Visiting Historic Banda Islands


54 leaving Ambon with Seram Is. at right
Left: Leaving Ambon with Seram Island at right.

1300 hours: Very slow going. Getting about 3 kts on easterly tack. Pass through a rain squall and get about 6 kts for a while as a result. Speed slowly drops off.

1400 hours: Tack onto a southerly course. Getting better time at 3-4 kts.

1500 hours: Wind dropping. Losing ground back to the NW. Lost about 2nm due to the current set. Headsail and mainsail down and motoring. Clawing our way on course 117 deg True to Banda Island getting 2 to 2.5 kts. Seas very bumpy probably as a result of that last rain squall.

1730 hours: Still crawling away about 2.5 to 3 kts at times. Only made 7 miles last 3 hrs. Seas getting a bit bumpier if anything. Wind abating. Very overcast. Lots of rain squalls around especially towards land. Looking back can still see the channel entrance between Ambon and Seram.

2000 hours: Sky still overcast and drizzly. Sea is alight with a very pale green luminescence. It’s almost like a brilliant moonlight night but there’s no moon or stars. Can see enough around the boat to do things without torches. Very pretty but a little eerie.

2200 hours: At least make it onto a chart on which we can plot a position. We are now 35 nm ESE from Ambon and 83 nm from Banda Island.

2400 hours: Emerge from under clouds into a starry night. Still squally and dark off to port. Clear patch only lasts 1 hour before closing in again. Slow going around 2 kts under motor only. No sails up.

Fri 28/7/95
0800 hours: No change. Still plodding along under motor. ‘Norm’ the auto pilot functioning without its usual complaints of crunching noises when sails are up. Steers a wobbly course though 30 to 35 deg and sometime more. Still overcast and rainy. Banda is 56 nm away.

p.m: Rest of day the same.

Sat 29/7/95
0100 hours: First sighting of Suanggi light marking a 348 ft high lump of rock. It’s a relief when you see these obstacles are marked at the correct place on the chart and the light is actually working. Looking for the Banda Island Group.

There are about 6 islands in the group but the main ones are Banda Besar, Banda Naira and the volcano island of Gunung Api. The three of these are very close together.  They are also part of the famous Spice Islands of yesteryear with its supplies of nutmeg and cloves.
56 approaching Banda Islands
Right: Approaching the Banda Island Group. Gunung Api in the centre is an active volcano with its head in the clouds. Banda Naira is to the left. Banda Besar is in the background.

1100 hours: Harbour entrance Banda is 5 nm away. Overcast day but no rain.

1300 hours: Rain squalls moving across the group of islands. Heading towards the western entrance between Banda Besar and Banda Naira. Taking it easy and feeling our way in.
57 dutch fort
Left: Part of the old restored Dutch Fort Belgique originally built in 1611 can be seen at right.

1530 hours: Find the anchorage in the eastern channel on Banda Naira just across from the volcano island of Gunung Api. Crew of Zanzibar are just leaving and advise over the radio to look for a fellow named Leo for a place to stay, have our meals and get some washing done. There is a stone seawall where homestay places are built. Yachts are moored stern-to and crew can live ashore at these homestay places right behind their boats. It’s a great set-up for visiting yachts, and the harbour is beautiful and sheltered from the SE trade winds.

58 homestay Laguna InnRight: The homestay Laguna Inn.

1630 hours: Some people whistling and clapping at us to tie up at their small jetty. Get a couple of lines ashore and secure boat just off the jetty. This place turns out to be named the ‘Laguna Inn’. The manager agrees his name is Leo and promptly shows us to a table. Fetches Bintang beer and coke. Takes our meal order as we have to order ahead for dinner and shows us to our rooms. Darren stays aboard. Cold showers again but a proper toilet and toilet paper.
62 Jasmine and Gunung Api
Left: SV Jasmine moored outside the Laguna Inn homestay with active volcano Gunung Api in the background.

p.m.: Go for a look around town. Climb up and walk around the restored Dutch ‘Fort Belgique’ originally built around 1611. Check out the markets and return to Laguna Inn. Sit on the seawall and watch all sorts and sizes of tropical fish and other sea life swimming around. Just like a big salt water aquarium. Sea Cadence arrives in the harbour. Have dinner. Sit around chatting for a while then go to bed. No TV.

