Simply world class diving

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The first day of a cruise always provides plenty of excitement…new guests coming aboard the Indo Siren, crew making their final preparations, and nature giving us the first glimpse of what she has planned for our 10-night diving adventure.

Our first site was Two Tree Island, which lies near the larger island of Sagof.  Appropriately for a “check dive,” the conditions were mild – very slight current, great viz, and warm enough to dive comfortably with only a bathing suit and rashguard.   It was also the perfect location to whet our appetites or Raja Ampat diving.  Healthy coral, tremendous variety of fish (including napoleons, bumphead parrot fish, schools of fusiliers), several types of nudibranchs (incl. glossodoris, notodoris and chromodoris), and lots of smiles when we got to the surface. Our second Sagof-area dive was Baby Rock, where our guests got their first peek at one of Raja Ampat’s most sought after photographic subjects, the bargibanti pygmy seahorse.  Dive guide Erol also found a couple of Misool pygmy seahorses to add to the hippocampian delights. Huge schools of silversides engulfed our divers at Wagmab Wall, forming ribbons, clouds and other shifting shapes with their collective selves.  The silversides themselves are fantastic sight but also a good predictor that we would soon be visited by the larger creatures that feed upon them.  Sure enough, at the 10 minute mark of our dive, a pandaemondium of devil rays swooped in to enjoy a silversided snack.  A wonderful end to a great day.  And we were just getting started.

fla nudibranchs

The Indo Siren made her way to Wayil, still in the Misool area, for our second day of diving.  At Dunia Kecil, we enjoyed fabulous underwater topography with overhangs that provide shelter to yellow ribbon sweetlips and other more cautious species.  On the reef top, we spotted a couple of hawksbill turtles and a reef octopus as well.  Other highlights included a mantis shrimp, orangutan crab, Denise pygmy seahorse and the big clouds of silversides that seem to spoil us everywhere we go. We wrapped up the day with two dives at Barracuda Rock.  In the afternoon, the site, true to its name, provided plenty of yellow fin barracuda as well as schooling fusiliers, jacks, snappers, and a few black tip reef sharks.  At night, the whole reef was covered with spider crabs and other creepy crawlies.  The star of the reef this night, however, was the Raja Ampat walking shark (a local twist on the epaulette shark). Back on the Indo Siren Liveaboard, spirits were running high as our guests started to realize that the diving in Raja Ampat would, in fact, live up to their incredibly high expectations.

yellow ribbonSweetlip 700

Our next day of diving began at Kaleidoscope Ridge near the island of Pelle, the western most point of our Misool itinerary.  Guides Katy, Inal and Erol did a miraculous job of critter spotting.  Misool and Denise pygmy seahorses, various nudies, and peacock anemone shrimp were among the macro highlights, while a wobbegong shark and dogtooth tuna were the rewards for divers who focused their cameras – and their attention – on bigger stuff.  Four Kings was next for the second dive of the day.    The marine life on the pinnacles themselves is worth a visit (lots of dragonets here, for some reason), but the current that rushes between the pinnacles also guarantees that you’ll see schooling snappers, yellow fin barracuda, jacks, etc.  The cherry on top of the scuba sundae is a gorgeous patch of coral on the shallowest pinnacle that lies at the perfect depth for a safety stop.  You couldn’t design a better dive site. The third dive of the day, Gorgonian Passage, is often a high adrenaline ride along the wall that descends from the island of Wayil Batan.  As the name of the site would suggest, there are sea fans everywhere, some several meters across.  With so many fans to search through, we hit the trifecta of pygmy seahorses, with Denise, Misool and Bargibanti all present and accounted for.  We also hit the mother lode of nudibranchs: jorunna funebris, nembrotha chamberlaini, flabellina, etc.  Great dive. A night dive at Potato reef was a crab lover’s dream: spider, soft coral, crinoid and decorator.

