Our gravest concern about joining a rally has already reared its head. The host committees at the destinations work very hard to plan welcome events, dinners and tours, but in scheduling the stops the rally organizers have not taken into account that we aren’t arriving by relaxing Metroliner but are sailing from island to island, often on one- or two-night passages through waters that require constant vigilance to avoid the fish traps, fishing nets, deep water platforms and other low-lying hazards to navigation, all unlighted. Even daylight navigation is stressful, with all manner of floating dangers that often require quick maneuvers to avoid collisions. We understand how delighted some of these communities are to see tourists arrive by boat — and for some it’s the first they’ve ever been visited by yachts — but we barely get the anchor down before a welcome committee starts to circle, wanting to know everything about us, urging us to come ashore right away, reciting all the things they have planned, and always wanting to pose for selfies with us. We’re often tired, hungry, disheveled and in need of a shower and a nap before we can truly appreciate the warm welcome. We’re only a few weeks in but already we need a break.
We decided to skip the next scheduled stop and point Escape Velocity to the one after, stopping on the way for a little R&R at an interim island. My birthday was coming up and spending it without the constant cell phone paparazzi sounded good.
We left Tifu at dawn with the six remaining boats expecting a two-night passage but the wind was at the exact angle EV loves best and in 30 hours we arrived at the reef entrance to Wangi Wangi Island at the northern end of the Wakatobi group.
We had great waypoints and a satellite photo chart to follow but to our surprise a dinghy approached driven by a local man who said he was a pilot and he would guide us in. Ok, sure. He asked our draft and led us to a spot between two other rally boats who’d gone rogue and pointed to where we should drop our anchor. No, I said to Jack, and we chose our own spot better suited to the depth, our size and the state of the tide.
As we were still completing our anchoring and arrival routine the man boarded our back steps and, despite my asking him to please wait until we’d secured the boat, he proceeded to ask for our paperwork, enumerate the services his people could offer, pointed out his office and the dinghy dock and generally distracted us from our immediate tasks. It turns out this used to be a rally stop in previous years and either they weren’t told they were off the schedule or they just assumed (correctly, as it turned out) many of the boats would stop here anyway. So much for a relaxing break.
When we went ashore we were swarmed by a squadron of hyper-excited high school age students who all wanted to assist us onto the dinghy dock and with whom we performed the now familiar welcome ritual, straight out of a standard language phrase book.
“Hello, my name is ___________. What is your name?”
“My name is Marce. Nice to meet you!”
This is followed by often hilarious attempts by both parties to pronounce each others’ names and a handshake.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from America.”
“Oh wow! America!”
This is repeated with every single person and also involves a selfie and various group shots. There’s a lot of giggling involved. This has become the standard every time we step ashore.
At Wangi Wangi, after these formalities they asked us where we wanted to go. We really just wanted to stretch our legs and explore the area but they pressed us to be more specific and even led us into the office, seated us at a desk where the head of this hyperactive welcome committee prepared to guide us to our heart’s desire. The rest of them surrounded us and eagerly awaited our answer.
“Well,” we said finally, “we’d like a café and a market.”
This prompted rapid chatter and eventually a map and the assurance that they would get us to these places. We tried to get the map but were assured instead that they would escort us there. So two of their number — I couldn’t figure out how this was decided — became our minders/guides/escorts and we were walked about a half mile to a café, all the while being peppered with questions.
They were adorable, spoke good but heavily accented English and were delightful to be with. At the café we told them to get whatever they wanted which excited them to pieces, and they ordered what looked like chocolate sodas.
After nearly an hour of conversation we convinced them that we could manage the market on our own and they returned to the office while we explored the town, eventually ending up at the market to replenish our fresh supplies.
The swarm event was repeated when we got back to the dinghy dock because by then the shift had changed and it was all new kids minding the landing. More handshakes, more introductions, more selfies, more assists into the dinghy.
We’re happy they’re happy, but boy is it exhausting! And that was pretty much my birthday. Not exactly the quiet break we were hoping for.