Maritime exchanges between the Northern Territory and its Asian neighbours are not a new phenomenon. For hundreds of years, Indonesian Makassan fishermen regularly visited the northern Australian coastline in search of trepang. In more recent times, the Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race (commencing in 1976) and the Sail Indonesia Rally (commencing in 2003) have farewelled large fleets of yachts each year as they leave Darwin’s shores for various destinations in Indonesia and beyond.
But, it was the Darwin to Dili Yacht Race in 1973 that founded the modern era of yachting events from Darwin to SE Asia. It began when a small number of sailors from the Cruising Yacht Association of the NT in Darwin began a yacht race from Darwin to Dili in what was then Portuguese Timor. Six yachts participated in the 1973 Race, taking 4-5 days to reach Dili. The 1973 Race created a number of firsts:
- The first Australian yacht race to a foreign country
- The first overseas yacht race catering for multi and mono-hulls, and commencing in Australia and
- The first time that the people of Darwin and the people of Timor actively collaborated in a sporting event that was to result in friendly co-operation, good will and mutual respect.
The people of Timor have a longstanding affinity with Australians, beginning with the Australian soldiers trapped on the island during World War II and who, with the help of the Portuguese and the Timorese, became a thorn in the side of the Japanese occupation force. It was fitting therefore that the inaugural Darwin Dili Yacht Race in 1973 coincided with the survivors of “Sparrow Force” conducting their first reunion in Timor since the war. It was a time to renew many old friendships from harder times and to establish many new friendships from better times
The words of the Organising Committee were prophetic “This is the beginning of the race. The future will be a very interesting one.”
The Darwin Dili Yacht Race ran again in 1974 with a total of 24 yachts participating. Unfortunately the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor in 1975 caused subsequent events to be cancelled. But it meant that CYANT had ‘got the taste’ for international yachting events and the search was on for an alternative venue, which was later to become Ambon in Indonesia.
In 2002 eight yachts participated in a goodwill rally from Darwin to Dili to coincide with the celebrations of Timor-Leste’s independence and creation as the world’s then youngest nation. However the timing and conditions were not right for the event to become an annual fixture.
Some eight years on, in 2010, increasing stability in Timor-Leste and a Government strategy to establish a marine tourism industry meant that the timing was right to re-start the Darwin Dili Yacht Rally -the founder of all modern yachting events leaving Darwin. The 2010 Rally was an outstanding success with all participants enjoying themselves and many signing up to return in 2011.
At 1100 hours on Saturday 3 July 2010, eight yachts and 47 sailors left Darwin for the 425 NM course to Dili, Timor Leste. Rally participants were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery that Timor-Leste has to offer, both above and below the water, as yachts are able to cruise through Timor-Leste waters for up to 3 months.
All yachts arrived safely in Dili, after spending many frustrating hours without wind, along the north coast of Timor. Rally Division yacht, Chantilly, arrived in Dili mid afternoon on 6 July, after motoring the last part of the way because of lack of wind. In the Competitive Cruising Division, Even Karma passed over the finish line under sail at 04:49:46 on 7 July, taking Line Honours for the event. Raucous finished at 13:30:34 hours later that day. All other yachts arrived in Dili over the period of 7 July with Dhumbala (the smallest yacht in the fleet) being the last yacht to arrive at 1925 hours in the middle of a tropical downpour. All yachties thoroughly enjoyed being ashore and the warm hospitality of the Timorese people at various functions and official events. Many yachts took the opportunity to tour Timor-Leste during their visit and some are staying for an extended period to enjoy all that Timor-Leste has to offer.
Even Karma's total elapsed time of 89:82 hours sets a new event record, beating the previous record of 91:37 hours set by Kingo in 1974. A Rally presentation ceremony was held in Dili and, as a salute to the pioneers that commenced the event, the 1974 trophies were presented along with a range of prizes and souvenirs donated by various sponsors in Dili and Darwin.
The modern era Darwin Dili Yacht Rally (also known as the Independence Regatta) has number of similarities as well as a number of differences to the 1973 and 1974 events:
- The Rally is initiated and run by the Timor-Leste Government with support from businesses in Timor-Leste. This follows a deliberate Timor-Leste strategy of running a number of major events which support the country’s tourism development strategy. Other events include the Tour de Timor and the Timor Marathon.
- The event is a Rally, not a Race, but will include Competitive Cruising Divisions for monohull and multihull yachts as well as a general Cruising/Rally division. This is to encourage the broadest possible range of yachts to come and visit Timor-Leste.
The support of the Timor-Leste Government and their wish to see this event succeed will go a long way to ensuring the Rally grows as an annual event. Meeting the interests and needs of sailors and yachts is a key success factor for the event and as Timor-Leste offers some of the most spectacular cruising and diving in the world, the future looks sound.
2010 was a small beginning for an event that is likely to prosper and grow in future years. As participants in the 2010 Rally tell of their experiences and trip, word will spread throughout the local, national and international yachting community. The 2011 Rally allows participants in the Darwin Dili Yacht Rally to link up with the Sail Indonesia Rally, giving participants the opportunity to experience both exotic cruising destinations.