Itineraries

Each cruise aboard the El Aleph is unique and we customize any charter to best fit with your interests. Please contact us for scheduling and suggested itineraries. Or better yet, tell us where your dreams take you – and let us make it a reality.

Bali Charter Itineraries

For an idea of a sample cruise read the story of the El Aleph’s maiden voyage below:

The luxury expedition phinisi Schooner El Aleph started life on the beach of the boat building village of Bira in South Sulawasi , her hull and rigging based upon the traditional Indonesian phinisi design – trading vessels which have sailed the archipelago for four centuries. Back in Bali for the fit out, there was a nod to the 21st Century luxury chartering: inverter-based power systems, satellite broad-band internet, and full navigation suite…as well as an interior finished in precious hard woods for 200,000 man-hours by a team of almost 100 carpenters and craftsmen – impossible anyplace other than Bali! But after two painstaking years building his impossible dream, Franco-Russian yachtsman Eric Kraus was tired of lying in Benoa harbour – and ready for a little adventure!

El Aleph had been built with the dream of exploring the remote and legendary Raja Ampat, a naturalist’s paradise – home to 70% of all known hard corals and no fewer than 1320 species of fish, along with the world’s most extraordinary profusion of bird life including the legendary Bird of Paradise whose mating dance is performed here only. Having positioned the yacht in Sorong Harbour, ten days steaming from our home port of Bali, the guests and owner arrived by the night flight from Jakarta to Sorong —1800 miles east. Coming in for a landing – sleepy and elated – we were treated to the sight of our great pirate vessel outlined against a spectacular sunrise.

The two fast RIBs were waiting at the pier to whisk the guests aboard el Aleph, with a 13-man crew representing the entire ethnic composition of Indonesia. The mariners are descendants of the fierce Buginese seafaring pirates and traders from the parched villages of South Sulawesi whom the Dutch colonists could never pacify – the origin of the modern term “the Bogey-man”. Among them – Captain Kahar who happily threw over his job as Chief Captain for the largest ship charter company in Indonesia to join the building project, overseeing construction in the ship-building village of Bira for the chance of commanding his own phinisi – bringing his chief engineer, Andi – with a wife in every port, equally capable of mending a recalcitrant diesel engine or a Swiss watch. Of course, the tough, adventurous Bugis would be among the world’s worst choices for service personnel – so the waiters and cooks we recruited the gentler and more refined Balinese Hindus, rounding it off with a Christian first mate and third engineer. Finally, the intrepid David Curic, our Swedish cruise director and chief dive master, who has explored and dived Indonesia for the past decade, brought some much needed Viking blood to the mix.

According to aboriginal tradition, the Raja Ampat — meaning four kings – hatched from the eggs of a monstrous bird, each egg shell forming one of the major islands — regional islands: Wageo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. Of a total of 610 islands, only about 35 are inhabited, generally with aboriginal villages isolated from each other, and totally removed from contact with the outside world.

I had dived no fewer than 15 of the “world’s ten best dive sites” over the past 20 years, and despite having seen friend’s pictures of Raja Ampat’s stunningly clear waters – with the coral gardens perfectly visible from the surface, nothing prepared us for the reality: looking over the side of the dingy, we saw fat and extravagantly-coloured parrot fish inspecting their territory; small orange Nemo-anemones hiding from metre-long reef sharps cruising over the coral; great sea turtles fearlessly swimming in for a closer look at us, moray eels rushing past in seeking a new cave. Well protected, and with no commercial fishing, the aquatic population of the reef was both curious and totally unafraid. With only a snorkel, one could swim alongside giant mantas, their 3-meter wingspan slowly propelling them through the clear waters. pods of dark-blue sea angels with half-moon tails, schools of extravagantly coloured fish turned the water to a kaleidoscope; in many places it was hardly worth bothering with scuba tanks – snorkelling opened up a whole new world.

In the cooler afternoon, we climbed onto the sea kayaks and paddled around to investigate the surrounded islands with rocky coasts, mysterious caves, and mangroves, which hid wild beaches and backwaters. At the occasional settlements, we landed to take pictures of the intrepid children who crowded around us, as their shy mothers and quiet fathers looked on bemusedly.

Leaving Sarong we headed north, past Bantanta where we did a quick stop to dive a very unusual wreck: a WWII airplane which, returning from action, experienced engine problems. From there, we continued on towards the Dampier straights, for some of the most spectacular diving of Papua – Cape Kri, Sardine Reef, and Max point. The profusion of marine life was unlike anything we had encountered outside of the cinema – and some of us have been diving for 30 years…. It was like the old Cousteau films – a world we had searched for decades and had thought to be irretrievably lost…at times, one could not see the surface for all the fish! On the mysteriously named “Chicken Reef,” we counted at least 47 reef sharks, and a half-dozen passing oceanic shark.

