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 The Darwin Ambon Yacht Race Lives Again! Report from past years "research" below


 2007 Darwin to Ambon

Mr Wayne Huxley, Organiser of the Darwin to Ambon Race, plans for a spinnaker start to the 600nm event from Stokes Hill Wharf. The celebrations are expected to start about 5 days later to allow for all competing boats to arrive in Ambon. The Ambonese host of next year's race, Mrs Hellen DeLima, has a great interest in the race,as her late husband, Mr Sandy DeLima, sailed in the race for 14 years before passing away in 1997. She plans to host another entertainment package for the 2007 race, and has recruited the local Tourism agencies to offer attractive packages for diving and travelling around Ambon and the other spice islands.
As a regional effort, the local governments of Halmahera, Tidore, and Ternate are keen to have boats visit and are in discussion with the Ambon race organizers to offer further exposure to the area which has potentially extensive cruising grounds.
The restart of the Darwin to Ambon Race in 2007 will re-open the doors to cruising and racing yachts to explore this region. The Mollucas have suffered from poor tourism since the riots in 1999, and now that peace is restored, the regional tourism authorities are making a big effort to attract the boats back again. When work commitments prevail, and time is on our side, we would have no hesitation to cruise this area again.


Recommended Reading

Cruising Guide to the Taninbar Islands by Jan Carter
The Forgotten Islands of Indonesia by Nico de Jonge and Toos van Dijk
Ambon: Island of Mist by Courtney Harrison
Ambon: Island of Spices by Shirley Deane
Spices: The Story of Indonesia's Spice Trade by Joanna Hall Brierley
Lonely Planet: Indonesia
Indonesian Pilot
Cruising Guide to SE Asia Volume 2

Recommended Trading/Donation Items for Remote Islands

Swimming goggles and flippers
Nail polish and lipstick
Medical supplies
Indonesian-English dictionaries/phrase books
Empty bottles for storage
Fishing hooks and line
Balls and children's toys
Australian souvenirs

More Information on Cruising the Mollucas

To Join the rally or Race;

For more information visit or lodge and expression of interest at

 Racing and Cruising Ambon and the Mollucas

Story & Photos by Cathy Ellingsen & Gavin Gillett, SY "Imagination"

This year 2006, four Darwin cruisers traveled to Ambon to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race and to explore the cruising opportunities of the Mollucas region. The race was suspended after 1998 when sectarian violence threatened security in the area. Sailing vessels, "Imagination", "Cruise Missile", "Ocean Road", and "Blood Sweat and Beers" took up the invitation of the Ambonese local and government authorities to attend the anniversary celebrations this year, and as a show of faith for the recommencement of Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race next year. On July 21st 2007, the Dinah Beach Yacht Club will host the race, and, as in previous events, there will be a Monohull, Multihull and Cruising division. Many cruisers used the event in the past as an opportunity to process their travel documents to journey onwards through Indonesia and next year offers local and international participants the option of cruising in company through the magical Mollucas.

Our journey this year started in July 2006, when 18 boats sailed the 295nm to the Taninbar Islands, Indonesia for the 4th Annual Sail Saumlaki Rally. This rally has been popular amongst local Darwin yachts and offers a close option for cruising in company in Indonesia. After five days of warm Taninbarese hospitality and entertainment, the yachts left Saumlaki Harbour for a few weeks of cruising, and most of these returned to Darwin by the end of August. Our onward journey to Ambon was all downwind sailing taking us through the 4500m deep Banda Sea and past the towering volcanic islands of Nila, and Serua on to Ambon. After more festivities in Ambon, we returned to Darwin via Banda, Nila and Babar Islands.

Taninbar Islands

The small town of Saumlaki is on the south-eastern aspect of the main island of Yamdena. It is the capital of the Taninbar group and it's harbour has a great anchorage just beyond a coral shelf. This centre is not an official port of entry to Indonesia, but as part of the rally, Ambon officials were brought here to complete clearing in and out
formalities. Access to shore was via the Yacht friendly Hotel Harupan Indah. The hotel has a large verandah/bar area stretching across the coral shelf and we merely tied our dinghies up to this and climbed the ladder to be received warmly by guides and hotel staff. The hotel staff are most helpful with organizing everything from motorbike hire to the purchase of artifacts, and the food and drink is well priced and of good quality.
The Taninbars are predominately Christian, and this is reflected in a number of huge statues at Olilit, positioned on a high point overlooking the town and affording great views of the ocean and reefs. There are many gorgeous beaches and friendly villages to visit as day trips from Saumlaki via bus or motorbike, particularly Tumbur for wood carvings, and Sangliat Dol for the Megalith stone boat.
Joyce Edmunds, of SV "Pelican 2", a veteran local Darwin cruiser who has spent much time cruising the Taninbars, recommends a number of great anchorages south and west of Saumlaki including Pulau Nastabun, Cape Jasi, Wailutu and Wotap. When visiting villages, ensure to follow Indonesian custom and visit the headman (kepala desa) first. The snorkeling is beautiful and safe swimming in the ocean a welcome change from that of the potentially dangerous Darwin waters.


