The Adventure continued to the Philippines in 2018.
We had a GREAT TIME -- the food on the Azores is truly gourmet! The best of any boat I have ever been on including cruise ships. The bait ball turned out to just be a shoal of fish and the whale shark endeavor was a bust but we did see thresher sharks and the muck diving was AWSOME!!! I photographed a new creature I have never seen even in books. (Sorry - not posted here yet.)
We stayed ten nights aboard the MV Atlantis Azores followed by four more nights at the Atlantis Dumaguete resort on Negros Island. On this extended trip enjoyed nice small critter muck dives, a shoal of fish (Not a bait ball as advertised) and Thresher sharks!
The boat and the staterooms
The 107-foot Atlantis Azores has seven cabins below decks, (each with a double lower and a single upper bunk) and one suite on the upper deck with a window and desk that has already been reserved. All have air conditioning, en suite wash basin, toilet and shower. Storage space is quite limited, but since your scuba gear is all in your dive locker, and your camera gear can remain above deck, you need only store your bathing suits, toiletries, a few pairs of shorts and some tee shirts. Your travel clothes can be stored in flexible dive bags under the beds.
Diving is made easy
The large dive deck has a three-tier camera table and individual dive gear storage. Diving is primarily done from two zodiacs manned by a wonderfully reliable crew of boatmen who will find you wherever you surface. For me, this is one of the most important features of a live-aboard dive boat. Thus, I can relax, wander around the dive site and find subjects and not worry about getting lost or not being found.
Dining on the Azores
Dining on the Azores is always a good part of the day. No one leaves the table hungry and the chef is ready to adjust to special dietary needs. But your needs have to be honest--if you say that your religion requires you to eat lobster and filet mignon every night, and we find no mention of it on the internet you may be busted. There are drinks and snacks throughout the day, and a serving of wine included with dinner.
For those who actually have free time between diving, eating, sleeping and reviewing your photos, there is a deck on the top with a spa and sun lounges. There are also movies and such for those who need even more to enjoy.
Partial diving itinerary for Cebu
We will start at the southern tip of Cebu to include a snorkel encounter with whale sharks being fed at Oslob. This is not a wild encounter, but it s a guaranteed way to get close to whale sharks--WRONG. We did it on SCUBA but we could not go shallow and did not see any of them up close We should have snorkeled. Instead we got lost in the murky water.
We continue north toward Moalboal for dramatic drop-offs, lots of fish, nudibranchs and a possible sardine run encounter --WRONG again. It was just a shoal of fish NOT a Sardine run!! as advertised.
Further north we explore the Malpascua area and do a deep, morning dive to see the thresher sharks. We work our way back south enjoying the vast variety of opportunities including mantas Wrong again, schooling fish, dramatic drop offs, and amazing reefs of hard corals. While the hard corals are fabulous to see, they are very difficult to get a dramatic photo. I have included several examples from Apo Island in this image link.
The Atlantis Dumaguete Dive Resort
This incredible resort is in the southern Philippines 60 minutes from Manila and 30 minutes from the Dumaguete airport. It faces a long peaceful stretch of beach and is surrounded on land by a lush tropical garden.
Diving is EASY
Land based, you ask? NEVER-- too much lugging gear you think? NOT HERE. It is made easy for you. You do not have to carry your dive gear except your camera (although I get two guys to carry mine). Otherwise, just board the dive boat, let them put your tank on your back and fall in. The gear is delivered back to the rinse bins and it is just a few steps away to put it on your shelf or hang it to dry.
Now pay attention here. The words convenient are used way too loosely. So you decide if this next image rates a "Wow": Here is the dive locker storage area.
There are sixty of these shelves--so you each get one! More importantly, your gear is carried for you to and from the dive boat. All of the ease of a live-aboard only you have a lot bigger cabin and plenty of places to walk! And just a few steps away are the showers and rinse bins for gear!
The facilities are First Class
How about the shower and rinse area--and the water is hot! Is this easy enough?
And check this out --an air-conditioned camera room with 110 and 220 charging shelf above your work area and fluorescent light under it to see your O-rings better. Yes, they even have a paper towel dispenser and there are 21 spaces!! This is the best camera facility I have seen anywhere, ever!
Diving from the hotel
Dive boats take no more than 6 - 8 divers. Most dive sites are within 10 minutes of the hotel, so dive boats can go out at 9, 11, 2 pm, 4 pm and 6pm if you want to do five dives a day. With 16 of us, we can plan for our own three boats and those who wish fewer, longer dives can do so. We arranged our own boats to suit our particular needs for longer dives. Some even took a special longer three-tank trip to Apo Island.
