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Raja Ampat Trip Report - Part 1

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Steppenwolf, Dec 3, 2014.

  1. Steppenwolf

    Steppenwolf Well-Known Member

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    This is a trip report following my recent trip to Raja Ampat, where I did a 11-day liveaboard cruise on the MSY Seahorse, my longest ever trip to date. We did a whopping 37 dives during the cruise and overall it was an excellent trip.
    Getting There: One of the problems with going to Raja Ampat is the remoteness of the archipelago, being located off the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua, the Indonesian part of New Guinea island. From the UK, I used Garuda airlines all the way and despite some misgivings, all flights went well with no significant delays either way. I flew from London Gatwick via Amsterdam to Jakarta and connected via Makassar. In Jakarta I had a 7-hour stop between flights and had booked into a cheap 'n' cheerful hotel within a mile of the airport called POP! Hotel. For £20 I got 2 hours sleep and time to do the sh-sh-sh so as to freshen me up for the next leg. From Jakarta I went to Makassar and connected to Sorong as a domestic passenger with the luggage booked through. On arrival in Sorong at 06:30 hours in the morning, I was met by the Seahorse crew and immediately transferred to the boat where I was able to get several hours of much-needed sleep and thus be fully ready to get orientated by the evening.

    The Boat: MSY Seahorse is a Phinisi, ie a proper 2-masted wooden sailing ship complete with a sloping foredeck. It has a lot more character than the usual fibreglass jobs with reasonably spacious cabins with plenty of storage space. It felt much larger than its 33 metres and was so steady during the long crossing that we did not feel the movement at all. The engines were the quietest that I have ever come across on a liveaboard boat. The Camera Room is large with plenty of table space and electrical outlets, both 110V and 220V. The “dive deck”, a large area where the kit was stored and briefings held was very spacious and convenient to kit-up etc. We only had to suit-up on the boat because the crew carried the BCD-Reg-Tanks ensemble to the tenders, where they kept the fins and helped us to fully suit-up. Of course, we had the choice of suiting-up completely on the boat and walking to the tender, an option that I preferred for night dives.
    There was a spacious sun-deck for those inclined to burn their skins to lounge about. It was also convenient, with the full length couches provided, to sleep outdoors if preferred.
    The Tenders: All diving in Raja Ampat is through dinghies or tenders and here MSY Seahorse scored over almost all the other ‘rival’ boats that we came across. Instead of using the cramped and awkward zodiacs, we had two long speedboats complete with pits for the tanks and loads of room. They were not quite the Dhonis of Maldives but close; we had to backflip into the water. Getting back using one of the two proper ladders fully kitted was easy.
    The Crew: Another major scoring point was the excellent Indonesian crew (well, one was a Spanish Instructor). The boat operating crew were friendly and efficient, always keeping the decks clean and uncluttered. They also helped to carry the kit to the tenders and to help in any other way requested. There were 5 Divemasters – 4 Indonesians and a Spaniard who was actually an instructor. The senior divemaster usually stayed on board while the other 4 dived, 2 per tender. Since we were 11 guest divers, we were in 2 groups of 5 and 6 respectively with 2 divemasters per group.They knew the sites well and pointed out nudibranchs and other macro stuff on request.
    On a more personal note, the crew collectively made my own trip memorable for a completely different reason, which I will outline further down the report.
    The Itinerary: Originally this was supposed to be a combined North-South RA trip but when we arrived local weather reports indicated some rough weather around Weigo. Therefore, the DMs decided to make it mostly an all-Sothern trip to Misool, Batanta, Gam and Dampier Strait. We had excellent diving conditions throughout with only spots of rain at night and mostly sunny periods during the day. The visibility was 30 metres plus for 70% of the dives and at least 20m for the rest. As mentioned before, the crossings were extremely smooth and no one needed sea-sickness pills. The water temperature was around 28* to 29*C, fine for a 3mm full suit or even a shorty.
    The Food: Perhaps the only so-so part of the trip but it may well be me. Meals were a la carte and from several cusines and while I do not recall a single bad meal, it was nothing to rave about either. A slight drawback after the excellent fare on Mermaid I during my Komodo trip earlier in the year.
    The Divers: There were 11 of us, 5 Americans, 5 Australians and me as the lone Brit. The 5 Aussies comprised of 4 doctors and a nurse travelling as a ‘team’ and so were grouped together. I joined up with the Americans, who were composed of 4 lawyers and an Egyptian-American businessman. I shared my cabin with the latter and although he was nominally my buddy, I mostly hung out with one of two Indonesian guides during the dives.

