From Debut we had an overnight sail northwest to the Banda Islands, a group of about 10 small volcanic islands right in the middle of the Banda Sea, also know as the ‘spice islands ‘due to the high quality of the spices grown there. Over the centuries there has been much strife and conflict over the spices - cloves, cinnamon and in particular, nutmeg and mace. Again we were given a warm welcome although no formal festivities were organised as the anchorages around the main islands were rather limited so all 50 rally boats were not able to be there together. The three main Banda islands are all within a few miles of each other. We spent our first few days tied back to the seawall in Banda Neira - the main harbour and town which is full of old dutch colonial architecture and is home to two forts, one Dutch and one Belgian - there was an interesting small museum documenting the times of colonial rule prior to Independence in 1945, and airport (although no planes seen) and a local market as well as various restaurants and a couple of hotels. The Banda islands are well known for their diving - but the dive shop did not have any petrol for their compressor so the many keen divers in the fleet had to supply their own air. Luckily this was resolved whilst we were there and on our last day Davo was able to go diving.
Across the harbour from Banda Neira, and dominating the skyline is the volcano of Gunung Api which last erupted in 1988. Sara and Davo went with friends to climb to the top (650m) - spectacular views but a hard climb as the path goes straight up and has a rather loose surface in parts so there was a lot of scrambling and grabbing on to vegetation for support. Going up was exhausting, but coming down was difficult - we made it and it was definitely worth the effort - the volcano is still puffing and is pretty hot in places.
Whilst we were at the top of volcano with Peter and Lynne from Sunchaser a very large ferry arrived. Luckily Chris had stayed on board as Tulu was the boat nearest to the dock where the ferry came in. Contrary to the harbour masters assurances the prop wash from the ferry sent a wave of water sideways on to the boats on the seawall resulting in Tulu being pushed back towards the wall. It was all rather dramatic (apparently a new ferry captain) but luckily the only slight damage we sustained was a small gouge in the bottom of the starboard rudder which Chris was able to patch with some special putty. Needless to say Chris very quickly moved away from the seawall and we anchored off the opposite shore of Gunung Api. The whole experience was rather draining and left us a bit shaken as it could have been so much worse and we are a very long way from anywhere where repairs could be made - anyway, we were fine.
On our way to Banda our faithful big blue spinnaker that has dragged us more than half way round the world blew out. It was not very windy but we had a nasty seaway - as we came out of the lee of a small island one particular wave tossed us sideways and bang - big blue was no more. This did not come as a great surprise to us as a sailmaker in Brisbane who did a few repairs on it said that with all the UV exposure that it had had over the years of usage it would not last much longer. We may have a go at repairing it - we have lovely friends Mike and Rosie on Shakti who have good sewing machine and are very willing to help as well as other offers. One of the wonderful aspects of a rally is that there are always plenty of offers of help when needed as there are so many boats around - this can also play the other way however which Sunchaser found when another boat lifted their anchor and they were blown onto a lee shore - only to be saved by Chris and others in dingies keeping them off the rocks although they did sustain a bit of damage (typically these things happen when no one is on board).
Dramas aside, we had a lovely time in the Banda Islands. We took a tour over to Banda Besar where the main nutmeg plantations are. Along side the nutmeg trees are enormous almond trees which provide shade for the nutmeg. We were shown the local harvesting techniques and as we walked around the village the smell of the spices was intoxicating. On the ground outside nearly every house were cloves and nutmeg and mace laid out to dry in the sun. Together with a few others ladies, Sara did a mornings cookery class finished off by a splendid lunch sampling the dishes prepared. We went collecting up plastic with a group of local school children - littering is a huge problem in this part of the world - traditionally food would be eaten off banana leaves which could then be just thrown to the ground or into the water. Now, with the introduction of plastic food containers the same practice is employed. A local man, Maga, is trying to educate the children to collect the rubbish - particularly plastic, and enlisted our help. He also laid on some traditional “crazy bamboo” dancing to which we were all invited and we collected money for him to buy rubbish bins for the villages onto which he will put our boat names.
Sara, along with a few others, was invited to a local village moslem wedding which was fascinating. The bride and groom were dressed in the most elaborate outfits with several changes through the day apparently. We were only there for the actual wedding and wedding feast and we were presented to the couple, gave them a gift and had our photos taken with them. The ladies in particular were all dressed in their finery - it was quite comical after the ceremony to see them all clambering off the beach onto boats to return home.
As we sailed from Banda Neira we passed the island of Rhun (the last of the Banda group) which was the first ever British overseas colony. The island was eventually swapped with the Dutch for their island in North America called New Amsterdam. This proved to be quite a good deal for the British as they renamed their newly acquired island New York.
We sailed overnight to the island of Saparua where we spent the day being visited by very curious locals, did some snorkelling and were wonderfully entertained in the evening on Keyif by our Turkish friends Nadire and Selim and their daughter Gunes. Early the next morning we left for Ambon where we dropped Davo to catch a flight to Denpasar Bali and then home. Chris and Sara continued, overnight again, to our next stop on the rally, the island of Buru.......