By First Mate Matt Collins
What an incredible start to our five-year journey! South East Sulawesi is filled with empty atolls, unreal marine life, friendly people and plenty of wind. Getting there however is a little tricky. First it’s an international flight to Bali, then three hopper flights to Wangi Wangi (check it out on Google Earth- we wish you luck!) and then a 50-mile sail to Wakatobi, a small island in a string of small islands in the an archipelago of the same name. The Wakatobi archipelago is at the epicenter of what is called “ground zero” by scientists when it comes to reefs. The coral species and macro critters in the Banda Sea off the west end of Irian Jaya are more dazzling, diverse and abundant than anywhere else on Earth.
The four days of travel were draining, but the second we saw the local kids grinning ear to ear at our arrival it all felt worthwhile. Wakatobi has more tourists than most neighboring islands due to a very high-end Dive Resort, but we were the only cruisers these kids had come across and their welcome (no smart phone distractions out here!) was something I wish I could bottle and carry around with me to uncork on difficult days. Precious. Before we even got settled into our cabins and before Chef Kitya had the chance to put away the groceries we were giving tours of Discovery to the children, which seemed the least we could do after all their exuberant help carrying our heavy bags of provisions from the beach to the boat.
Between three exhausted crew members and five jet-lagged guests, there would be no late night game of dirty clubs, one of the staples of the Quest. But we woke with the sun to the best accompanying wake up call there is- steady wind. After some espresso everyone was kiting or foiling across an Alice in Wonderland scene; swerving in and out of the 150ft dizzying drop offs surrounding the scattered atolls.
With such clean waters comes quite the array of marine life. We spent a lot of time free diving with everything from manta rays and sharks to tiny iridescent nudibranchs. Kitya even got a first hand experience with a Portuguese man-o-war wrapping itself around her leg, but nothing a little meat tenderizer can’t fix:)
The first trip of the second expedition of the Cabrinha Quest in the remote Wakatobi archipelago in Indonesia
While we spent a majority of our time kiting, foiling or diving, some of the most memorable experiences were meeting the local people of Southeast Sulawesi. It is a lifestyle that is so far removed from the Western World. The more I learned about them, especially the sea gypsies (the Bajau), the more I appreciated and became completely fascinated with their way of life. The Bajau have thrived in the waters off South Sulawesi for at least 400 years, living in stilt houses or small wooden boats in the middle of the sea, and surviving off the ocean’s bounty. We learned that this simple yet beautiful way of life is under extreme threat not only due to overfishing, but because of thoughtless new fishing methods such as reef-bombing, cyanide poisoning and gillnetting. I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet these incredible people while they are still able to survive off of their traditional hunting methods and sustain their completely nomadic lifestyle at sea. We left feeling more inspired than ever to protect these waters they call home. We also managed to make a trade of goggles for some of the tastiest fish and lobster we’d had all trip.
Just like all adventures, our time in Wakatobi came and went faster than any of us would have wanted. This vast stretch of sea created a perfect kiting playground and no doubt some of the clearest diving waters we will experience on the expedition. And experiencing the legendary sea gypsies was the little cherry on top that will make these weeks hold a special place in Discovery’s log book.