It’s the last Raja Ampat Liveaboard trip of the season and Wicked were going to leave with a bang. The time has flown and soon the Jaya will be making a 3 week expedition back to Komodo but first, we must savor the luscious coral fields and fish masses one more time. For this trip Steve and Pit welcomed guests in Sorong. Guests are as follows: Dutch pals Alexander-bump-his-head-alot and Ronni with the extraordinary wardrobe (or so we hear); UK solo travelers and professional shark spotters Sabrina and Kate; Eve and Gidi who are having a break from their children in Israel; Ruthless worm players Boris and Christine from Germany; Excitable Singaporean Sharon; The couple who are pretty sure they got married in Korea, Zeph and Jennifer (USA and Canada) and Ionannis from Greece and his better half Rochelle from Australia who are both having respite from their life in Bali, the lucky devils.
A ‘super-fast’ ferry ride into the heart of Raja Ampat sees everyone cherishing a karaoke song. Before long and 100 karaoke songs later, they arrive at Waigeo Island and are transported to the Jaya by the ‘scotchie’ or dingy. Becky from the UK awaits their arrival and completes the guest list.
The remaining dive crew Martyn, Ricky and Prue make a second welcome, this time on board their treasured pirate ship. As we meet and greet the Indonesian crew of the Jaya we make preparations for a sunset sail. Ahmed the captain is patiently in control while great smells rise from the kitchen thanks to our cooks Ahmad and Asdar. Suliman our engineer is looking preoccupied with matters of a higher order while Marwan our dinghy driver looks relaxed as always. I suppose with shades that good you always look chilled. Deck masters Rambo and Elias man the vessel as we ease away from Waigeo Island into the final frontier one last time this season.
Between a light meal and a main meal, Martyn pumps us up for the days ahead and we set up our gear for the mornings dive on North-East Batanta Island. We also keep an eye on the vivid strips of red from the setting sun, absolute bliss.
An early start for our guests is softened by the sight of the beautiful Pulau Yum. Wicked know that once you’ve got control of your sea legs it is time to strike the water and find your fin kicks. It is time to go diving! The groups are staggered for a triple drop for this ‘check’ dive, a time for people to get back in the water and get comfortable. The sand in the shallows provides a great chance to find the small stuff such as mantis shrimp, pipefish and nudibranch, then the coral creeps onto our dive-site bringing colour and fishes. One lucky group catches sight of the endemic Epaulette walking shark while others search the sea fans with success for Denise’s and Bagabanti pygmy seahorse.
When diving first began in Raja Ampat, Larry made a promise, that his dive site would always bring spectacular results. Denise pygmy sea horses, schooling barracuda, a green turtle and a Wobbegong shark, a marbled ray and a couple of black-tip reef sharks sneaking around the shallows means only one thing… Larry keeps his promise.
Dayang corner approaches. Let’s drift! Sitting upright, chilling and cruising the current we pass the thousands of small pastel soft corals shaking like jelly in the speedy water. Black tips hunt on the horizon whilst the red tooth triggers dance sporadically amongst the staghorn corals.
Dive 4 was the first night dive for Boris and Christine on Dayang slope, who claim it is not quite as terrifying as it sounds. After scientist Steve’s night dive briefing the gang are about to find that science can predict a dive. Five minutes in and several divers are observing a couple of bobtail squids burying themselves in the sand and most people find the twelve minute prediction of having a fin in your face to be quite accurate. Keeping a keen eye out for the red eyes of night time critters is amusing but turning your light off and having a dance among the bioluminescent is agreeably spectacular by everyone.
The heavens open for this evening drenching of the tropical islands but inside our pirate ship we remain cosy throughout the night.
With everyone still waking up, team Steve prepare for their first ever deep dive while the rest of the gang kit up. Taking a splash at Dayang ridge proves to be the ultimate Raja Ampat wake up call. The crystal clear water and thirty metre visibility suggests that something magical is about to happen. Firstly a black tip reef shark plays in the deep while the slopes themselves crawl with nudibranch of every colour. Cuttlefish, pipefish, free swimming flatworms and clown fish make their appearance and add to the medley of colours glowing from the numerous corals. To top off the magic, the belle of the ocean makes an appearance. Her majestic black wings allow her to glide through the groups in solitude and utmost serenity.
The elements are in our favour. The ocean has silenced itself and we slice through the glassy surface disturbing the mirror reflections of the puffy clouds that linger above. Several flying fish make their getaway but then something bigger takes a leap in the distance. Whatever it was has left a large ripple on the glossy surface. Above, gannets plummet from the sky in a feeding frenzy while several panicking fish and a fin break the ocean’s surface. Is it a shark? No. Is it a dolphin? No. When the hunter throws himself out of the water once more we can see his distinct razor sharp nose… We are watching a sailfish! The dingy is prepped and an excited group of guests hop in as we keep up with the chase. On Martyn’s signal we jump into bottomless blue water. Hundreds of fusiliers approach at speed and seeing us as predators they split. Behind them, the huge shadow of the hunting sailfish approaches, he too slows down to confirm we are no danger before gliding beneath us and out of sight.
Now we are pumped for a dive site Wicked have discovered this very season, a plateau of unspoilt shallow reef which descends to thirty metres known as Karang Bata. Raja Ampat treats us yet again to limitless visibility and ensures that our entire view is crowded with reef life. Soft corals, hard corals and sea fans nudge one another out of the way while the fish pump the whole scene into life.
Fanastic Fam is our next dive destination and is an exploratory dive, never before attempted by Wicked this whole season. The wind has increased tenfold since our crossing to Fam Island which makes the ‘scotchie’ ride feel a little more adventurous. Beneath the ocean surface and away from the pelting rain, the water remains blissfully serene with surprisingly excellent visibility. Table corals stack upon the sloping sandy reef and in and amongst them sit a variety of treats. An octopus, the tail of an epilette walking shark and the usual glorious anthias make this a pleasant drift dive along the palm tree coastline.
The storm continues and after rising from the third dive of the day the chilly team don a jumper to keep warm. Huddled together in the common room we chat or play worms. Sharon is the first addicted worm player but many more are soon to follow. Another delicious dinner follows the game-playing and soon the tiredness creeps over the boat whilst the angry storm whirls around us.
End of part one…..Read on for Part two…..