoothly with the client, there might be a few days left at the end of the month away to escape with Mr. T for some serious photo hunting in Myanmar.. a country I have long dreamed of visiting.

As luck would have it, purchasing for my client went better than expected... in fact so well that in 12 days, we had purchased enough items to entirely fill a 40' shipping container. There were still things to do... tighten up arrangements with our cargo forwarding company, check on progress on multiple furniture pieces being custom manufactured, etc...

A few days before we had finished most of our purchasing, over dinner, Mr. T mentioned that he had a friend... a wealthy italian pearl dealer. This friend was in the process of purchasing property on which to develop a remote dive resort on the islands of Raja Ampat in West Papua New Guniea, at the far eastern end of the 14,000+ islands that make up the Republic of Indonesia. In pursuit of the dive resort dream, this friend had also commissioned the building of a custom and luxuriously outfitted 100' teak schooner built in the style of the Bugis sailing vessels from the island of Sulawesi.

It just so happens that this yacht was currently moored in the harbor formed by Serangan Island near the village of Sanur in the south of Bali. Sometime during the next 3 weeks, this boat had to be delivered to West Papua to meet it's owner who was flying in with friends from Europe. This boat's owner had invited Mr. T. to ride along with the 7 member crew and to bring a friend or two to share the journey.

I have always dreamed of having the time and resources to visit other parts of Indonesia. I know Bali and parts of Java well, but have never been anywhere else in that country. At the time of the invite, I thought there was very little chance that business with my client would be completed in time to make the journey. I also knew that Mr. T would be sailing if and when I got the chance to free myself up to make the trip to Myanmar. Still, I declined the trip aboard the boat.

Two days before the boat was scheduled to leave port and my client was scheduled to return to the mainland, we discovered that purchasing was indeed finished and all there was left to do was to follow up on the items still in production. I still had two weeks to kill. My client, being a former luxury charter captain himself, insisted that I join the voyage. It didn't take much more than that to convince me... Mr. assured me I would return to Bali and still have 4 days to follow-up with the manufacturing and the invitation was still on.

I had never heard of Raja Ampat. I did know a little about Papua New Guinea and what I knew about it had never sparked much interest to visit there. I did a Google search for Raja Ampat. What I found on the internet changed my perception. These tiny islands were part of a national marine preserve with more species of marine life and coral than anywhere else on earth. Most of the islands were uninhabited. That night I fell asleep dreaming of adventure. 

The next day, I loaded up on sunscreen, prepared my cameras for the voyage and purchased a small duffle to avoid dragging my suitcase on board. Mid-afternoon on Sunday Oct. 26th, I arrived at Mr. T's home compound. We loaded up his big SUV with our gear and with Widi, a young Balinese photographer and friend who would be joining us on the trip, and aimed the car towards the port at Serangan.

There, we were met at the docks by a motored inflatable zodiac with crew members of the Manta Mae,a splendid grey and maroon vessel anchored a few hundred meters off shore. This would be our "home for the next 12 days. Quickly filling the dinghy with our gear and personnel, we crossed the harbor and climbed aboard the yacht... straight out of the set of a pirate movie. I half-expected Johnny Depp to swagger up on deck from below to greet us.

Here's a map showing roughly the route we sailed across the Indonesian Archipelgo... a 1300 mile voyage... to the islands of Raja Ampat. Our approximate course is delineated in red.

Pulling up anchor just before the sun set behind Mount Gunung Agung on the island of Bali, we slowly motored out of Serangan Harbor, the crew waving goodbye to moored vessels nearby, and made our way into the open sea of the Lombok Strait. Night came quickly and the stars grew more brilliant in the sky with each mile as we sailed away from the veil of mist and haze surrounding the island. Lombok's silhouette could be seen in the distance off the starboard side. We stashed our gear in the staterooms below, returned to the deck for a fine fish dinner prepared by the ship's chef. Darkness fell around us and we excitedly watched as the lights of Bali faded in the distance behind us.

Departing the Harbor at Serangan Island, Bali

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