Many, if not most, cruisers will tell you that they're not the type to join a rally. We say the same thing too but more often than not we're part of a rally. I think the conventional wisdom is that most cruisers like to think that they are the rugged individuals that avoid crowds and organizations and, based on my attitudes as a teenager, I think I still like to think of me as that way whereas in reality I've become very much of a 'joiner'.
Of course, we often justify the participation in rallies financially as they often represent a bargain (eg the cost to join the Sail Indonesia Rally was AUD$550 and that included the cost of cruising permit required by the Indonesian government which is AUD$300 AND they took care of all the paperwork which is substantial) but the truth is we'd probably join one regardless of what it cost. There is much to be said about cruising to a remote and Third World country with a dozen or more other boats who all face the same issues. However, in the case of Sail Indonesia, it has not only been a significant bargain but we've been treated like royalty.
Aside from taking care of the paperwork to get out cruising permit, the Sail Indonesia organizers got things started in Darwin by giving out Welcome Bags chocked full of information, including how to order duty-free booze. They also threw a big bar-b-q, complete with free beer and wine. There were seminars about cruising in Indonesia but the organizers largely kept their hands off the cruisers as they knew all too well that most cruisers are the 'rugged individual' types. Telling cruisers where to be or what to do is like herding cats. Still, the 87 boats that signed up for this year's rally behaved themselves pretty well while in Darwin and did pretty much as they were told.
The fleet was divided by destination: The rally ends at Lagoi on Bintan Island (only about 60 miles from Singapore) but the first landfall in Indonesia was either Kupang on Timor Island or Saumlaki on Yamdena Island. The route via Saumlaki is the more remote of the two and requires not only traveling further but also includes several overnight passages. 75 boats signed up for the Kupang route and the rest, including us, chose to sail to Saumlaki.
The official welcome we received in Saumlaki was far and away above our expectations. Ceremonies with officials from the government, tourism, police, military and village elders were obviously well rehearsed and organized. We were given gifts and fed. At one point, the local organizers hired a fleet of buses to take us to some of the sights around Saumlaki and the island, complete with a police escort - the new full-size police pickup had all it's lights flashing, it's siren blaring and it drove down the center of the road, forcing all on-coming traffic to the shoulders and refusing any traffic to pass us. This went on all afternoon. The actual sites we saw were lackluster to our Western eyes (a 'ship' made of rocks and a four-storey building that looked like an over-sized burial crypt with a 20-foot statue of Jesus Christ on top) but seeing the country side made the trip worthwhile.
Most participants in the rally were planning to leave on Saturday so on the Friday night before the organizers had scheduled a Farewell Gala. One of the organizing staff asked me to write a speech, thanking the organizers and the government for all the work they did on Sail Indonesia. One of the boats started a collection as we all felt somewhat overwhelmed with the generosity we had received and we all wanted to give something back. The first part of the Friday evening gala was a food competition with about 15 organizations presenting their best culinary skills. Once the judges had finished doing their tasting, the exhibits were opened to the cruisers and while most of the food was delicious, some of it required more adventuresome tastes than I have. Be sure to read Corie's blog about her experience.
There were about 200 people in the Saumlaki Art Center when I gave my short speech but it took longer than I had planned as I had to give time to the woman who was translating. Still, it went pretty well and I interrupted with applause from the locals on a couple of occasions. Of course, I have to assume that the translation was accurate but I suppose I'll never know. The speeches were followed by an award ceremony and much to my surprise, I was asked to hand out the trophies for the food competition. None of the women who was receiving a trophy understood English so when I said, "Congratulations!" they just looked at me with kind of a nervous smile. I could have said, "Terima kasih!" (the only word in Indonesian that I know) but that means 'thank you' and it didn't seem appropriate to be thanking them when I was handing out the trophy.
Our stay in Saumlaki was over-the-top. Had we ventured there on our own it would have been a much different experience so if nothing else happens with Sail Indonesia, we'll feel it was a good value and an extraordinary presentation. My guess, is though, that there will be much more to come.
At 7/30/2013 10:16 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 07°58.52'S 131°17.30'E
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