Schooner Rajah & How America Entered the Spice Trade

American sailors from Salem Massachussets made history in 1795 when they set sail on “secret voyage for ports unknown”.  This true story opens a small window on the fascinating spice trade, schooners, and their colourful place in history..

A schooner at anchor in the Far East

The first known recorded sailing voyage from American shores to what is now known as Indonesia, was made aboard a Massachusetts schooner named “Rajah” in 1795.  There are no drawings and very few descriptions of the Rajah, but it was likely a schooner typical of the US East Coast, with a foremast shorter than the main, 120 tons, approximately 100ft in length and 20ft wide, and in the style of its day the sails would have been gaff-rigged.

In 1795,  before internal combustion engines, satellite navigation and communications what were the chances of survival if undertaking a voyage from the United States to the far east in search of spices?  It is difficult to know exactly, as much depended on the skill of the captain and the accuracy of the maps available to him, but it may have been no better than a 50% chance of making it home.  In today’s connected world it is very difficult to imagine how daunting such a voyage might have been, and how much courage and daring was required.

A schooner on the Westport River, US East Coast

So the question is – what would motivate people to take such risks? For the merchants of Salem Massachusetts, the first from America to enter the spice trade, there were plenty of incentives: especially the idea of trading peppercorn with 700% profits.

Of all the distinctively flavoured seeds pepper is the most widely used, and for centuries it was the most valuable. In ancient times, pepper was so valuable that in Greece and Rome it was used as currency and during the middle ages, peppercorns were accepted in lieu of money for dowries, rent and taxes.

By the late 1700s pepper was ubiquitous and known as “king of the spices”, however it was only produced in the far east, and before pepper crossed the ocean to America, it made its way first through the hands of many middle-men making it a very high priced commodity. The Dutch East India company controlled much the trade of pepper in the 18th and 19th Centuries, which was being sourced from what is now known as Indonesia.

Pepper, “The King of Spices”

However, in 1795 this was about to change when Captain Carnes, a nephew of a Salem Merchant, commandeered a 120-ton schooner named “Rajah” and sailed on a “secret voyage for ports unknown”. In fact, Captain Carnes would sail a dangerous 26,000-mile round trip to reach Benkoelen, in Sumatra (Indonesia), and traded directly with the local rulers on the coastal areas to avoid the higher prices charged by Dutch merchants in Batavia.

By circumventing the monopoly on pepper then held by the Dutch he returned in 1797 loaded in bulk with a cargo of pepper which returned a 700 per cent profit.   The owners of the schooner Rajah couldn’t wait to repeat the venture, and by 1805 the schooner Rajah had completed five trips to Sumatra, bringing back over 1200 tons of pepper.

Antique Map of Sumatra

The success of the Rajah stimulated other Salem merchants, to go into the pepper trade.  Those who followed suit included George Crowninshield & Sons, Joseph Peabody, Abel Lawrence & Co., Nathaniel West, and Stephen Phillips making pepper a major source of income for Salem.

From that moment on it is said that almost 1000 ships from America would sail around the world working the spice trade for nearly one hundred years, and today the pioneers of the original historic voyages are commemorated at the Salem Spice Festival.


(Based on excerpts originally appearing in “F. Rosengarten, Jr. 1969. The Book Of Spices, p. 23–96, Jove Publ., Inc., New York”, and New York Times & New Yorker).

Pearls of the Mergui Archipelago

While Myanmar is famous for ruby, sapphire and jade, pearling has quietly been a traditional activity in the Mergui Archipelago for centuries. Among the 800 coral fringed islands and beaches of the Mergui exist some of the most sought after gems in the world – golden pearls..


Referred to by the locals as “tears of the ocean”, in general Mergui pearls are said to be warmer in colour tone than South Sea cultured pearls.  However, it is the Mergui’s rare golden pearls that are perhaps the finest of their kind. In March 2013, at a Hong Kong auction, these pearls sold for record prices. One 19mm pearl, known as the “New Dawn of Myanmar”, was sold for USD 40,000.

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Underwater Photography Trips

Enrich your experience aboard the schooner Raja Laut with an underwater photography trip led by Eric Madeja, author of The Coral Triangle.

Eric Madeja Photography
Eric Madeja Photography


Sooner of later almost every scuba diver gets interested in taking underwater photos and videos. It’s just a natural desire to capture these thrilling moments when we get engulfed by a myriad of reef fish, encounter a rare marine critter, or get eye to eye with a majestic manta ray. For exactly that reason you definitely will enjoy our liveaboard expeditions with full-time professional underwater photographer and film-maker Eric Madeja. You don’t have to worry if you are new to underwater photography or videography, Eric will teach you all the basics and for so you will know how to shoot stunning images within just a few days.

For more seasoned image makers, the daily exchange of practical knowledge with other photographers and Eric’s experience of over more than a decade working in the industry will surely result in a very productive and enjoyable dive trip. We even can tailor the expedition to your personal photography skills and underwater camera equipment and adjust it accordingly as you progress resulting in an underwater photo and video “workshop” which is not work at all… simply more fun with an educational value!


Scuba Diving with Raja Laut

From Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago in the northwest to Indonesia in the southeast, with Malaysia and the Philippines in between, Southeast Asia is a scuba diving paradise.   Raja Laut is fully equipped for scuba diving, with compressor, tanks, and semi-rigid inflatable tender (RIB). Onboard we also have 8 complete sets of scuba equipment for your use (wetsuit, bcd, fins, mask, snorkel, weightbelt, etc.). When you choose scuba diving as part of a yacht charter journey we ensure that
your dives are guided by an experienced professional. If you are a certified diver please bring your license and log book. If you are not yet certified, our dive instructor will be able to introduce you to scuba diving via the “Discover Scuba” course.

Read more about the Raja Laut and our South East Asia yacht charter journeys at

Charter with Children

Children love sailing holidays, and a yacht charter vacation aboard Raja Laut is an amazing way to spend quality time with the kids. With tropical islands providing the backdrop, children will have a great adventure on the schooner.


Younger children will love kayaking, fishing, swimming, snorkelling or just splashing about in the water off the beach. Older children might like to learn how to scuba dive, waterski or wakeboard, hoist sails, tie knots, learn to navigate with charts and steer a course. The “double-dog” is a mini banana boat which is fun for kids of all ages. Below deck there is a cosy living area where kids can play board games, read books, or watch DVDs.


5 Best Dive Sites of Komodo National Park

The Komodo National Park is the most popular yacht charter and scuba diving destination in Indonesia. The “Galapagos of the East” are famed for its carnivorous giant lizard – the Komodo Dragon – and the incredible variety of coral reef diving. As well as being able to find all your mega fauna – manta rays, a large variety of sharks, sun fish and dolphins – Komodo is also a macro photographer’s paradise.