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Cruising is The Spice of Life

Graphics by Hannah Welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

There is nothing quite as exciting as cruising the world’s little known destinations; it adds spice to the cruising life. Back in the 1980s when Charlie was cruising the world, he sailed to the remote regions of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and after exploring much of Australia’s barrier reef he joined an ocean race to Indonesia (organized by the Darwin Yacht Club), with the sole purpose of getting a cruising permit to explore this amazing archipelago. In Darwin, Charlie shipped a girl aboard as mate and companion and the two of them joined the small fleet for the 600 mile race ending in Ambon, one of the historic ‘spice islands’.

Charlie stocked up with cloves, nutmeg and pepper and after all the celebrations and speeches by both Aussie and Indonesian yacht club officials, and armed with his cruising permit, he set off on his mission to explore southern Sulawesi and the Buton Straits. The voyage was incredible with anchorages off villages where wooden boats were built and dhows constructed; anchorages where, tied stern to the wooded shoreline, screeching monkeys were their only companions and huge sailing dhows, loaded to the gunwales, sailed back and forth (and forth and back). At the end of the 100 mile strait, at the regional capital of Bau Bau, they anchored and then went ashore to present themselves to local officials for clearance to continue.

The harbormaster seemed to be a pleasant official and after a short time all the formalities were taken care of and Charlie invited him to come aboard for sundowners later that evening. They returned to the boat and … they had been robbed! But oddly enough nothing valuable had been stolen except a small short wave radio; they had also taken T-shirts, cassette tapes and a few old magazines. That evening, after a few forbidden drinks (Muslims are denied alcohol), Charlie, explaining the theft, said “what a shame in such a welcoming town with such nice people.”

Almost immediately the half-sloshed harbormaster exclaimed, “I will get all your stolen items back.”  Charlie was amazed – how could this be possible. Then, slowly, he nodded and smiled inwardly – there must have been collusion between him and the thieves.

Next morning, the harbormaster came roaring out to the boat in a fast dinghy and sure enough he had the stolen items – but there was a necessary procedure before Charlie could have his stuff back. He would have to go to the catholic church some five miles away and read a statement in front of the priest to swear the items were undoubtedly his. The ‘friendly harbormaster’ could give him a ride on the back of his motorbike.

And so it was. When they arrived the whole village came out to greet ‘the foreigner’ and Charlie was made to read a statement in front of a robed and bejeweled priest – in Indonesian – that purportedly confirmed him as the owner of the stolen items. It was nothing more than a sideshow; villagers pointing and laughing, Charlie embarrassed and wondering if the gobbledygook he was saying was perhaps assigning him to a firing squad. Finally, he was handed his possessions.

Next day Charlie cleared for Lombok, with a large new padlock.

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