Expert Review: Sailing Indonesia Aboard Ombak Putih

March 27, 2014 • Chris Harter

AdventureSmith’s Chris Harter embarked April 18th for an island-hopping adventure aboard our new small ship cruise offering, Sailing Indonesia: Bali, Komodo & Flores Cruise. It’s his third time back to Indonesia, but his first time aboard the stunning 24-guest sailing vessel Ombak Putih, which combines traditional and modern design to bring authenticity and comfort to her itineraries in the Ring of Fire region.

Small ship Ombak Putih sailing past Islands in Indonesia.
photo by Jennifer Hayes

Why did you choose this cruise?

I have lived and traveled extensively in Asia, and Indonesia has always been my favorite country in Southeast Asia. Ultimately, it’s the variety and friendliness of its people that is pulling me back for a third trip. And what a return it will be sailing on a comfortable 24-person vessel, the Ombak Putih (pronounced poo-tey). She is small enough to be intimate with personalized service, and large enough to be comfortable with a bit of privacy. My one and only complaint with Indonesia has always been that it takes a very long time to get anywhere, and with the Bali, Komodo & Flores Cruise the rigors of travel are completely removed. You get to wake up every day in a new environment and take part in a new adventure. For me personally, this trip and vessel make for the perfect trip, so choosing to work with this program and getting on board is incredibly exciting.

Why is this trip a perfect fit for the AdventureSmith style of travel?

This trip offers incredible variety of locations and experience. Indonesia, despite many similar latitudes has radically different habitats and cultures. And with vessel-based itineraries you have an ease of travel to otherwise very time-consuming to reach destinations. This trip also allows for a natural addition to the cruise, spending time on the idyllic island of Bali. Everyone needs to get to Bali at least once. Finally, exposure to intact, unfamiliar cultures in an intimate way and having the opportunity to see the bucket list Komodo dragons make this trip an adventure like no other.

Komodo dragon seen on an excursion from a small ship cruise in Indonesia.
photo by William Warby

What sites/experiences are you most excited about?

Komodo dragons! It’s always been a childhood dream of mine to see these prehistoric creatures. And I have regretted for many years not fitting in time to see them when I was backpacking through Southeast Asia as a young adult. I’m also excited to see one of the famous whip dances in the villages of Flores. Sounds a bit daunting.

Local Indonesian man wearing a headress.
photo by Jennifer Hayes

You’ve been to Indonesia before a few times, tell us about those travels.

The first time I went I was very young, and very green as a traveler. I spent five weeks on Sumatra and Nias Island off the southern coast of Sumatra. This was about 17 years ago when I had a bit of learning to do. Let’s just say I learned a lot about how to travel more wisely during those five weeks. The second time I went to Indonesia was about 11 years ago. I took my future wife to Bali for three weeks on our first trip together. I suppose Bali is where we fell in love. Difficult not to really with all the aesthetic beauty, wonderful people and exotic culture surrounding you. Returning to Indonesia with my wife was like a second honeymoon of sorts for us.

Any insight as to how AdventureSmith scouted out this ship and decided to include it in our offerings?

I found out about these trips doing random vessel operator searches in Asia about four years ago after some of our previous Asia offerings were discontinued. Our president, Todd Smith, and I discussed the trip, and we basically filed it away as a future possibility. Then last year, one of the owners of the Ombak Putih and Katharina called out of the blue to reconnect with AdventureSmith. We spoke for a very long time, and he sure stoked the fire. The timing was right, and a few months later these unique voyages were live on the AdventureSmith Explorations website.

Post-trip, what was the biggest surprise highlight for you?

Seeing a pinisi ship being built on the shore! The ship was named Al Fatah, meaning “opening doors,” and we saw in the village of Wera on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. This island is well known in Indonesia for its boat builders, who custom craft vessels by hand right at the shoreline and then launch them. Very little has changed over the centuries with this process. Be sure to watch the drone video footage of Al Fatah’s launch here: The Grand Pinisi Boat Launch.

The interior ribs of a pinisi boat in Indonesia

It’s the first time a boat of its size (150 tons, 98 feet long, 36 feet wide) has been built in the Wera shipyard. Six main boat builders spent 1.5 years on the project, using Sulawesi ironwood as their primary material. When launched, Al Fatah came in at a cost of $250,000 US dollars to build, with a 800-ton cargo capacity that she’ll utilize once she’s fully outfitted for work on the high seas.

At the time of my trip, we were able to climb scaffolding and ladders to take a closer look at the beams and structure still in the works. What struck me most when inspecting the shipyard was that each and every piece of wood used in building the frame of these vessels were unique. The workers were taking large pieces of hardwood and carving each one into a custom fit for each adjoining piece of wood. It was as if we were visiting a shipyard with master craftsmen from a time long, long ago when there were no power tools or prefabricated woods.

They have been building vessels this same way for centuries, and in that time have elevated their work into an art form. I’ve really never seen anything like it before, and don’t expect I ever will again. And by the reaction of the villagers in Wera it was clear they had rarely seen anything like our visiting group in their bright clothes and fancy cameras that were wandering around their streets. After spending time in the shipyard area we were free to wander the streets for an hour or so, which provided a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with the families and children.

Having traveled several times to Indonesia in the past, it wasn’t lost on me how difficult these types of places are to access, and in large part, that is exactly why this visit, and this trip, are so special.

This Indonesia small ship cruise review was written by an AdventureSmith Explorations crew member. Read all AdventureSmith Expert Reviews for more trip reports, or contact one of our Adventure Specialists to learn more about these small ship cruises and wilderness adventures: 1-800-728-2875.

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