Intimate island exploration with Seatrek Bali

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Seatrek Bali KatharinaAlways game for adventure, I cajoled a friend into joining me on a sailing trip in western Indonesia, skirting the coasts of places neither one of us had heard of.

Seatrek Bali has been tootling around the Indonesian islands for 25 years, first as a one-ship outfit attracting young, sleep-on-the-deck Europeans, and since the late '90s, a two-ship line catering to a more sophisticated but still adventurous lot of 30-to-60-somethings from around the world.

The 17-passenger Katharina and slightly larger Ombak Putih are ironwood motor-sailing schooners inspired by the two-masted Indonesian pinisi ships built in Sulawesi for centuries.

From April through early September, Seatrek's ships operate seven- and nine-night itineraries among the Bali, Komodo and Flores islands to see the Komodo dragons, trek along volcanic mountain trails and snorkel in vibrant reefs.

The ships then venture farther east on longer, more remote itineraries in the Banda and Halmahera islands, where waterfalls and white-sand beaches are the backdrop to exotic wildlife like the elusive red bird of paradise. Some itineraries visit Papua New Guinea, offering a peek at the tribal peoples' ancient customs.

Aboard the Katharina, the curve of the hull is so dramatic we had to walk uphill to our cozy cabin in the bow. I took the top bunk and tiny closet; my friend lived out of her suitcase. Most cabins are quite small, but there are a few larger ones: two triples and a family cabin, the only one with a window.

On deck, life for the sarong- and swimsuit-clad passengers revolved around a large wooden dining table and a slip of a bar.

Twice on our sailing, the sunsets were soul-stirring beauties that had us sighing and snapping pictures as we downed glasses of Jacobs Creek wine. At sea, with no TVs and often no phone signals, we were left to our own devices. One woman led impromptu painting sessions, another passenger shared a slideshow of his photos, while others dozed or nursed cans of Bintang beer while watching storm clouds dance on the horizon.

Throughout the trip, we heard engaging lectures, such as about the Maritime Silk Route and the ninth century Belitung shipwreck discovered some 15 years ago off the coast of Sumatra, with most of the Arabic dhow's Tang Dynasty cargo miraculously intact.

Two bouts of snorkeling in the middle of nowhere led by the onboard cruise director and tour guide were a highlight, with schools of neon fish and crazy clusters of brain, lettuce and elkhorn coral.

Seven-night voyages between Bali and Flores start at $2,380 per person with meals and excursions. Commission up to 20%. Visit www.seatrekbali.com.

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