Plying the South Seas
What do you do on a small and elegant yacht in Indonesia? Dive, relax, eat, and repeat.
RAJA AMPAT, Indonesia – In ten years as a travel journalist, I've been blessed with many "trips of a lifetime," but the nine days I spent aboard the Silolona in the waters around eastern Indonesia earlier this year really was one of the most fantastic, memorable trips of my life: exotic, illuminating, endlessly cossetting, and deeply relaxing.
A 164-foot, five-cabin teak yacht modeled on a traditional phinisi (an Indonesian sailing ship) and built almost entirely by hand, the Silolona plies the waters of Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar. She's the passion project of Patti Seery, an American expat who's lived in Indonesia nearly three decades and considers it her spiritual home. She acts as cruise director on many charters, educating guests about the islands, translating, and winning over locals. When we rolled up on a tiny island, she started talking to fishermen and, next thing I knew, they were climbing palm trees to collect coconuts and machete off the tops for us to drink the water.
Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it's matched by that of her tireless 17-man crew, who made the voyage truly spectacular. They danced as we crossed the equator, played guitars and sang at every opportunity, and never stopped smiling.
In addition to the not-easy work of keeping the boat afloat, they could also give terrific massages and reflexology, dance with fire, tailor clothing, draw adorable keepsake pictures, and cook fantastic multi-course meals. (Seery helped with the last of these, taking chef Yudah to eat whenever they're in cities and bringing on chefs for master classes, including one recently from The Fat Duck.)
The trip was extra meaningful for me because after years "discover scuba" dives (you know, the basic, shallow-depth, hold-the-dive-master's-hand dives resorts sometimes offer to novices), I used the cruise as an occasion to finally get my PADI certification. After all, we were sailing through Raja Ampat, widely regarded as one of the best dive sites in the world. Although I could have done everything on board, I finished the drudgery at home at a YMCW pool in New York City and did my open-water dives in Indonesia. That meant I got to spend a lot of time with resident dive master Goris, a sort of elder statesman of the crew — he helped build the boat 13 years ago — with a wicked sense of humor and endless patience. I did my last test dive with five-meter manta rays swimming overhead. I am forever spoiled.