Sun 30/7/95
0830 hours: Have a cup of strong black coffee for breakfast. Milk is very hard to get in Ambon and Banda. Mostly it’s condensed milk. Beef is very expensive and there is little of it. Lots of rice and fish and vegetables. Nasi Goreng with chicken is common. Make arrangements with one of the staff named Barkley for his mother to do the washing for which he charges Rp30000 (A$19.00). Head out to the boat but slip on the jetty steps. Fall painfully onto the stair risers on my thigh then into the water.  Crawl back up to the jetty and lay there for pain to subside for a while. I was in my last set of dry clothes so hung out my shirt and shorts and limp around in a towel for a while.

0900 hours: We all pretty well got fleeced last night. Don and Marge paid Rp80000 (A$52.00) and I was charged Rp60000 (A$39.00) for our rooms. Darren paid for the Bintangs, cokes and meals all up costing him around Rp120000 I think. The Bintang was around Rp2000 per bottle more than anywhere else. By now I have a big painful bulge on my thigh. The bruise hasn’t come out yet but it’s quite stiff and painful.

a.m: Darren gives me a dry shirt and I walk dry my shorts. Barkley acts as our guide and takes us to 2 museums, one of which shows the history of the place and the other dedicated to the visit of an Indon President named Bung in 1972. We chekd out the government offices although they are closed being Sunday.

64 massacre paintingAbove: A large painting in the local museum depicts a massacre of some 42 people by the Dutch and Japanese in the early days.  Note the heads at top right.  Apparently the Dutch killed off all the original inhabitants and brought in other islanders as slaves.

Go to the local market and do some shopping. The Indo’s look at you with a blank stare when you ask for silk material in any textile type shop. Return to Laguna Inn and have a big bowl of soup for lunch.
61 Ambon ferry
Left: The ferry which comes from Ambon on Sundays. A lot of Dutch tourists. Not surprising considering the history of Dutch occupation.

p.m: Lazy afternoon sitting around and chatting. A big ferry from Ambon arrives. It takes about 9 hours which means it must do about 20 kts or so. It’s full of Dutch tourists.   Villagers from outlying communities come to town to check. It’s a big event. Apparently some of the passengers are visiting relatives on the island. Not surprising I guess considering the long history of Dutch occupation. Lots of people around but activity dies down drastically late afternoon. Beautiful day. Lots of sunshine. Can clearly see the peak of Gunung Api. Some small amount of steam coming out of it.

Later on the boys get a small supply of Bintang and we troop over to Ramona for a visit. This is a ketch around 55 ft owned by people in Darwin. Don and Marge seem to know them very well. Very pleasant and relaxing for a while. This is where we learn about the real Leo who has a homestay several doors down from Laguna Inn. The skipper from Jodi-Ann also comes over for a little while to say hello. Jodi-Ann is another ketch about 65 ft and about 60 ton. It has a 200 hp power plant and does charter work. The skipper would be early to mid 20’s, blue eyed, blond and muscular. Bet he’s a killer with any lady charterers. Jodi-Ann is filling in time waiting for the owners and are planning some diving around the islands tomorrow. The diving is supposedly excellent and gear can be hired from a hotel just a few doors down.
63 boats stern-to
Right: Boats moored stern-to the shore. Jasmine bottom right with Ramona top right and Jodi-Ann centre top.

Approx 1930 hours: Go down to Leo’s and although we have not made an order for dinner, he pust together a really nice meal, mostly fish and rice for us which all up costs about Rp28000 including the Bintangs and coke. Return to boat. Even though we haven’t done all that much today we pretty well all crash at 2200 hours.

Mon 31/7/95
0630 hours: Crew up. Have cuppa. Collect Barkley in our dinghy and dinghy across to the volcano. Today is climb the volcano day. Gunung Api is an active volcano which is 2150 ft high and last erupted in 1988. It took a week to evacuate some 7000 people from the islands.

66 Banda NairaLeft: Banda Naira as seen from the first rest-hut on Gunung Api.

0910 hours: Start the climb. Quite hectic and lots of work. Day is overcast but clear. There are wooden steps going most of the way. Seems like thousands of them and probably are. There are four rest ‘huts’ though mostly broken down but at least provide a seat. See Ramona leaving the harbour for Babar Island from the first hut. From the last hut our guide refuses to go further saying only 200m more but no steps and dangerous. The view from this hut is fantastic. Don and I push on.

