At a fair clip

By com­fort­able tall ship on a voy­age from Bali

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - AN­GELA SAURINE

“Any­one know where the ship is?” the ten­der driver asks as we mo­tor though the mon­soonal rain to­wards the ves­sel’s last known lo­ca­tion off the coast of In­done­sia’s Madura Is­land. There’s a hint of a smile as he turns back around to the steer­ing wheel, but as I look out across the Java Sea and see a wall of white fog in ev­ery di­rec­tion I’m not quite sure whether he’s jok­ing or not.

Pas­sen­gers look at each other ner­vously un­til, a few min­utes later, the tow­er­ing masts of Star Clip­per ap­pear through the mist and re­lieved smiles erupt from un­der rain­coat hoods. Within min­utes I am back in the com­fort of my cosy cabin, feel­ing warm, dry and con­tent af­ter a re­ju­ve­nat­ing hot shower.

It’s a far cry from the hey­day of clip­pers in the 18th cen­tury, when the Cal­i­for­nian gold rush spurred a boom in these fast, ma­noeu­vrable sail­ing ships. Back then it would have been “a night­mare, a fight for sur­vival”, cruise di­rec­tor Peter Kiss­ner says dur­ing one of his pre-din­ner lec­tures in the ship’s li­brary. “It was not get­ting out of wet clothes for months,” he says. De­spite his in­fec­tious pas­sion for sail­ing, Kiss­ner says there’s no way he would have wanted to sail in the “good old days”.

For­tu­nately, in the mod­ern age, Star Clip­per Cruises gives land­lub­bers the chance to sail on a four-masted, 16sail bar­quen­tine with­out hav­ing to do any of the work. Sure, you can have a go at climb­ing the mast or steer­ing the ship if you like, or you can just re­lax and sip a cock­tail at the bar on deck as the sails are un­furled and the dra­matic Con­quest of Par­adise, by Greek com­poser Van­ge­lis, plays over the loud­speaker. “We have to main­tain our itin­er­ary but I prom­ise you when­ever we have the op­por­tu­nity to sail the ship we do so,” Kiss­ner says. “We’re all a bit cuckoo here be­cause we love to sail.”

Star Clip­per and its sis­ter ves­sels, Star Flyer and Royal Clip­per, pro­vide a wel­come al­ter­na­tive for cruis­ers who don’t want to travel on 5000-pas­sen­ger mega lin­ers. “For­get ev­ery­thing you have heard about cruis­ing,” Kiss­ner says. “We don’t have shop­ping ar­cades or casi­nos.”

All teak, ma­hogany rails and swing doors, the 170pas­sen­ger ship has two small pools, a pi­ano lounge and one din­ing room. “Thanks for com­ing back to my restau­rant,” head waiter Her­mann jokes each night. Men must wear a shirt with a col­lar and sleeves to din­ner, which fea­tures an a la carte menu with an In­done­sian op­tion for those who pre­fer some lo­cal flavour. Al­though small, the cab­ins have clever stor­age ar­eas and come equipped with a flat-screen TV and a DVD player, with movies avail­able to bor­row from the purser’s of­fice.

Owned by a Swedish busi­ness­man whose child­hood dream was to have a tall ship, Star Clip­per was built in Bel­gium in 1991. Many of the crew hail from Europe, in­clud­ing Bavar­ian Kiss­ner, and the euro is the on-board

cur­rency. An­nounce­ments are made in English and Ger­man — ex­cept for one about be­ing on time. “I don’t need to trans­late be­cause the Ger­mans are al­ways on time,” Kiss­ner quips at our brief­ing, be­fore wryly sug­gest­ing pas­sen­gers shower to­gether to con­serve wa­ter.