    The Diving: As everyone knows, there is world class diving to be had in Raja Ampat and we did get the full monty experience on our cruise. 4 dives a day were scheduled - 3 day dives and a night dive - just the right combo for me.
    Day 1: We started with Misool. The check dive was at Balbulal Kecil, where the viz was around 25m with a lot of current. There was a bit of downcurrent in one spot and I was pushed from 15m to 22m but no major issues. The coral was lush and colourful and we saw trevallis, jacks, clownfish etc. A large school of batfish presided the reef. The second dive was at Two Trees, so called because of 2 trees only on the rocky promontory. The viz was much better and this site had lots of huge gorgonians. We saw several nudibranch and other macro stuff during the dive. By the third dive at Baby Rock, I realised that the 2nd stage of my regulator was leaking, surprising since I had it serviced just before the trip. Among other things, we saw a school of bumphead parrotfish on this dive..…and more macro critters. Fir the night dive we went to Gelu Reef on the east side of Misool and saw lots of crustaceans, a ghost pipefish, a massive barramundi and a decorated crab among other things.
    Day 2: Still in Misool. The morning dive was at Boo Windows with warm water, mild current and great visibility. Apart from the usual reef marine life, we saw 3 turtles, a moray eel and a superb mantis shrimp. This was one of the best dives of the trip. The next dive at Shadow Reef saw my introduction to the unusual wobegong shark that I mistook initially for a large stingray! We saw a couple of those along with other critters. A funny tail which it coils-up while resting is this shark’s distinctive feature. Towards the end of the dive there came a massive manta ray that got so close to me that I had to duck to avoid knocking against it! It was then joined by a smaller black manta and both circled us for a while. For the afternoon dive we went to Barracuda Rock, a mushroom shaped bommie teeming with lush coral and fish. Among the various nudibranch that we saw was a superb Tambja morosa. Others saw a pygmy seahorse but I missed it. We returned to Barracuda Rock for the night dive and this time saw several moray eels, filefish, banded shrimps, a huge puffer and right at the end a large octopus. I was a bit annoyed by the way the other divers tormented the poor octopus and said so afterwards.
    Day 3: Still at Misool. The morning dive was at The 4 Kings Reef, supposedly one of the trip’s signature dives. But the viz was in the 15 to 20m range and there was a strongish current. There were many coral-filled swim-thrus that required a flashlight and this time, despite the somewhat limited visibility, I did see a pygmy seahorse. We remained at The 4 Kings for the second dive, for which the visibility markedly improved while the current had eased off. Thus, we were able to appreciate the gloriously colourful coral and fish life of this reef. I saw and photographed a decorated crab on bubble coral, gave a wide berth to a mean-looking titan triggerfish and mouthed a “YES!” when I spotted a couple of rare Nembrotha yonowae nudibranchs. There was more macro stuff in the afternoon dive at Wedding Cake, a deceptively protected reef with unpredictable currents. I saw a ‘banana nudibranch’, several flatworms, another pygmy seahorse etc. The night dive was at Wayil Wall and turned out to be one of the best night dives that I have done. There was more macro, decorated crabs, octopi, a large turtle, a free-swimming moray eel and a small frogfish that only I saw. At the end of 60 minutes, as with many other dives, it was more my bladder than air consumption that necessitated ending the dive (No, I cannot do it in my wetsuit).

    Cond ..... Part 2
     

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