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Sail Morotai 2012 part 2: Captivated by smiles on Moratai Island

Sail Morati 2012 was the biggest thing to happen to Moratai since Second World War when the Island was utilized as an air and naval base for the allied forces under General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the South West Pacific Area.


Above: In a newly opened museum dedicated to Moratai's role in WW2 General MacArthur was understandably the star display.
Above: Rigged out in full uniform the General made quite a fashion statement!



Normally a sleepy village it had very little in the way of infrastructure to support such a large influx of visitors. As well as about 50 Yachties, there were several veterans and their families plus many visiting dignitaries.

There was also a very large Indonesian Army presence - understandable considering they were expecting the Indonesian President as the guest of honor at the 'Parade of Sail'.  
Above & Below: the village streets held very little traffic other than a few motor bikes ....
Above: ...and of course bike rickshaws which we found to be very handy!
Above: Some of the many 'helpers' working flatout to get everything spic and span before the President arrived

Many of the locals, who were all buzzing with excitement and looking forward to the festivities, had probably never seen a foreigner before and we were mobbed everywhere we went by exceedingly friendly villagers. It seemed like everyone wanted to shake our hands and take our photographs.

After 3 years exploring the waters of Malaysia and Thailand we had forgotten how wonderful, warm and welcoming the Indonesian people are.  We were blown away anew by their big smiles, generosity and capacity for fun.

Above & Right: laughing children rowed out to inspect our boats in their flimsy dugouts - and we managed to 'offload' lots of our giveaways - including caps - that we had been carrying around for the past 4 years
There were several volunteers (mostly university students) who had been appointed to help the yachties. These helpers were lovely young men and women who bent over backwards to try and meet our every requirement. So when things went a little haywire, it was very hard to be cross with such well intentioned, and obliging, unpaid assistants!




We also quickly learnt never to ask a question that could be answered with a yes or no – for the answer would always be yes even if they did not understand the question!

Leading up to the 'Parade of Sail' several official functions had been organised for us (including a seafood feast involving all the island's inhabitants) and most evenings we attended an formal dinner where we were entertained with local singing and dancing. During the day we had lots of time to explore the village although our helpers also organised a few activities for us, including a bus tour of Moratai Island as well as a snorkelling boat trip to surrounding islands.

For our island tour the local school bus was commandeered into service. With very few sealed roads we had to go 'off track' a few times to find several leftover war relics including a rusted tank, several gun placements and wartime airstrips.

Below: All aboard the local school bus - no aircon and panel work a bit battered but we were grateful for the ride


After the bus trip  the helpers tried to find (without success) a restaurant that could take our large group for lunch. As alluded to above, Moratai is normally a very sleepy village and apart from hawker stalls and very basic roadside eateries, there are only two eating places that westerners would actually call a restaurant. Unfortunately, the first of these restaurants was very small and had no room and the second one had no rice left even though it was only 1 in the afternoon!


Below: Tour of the local islands!
Below: Lobster anyone?


We were very much looking forward to the Lobster BBQ that evening and things were looking pretty good when we arrived at the dock in our dinghies to be confronted by 2,500 fresh lobsters being unloaded from fishing boats.

There certainly looked to be plenty to feed the entire town population plus the visitors – although we did feel a pang of despair for the lobster stocks over the next few years when we saw the size of some of the specimens!


The locals were certainly out in force and having a great time. A temporary stage had been setup on the beach and chairs had been provided for the important guests (which include us grotty yachties). While the BBQ was being prepared we were served a sumptuous buffet of traditional curry dishes followed by a few speeches and traditional dancing and singing.  The locals, who were all crowded around the edge of the courtyard, loved it all and laughed themselves silly when the yachties were dragged up to participate in the dancing.


Midway through the evening’s entertainment we were asked to head back towards the beach area as the lobster was ready to be served. However, when we arrived at the barbeques licking our lips in anticipation ALL THE LOBSTER WAS GONE and only a few carcasses were left smoking on the fires!!!! It was actually hilarious. All the locals had enjoyed the lobster feast which was great. We were particularly unfazed by this development as the skipper is actually allergic to crustaceans but, of course, our volunteers were devastated that they had failed to get us to the feast on time!

The next day we all received an official invitation from the Governor to attend a formal reception that he was hosting. At 7.15 pm we presented ourselves in our finery on the dock and were transported by bus to a new resort that had obviously only just been opened as evidence of building and electrical work was very much in evidence.

The restaurant was already crowded when we arrived (all 50 of us!) but more chairs were quickly sourced and we had a great night enjoying a sumptious feast and chatting to the local dignitaries as well as some of the elderly Australian War Veterans and their families.


Near the end of the night we had to participate in karaoke as we had no way of escaping until our buses arrived! A few Aussie boats got together and sang a nautical version of ‘Give me a home among the Gum trees’ (Give me a home among the High Seas!) which the crowd loved.

Above: At the dinner with Jim & Kay (Bach and Byte) and Dave their visitor
Above: Poor Jim being forced to pose for photos with the local beauty Queens!
The next day we were all up early ready to rendezvous for the Parade of Ships for the Indonesian President. This was, after all, why we had made the effort to attend Sail Moratai 2012 and everyone dressed ships, put on their smart new festival T-shirts and prepared to salute the President with 3 cheers as we sailed by the VIP marquee. 
Everything went off without a hitch and the spectacle of all the war ships lined up followed by 30 yachts was quite a sight. Our own Aussie war ship, Sirius, served as the backdrop for the parade and proudly displayed its painted red kangaroo on its ships funnel.

Above: The viewing area setup for the President

As a thankyou for our participation (as if they had not done enough for us) we were given 100 litres of free fuel plus a case of beer when we returned to our anchorage.

With the Parade over the rally was officially ended but instead of heading off straight away we chose to stay a few more days to enjoy the town and the villagers.

Above: After the event, the smaller craft are re-loaded into the garage!
We were certainly very glad that we had been talked into attending the Rally as it had been great fun and we take away with us some wonderful, lasting memories. In particular, we will remember the hospitality and the big smiles of the Indonesian people and feel privileged to have been able to share with them in the celebrations for Sail Moratai 2012.