Leisure and learning on board Rascal in Indonesia
Intellectually-curious charter guests prompt pioneering voyages across Raja Ampat and beyond.
When Erik Barreto arrived in Southeast Asia nearly a decade ago as a management consultant, he couldn’t possibly have imagined how his future would pan out. Quickly developing a real passion for Indonesia, he travelled extensively – from North Sumatra in the west to Rote Island in the east – and in doing so, serendipitously spotted a gap in the market for a new way of exploring the region. “I’d be staying in very run down local homestays, which was a great experience,” he says, “but I thought there must be an easier way. Eventually, I realised there would be no better way to explore than by boat.”
The traditional ‘Phinisi’ boats of Indonesia caught his eye, built by the Konjo people in a remote fishing village, using locally sourced timber and techniques passed down over generations. Barreto sensed that a boat with this rich heritage would be ideal for exploring the region, especially if it was given an injection of western-style luxury. Enter Rascal – a superyacht with soul, built for guests with a thirst for off-the-beaten-track adventure and designed to sail around the remote cruising grounds of Raja Ampat and Komodo.
The build process took place on the beach – and, says Barreto, was a real east-meets-west collaboration. “The bugis people have been building these boats by hand for hundreds of years with no tools. We’d come in with our detailed naval architecture plans – whereas they’d tend to judge it by eye. Their craftsmanship is just incredible.” At 33 metres in length and with just five guest cabins, Rascal offers plenty of space and is designed to cater to those who might be more used to luxury hotels than luxury yachts. “We call it barefoot luxury,” explains Barreto. “We’ve tried to create high levels of luxury in terms of comfort and service, but then again we don’t want to forget where we are in the world.”
The turtles, manta rays and whale sharks that populate Rascal’s cruising waters are a good reminder of the boat’s geography, and on board, there is all manner of diving equipment to ensure guests make the most of the region’s rich marine environment. It’s that very environment, in fact, that inspired Barreto to give something back, twelve months after Rascal set out on her first voyage. “I felt more and more that it was really important for us to help protect the areas we cruise in,” he explains.
Inspired to take the boat on a scientific expedition, he joined forces with Conservation International, a global charity dedicated to improve human wellbeing through the care of nature. “An expedition felt like a great way to raise awareness of just how much biodiversity there is in Indonesia,” he explains. With Dr Mark Erdmann, a renowned coral reef ecologist at Conservation International, at the helm, the team set sail on a seven day voyage in February, on a mission to find out more about the manta ray populations and coral reef fish biodiversity in the lesser visited areas of Raja Ampat.
The results were unprecedented. The scientists discovered two new fish species as well as a new manta cleaning station off Batanta Island, found using pioneering new drone technology. “A drone can see much further than the human eye,” explains Erdmann, “and avoids the glare on the sea surface we frequently have to deal with when scanning from boats.”
The team at Conservation International
The team at Conservation International
The excitement surrounding the expedition, coupled with intellectually curious charter guests, encouraged Barreto to tweak his offering. “What we’ve seen is that lot of people are coming on Rascal and they tend to be guests who like to push boundaries and see something different,” he explains. “The ability for those charter guests to have a similar experience to the Conservation International expedition is very valuable and that’s why we wanted to combine the two.”
Moving forward, guests will be able to benefit from ‘experts in residence’ who can bring a new dimension to the traditional charter experience. “Our guests so far all ask lots of questions and are keen to learn, so having scientists, conservation experts or even local historians on board will really appeal.” Barreto is putting his money where his mouth is – and two more yachts are currently in build, with additional cabins to host these invited experts.
The two new boats are expected to set sail around Thailand and Myanmar with a further three to complete by 2021, accessing the Indian Ocean and offering itineraries around The Maldives and Cambodia. “Conservation International have a strong presence in Raja Ampat – and as we expand across Asia they can continue to partner with us across the region,” says Barreto. “We want to be sustainable not just for the next couple of years, but long-term and that’s why it’s important that we get it right now.”