Australia to Indonesia
Grant Wilson decided to swing through Papua New Guinea again on the way to Indonesia. Whale Song anchored in the lee of Endeavour Reef, the same that nearly finished James Cook’s ship in 1770, but the strong northwest monsoon muddied the sea too much for diving. Forty hours after weighing anchor from Lizard Island, Queensland, a full moon lit the way through Sunken Barrier Reef, Papua New Guinea, where we once again entered the world of the unexpected. In Posa Posa Harbor on Cape Vogel, my wife, Nancy, pulled tender watch as the rest of us plunged inland through the mangrove forest mud looking for a traditional boatbuilder. Nancy was fighting mosquitoes when a couple of girls paddled in. It took them just a few minutes to rub dry sticks, start a smoking fire and ask this blue-eyed blonde if she were Japanese. At Goodenough Island, five dozen canoes full of villagers fought to tie up alongside us and trade.
Our next stop, the Trobriands, sprang into the outer world’s attention with the work of Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), the father of social ethnography. They are still regarded as a hotbed of free love, where women chase men during the annual yam festival. Whale Song anchored off Losuia, on Kiriwina Island, way before the yam festivities. Instead of brown goddesses we were pursued by relentless (but gifted) carvers of ebony. Streams of lakatoi, sailing catamarans, passed by, loaded with branches of the mildly narcotic betel plant. The seas here teemed with life. Leprena, a sloop owned by an Aussie and his native wife, came alongside for dinner. In the dark, after they had cast off, the fenders were covered with newborn squid, their dark eyes too big for bodies less than an inch long.
Indonesia spans a universe of islands too vast to take in at once. The country expanded after the Dutch colonial power vanished in the aftermath of World War II. The western part of Papua became Irian Jaya. Fly inland from the port of Jayapura, where Whale Song anchored, and you will enter the realm of mountain Papuans. In Baliem Valley, Wilson, his friend Art Milliken and two of the crew walked side by side with men, naked but for their penis gourds, and women in the world’s lowest grass skirts.
On the island of Biak, Wilson dived on a downed World War II Japanese plane, accompanied by the local divemaster, Abraham, a Papuan Christian who had strong words about the Muslim invasion directed from Jakarta. At Pulau Manuk we dove among hordes of sea snakes weaving their way under our arms. Komodo Islands delivered more excitement. One morning a massive Komodo dragon foraged on the beach near the anchorage. Our tender was full of camera-wielding humans grounded some yards away. The dragon flicked his tongue and made a beeline for us, but it was not fast enough to outpace a 115-horsepower outboard.
Cultures from the long-forgotten past thrive in secluded places. People in Lamalera on Pulau Lembata spear sperm whales from open sailboats. But they never attack blue whales. A legend claims that blue whales carried their ancestors to safety when a volcano buried their homes. Even on an island as assaulted by international tourism as Bali, it took only a short trip to see people who had preserved their traditions. The ancient Ubud, inland from the port of Benoa, maintains its sacred monkey temple and streets of sacred Hindu sites carved in stone, and even older indigenous burial plots lie just paces from the tourist bus terminal. Off small coastal hamlets trimarans of ancient design work the fertile waters.
Indonesia to Thailand
In the Singapore Strait, Whale Song joined the throbbing traffic. The great, open seas of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia seemed so very far away. When the sun set, a thousand lights appeared, except on small, shadowy vessels scooting across rows of ships passing Singapore for the Strait of Malacca.
We anchored offshore of Malacca, which was an important trading depot in the 15th century. Portuguese, Dutch, English, Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist architecture commemorated the ups and downs of nations that tried to monopolize this crossroads of Far Eastern trade. Today, fed by the semiconductor and garment industries, Malaysia banks on the future.
We loved the Ratanachai shipyard in Phuket, Thailand, where a holy man blessed the haul-out way before Whale Song rode out of the water. A small Buddhist temple right under our bow came to life once a week when the yard owners set up tables with food. At launching, every vessel’s bow was wrapped in prayer banners, and firecrackers accompanied the slow slide back to sea. Our work list was long (see “Haul-Out Repairs,” left), and we looked forward to utilizing the splendid working attitude of Thai craftsmen and their Burmese assistants.
Be sure to read the conclusion of Whale Song’s voyage in our August Adventure issue.
Around the World Aboard Whale Song: Part Three
Australia to Indonesia