The 200m felt like 500m. Climbing is mostly hands and feet stuff over loose rubble rock.  Feels like we’ll never get there. We quickly enter into cloud and rain. Visibility is considerably reduced. The track is quite steep and the footing is a treacherous ankle breaking kind.

68 atop Gunung ApiRight: Don at the top of Gunung Api.  We thought this was the crater but it was just a depression.  The actual crater rim is further to the right.

Eventually the bush thins out and we find the top. It’s very wet and rainy up here. Lots of sulphurous rock around and every now and again there is a warm spot where steam is coming out. You risk getting your hand scalded if you stick it too far into one of these holes. We go up to the crater rim and peer tentatively over the loose dirt but can only see a white void. The rim looks pretty unstable consisting of what looks like a raised dirt lip with a direct straight drop on the other side. We don’t hang around the rim long.

Approx 1130 hours: The trip down is a lot easier but find ourselves skidding out of control at times. Learn that if you stick your foot under your bum it’s not quite so bad. You can skid along and try and grab some hand holds. Reach the midway point about 1200 hours and the bottom around 1230 hours. Motor back to the boat to change clothes and dry out.

1330 hours: Crew go ashore for some lunch and Bintang. I stay aboard a few moments to update this journal. Come ashore to see Jodi-Ann weighing anchor and take off out to sea. Probably going out on a trip the skipper had been talking about yesterday. Find Barkley and settle up. He wants Rp10000 (A$6.50) per person for guiding us up the volcano but doesn’t charge for Marge who didn’t go all the way. Can’t find the crew anywhere. Don and Marge said they were going to do some shopping for fresh vegetables but aren’t at the market. Come back to the boat to wait.

1800 hours: Go ashore to look again. Can’t find them. Search all known spots. Think they must have found some other hidey hole somewhere.

1830 hours: Jodi-Ann returns towing Ramona back into harbour. Ramona had gone about 10nm and the propeller shaft shear pin had sheared off and the prop shaft had fallen back jamming the rudder. Grab our dinghy and help Ramona secure lines to shore. Don, Marge and Darren are on the Jodi-Ann. It appears Ramona hadn’t been able to work out what the problem was, and fearing something worse had contacted Darwin Radio (OTC), who telephoned the Laguna Inn who got a message to the ‘red boat’ (Jodi-Ann) to come and help. Valerie Taylor from the shark documentaries was on Jodi-Ann and had asked our crew to come and help as well. They had called out to me apparently but I hadn’t heard them due to a continuing problem with an ear infection.

1930 hours: Have dinner with crew at Leo’s again. Mike, the skipper of Ramona working on his boat. He later comes ashore and gets a stainless bolt from Jodi-Ann to act as a shear pin. He returns to his boat and get the problem fixed after that.

2200 hours: The troops go over to Ramona once more for a social gathering. Two 4lt bottles of Bundy rum come out of Gavin’s stock and go over. Back in January this year I had decided to give up the booze so to avoid temptation go back to Jasmine, have a read and go to sleep. Later learn that Darren swapped some Bundy for some bacon and steak.

Tues 1/8/95
0800 hours: Everyone up. Some a little seedy from the rum. A couple with sniffles from the wet mountain climb yesterday. Clean up the boat a bit. Overcast day but fine. Some small blue patches in the cloud.

0900 hours: Crew head to shore to shop for fresh veges. Several more boats arrive including Sundancer from Bunbury.

1115 hours: Dinghy up. Lines cast. Anchor weighed and leaving Banda Harbour.

70 Russ and Gunung ApiRight: Russ onboard Jasmine . The western side of Gunung Api shows where the lava flowed in 1988. Note the black lava rock shelf at its bottom left.

1230 hours: Good sailing at 6 kts. Some rain coming around Gunung Api. Getting a good look where the lava flow had burned everything. ‘Norm’ can’t hold the course on sails and we spin around. Have some trouble with a sticking solenoid but finally get the motor started and back on track. The solenoid continues to give us trouble for the rest of the trip.



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