On 4th August, 2006, we arrived at Amahusu Beach, the official finish line of the Race. The united two peninsulas that comprise the island of Ambon are mountainous and tropical, and the entrance to the harbour can be wild in strong winds. The anchorage here, and in many of the islands of this region, is deep with a rapid drop off so we dropped the pick in 25m on a coral and rubble bottom, with a stern line ashore. The squalls and bullets coming across the mountains from the south-east, put a strain on the holding power of the anchor with some boats dragging during our stay.
A small stony beach beside the Hotel Tirta Kencana was a secure place to beach the dinghy with many children to help. The Hotel has good accommodation and meals, does laundry and exchanges money, of good quality uncreased notes only. Clearing in formalities were painless, as the officials were keen to make our stay pleasant to encourage future yachting tourism.
Over the next 5 days, our group of eleven Australian yachties were treated royally by the Ambonese who were keen to demonstrate that security had returned to the island.
Ambon Island was a centre of the European spice trade dating back to the 1500's which saw this region being occupied by the Portugese, Dutch, Spanish and English at various times. Prior to this era, the Romans, Indians and Chinese were involved with established trade caravan routes via the Persian Gulf by 1st century AD. Cloves, indigenous to the islands of Ternate and Tidore, and Nutmeg, indigenous to the Banda Islands were the valued spices of the Mollucas and their demand in Europe made them literally worth their weight in gold. Pepper and Cinnamon were other highly sought after spices from other islands in Indonesia, which strengthened the European presence.
The harbour of Hitu on the north coast of Ambon Island was the main harbour during the early days of the European spice trade. Morgan Williams, previous racer/cruiser of the region, says that during the South West Monsoon, this harbour has provided a good anchorage and was used by many yachts cruising onwards after the race. He also recommends the anchorage near Hila, west of Hitu.
Further up Ambon Harbour, near the city is Halong, which used to be the original finish line of the race. It is now the site of the Indonesian Naval Base, but yachts could potentially moor here with good holding.
Other interesting sights are the SiwaLima Museum, Doolan's War Memorial, and the Commonwealth War Cemetary, the resting place of Australia's Gull Force. Most of these soldiers were captured by the Japanese in 1942, with only 30% surviving the war. Australians are highly regarded by the Ambonese, and close links between Ambon and Australia still exist today because of this war experience. The exquisitely maintained tropical gardens of the cemetary are a fitting memorial to these men.
Ambon is also renowned the diving on its sea gardens.The timber craftsmen of Ambon are highly skilled and in past races, yachties would make use of these tradesmen to beautify their boats with exquisite timber work. The local markets were huge and full of clothing stalls, tailors, tropical fruits, asian vegetables and fish. Drinking water is cheap and readily available, but we also collected water from a local Amahusu store. There are many places to eat, but Halim's Restoran in the city comes highly recommended. It is a traditional "yachtie" hangout with great Indonesian food and drink, and displays memorabilia from the race's heyday.




Lease Islands

Although, this time our small rally did not pass through these islands, they have a good cruising reputation. Dene Cook of SV "Savannah", eight times Darwin to Ambon race participant, always cruised back to Darwin over 3-4 weeks. He says the easiest passage is to make as much "easting" as possible, by travelling across the northern coast of Ambon and anchoring on the north aspects of the Lease group, namely Haruku, Saparua and Nusa Laut, then to Banda and the Kei islands. From the Kei's, boats returning to Darwin can run home along the west coast of Yamdena and then south to round Cape Fourcroy on Bathurst Island.

Banda Islands

As all members of our group had intended to return to Darwin, on 9th August we headed directly to Banda Neira. The Banda Sea, whilst in our favour on the downwind leg with westerly currents, was against us and very confused. This was quite challenging taking between 30-35 hours to cross the 120 miles to our destination. The Banda Islands, despite being so tiny on the charts, are full of European History related to the spice trade. Evidence of this is found all over the islands, but especially in Banda Neira, the capital, where the Belgica and Nassau Dutch Forts are found. Nutmeg plantations are still found here and visits can be arranged. Interestingly, Run Island was swapped for Manhattan Island by the British, so the Dutch could increase its spice monopoly.
Mooring was the same as Amahusu, but in the middle of town. The Harbourmaster summoned the boat skippers to complete formalities and immediately requested large sums of money, but eventually this was bartered down with help from the inevitable agent. The welcoming Maulana Hotel is right on the water and encouraged us to use their dinghy dock, the hotel facilities, and arranged our resupply of fuel and water. Walking over 16th Century Cannons in the streets, we explored the museum, historic buildings and the extraordinary forts. We spent a few nights on the swing in front of Banda Besar before continuing with the journey home. The anchorage here was of good holding despite a strong current, and extremely picturesque with a misty mountain backdrop. We were entertained by passing ferries, and villagers in canoes selling antique bottles and coins.


This lovely isolated volcanic island boasts a lovely south easterly anchorage, but unfortunately we had a bit of swell in the prevailing easterlies at the time of our visit. This did not spoil the idyllic tropical beauty and we spent a few nights having sundowners on one of the pretty uninhabitated beaches. There were a few fishing families living on other beaches this side of the island. They were curious and friendly and they were grateful to receive our donated items before we left.


A few of the boats pulled in at the capital, Tepa for repairs and fuel where the locals were friendly and keen to help. Babar is also a volcanic island, but the anchorage was reported to be of good holding. Beaurocracy can be a tiresome experience in most Indonesian Ports, and Tepa did not disappoint. However, the officials were so happy that they had some foreign visitors to their island, that they did not impose any fees.

Kei and Aru Islands

These islands are relatively unexplored by cruisers, but potentially offer great cruising. The people of the Kei Islands have a reputation of being excellent boat builders, and the Aru Islands are famous for their Birds of Paradise. Both these commodities were traded in Banda prior to the European's arrival. The Kei's are mostly mountainous and the Aru's very flat, but both groups have shoaling surrounds which makes for better anchoring than some of the volcanic islands. Infrequently, catabatic winds can be experienced in the Kei's, and John Dowell of SV "Emma Ward" reported gusts of up to 70 knots during his visit.