Snapshot: SeaTrek’s two traditional sailing ships take adventurous souls to remote corners of the vast Indonesian archipelago, the single-minded focus of the company for more than 25 years. Itineraries zero in on the islands east of Bali — mainly Flores, Maluku, Sulawesi and fascinating West Papua. The sturdy ironwood pinisi-style “Bugis” schooners were built in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and are full of charm. Their dramatic sheer (curvature) and dhow-like hull add to the ambiance and so does the hardworking and friendly Indonesian crew. No matter where you’re from, you’ll feel a million miles from home the minute you step on board. The ships are powered by a combination of engine and sails; sails-only when and if the wind is cooperating. You’ll definitely feel the ships moving and bucking in the surf, so having sea legs is a big plus. Both have been recently refurbished and are offering a more polished experience than in years past, and further, there are now more expert-led itineraries offered.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: KATHARINA (built 1995 & 12 passengers) and OMBAK PUTIH (b. 1997 & 24 p)
Passengers Profile: SeaTrek attracts adventure seekers from around the globe, with most tending to hail from Australia, the UK and North America, with a sprinkling of Asians.
Passenger Decks: 3, with no elevators.
Price: $$ Expensive
Included Features: Meals, soft drinks and all excursions throughout cruise. Beer, wine and cocktails are extra, as are optional tips.
- From March through early September, OMBAK PUTIH does mostly 7-night itineraries between the islands of Bali and Flores to see the famous Komodo lizards, trek along volcanic mountain trails and snorkel; KATHARINA sticks to mostly customized charters of varying lengths to the Komodo region.
- The rest of the year, OMBAK PUTIH ventures further east on week-long and longer, more remote itineraries in the Banda, Spice and Halmahera Islands, where waterfalls and white sand beaches are the backdrop to exotic wildlife. Some itineraries visit West Papau and Papau New Guinea to observe the strange customs of the tribal people.
- About a dozen expert-led cruises a year between the two ships include two 12-day “Wallace Cruises” through Indonesia’s eastern Raja Ampat Islands with Dr. Tony Whitten, a Cambridge educated conservationist, author and Indonesia expert; the route follows in the footsteps of the great British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. Besides collaborating with Darwin on the theory of evolution through natural selection, he identified what is now termed the Wallace Line, which divides the Indonesian archipelago into two parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia.
Why Go? To get far far away from civilization and to learn something about the vast diversity of Indonesian culture, history and landscapes on traditional-style ships that hark way back to the early days of sailing. For those who really want to learn something, choose one of Seatrek’s expert-led cruises.
When to Go? The best weather in the Indonesia archipelago occurs in April through September, when heavy rain is less likely.
Cabins: Recently refurbished cabins are covered in wood top to bottom and are charming but very small; there’s not much storage space, but then again you won’t need much more than tops, shorts, bathing suits and sarongs. Each cabin has a private bathroom with a shower nozzle above or next to the toilet. Cabins on OMBAK PUTIH have portholes, KATHARINA’s do not and are a tad claustrophobic. Most have bunk beds or doubles, with a handful of triples (three bunks or a double and bunk bed) on each ship.
Public Rooms: The top deck is where everyone gathers for dining, drinking, socializing and scenery gazing. There’s also a small room below decks with a bar, music system, few shelves of books, and some tables and chairs. Besides your cabin, that’s it. The point of a SeaTrek journey is to be on deck.
Dining: Meals are served at one large table on the main deck, under a tarp strung between the masts if it’s raining or too hot (the indoor lounge is used for dining if the weather turns bad), and are usually a combination of buffet and served dishes. Food is simple, hearty and some of it based on Indonesian stir-fry vegetable, noodle and rice dishes. There are also western staples the likes of scrambled eggs, burgers and French fries, and an afternoon snack to the tune of fried plantains and salsa.
Activities & Entertainment: When not in port, it’s all about hanging out up on deck. Gazing at the passing scenery or reading, snoozing, sunbathing, and sipping chilled cans of Indonesian Bintang beer while chatting with new friends are all par for the course. The cruise director and/or any expert guides who sail on board — from textile experts, authors and historians to legends like Lonely Planet’s Tony Wheeler — will also give talks about Indonesia and the upcoming ports of call. There is a basic music system and a TV in the lounge, but otherwise often no satellite signal for phones and the Internet. Evenings, drinks and moody sunsets are the big show, and after dinner once or twice, the crew gets out their guitars and sings, inviting passengers to join in and dance. There are typically one or two ports of call per day, and all shore excursions are included and guided by the cruise director, who doubles as the tour guide and mother hen. There is snorkeling around remote coral reefs via the the small skiffs carried and diving off the ships’ rails when anchored in the middle of glorious nowhere. In port, there are visits to small museums and places where local weaving and other handicrafts are done. Expect nature hikes, bird watching and perhaps a visit to a local sultan (ruler) for tea and a classic Indonesian dance performance.
Along the Same Lines: Sea Safari Cruises and ships offered for charter including Dunia Baru and Silolona Sojourns’ boats.
Note: These ships are not suitable for people with mobility problems, as staircases are steep, doorways narrow and door sills high.
Contact: SeaTrek Adventure Cruises, www.seatrekbali.com