In Waigeo, we dropped anchor in azure bay with crystal clear waters with hundred of islands visible on the horizon – from clumps of rock, to beach-fringed forests with thick jungles, red and green parrots, and troops of monkeys chattering in the trees. The snow-white beaches offered an extraordinary variety of sea-shells, with several great collections beginning here.

At Waigeo, we trecked an hour through the thick forest following our native guides, to stalk the bird of Paradise. Hot, muddy and elated, after we sat and watched the amazing mating dance of these mythical birds – so named because the first specimens sent back to England by early naturalists lacked feet, and thus, it was believed that they never landed, living in the air, half-way between earth and paradise.

Motoring back we met our first and only crocodile, slithering out of the foliage into the ocean. He was visible for only a minute, frightened by the noise of the engines, but for the next several days we scared ourselves silly kayaking around the mangrove, hoping to meet another one, and praying that we didn’t!

At the pearl farm where we met a mad American naturalist who knew more about sponges than any man alive, but was starved for company and good whiskey. Welcoming aboard the yacht for dinner, the owner’s wife casually asked him would he like a massage? : “My God, I’ve been on this island for six months – don’t tease me!” came his anguished reply – she went on to explain that we had a Balinese masseuse aboard…

Wayag. Beautiful beaches and amazing scenery and beautiful treks through the hills visiting a native village – where we received a warm welcome and the most intrepid sampled the culinary specialties, none of which we could identify – perhaps so much the better. They had not been visited by foreigners for a generation, and even the last Indonesians they’d seen had come through two years ago.

At Kawe, you can dive across the equator, amidst shoals of barracudas, the weird bobygone shark – a slow moving plankton feeder who seems to sleep his way through life, and can be easily carried in a diver’s arms, then laid down to continue his nap. We also encountered dozens of great Mantas with a three-meter wingspan – friendly giants – once you recover from the initial fright of seeing them coming on with their enormous mouths wide open, you can swim with them – resisting the temptation to grab on to catch a ride. Nearby, I found the tail of a shark the size of Leviathan protruding for a cave. My initial temptation – to give it a good tug on the tail so as to discover the rest of the beast was vigorously discouraged by our local dive-guide, so I was to remain curious.

At Wacmac, no need for tanks – the snorkelling was magnificent, first kayaking through an endless series of lagoons, then we free-diving down into a massive sardine run – hundreds of millions of transparent glass-fish, great cumulus clouds of them – and all of the marine predators stopping by for lunch.

But the high point was Misool – the cathedral cave – an experience of a lifetime. We picked up a local guide from the pearl-farm at Aljoui Bay, to visit the Tomolol cave, the mouth of which begins in a jungle pool.. You swim for several hundred meters, through a tunnel in semi-darkness towards a dull glimmer, then, turning right through the stalactites, you suddenly find yourself in an immense cave, as big as Notre Dame de Paris, and far more spectacular. The roof, a hundred metres overhead, is a latticework of limestone – floating on your back under the dome, staring upwards, time seemed to stop.

On the trip back to the Banda Islands, the wind, conspicuous for its absence, finally picked up, allowing us to sail a good part of the way.

The Banda islands were once the centre of the spice-trade when nutmeg was worth its weight in gold. The capital, Banda Nera is now a sleepy town, where we stocked up on nutmeg and mace, buying great stocks of the divine Nutmeg jam, and clambered over the old Portugese forts which once guarded the harbour and have now been partially reclaimed by the jungle. Besides shopping for antique bottles and lamps, we spent two days negotiating the purchase of a small 17th Century brass cannon, which now sits aboard el Aleph, and climbed 900 meters up the active Junu Api (Fire Mountain) volcano, itself surrounded by an ocean trench 5000 meters deep, for an amazing view over the bay.

 

El Aleph means “the first” in Arabic – it is also the silent Hebrew first letter preceding all of the names of God, but especially, it is the title of a magical short story by the great Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges – in his story, according to 14th century Arabic philosophy El Aleph represents the point in the world where past, present and future are connected – all visible at the same time and from every possible angle (English and Russian translations of el Aleph can be downloaded from our website – www.elaleph.ru) Sitting out on the bowsprit under the starlight, listening to the dolphins sound and jump, the name seemed well-chosen.

 

Post-scriptum. Subsequently, we have cruised Thailand, Burma and the Andamans. There is no place like home, and other than Komodo, Flores, there is nothing to compare with Raja Ampat – where we shall base ourselves this year!