Home' CruisePassenger : Cruise Passenger 56 Contents The islands’ isolation belies the
impact they once had on world trade.
It was the Banda Islands that prompted
Christopher Columbus to set sail on
his fateful journeys that ended with the
discovery of the New World. Vasco da
Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope
in their pursuit, while Ferdinand
Magellan launched his circumnavigation
of the globe secretly in search of their
The Mutiara Laut is a fitting way
to arrive at such a remote yet historic
destination. Based on an 18th-century
North Atlantic schooner, the beautiful
charter yacht is a picture of gleaming
wood, towering masts and polished brass.
Designed by former ship’s captain,
yacht racer and Dutch naval architect
Leo van Oostenbrugge, the schooner was
constructed of ironwood in Indonesia.
Catering to a total of 14 guests in five
beautifully appointed cabins, the yacht
offers a luxurious way to cruise the remote
islands of the Indonesian archipelago,
from Komodo, Bali and Flores to
Ambon, Sulawesi and Banda, and as far
east as Papua’s stunning Raja Ampat.
European the town looks, despite its
crowing chickens, gleaming white
mosque and bustling street markets.
Colonial era homes in turquoise and
pink and baby blue line the narrow
lanes that run from the water’s edge
towards the fort; some are now guest
houses, their interior courtyards filled
with overgrown gardens, goldfish ponds
and complacent cats.
One house, painted cream with blue
accents, has become a museum. Ancient
cannonballs, muskets and jewellery
boxes lie under glass and the often brutal
history of the colonial era is remembered
in brightly coloured tapestries hanging
on the wall. The museum’s pint-sized
curator holds up a handful of coins
dating from when Holland’s brutal
Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie
(VOC), also known as the Dutch East
We stand at the bow, steaming
Sumatran coffee in hand, enjoying the
early morning sun on our faces after
the inky darkness of night at sea and
watch as the Indonesian crew prepare
for our arrival at Banda Neira. As we slip
between the volcano – lava fields running
down its flanks like wicked black scars –
and the curling hook of the main island,
the turrets of an ancient castle become
visible on a hill above the sleepy port.
After breakfast, one of two tenders is
lowered from the rear deck and my fellow
passengers and I make our way to the
port, the only real settlement in the island
chain. We clamber onto a crumbling pier
beside a once grand hotel, its colonial
architecture and pastel façade now faded
and cracked in the early morning heat.
A dive operator, making the most of
the region’s spectacular dive sites, now
occupies the dusty hotel lobby. There is
talk of a restoration, of golden years to
come, but no one is holding their breath.
Despite their vital role in history, the
Banda Islands remain among the most
secluded of the world’s faraway places,
and foreign visitors are few.
The first thing you notice walking
through Banda Neira is how distinctly
Indies Company, assumed power over
the Spice Islands. Despite being more
than 400 years old, they gleam in the
The Bandanese were no strangers to
foreigners when the Dutch arrived in the
1500s. They had been selling cinnamon,
cloves, nutmeg and mace to Chinese
and Arab traders for centuries, and later
to the Spanish, British and Portuguese
who travelled to the Banda Islands from
their colony in Malacca. But island
elders never allowed the Portuguese to
build a fortification on Banda Neira,
which essentially made the island easy
picking for the more militant Dutch.
They promptly built Fort Belgica in 1611
above the town, forcing the rival English
forces to leave neighbouring islands and
dominating the spice trade.
School is out and we’re followed by a
slightly unruly band of curious children
who practise their limited English (some
even speak a smattering of Dutch to Leo,
who booms with laughter in response) as
they run past us giggling, only to wait in
the next doorway for us to pass in turn.
In the distance their older sisters walk
down the narrow lanes, the sun brilliant
on their white hijabs. ›
’Based on an 18th-century North Atlantic schooner, the beautiful charter yacht
is a picture of gleaming wood, towering masts and polished brass.’
Fac t file
CRUISE LINE: Exotic Yacht Charter Bali
VESSEL: Mutiara Laut
MAX PASSENGER CAPACITY (DOUBLE
TOTAL CREW: 14
PASSENGER DECKS: 3
ENTERED SERVICE: 2009
FACILITIES: Library, entertainment
system, VIP cabin, resident dive master,
onboard masseuse, kayaks, in-port
wi-fi, two tenders, cooking classes.
BOOKINGS: Charters from US$55,000
(about $59,000) per week or from
US$1,500 (about $1,600) per night,
per person, inclusive of excursions,
meals, beer and wine with meals.
For more details, see mutiaralaut.com.
Clockwise from left: the Mutiara Laut; a
Chinese temple in the Banda Islands; packs of
cinnamon, nutmeg and mace; a colonial-era
museum in Banda Neira; inner courtyard of Fort
Belgica; sea-gypsy houses near Labaun Bajo; a
traditional Balinese carving on the Mutiara Laut
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