Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue

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Banda - on the nutmeg trail in the tropics

 

The Banda Islands are perfect Balihai islands (tropical volcanic islands surrounded by coral reefs and swaying palm trees ). As we approached, we were impressed by the volcanic peak of Gunung Api which rose majestically from the turquoise water.  It last erupted in the 1980’s and the black scars were still in evidence along with natures precarious efforts to recover dominance over the steep slopes.

 

 

 

Gone were the secluded anchorages of the past few days. There were nearly 50 boats anchored in the bay, plus another 10 tied up ‘stern to’ in the town. The water was crystal clear and we could easily see the sand and coral bottom, making it difficult to tell the depth.

 

 

     

 

The tidal currents created havoc amongst the anchored boats – there appeared to be no logic associated with the direction that boats were facing. At times we were sitting 180 degrees differently to all the other boats.

 

 

 

For the yachties amongst you, this will ring alarm bells as it is a recipe for hitting other anchored boats! That night, several yachts did touch and there was a lot of shouting and re-anchoring. Luckily, although we came perilously close to a couple of boats, we were able to avoid any collisions. At times, however, we did have a very close view of a French boat with an overweight male skipper who had a tendency to wear very little in the way of clothing!

 

 

The town of Bandaneira is dominated by a 16th century Fort, built during the Spice Wars. It has a bloody history – in the 1620’s one unbelievably brutal Dutch governor reduced the population from 15,000 to just 1,000 in five years !

 

 

     
 

Above: visitors book at the fort

 

 

Above: Note the thickness of the fort walls

 

  The houses were more substantial than the shacks we were used to seeing further south and the architecture of the houses was a mix of the colonial style with a dash of Balinese. With the fertile volcanic soil and plentiful rainfall, the town and its surrounds gave off an air of relaxed prosperity.
     
 
     

 

These are the true nutmeg islands and this remains the main source of income for the locals. The black coloured nutmeg nut is very hard and it is surrounded by a red stringy outer-layer called mace. Word has it that this is a secret ingredient of Coca Cola. Both the nutmeg and the mace fetch good money – and the outer layer surrounding the nut is also used to make jam and traditional sweets.

 

 
Above: The Nutmeg nut incased in its outer shell  

Above: Nutmeg Drying

 

How do we know all this? Well, we were met by Abba as we pulled our dinghy up at the town jetty and funnily enough Abba ran tours to a 300 year old nutmeg and almond plantation on a nearby island. He also happened to serve evening meals in his house so we booked in for both the tour and the dinner. Our new friend Abba is a true entrepreneur and was making the most of the influx of 70 yachts. Who can blame him?  Banda gets very few tourists, and other than yachties, we saw only two other westerners in town and they were young backpackers on a very tight budget.

 

 
Above: the rear courtyard at Abba's house  

Above: Dinner at Abba's house

 

The tour turned out to be great value as we also visited a local Muslim village. Transportation to and from the island was via a wooden fishing boat that had a big single cylinder diesel that nearly deafened us as it chugged along. Mooring was also an adventure as it had no gearbox so had to be turned off well before the intended landing area so timing was crucial if we were to have an accident free arrival at the landing area!

 

 

 

On arrival we wind our way past boats in various states of construction – after which we headed up hill to the main village. Unluckily for Sue’s knee it required us to troop up a several hundred uneven stone steps. Ah, the things we do for a view!   

 
 
Above: the view from the halfway up the torture steps  

Above: view from the top

 

Our stay at Banda concluded with a birthday party aboard ‘Two Up’. The food was sourced from town – Banda’s version of takeaway – and came in thermos-type rice heaters from the kitchens of Abba’s house!

 

 

 

 

Things really got swinging when a guitar was produced and we all tried to remember the words to those 60’s and 70’s one hit wonders. Martin even provided his own input into the entertainment when he recited ‘The Man from Ironbark’ to great applause.  Later still the benefits of having the party on a catamaran became obvious when the cockpit doubled as a dance floor!

     
 

 

During a quiet time between dancing, talk turned to provisioning and some good hearted ribbing came our way when the extent of each boats stored provisions was discussed. Eric, from Morning Star VII, commented that no supermarkets in Darwin seemed to stock the ingredients for making his favourite flavor of yoghurt.  ‘Everywhere we went, the Greek Yoghurt sachets were depleted.’


Chris, from Southern Mist piped up with ‘That’s because Mandolin Wind got there before you!’

 

 
   

Above: Our Yoghurt stash!

 

Amidst laughter, we were forced to confess that it was true and that we had scoured Darwin, buying up all stocks. Eric, with some inner sixth sense, then quipped, ‘I suppose you were the ones who cleaned out all the coffee sachets as well?’ …. and the guilty look on Sue’s face told all!

 

 

 

The next day, after a slow start, we took the dinghy around to where the lava flow from the most recent eruption spilled down into the sea. Despite the last eruption being only 30 years ago, the reef had rejuvenated into some of the most colourful and interesting coral we had ever encountered whilst snorkeling – plus the variety of fish rivaled anything we had seen in the Whitsundays. As an added bonus, the water was particularly warm, helped along by the thermal spouts escaping from the sea bed.

 

   

 

The following afternoon we upped anchor and prepared ourselves for the overnight sail to Ambon. As we headed out we noticed a boat in trouble on the reef near where we had been snorkeling the previous day. Apparently they had edged just a little too close to the reef in an attempt to anchor and have one last snorkel. It was a falling tide and two smaller boats had already tried but failed to pull them off. Luckily a larger boat was already offering further assistance and managed to free them by attaching a line to the top of the stricken boats mast and tipping them over far enough to float free.

As we pointed our nose towards our next destination, we considered the benefits of travelling as part of a rally. It is certainly reassuring to know that if one of the yachts gets into into difficulty there is help close at hand. In the fading light we counted 8 other boats within 5nm of us all heading north-west and we settled down for a pleasant night in perfect sailing conditions under a full moon. Ambon here we come!