RoRC Report January 2018 - Pacific II

RoRC Report January 2018 - Pacific II

Regional Rear Commodores report from a less commonly cruised region of the Pacific

By Andy and Sue Warman - 01/02/2018

Sue and Andy Warman in Spruce - Nov 2017 – 2020

Our report comes from a less commonly cruised location, the west end of New Guinea Island. A region once called Irian Jaya, now known as Papua and West Papua at the eastern end of the expansive Indonesian Archipelago. In September, we left Borneo and cruised to this cluster of green isles off the Birds Head peninsula – why so called becomes clear from an aerial view – known as Raja Ampat, the “Four Kings”. It is a well known international diving destination where Pacific and Indian Ocean ecosystems meet and mix – a biodiversity hotspot.

Since our arrival more than two months ago, we have seen only six other cruising yachts, and one of those sailed around North East Borneo with us during August: a New Zealand monohull, s/y Nicha with Simon and Cindy aboard. Two Australian catamarans: one, s/y Sunny Girl, was seen from afar, the other, s/y Prime Mover, with Australian, Steve and Simon aboard, laying their boat up to head back home for a few months. Two US catamarans, s/y Field Trip (Mark is also an OCC member), and s/y Perry, both “Kid Boats”, were in Sorong and are now cruising the north of Raja Ampat. They will be going on westwards towards the Indian Ocean. The sixth sighting is also a catamaran: Pikuditu, an unexpected encounter with Dutch friends Steve & Dinkie. As is the joy of this cruising lifestyle, our paths crossed in Fiji and New Caledonia (2014), and Lombok in southern Indonesia two years ago. We do know two others boats 300-miles to the southeast also in West Papua, we have not seen them since Sulawesi, much farther to the west, and they will come north to Sorong in January. If you yearn to cruise in less frequented waters this part of the world may satisfy your lust for solitude, without the necessity to visit colder climes.

The beautiful weather-sculpted limestone karsts of Raja Ampat extend from picturesque Wayag, in the north, to Misool 150-miles south; the main town of Sorong, at the eastern boundary of the region, is 100-miles east of the westernmost islands. This is a sizeable cruising ground, but few yachts seem to include it in their itinerary. Perhaps better known among the diving community, we can vouch Raja Ampat also boasts a diversity of splendid scenery, secluded, although often deep anchorages and exotic bird life; sundowners while watching Hornbills and Cockatoos is delightful. We hear that short jungle treks, with a guide, can find Birds of Paradise.

Boats that venture this way can choose various entry routes that offer good cruising grounds in themselves. From Australia to the south, via the southern Spice Islands; or via the coastal islands of Papua New Guinea from the Solomons, as did the vessels Field Trip & Perry, who speak most positively about those islands where they enjoyed almost a year exploring; or from West Malaysia, travelling either north or south of Borneo. Anyone coming this way needs to assume a high degree of self-reliance; shore side services are generally limited. If you hope to find another boat with whom to cruise, best bring them with you, they are rare. The former worrying difficulties imposed by Indonesian bureaucracy are easing; some of the more onerous restrictions have gone completely. A major drive from the President is aimed at wiping out corruption. The officials we met have been splendid.

Another concern in cruising Raja Ampat may be worries about where to leave your boat during an annual trip home, or for a maintenance stop. That is changing. An amiable Australian fellow, “Wick”, who has lived in Indonesia for thirty-years, is busy carving out a staging post close to Sorong; his mini-marina is located 4.5 miles up a river. This sheltered oasis has evolved over an extended period; it is known by few cruisers from outside the immediate region. Thus far, limited to space afloat for around a dozen boats moored alongside boardwalk dockage, there are plans to increase the capacity by another fifteen craft. On-site security is a welcome aspect. More particular, a concrete slipway is nearing the latter stages of construction. In January 2018, the inauguration will be effected by a 50-feet catamaran that needs repairs after a bump with a reef. Previously that haul out opportunity was 450-miles away in Sulawesi, or more than 1,000-miles to Bali. The capacity will be for mono-hulls and catamarans up to 25-tonnes. Further plans include a two-hectare shore-side hardstanding area. Consequently, for those who want to leave their boat in Raja Ampat, the options in Sorong, with its nearby airport and plans for international flights, are becoming more favourable.

Away from the dreamy limestone-spires of the islands and cruising, other initiatives aimed at locals are underway in Sorong. Efforts are being made to improve the lives of women and children’s health in a fast changing society. Village networks and support systems are under pressure from urbanisation. Maria, a native German, who now hails from Australia, is running a project to start textile printing using traditional motifs with local women, it is intended this will evolve into a business for locals, presently outside the tourist industry boom, to create products that they can sell and earn income. Sue joined them for an afternoon to share some of her block printing skills. It was fascinating to see how the women reacted towards Kanak symbology from New Caledonia, they were certain the Kanaks had similar roots to many of their own motifs.

A persistent nautical gripe in Asia is plastic rubbish that finds its way into the sea. That issue is much less prevalent here than more populated parts of Asia. In addition, a local initiative is underway in Sorong to collect garbage and recycle plastics; it is refreshing to see such enterprise towards tackling a major environmental problem.

From here, we will go 300-miles east to Cendrawasih Bay and her famous whale sharks before heading north into Micronesia and on to Japan in March. Perhaps, as an alternative route, or as an escape from the next south pacific Cyclone season, Raja Ampat may be a destination for your serious consideration.

Photo: Spruce Anchored with Stern Line Ashore in Misool

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