In the past Star Clip­per has mostly sailed in the Mediter­ranean and Caribbean, but be­gan of­fer­ing two In­done­sian cruises, de­part­ing from Bali, in May. The east­bound itin­er­ary in­cludes Ko­modo Is­land, home to the largest lizard on Earth, the UNESCO World Her­itage-listed Bud­dhist tem­ple com­plex Borobudur, and Lom­bok’s pop­u­lar Gili Is­lands. While the west­bound itin­er­ary of­fers the chance to climb Mount Bromo vol­cano on Java and see the ma­jes­tic Ulun Danu lake tem­ple, which ap­pears on In­done­sia’s 50,000 ru­piah note, in north Bali, it is more suited to trav­ellers who pre­fer offthe-beaten track destinations and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences.

From the mo­ment we ar­rive on Madura Is­land, off the coast of Java, we can tell they see few tourists here. Peo­ple await­ing our ar­rival at the port ask to take pho­tos with us, and our lo­cal guide Ham­bali re­veals it’s the first time he has guided for­eign­ers. We tour the 18th-cen­tury palace in Sumenep, peek­ing in­side the king and queen’s rooms, see dis­plays of asym­met­ri­cal kris dag­gers, which are said to have mag­i­cal pow­ers, and learn about tra­di­tional bull races still held here an­nu­ally.

Af­ter a brief visit to Agung Mosque, which is a mix of Chi­nese, Ja­vanese and Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­tural styles, we re­ceive a po­lice es­cort to Asta Tinggi Royal Ceme­tery. Filled with colour­ful grave­stones, com­mon­ers come here to ask the de­ceased for help, re­turn­ing when their wish is granted to place a scarf over their head­stone.

At Probol­inggo the next day, chil­dren gig­gle and clasp their hands over their face at the sight of us be­fore run­ning away. Fish­er­men on brightly painted wooden boats at the jetty proudly hold up their catch to show us.

While Hin­duism is the most com­mon re­li­gion in Bali, the rest of In­done­sia is pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim. From Carik Har­bour on Lom­bok, we visit Bayan Beleq Mosque, which is un­like any other I have seen. Over­look­ing rice fields, it is built of bam­boo with a tem­ple-shaped thatched roof. The peo­ple here are re­fresh­ingly tol­er­ant of other re­li­gions; dur­ing the Is­lamic fast­ing month of Ra­madan, even non-Mus­lims re­frain from eat­ing or drink­ing in pub­lic to show their re­spect.

It is here we con­nect with our lo­cal guide Katni Wati, from Rin­jani Women Ad­ven­ture. Wati taught her­self English and be­gan lead­ing tourists up Mount Rin­jani vol­cano as a teenager, and is cur­rently train­ing 50 fe­male guides. In a coun­try where poor fam­i­lies can only af­ford to send boys to school, it is a way of pro­vid­ing women with a source of in­come and in­de­pen­dence.

Be­fore lead­ing us on a trek past coffee, co­coa and cashew nut plan­ta­tions to Sen­dang Gile Wa­ter­fall, Wati takes us to her vil­lage, Se­naru, where 100 peo­ple live in four houses. The vil­lagers are an­i­mist, be­liev­ing that all ob­jects, places and be­ings have a spirit or soul. We ven­ture in­side one home, where the par­ents sleep near the door to pro­tect their teenage daugh­ters. There are no win­dows so they can’t jump out and elope.

We spend the last day on the white sand beach at Gili Su­dak, with a bar­be­cue, wa­ter-ski­ing, kayak­ing and snorkelling around a nearby islet. It’s not un­til the fi­nal evening that we see Star Clip­per in all her glory. There’s not a drop of rain or hint of fog in sight as the crew un­furl her sails off the coast of Lom­bok. As we bob in ten­ders nearby, cam­eras at the ready, the sails take on a yel­low­ish glow in the late af­ter­noon sun­shine, slowly trans­form­ing to a strik­ing black sil­hou­ette against a bright yel­low sun on the hori­zon at sun­set.

An­gela Saurine was a guest of Star Clip­per Cruises.

Star Clip­per, main; din­ing room, top right; chil­dren in Se­naru vil­lage, Lom­bok, cen­tre right; Ulun Danu lake tem­ple in Bali, above left; Lom­bok rice fields with Mount Rin­jani in the back­ground, above right

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