2012 Kembara Bahari

Voyage of discovery to East Indonesia



Kembara Bahari Expedition

Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands scattered along the equator. In fact, it is the world’s biggest archipelagic state. One would have thought a country with 75% of its area being the sea, Indonesia would have many able sailors. Perhaps even someone who had sailed solo around the world, like the legendary Japanese, Minoru Saito, or the Malaysian, Azhar Mansur. Strangely, no one had. I wanted to show to fellow Indonesians that it can be done, that an Indonesian could do it !


Unfortunately, no one understood why anyone would want to spend months alone at sea. Not even to fly the Indonesian flag and shout out to the world, “hey, our forefathers were brave sailors who sailed the seas! Indonesia is an important country! Thousands of islands in a very strategic location!” It turned out to be a difficult idea to sell. No one seemed to remember our maritime heritage. No one seemed to realize that our country was mostly water, not soil. What I had to do was remind them again of our ‘Tanah Air’ – our land and sea — by sailing the Indonesian seas and straits, visiting our islands.


With a lot of help from friends and some inspired sponsors, I set off on a voyage of discovery to Eastern Indonesia. We named the expedition ‘Kembara Bahari’ – a sea adventure. The purpose of the voyage was to make people aware that we are a country of islands. Together with my team we wanted to show how the sea unites the peoples of Indonesia and how trade has bound us together. It was also a journey to help me reconnect with my country which I had long neglected.


The route we had planned would take us from Bali, eastwards to the Kei Islands, passing through the islands of Sumbawa, Komodo, Lembata, Alor, Wetar, Kisar, Tanimbar, and Larat. From Kei we would veer north to Banda, Ambon, Ternate, Morotai and Talaud, before returning south via Sulawesi, Selayar, Bawean, Madura, Kangean and back to Bali. With sufficient funds, and most importantly, with weather permitting, the journey could be made in 7 months. During these months we would collect data and document snippets about the lives of the island people.


It was a challenging expedition. We were working under very tight time constraints, understaffed and underfinanced, but our sense of mission was great and overlooked all the pitfalls.


Sadly, we never made the full expedition. Running out of resources and time we only reached halfway to Tual in the Kei islands, but the adventure taught me a lot about navigating the waters of Indonesia. It was a very different experience from crossing the Pacific Ocean alone. Sailing close to the coastline, with strong currents, sometimes very little wind, required different skills. Worse, having to keep to a schedule was close to impossible when using a sailboat although I did manage to meet up with the land team as planned. Having another person on board, someone I had never sailed with before, was at times very helpful but could also be very frustrating.


Despite the obstacles, I discovered the beauty of Eastern Indonesia and the potential the country has for developing marine tourism. Indonesia has often been described as the “emeralds on the equator” but to me, we are sitting on a pile of diamonds. Unfortunately, I also found that so few realized this. There was little respect for keeping the sea and the beaches clean; there was limited infrastructure development and very little economic growth; the people of the islands lived in poverty and did not have the means to develop their resources in a sustainable manner.
Yet, the local people were very happy people, generous and welcoming. When you come down to it, isn’t happiness the most important quality in life?





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