pygmy seahorses

At Magic Mountain (local name Karang Bayangan), we saw about 5 or 6 mantas on each dive.  But even without the mantas, this dive site would stand out for the technicolor mayhem at the top of the reef. Simply world class diving.  For our afternoon dive, we visited what is perhaps the most photographed spot in all of Raja Ampat, the “windows” at Boo Rocks.  But the spectacular coral coverage and fish life of the ridge that extends to the east of the island are just as noteworthy.  While our night divers visited Yellit Besar, the rest of our guests hopped aboard one of our RIBs for a lagoon tour and a beach visit.

fish in raja ampat

An early morning dive at Boo West brought out the usual suspects – pygmy seahorses, schools of fusiliers, giant trevallies – plus one creature we were seeing for the first time on this cruise, the grey reef shark.  We then spent two dives near the island of Fiabacet, at the sites Nudi Rock and Whale Rock.  As has been the case on most dives during this cruise, the current was manageable and the visibility good to superb.  Mushroom coral pipe fish, pygmy seahorses, orangutan crabs, mantis shrimp, grey reef sharks, etc.  All credit to our dive guides for helping to turn our guests into Raja Ampat fans.  For the night dive at Romeo, the highlights were walking shark and crocodile fish.

pygmy seahorses2

At Yellit Kecil, we spotted a beautiful eagle ray as it glided beneath our divers.  Later, at Living Color, we had a macro bonanza that included nembrotha cristata and whip coral shrimp.  For our last dive in the south, we visited one of the most celebrated sites in the area…Andiamo.  The site consists of a large underwater pinnacle that is connected by a ridge to a larger island.  Both the pinnacle and the island are gorgeous and worthy of a full dive on their own.  On this dive, we stayed on the pinnacle where schooling snappers weaved ribbons above the lush soft corals.  A bit deeper, we found a bargibanti pygmy seahorse, a juvenile ribbon eel and two stunning yellow leaf scorpion fish.  A great finale to our diving in southern Raja Ampat. Instead of a night dive, we spent the early evening hours with a mini-hike to the lookout point over Bintang (Star) Lagoon.  323 steps in all, and one of the most photogenic views in Raja Ampat.

bintang

At Melissa’s Garden, we ride the current while sharks, napoleons and schooling fish passed to the left and right.  And on top, there were plenty of bommies to duck behind for some needed shelter.  Great color, great fish life, great dive. Our next two dives near Painemo were Rainbow Wall and Ruva’s Island, and while I could list all of the things we saw, I will instead name only two, then drop the microphone: Halimeda ghost pipefish…blue ringed octopus.

halimeda ghost pipefish

Our last full day of diving was action packed. Perhaps no dive on our itinerary offers the sheer volume of soft coral as our first site, Citrus Ridge. But it was our second daytime dive at Manta Sandy that really produced some special memories. Not only did we see two melanistic reef mantas, but we were also treated to a mindblowing display of color changes by a pair of cuttlefish. Nothing could quite compare, however, to the night dive at Arborek Jetty. Here’s a partial list of the creatures we encountered: reef octopus, bobtail squid, pygmy squid, pygmy cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, crocodile flathead, map pufferfish, toadfish, devil scorpionfish, tiger shrimp. Just a ridiculous wealth of underwater life. It was all we could do to drag our divers out of the water.

beautiful hard coral reefs55

While we enjoyed a light breakfast bathed in the rosy light of dawn, CD Katy delivered a thorough briefing for our first dive at Blue Magic. And magical it was. Big schools of steel pompano swirled above the seamount while wobegongs dozed under huge coral bommies. As we began our ascent, one wobby bid us farewell by taking a swim around the reeftop, sending our videographers into a frenzy. Fantastic stuff! Our final dive at Cape Kri was just as brilliant. Big schools of snappers, yellow fin barracudas, shadowfin soldierfish, passing wahoos, tunas and, to top it all off, a handful of black tip reef sharks.

wobbegong high res

All told, it was a fantastic cruise.  We had great guests, great diving, and great luck with the conditions and the rich variety of creatures we encountered.  I certainly hope that we made new fans for the Siren Fleet and for this wonderful area in which we are very fortunate to call our home for one half of every year.

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