Liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat
Liveaboard Diving in Raja Ampat
Organising a trip such as this, direct with the Dive Operator, is never an easy task – particularly when your Dive Buddies come from two different continents! Some of us stopped in Lembeh first, others came direct via Hong Kong, Seoul, or Dubai, and we used a variety of Indonesian airlines to get there, it was no small miracle that we all managed to make it to Sorong – and even better, our dive bags made it too!
For most of us on the trip, the Indo Siren was by far the most spacious Liveaboard we had been on – and it was soon clear that the boat had been very well thought out. On the Dive Deck, each tank position was numbered, and each diver had their own drawer in which to keep mask, computer, etc., between dives. This was carried through into the main Saloon, where each diver had a large and a small drawer, numbered with their tank position, for keeping cameras, chargers, etc. I’ve never seen a boat with so many power sockets – and Socket and Voltage converters were readily available.
We left Sorong in late afternoon, and headed for our first Dive Site, “Happy Ending”, off Batanta island. This was our “checkout”dive – a nice easy Black Sand Muck Dive – those of us who had just come from Lembeh felt right at home! Diving is from Rigid Inflatables – we were in three groups of between 4 and 6 divers each. There were plenty of crew to ensure that getting in and out of the RIBs was a safe and easy as possible. Our Dive guides, Cassandra, Eva, and Lisa, were excellent, taking care of the less experienced divers, while allowing the “old hands” the flexibility to do their own thing – we never felt as if we were being shepherded around. When we wanted them to find critters, they found them; when we wanted to be left alone to enjoy the reef, they did that too.
A minor criticism I have of the dive operation is that the stainless steel ladders on the RIBs were difficult to grip with wet hands – but the boat crew were quite happy for divers to remove their BCDs in-water, if they found climbing aboard with a tank too arduous, and I understand that new rope bindings have been ordered, and should be in place for the next trip.
Over the next few dives, we settled into the familiar “sleep, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat@ routine. Following two more dives at Batanta, we set off on a 14-hour overnight trip to Misool – straight into a Rainstorm (well, it was the rainy season).
The dives over the next four days got better and better as the weather improved, and we started running out of superlatives. Favourite sites were Boo Windows (which we gladly did twice) – a dive around the end of an island with three large holes right through the headland, and with Black Tip Reef Sharks, Reef Octopus, Morays, a Wobbegong Shark, Huge Schools of Yellow Snapper, and numerous Nudibranchs, and Magic Mountain – a Sea Mount teeming with Jacks, Fuseliers, and with lots of Juvenile Sharks hiding under corals in the shallows – including the famous Epaulette, or “Walking” shark. On other sites we saw baby Pipefish, Pgymy Seahorse, several Wobbegongs, Schools of Barracuda and Spanish Mackerel, and several types of Nudibranchs I’d never seen before. What was impressive was not so much the marine life itself – most of which we’d seen elsewhere – but the sheer quantity and variety of it!
Food was a mix of Western and Traditional Indonesian. Personally I preferred the Indonesian food, but it was all delicious, and there was always more than enough for 16 hungry divers.
On the fifth day, following a rather taxing dive titled “Caves and Walls”, where we dove through a large swimthrough cavern, in low vis and a strong and unpredictable current, we set off for the North once more – and ran into another rainstorm. After a fairly bumpy crossing, we arrived at Keruo, where we dove Melissa’s Garden. The reef here had far more hard corals than those around Misool, but if anything the Marine life was even more abundant, and our next dive “Mayhem”, off Yangeffo island, lived up to its name. After nearing landing on a Wobbegong as I descended, the dive quickly became a non-stop explosion of motion and colour, as huge schools of Fuseliers, Snapper, Bannerfish, and more, swam around and over the reef. I quickly decided that Still photos weren’t going to do this dive site justice, and switched to Video.
Currents at the Northern sites around the Kri area seemed much more unpredictable than in the South. I have to say that sometimes, the Indonesian boatmen seemed to know where we should be dropped, but were directed elsewhere by the Dive Guides, and were too polite to argue – resulting in a tough swim against the current for the initial part of the dive. That’s my one criticism of the Guides, who were otherwise excellent at keeping us all happy.
Highlight of the trip for me was a site called Blue Magic – this was one of the sites where we had a tough swim at the start, but we were rewarded with a Manta at a cleaning station on the edge of the reef! It seemed completely unconcerned by the divers watching it (clinging on with reef hooks, mainly!), and at one point swam over towards me, and passed about a metre above me. It was absolutely magical, and even better than the dives the previous day on Manta Sandy, where we saw around 7 Mantas being cleaned – but in lower vis., and from a greater distance.
We were expecting great things from our Raja Ampat trip, and we were not disappointed.
Photos by Neil Stead, Pat Noack, Jo Mahy, Eileen Fitzsimmons, Kathi Doster