As Indonesia was celebrating its 68th anniversary on August 17th, 2013 I was in Darwin, on board Madame Lau, a Jeanneau 41.5, ready to set sail in the Darwin to Ambon Race & Rally.
I had arrived in Darwin a few days earlier to familiarize myself with the boat and get to know the captain and the crew. John Jordan, owner and skipper of Madame Lau, looked the part of a skipper with his thick bushy beard and heavy set built, belying his reserved personality. A veteran of the Darwin to Ambon race, I contacted him to convey my interest in the race and he warmly welcomed me to be part of his 4-man crew. Dale and Denyer were the others in the crew.
The Darwin to Ambon race first started in 1976, leaving from Darwin and arriving in a small village in Ambon called Amahusu. The route is straight forward, an easy downwind sail. It follows the rhumb line through the Arafura Sea to the island of Sermata, then passes the island of Damar on the Banda Sea, before reaching Ambon.
Madame Lau was a sturdy, ocean going racer/cruiser built in the 1980s, and very comfortable. The first 12 hours of the journey were the most challenging, as the winds were unpredictable, first very strong then dead for a while. It was difficult getting out of Darwin Harbour and we couldn’t keep to the route, taking us longer than we expected. We should have been out within 6 hours, at most, but it took us almost twice the time. Once out of Beagle Gulf and past Bathurst Island, however, it was an easy sail. The easiest sail I’d had in a long time. Everything was on auto pilot and I didn’t even have to steer the wheel. There was also no traffic, different from the Fremantle-Bali race which passed through heavy traffic and plenty of activity. This route gave the crew plenty of time to sleep and to enjoy the food prepared by Jenny, John’s Malaysian wife. For those who had never done an ocean crossing, this is a good start as it epitomizes ‘smooth sailing’.
Early on Thursday morning, around 3:00am on August 22nd, we reached Amahusu, anchoring first away from the other yachts but joining them at daybreak. Some yachts had arrived much earlier. Amahusu was a small village with one main road by the beach. The yachts were greeted by the locals, one of whom was the owner of a small bar regularly frequented by John.
The official welcome lunch was on the next day, Friday 23rd, followed by a gala dinner. In between time, the local community had organized friendly competitions and games involving the yachties against the locals. For the winners, more Bir Bintang! But it was enjoyable, with plenty of laughter. The gala dinner was even more fun, with a big spread of all kinds of cuisine, music and dancing. We were all able to truly feel the warm and sincere hospitality for which the Ambonese are known.
The winners of the race were announced during the dinner. Australian Maid came in first, clocking in at 82.06 hours. In the rally division, Madame Lau came in 4th at 111.08 hours. The evening was a climax in a race which was competitive but at the same time very leisurely.