Meet Dunia Baru—A Luxury Phinisi Yacht Made For Slow Travel Dreams
Dunia Baru’s new Singaporean owners talk about the vessel's thoughtful restoration, the beauty of slow travel, and where to sail in 2021
The months spent grounded in our hometowns have given many of us an appreciation for a slower
pace of life, something that will take with us when we travel again. Sailing is one of the best ways to have a slow, meaningful sojourn and few vessels are as spectacular as the Dunia Baru (its name means “the new world” in Bahasa Indonesia), a superyacht that weaves through Southeast Asia’s spellbinding islands.
The 51-metre long, two-masted luxury phinisi yacht has been brought back to its former glory by its new Singaporean owners, siblings Jing-Yi Wee and Teng Wee, who commissioned Deirdre Renniers, interior designer of Aman's private yacht, Amandira, to refurbish the traditional vessel. Built from teak and rare ulin ironwood, Dunia Baru was originally handcrafted in the classic architecture of phinisi wooden sailboats by an ancient tribe of boat builders in South Sulawesi called the Konjo. Every detail has been lovingly restored by its new owners resulting in a vessel that embodies the old-world romance of sailing but equipped with modern amenities suited to multi-generational travellers.
Sleeping up to 14, Dunia Baru sails on bespoke itineraries set mostly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Guests can snorkel in the Banda Archipelago, encounter dragon lizards at the Komodo National Park, and spot hammerhead sharks and manta rays around Kisar Island. Apart from sailing on the rich waters of the Indonesian archipelago, it can also be chartered for longer expeditions to Thailand and Myanmar. We speak to its owner Jing-Yi Wee on its thoughtful restoration and why a snail-paced sailing trip is one of the best ways to travel in 2021.
Tell us about how you discovered Dunia Baru and why you fell in love with it?
Jing-Yi Wee: In 2014, I was invited onboard the Dunia Baru by a friend to sail and dive the Komodo archipelago. I remember approaching her for the first time and being enveloped and grounded by her proportion, craftsmanship, and natural energy. Dunia Baru made the trip magical.
I chartered Dunia Baru again in 2017, this time with my brother and mutual friends from Hong Kong and Singapore. My admiration for her only grew as I learned more of her origins. Dunia Baru had taken eight years to build and was crafted from a quality of ironwood that is now under protection and can no longer be sourced. The fact that she would be impossible to replicate was fascinating to us. Regularly chartering in the Mediterranean and South Pacific, we just kept returning to the enchanted feeling of sailing on the Dunia Baru.
What was the turning point in which you and your brother decided to buy and refurbish the vessel then turn it into a business?
JYW: Hearing the legends surrounding the building of Dunia Baru, we never thought her owner would let go of her. We thought we would have to build something from scratch if we were ever to own a phinisi ourselves. During our due diligence, we made a reference call to the marine architect who designed the Dunia Baru. We contacted its then-owner, Mark Robba, and discovered that he was open to letting her go. Seeing as Dunia Baru had always served as our basis for comparison when it came to yachting, we felt we could not miss out on the opportunity to own this irreplicable phinisi.
Which design improvements did you request Deirdre Renniers to work on? Being an avid diver and a design enthusiast, which details of Dunia Baru do you personally love and why?
JYW: Dunia Baru was built by her previous owner for his family with no compromise given to her level of build and craftsmanship.
The moment she stepped on board, Deirdre fell in love and appreciated Dunia Baru’s beauty and workmanship. Rather than make any structural changes, the goal was to expand the idea of slow travel and create luxurious experiences that evoked a sense of nostalgia. This meant activating the deck and making the lounging areas more inviting and intimate, as well as carefully selecting fabrics, textures, and artwork to complement the wooden structure of the boat.
I personally love the shape of her hull. Phinisis are built on a beach and her proportions measured with the eye of an expert boat builder. It’s something that I am always in awe of coming back from a dive—we get to admire her up close.
Chartering a yacht is still relatively new in parts of Southeast Asia, and the image of cruising had a battering at the start of the pandemic. What would you like to tell reluctant travellers?
JYW: I would say that travellers are actually more keen on spending their time and resources on yacht charters than ever before. Private yacht charters, especially around Indonesia’s remote archipelago, provide the opportunity to unplug and reconnect among an intimate group of family and friends.
Yachting offers a much more immersive experience, allowing guests a high level of freedom and flexibility—from the islands one visits to the various activities one might choose to indulge in. Following the pandemic, I think people will also be more interested in travelling in relative isolation, which can be guaranteed on charters.
What does Dunia Baru have that makes it stand out of all the existing phinisi sailing experiences in Indonesia?
JYW: Phinisis are all about the tradition of craftsmanship. Only the best pieces of ulin ironwood were selected for her build, and every detail on Dunia Baru is in keeping with phinisi traditions. The ship’s wheel, for instance, is exquisitely carved out of solid ironwood, as are the door hinges, balustrades and the furniture. The expert craftsmen who built her over a span of eight years continue on as part of her crew today—their love and attachment to her is evident in the pristine condition they keep her in and the service they provide onboard. These two factors come together and the result is a yachting experience that is especially memorable.
There has been a serious discussion of how to shape travel’s new normal post-pandemic. How do you see your company playing a part in the era of conscious travel?
JYW: I believe longer, more immersive and intimate trips will be on travelers’ agendas and Dunia Baru is well-positioned to fulfil that dream. We certainly hope to develop our Asian clientele—they often balk at the idea of being at sea for more than four nights but it’s only when they are nearing the end of their trip do they understand that it can take a few days to unwind, settle in and truly experience the remoteness and privacy of a yachting holiday. So, we are curious to see how this evolves.
On the sustainability front, we worked with Nekton on their Yachts for Science program in early 2020, hosting a research scientist onboard for two weeks in Raja Ampat as she conducted research on black corals. We’re looking forward to being involved in similar initiatives in the future and offering opportunities for our guests to participate. We also believe in giving back to the communities we visit and continue to invest in the Learning Center we built for the children in the village of Sauwandarek.
If we were to charter Dunia Baru, which route(s) would you recommend and why?
JYW: Journeys that start from one point and end at another are always more exciting. For example, Ambon to Raja Ampat or Maumere to Komodo. Landscapes change from day to day and can be vastly different both above and below the water.
For non-divers, beaches such as the Watupeni Sandbank in Flores are stunning and remote; the crew can build an amazing bonfire and whip up a BBQ for drinks and dinner by the sunset. Experiences like these can feel very simple and yet are extraordinary.
There are also off-the-beaten-track hikes: Sapokreng in Raja Ampat has a wild track in a jungle that will appeal to adventurous hikers. Cultural enthusiasts would be fascinated by the ancestral traditions of the Lemahalot people who live in the district of Lembata, part of the Lesser Sunda Islands. This village continues to produce the finest ikat in eastern Indonesia and weavers show off how they spin their cotton, bind and naturally dye their ikatted yarns and weave their traditional sarongs, some of which are used as gifts to secure a marriage between clans.
On an optimistic note, where are you dreaming of sailing to in 2021 and why?
JYW: We would love to take Dunia Baru to Palau. It’s a region that’s best explored on a yacht and the landscapes and diving are meant to be amazing.