Hello Mister!

That’s what we heard shouted in our direction, in every town and village, in every anchorage in Indonesia. By grinning kids canoeing up to Buffalo Nickel in their outriggers, by adults walking, or zipping by on motorbikes in the busy market streets. Once in awhile someone with better English would wave and say “Hello Missus” to me. And we heard a lot of “I love you!” as well. But mostly, it was a face-splitting smile and “Hello Mister!”

We thought people could be no more welcoming than the Fijians. But that was before we made landfall in Indonesia. Folks there are simply overflowing with warm welcome and frank curiosity about us. I think “Hello Mister!” will be my free-association thought when Indonesia comes up, for the rest of my days. That, and the pervasive scent of kretek, the clove cigarettes everyone smokes there.

The village of Debut, on the island of Kei Kecil in eastern Indonesia, was where we made our first stop to clear in. Nearly 50 Sail 2 Indonesia rally boats arrived from Oz to share the anchorage, but we were the first, being the fastest vessel. It was another day and a half before the next couple of boats made their landfall. All of the other participants in the rally were greeted by a local in a flag-festooned runabout who led them to suitable anchoring spots with deep enough water and no obstructions. Then customs would arrive at each boat to take care of the necessary paperwork.

Not us, though. We had our bright yellow “Q” flag flying (a ‘quarantine’ flag, signifying the request for ‘pratique’ by a vessel arriving from abroad: inspection by local officials, without which we are not permitted off our boat.) But the officials took one look at Buffalo Nickel’s mean-looking aluminum hull and decided we must be an American military vessel. So they totally ignored us. We hailed every party we could think of over VHF radio, in every language we could muster, to no avail. Finally we gave up, bumbled around the questionable anchorage until we found a suitable spot on our own, and waited until late the following afternoon, when the next yacht arriving with the rally told the Customs officers we were part of the group.

Customs officials visiting the newly arrived yachts.
Customs officials visiting the newly arrived yachts.

Of course, this all transpired back in mid-July, four months ago. During cruising season, every day is a decision: experience whatever the day has to offer? Or should I write about last week, and sort photos? This season has been so busy and eventful that we opted for the experience most of the time. Which explains why I’m so horribly behind on our blog.

We put 6,000 miles beneath our keel this season. Fiji to Vanuatu to Australia to Indonesia to Singapore to Malaysia to Thailand. Well beyond 600 engine hours on Buffalo Nickel’s main engine, a 236 hp John Deere. And around 40 hours added to our ‘get-home’ emergency engine, a 110 hp Yanmar, because it needs regular exercise in order to be useful to us if and when our main propulsion fails and we really need that wing engine.

Indonesia was a real change of scene and it was easy to tell at a glance that we were in a whole different corner of the globe. It’s a largely Muslim country, though Christianity is also well represented, and in some regions, Hinduism. Because it’s so populated, we heard the Muslim calls to prayer broadcast from the minarets in virtually every anchorage. Many sailors complain about it, especially the pre-dawn 4:45-ish one. But we both have always found it to be hauntingly lovely, calming and centering in its own way.

Top of a mosque peeking through the treetops.
Top of a mosque peeking through the treetops.


They also have some unique fishing-related paraphernalia. Above is the Indo version of a squid boat. And all over, we’d see small drifting structures resembling little bamboo pagodas on rafts of various designs. These are known collectively as FAD’s, or fish-attracting devices. They are ubiquitous and necessitate a close watch while underway. Most cruisers opt for daylight passages only wherever possible, unless we can get far offshore, in order to avoid getting entangled.

Our stay in Debut was occupied with getting some logistics taken care of, like buying SIM cards for local phone and internet, and finding an ATM for cash. Internet is mostly wishful thinking, at least in this part of Indonesia. The narrow bandwidth is woefully oversubscribed. None of the people have refrigeration at home; they have no landlines and little or no electricity. But the average age is young, and they all have smart phones.

We also received a warmer welcome from the town than we ever imagined. They had us muster in the anchorage on our way ashore:

Dinghies rafting up for our welcome to Indonesia.
Dinghies rafting up for our welcome to Indonesia.


They gave us a ceremonial welcome by parading boats, then more formal ceremonies ashore. Banquets, speeches and various blessings ensued.

Government officials welcome us at the dinghy dock.
Government officials welcome us at the dinghy dock.


The Village Elder blesses our boats during a solemn ceremony.
The Village Elder blesses our boats during a solemn ceremony.

All those aforementioned smart phones, plus the ones we cruisers brought ashore to record the events, made for some humorous cases of us taking photos of them taking photos of us… and vice versa.


The most touching thing for us, though, was the way the residents of the village and the neighboring towns turned out to roll out the red carpet in their own way: with flags decorating all their homes in honor of our visit, local bands playing, people lining the streets and all throwing smiles and greetings in our direction.

Gotta have music!
Gotta have music!
Townspeople line the streets to catch a glimpse and welcome us.
Townspeople line the streets to catch a glimpse and welcome us.
Our buddy Budi (standing, in hoodie) brings a few friends to Buffalo Nickel.
Our buddy Budi (standing, in hoodie) brings a few friends to Buffalo Nickel.

Their helpfulness and good cheer made it so much easier to begin to immerse ourselves in this new landscape, new culture and new language.

Up next: the Spice Islands!

6 thoughts on “Hello Mister!

  1. What a wonderful account of the newest destination.
    Your account of your arrival and the appearance of BN is interesting.
    How many vessels in your flotilla and are they all power?

    1. Hi Jim,
      The rally had over 40 boats in it. Other than Buffalo Nickel and one power cat, they were all sailboats. It’s not uncommon for folks in SE Asia to mistake us for a military vessel… not a bad thing I guess in an area where piracy is an issue! The other question we get a lot is whether we’re a research vessel.

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