These expedition cruises allow passengers to assist with valuable marine research, in between eating locally sourced meals, wading through crystal blue waters, and experiencing the richness of Indonesia’s remote archipelagos.
On Ai, a speck of an island in eastern Indonesia, the land offers edible treasures: jackfruit, mango, lime, avocado, breadfruit, pineapple, almond, starfruit, rose apple, clove, eggplant, and more flourish in this remote outpost of pastel homes and towering, buttressed trees.
But prior to the mid-1800s, this volcanic outcrop and others nearby—known collectively as the Banda Islands—were famous as the only place on Earth where nutmeg grew. That singularity fostered an intense rivalry in the 17th century between European powers for the lucrative spice (at one point valued greater than gold), leading to the exchange of the island of Manhattan for the island of Run between the English and Dutch (the English got the New York isle).
Ai and Run are both destinations in the Spice Islands that are visited during sailings aboard the 10-passenger luxury yacht Rascal. The Indonesia-based vessel navigates around well-known haunts like Bali, Komodo, and Raja Ampat, but more intrepid explorers will delight in the trip to the lesser-known Moluccas archipelago, as the Spice Islands were formally known.
The ship, built in the style of a phinisi (a traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship), dispenses with sails, creating a top deck that is open, and where guests can sunbathe, stargaze, or jump off into the clear blue yonder. Rascal’s five, above-deck cabins are all outfitted with ensuite bathrooms, a beachy Hamptons-meets-Bali vibe, high ceilings, timber floors, white walls, and Indonesian-influenced accents like tribal masks and dugout paddles. The five spacious, supremely comfortable digs have firm, silky sheeted queen- or king-size beds (except for one with a bunk bed, perfect for kids) and plenty of windows bringing in natural light; the master cabin features its own terrace with a giant daybed.
Meals onboard consist of healthy, produce-driven menus and the freshest of fish (sometimes purchased from fishermen right off the side of the boat), while an onboard bar serves local beers like Bintang alongside first-rate Dark ’n’ Stormies, Daquiris, Old Fashioneds, and more. Some drinks use Rascal’s very own rum blended from Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Venezuelan spirits by Asian drink outfitter, Proof & Company.
The atmosphere on the boat is refreshingly languid among a hypnotic tableau of seascapes punctuated by verdant landscapes, panoramas blissfully devoid of boat traffic save for the occasional passenger ferry, phinisi, or skinny fishing boat, viewed from the master-cabin terrace, front deck, or cushioned prow of the boat. For the active, water toys include kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and full diving equipment—the cruise director, one of a crew of 10, is a certified dive master.
Trips to the Bandas promise excursions into forested, mountainous islands and into cobalt seas that stretch to the horizon, the combination providing a tangible sense of Jurassic remoteness. Snorkelers around the base of Gunung Api, the volcano that last erupted in 1989, will see evidence of past lava flows in broad black streaks rolling down its flanks to the sea. Swimmers can also view bright reefs, home to spotted boxfish, hawksbill turtles, and deftly camouflaged reef stonefish. Encounters with brightly patterned, crotchety looking moray eels are a defining feature of dives at Batu Kapal, a boat-shaped rock seemingly adrift in the middle of the ocean.
In addition to the natural wonders around the islands, there is plenty of history to explore as well, as a walk around Banda Neira island attests. This is where to find former nutmeg storage facilities created by the Dutch, a museum filled with old colonial coins and ceramic drinking jugs, and the coral-stone Fort Belgica, a pentagonal stronghold with sigh-inducing views of the bay. It’s also where the Rascal crew sets up a candle-lit, twilight barbecue dinner on the breeze-kissed ramparts, a groaning board loaded with grilled calamari, prawn, lamb, chicken, mahi mahi, and tenderloin.
The Bandas are among the destinations that make up the ship’s new Exploration Series trips, which debuted in December 2018, a unique program for a luxury yacht. The eight dedicated itineraries each year visit remote parts of this country of 17,500 islands, accompanied by scientists from Conservation International, the Virginia-headquartered environmental nonprofit. Alongside passengers, these experts, including U.S. coral-reef ecologist Dr. Mark Erdmann (who was based in Indonesia for 23 years, where he discovered numerous new marine species), will conduct investigations in areas where there is scant scientific information about the marine biodiversity, allowing travelers to assist in valuable research.
Daring voyagers on the Bandas sailings will be able to aid in the tagging of hammerhead sharks in several aggregation sites, supplying the Indonesian government with important data on their habits and movements. Other expeditions will include drone, snorkel, and satellite surveys of manta rays, and analysis of the reef conditions around Sumba, one of the country’s southernmost islands; scanning the seabed for new species of walking sharks in North Papua; surveys and photo identification of whale sharks at Cenderawasih Bay and Sumbawa; or tagging endangered thresher sharks in Alor while seeking new coral-reef fish species. Each journey offers the chance to have a thrilling, rewarding adventure supported by the ship’s comfortable accommodations—ensuring that helping scientists in remote locations can be a treat in more ways than one.
Sailings require a full-ship charter and are priced from $9,500 per day for the vessel’s standard trips, and from $12,000 per day for the Exploration Series trips.