Gong Xi Fa Cai: The Submersibles on the Indo Siren
Gong Xi Fa Cai: The Submersibles on the Indo Siren
Gong Xi Fa Cai! The Chinese New Year of the Dragon got off to an auspicious start for the Indo Siren with two short but sweet 5-night trips in Northern Raja Ampat with the Singapore-based Submersibles and their friends. The first group arrived after a 12-hour delay raring to get into the water so they were made comfortable and set up on the S/Y Indo Siren in record time. Diving the shores of Batanta turned up many strange and wonderful critters and was a bonanza for all of those ghost-pipefish fans. It also offered up a photo opportunity with our birthday boy, Christian Loader, professional photographer and videographer for Scubazoo, with his new friends helping to wish him a very happy birthday underwater. That evening presented more fantastic photo and video opportunities as the crew of the Indo Siren dressed up in bizarre costumes to sing him happy birthday while presenting his birthday cake. At the end of the 10-night odyssey we also celebrated the birthday of Dian, Indo Siren’s housekeeper and masseuse with another cake, more creative costumes and a humorous pots-and-pans serenade from her boat family. Careful cutting that cake, Dian! Not to be confused with the cruise director’s head!
Naturally the highlights of the trip didn’t only occur in the dining area, some of them actually took place underwater. When we thought it couldn’t get better than majestic mantas swooping over everyone’s heads at our favorite manta cleaning station, Manta Sandy, we were blown away by the friendliness of the mantas feeding and being cleaned above the appropriately named seamount, Blue Magic. These attention-seeking elasmobranchs stole the show from the usual reef sharks seen patrolling the area, but when the yellow-fin barracudas and big-eye jacks were schooling nearly close enough to touch, with the light shimmering off their silver scales, there definitely seemed to be a little confusion as to where to focus.
Another show-stopper that made several appearances for the Submersibles was the weird and wonderful wobbegong shark. “Wobbegong, wobbegong, wobbegong” seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, as very few of our guests had ever laid eyes up the tasseled wobbegong shark before. A bearded mouth peaking out from under a bommie, the curl of its tail, a camoflagued brown speckled body laying inconspicuously on top of Montipora coral to be beheld in all its glory. And even a strange form snaking above the reef with its floppy pectoral fins fanned out as a wobbegong shark slowly glides to a new resting space where he will wait to ambush his next meal. Each encounter was cause for excitement.
Anyone who has been diving in Raja Ampat knows that the diversity of life inhabiting these waters is truly astounding. Photographers choosing between wide angle or macro inevitable have a moment of agony when they encounter something more appropriate for their other lens. Among the wobbegongs, the mantas, the barracudas and batfish, the snappers and sweetlips – to alliterate just a few fish found on these abundant reef systems – lurk many smaller, more diminuative, and at times nearly imperceptible creatures. Gobies galore, nudis, pipefish, “yadda, yadda, yadda,” (a term I’m trying to teach Yadi, Indo Siren’s bartender and host). The most sought-after of these being, of course, the pygmy seahorse. Those damn pygmys! Possibly the cutest creatures that normally only a mother could love.The warty Hippocampus bargibanti, the shaved cat/plucked chicken-resembling Hippocampus denise, the tiny flake of algae known as the Hippocampus pontohi. All there for us to marvel … but was everyone ready? “12 pygmies, but wide angle!!” exclaimed Pao of Koh Lanta-based Anti-Gravity Divers at the end of a dive with Mantas at Blue Magic. The kind of situation where wet lenses come in handy! Especially for Pao since he always seem to have the wrong lens on, despite the detailed dive briefings.
A trip to the mangrove provided the opportunity for the Submersibles to soak in the natrual beauty of the area in-between dives with some kayaking and snorkeling. Singapore’s celebrated professional photographer, Aaron Wong, took the lead on a different kind of photo session, capturing split images of the mangroves above water and their roots below, inspiring others to follow suit. Full of energy our tireless guests jumped into the water to see what juvenile species they would discover hiding in this important ecosystem.
No trip on the Siren fleet would be complete without some sailing so with the beautiful backdrop of Waigeo we hoisted the sails. Heave ho! It was wonderful to see the crew’s excitement to be in the spotlight as they proudly raised the 7 sails for the wind to fill before posing around the boat for photos. Jump! Jump! I mean, DON’T JUMP! And to our surprise as we started sailing we were joined by a pod of dolphins. How amazing is that? And so the Indo Siren and the Submersibles ushered in the Year of the Dragon.
Photos by Aaron Wong,Wanchalerm Pao, Markus Heising, Kassandra Wu