"If coconuts don't grow there, we don't go there."
We're not usually suckers for rhyming tag lines (call it an occupational hazard) but this one, we actually approve of. That's because the moment we kicked off our sandals on its ironwood floor, Rascal sailed past the high expectations they set out for themselves, seducing us from the humble port in Sarong to deep within the Raja Ampat islands where we replenished on vitamin D, explored marine life and conquered mountains for five days and four nights.
To speak only of its physical beauty is to do the vessel — inspired by the traditional Indonesian Phinisi boats built alongside it in South Sulawesi — and the crew running it severe injustice; to remark remotely on its size, sails and general splendour is to scratch the surface on the finest all-inclusive villa floating on West Papua. But there is where we will start.
Warning: annoying first world problem reported ahead. You know life is a little too good when you can't decide if you should go outside to take in the horizon or simply marvel at it in the comfort and privacy of your spacious East-meets-West master cabin on the upper deck. Sure, the other four sleeping quarters on Rascal, three of which are located on the main deck below, may pale somewhat in size comparisons, but they are by no means cramped and certainly no less thoughtfully designed in matching five-star resort sensibilities. Even the double-bunk room (ideal for ickle ones and BFFs) comes with a high ceiling, working desk and reasonable wardrobe space.
Oh, and did we mention every single one of them are equipped with en suite top-to-bottom teak bathrooms, which housekeeping (headed by the lovely Ita) comes in every morning to clean up? They also make the bed, replace towels and other amenities while turndown service is offered twice daily; once right around tea time — or as and when the crew suspects you've made a mess before frolicking in the ocean — and once while you're having dinner, to dim the lights and fluff your pillows, readying you for bed. Impressive.
THE LOUNGING SPACES
Nook isn't the right word to use here. Choose between three sprawling platforms on Rascal to catch up on your reading, work on your tan or ponder on your good fortunes while you sip on a mojito (or any other cocktail, really) and snack on samosas freshly prepped by the kitchen staff whenever you fancy. The back of the boat, seen above, accommodates the largest party, whereas the bow is more suited for solo downtime. Intimate conversations even. Taking an afternoon nap on the forecastle, aka the upper deck area right above the bow, is most satisfying, with a combination soundtrack of the wind and the soothing swishes where the boat hull meets the water, lulling you to slumber.
THE DINING EXPERIENCE
What can four fridges and three freezers hold? Enough ingredients for Italian, Indonesian and various other global cuisines inspiring Chef Dony, to feed 12 people three full meals a day over a week, that's what. Picture the following welcome meal: steamed grouper with mango salsa, beef rendang, and turmeric glutinous rice, with a sweet ending of blueberry compote. Day two saw both chef and captain at full steam. After an overnight 12-hour sail out northwest of Sorong, we were treated to a continental breakfast spread, comprising of eggs, avocados, bratwursts, and a selection of tropical fruits. Local flavours of fried rice and noodles were available upon request too, before we feasted on pasta with dried chilli and capers, a bouquet of chicken skewers with peanut sauce and homemade chocolate ice cream in the afternoon. The most memorable meal however, was served beachside. The private isle candlelit, our steaks and seafood grilled to order, sambal on the side. Diet be damned.
THE ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES
To get on the good books of Rascal cruise director and scuba diving master Gaz Phillips, tell him that you want to earn your glow on Mt Pindito. But don't let him fool you into thinking the climb of over 260 metres is easy. I was reasonably fit when I made the hike, and it took 40 minutes and several oh-my-God-I-think-I'm-going-to-plunge-to-my-death moments before we reached the summit at sunrise. Bring bravery and a professional camera in a backpack. You'll want some snaps to commemorate being alive to witness, in bird's-eye view, the islands in Wayag. For a leisurely stroll, the Bird of Paradise trek is a better option.
Water activities are available throughout the trip; we brought out the kayaks and paddleboards at every anchorage without fail. Divers know, Raja Ampat offers some of the richest marine life and most protected reefs in the world, so naturally, guided dive tours is part of the package. All equipment provided, of course. Rascal is not just a luxury hotel on propellers; it's also a mobile scuba school. No better time to get that PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water certification, we say.
THE HOSPITABLE CREW
As terrible as I am with names, I'm not about to forget Captain Yoda anytime soon. That's right, he who steered us to paradise is nicknamed Captain Yoda, due to his uncanny resemblance to the iconic character in the best ways. I will have you know I still chuckle at a photo I took of his royal wave during our mangrove tour on the speedboat. Nor will I forget Firman and Gersan, who always remembered to give me the shorter oar to go with my inflatable paddleboard, because I'm after all, only 158cm. And Chef Dony and housekeeper Ita and assistants Evi and Roy who were some of the most genuinely hospitable people this editor has ever had the pleasure to meet. You made the trip one for the books. Until we meet again.