The Darwin to Ambon Race and Rally is a event for any avid blue water sailor on the look out for an adventure.
A chance visit to Ambon in the Spice Islands by a Darwin radio technician in 1976 was the spark that led to the first Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race later that year. The 600 mile downwind race attracted six yachts in its inaugural year. For months afterwards, conversation amongst returning yachties was dominated by stories of “champagne sailing”, overwhelming hospitality, lovely friendly people, the scenic beauty, the cultural diversity and the food. Clearly this would become an annual event not to be missed.
Entries steadily increased over the years as the event’s reputation spread and its tradition grew. Entrants began to come from further and further afield. International skippers began to use Ambon as a starting point to visit some of the 13,000 islands of the Indonesian Archipelago. Some sailed north to Manado and onto the Raja Muda Selangor Regatta in Malaysia. Others headed southwest to the amazing Buton Passage and then on to visit the famous Komodo Dragons en route to Macassar or Bali and beyond.
A big factor in the growing popularity of the race was related to the excellent facilities Darwin offered for yachts and their crews. For many, Darwin would be the last access to western comforts and familiar language for many months.
Pre-race hype and functions also grew over the years, leading to a festival atmosphere and a range of social activities catering to all tastes. Skippers and crews became acquainted and many new alliances and friendships were formed, both within the fleet and with the wider sailing community.
The race start grew from the low key departure of the original race fleet to a festival atmosphere attracting large crowds to many of Darwin Harbour’s cliff-top and beachside vantage points.
Daily position reports along with commentary on weather and sea conditions were soon being published and broadcast. The media coverage served two purposes – family and friends were able to follow the fortunes of their favourites, and wider community interest in the race grew as people learned more about it. Local radio ran many interviews with skippers and crew covering everything from yacht maintenance and preparation for an ocean voyage through to menu selection and food preparation techniques in heavy seas.
By 1998, annual race entries had reached almost 100. Political instability in Ambon forced the cancellation of the 1999 race, and it was not held for the next 8 years. A deputation from Ambon visited Darwin in April 2006 with a view to getting the event restarted. It was during this visit that Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association Incorporated (DBCYA) were approached. They expressed interest but only if the situation in Ambon was safe and secure. Three Members from Dinah Beach C.Y.A. Inc visited Ambon shortly thereafter and returned to the Club advising that in their opinion the situation in Ambon was ready to accept International yachts and crews. Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association Inc. established links with Ambon, and introduced their inaugural DBCYA Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race on the 21st July 2007.
Race entrants have continued to grow, with the 2011 event attracting a large racing fleet, including national and international yachts as well as the local crowd. This years fleet has twenty confirmed to set sail on the 23rd of August.
The fleet will begin their 634 nautical mile voyage following the rhumb line through the Arafura Sea to the Indonesian island of Sermata which peaks at 392 metres and lies east of Timor Leste. From there they will sail through the depths of the Banda Sea, passing close to the Island of Damar which peaks at 868 metres, and then on to Ambon. Ambon lies approx 355º T from Darwin. Yachts usually enjoy fresh south-easterly winds until they enter Ambon Harbour. The hills around Ambon can rein the breezes to a zephyr – a half a knot ebbing tide can then become a major obstacle to reaching the finishing line.
On arrival all yachts are welcomed by the firing of a parachute flare. This also alerts the locals of the arrival of another vessel, and many head to the beach at the village of Amahusa to watch and welcome the newcomers.
If you enjoy competition, the race record set by John Punch in 1998, aboard Zuma, is 53hrs 29min 50sec. This was fiercely contested in 2010 by Wayne Huxley, aboard Cruise Missile, but remains unbeaten. The monohull race record was reset by Garth Curren in 2011, aboard Walk on the Wildside, when he beat his own record by 4hrs 52min. The new monohull race record is 64hrs 05min 22sec.
Each vessel will be equipped with a Yellowbrick throughout the race. The Yellowbrick makes it possible for friends, family, race organisers and supporters from around the world to follow the fleet via an online map. The tracker will collect and send several vital bits of information, such as GPS co-ordinates, speed and direction every fifteen minutes. You can track the fleet and find out more information about the race by visiting the official website.