Here is the important part -- Every critter known to divers is found here-- well, almost every kind. No leafy sea dragons, but there are nudibranchs, ghost pipe fish, mantis shrimp, mandarin fish, seahorses, frog fish, mimic octopus--the list is getting too long but you get the idea. Of course, the down side is that visibility is not stunning here on many of the dives, but that is what feeds these critters. Southern Philippines and throughout northern Indonesia has the oldest shallow sea in the world and thus has the most diversity. Add a very friendly, service oriented culture to the mix and you have a great destination.
Go to here where you will find complete descriptions of 33 dive sites and the type of critters from the tiniest frog fish to the largest schools of Big-Eye Trevally .
Rooms are comfortable and close to the dive shop.
1. Maumere to Ambon, 13 nights: Sept 18 - Oct. 1,
2010 Sept. 18th:
We arrive in Maumere after our flight from Bali. The Sea Safari VII will depart for Adonara strait while we organize our dive gear and cameras. (See map below.)
We arrive at the island of Adonara, across a narrow strait from the big island of Flores. Diving here is "muck" diving along reef slopes looking for seahorses, frogfish, crustaceans, ghost pipefish, etc. Can you see the really tiny black frogfish in the yellow circle?
20 and 21:
In the South Alor Region, we will be diving at Beangabang Village, a black sand bay opening to the Indian Ocean at the southern end of Alor. Beangabang is listed as the favorite critter dive of many underwater photojournalists. The ease of diving here (usually done in an open-deck fashion) and the amount of critters makes it everyone's favorite dive for close-ups. We will be looking for frogfish, ghost pipefish, numerous different species of nudibranchs, and of course the possibility exists for Rhinopias! In addition, crustaceans abound on the tall soft coral "trees" that grow in the deeper areas of the slope.
22 - 24th:
The famed Alor Strait runs between the islands of Pantar to the west and Alor to the east. Sitting dramatically in the strait are three small volcanoes that have long been extinct. The largest of these is the verdant island of Pura. This is another centre for traditional weaving and the islanders here are Melanesian in ethnicity with dark skin and tight curly hair. Not only does Pura offer pristine reefs, but each village protects the reef on its shores and practices a sustainable fishing system of traditional fish traps and spear fishing. We will enjoy the opportunity of seeing the spear fishermen carrying out their trade. The men and kids are a delight, diving down to 20 meters on occasion, to tend the traps or shoot a nearby reef fish. They also make willing underwater photo subjects. There are also great opportunities to take split shots of the small outriggers with the spear fishermen hunting below. However, when dusk sets, everyone with a camera changes to a macro set-up and prepares for the mandarin fish dive in the shallows in front of the village.
Gunung Api, literally "Fire Mountain", is a volcano that's summit breaks the sea's surface by 800 feet yet which has its base on the seabed some 13,000 feet below. The island created by the volcano is 120 miles from the next nearest landfall and is therefore home to the reef fish that populate it's steep drop offs and walls, occasional visiting pelagics, and extraordinarily an uncountable population of Banded and Olive sea snakes. These marine reptiles have found a sanctuary here among the warm volcanic vents and reef fish that live in the area. It is truly a unique spot that never ceases to amaze divers. In some shots there are over thirty snakes in the frame and they make inquisitive yet docile subjects.
Maisel: North of Gunung Api is a remote archipelagic atoll named Lucipara. These atolls are also surrounded by a sea floor that is 13,000 feet below. Consisting of three large islands and a few tiny reefs that just break the surface, the islands offer divers vertical walls and visibility of over 120 feet with very mild currents. They are also home to a population of the largest sponges that Kararu divers have ever seen in Indonesia. Some barrel sponges could hold and entire diver (although we won't actually be trying to do that.)
Nusa Laut, just east of Ambon, was made famous from of east Indonesia's famous diving pioneers, Edi Frommenweiler and the late Larry Smith. Larry had said it was his favorite reef in the entire eastern region of this great archipelago. It is truly a spectacular location and a full day's diving will be on offer.
This was a plain looking nudibranch until I noticed his FACE. What fun! Every creature is something new.
28 and 29th:
Ambon holds an important place in both the rich history of Indonesia, and as one of its best diving destinations. The island was conquered by the Portuguese, later the Dutch, and is speckled with the occupying forces' old forts, some of which date back to the late 15th Century. It is now the capital of the southern Malukkus and has a diverse mix of cultures and ethnicity. Ambon was taken off the tourist map by the government for six years after unrest between two ethnic groups led to turmoil in the city. After the unrest subsided, the army was sent to keep the peace and help repair infrastructure. This was a great shame for the Ambonese, a welcoming and hospitable people, that are proud of the history and beauty of their island as well as the fantastic diving found around their shores.
Ambon harbor is a long, deep harbor surrounded on both sides by steep, verdant volcanic slopes. A true sense of history overcomes one; imagining the great seafarers like Magellan, Cook and others sailing down the same bay's mouth. One gets the impression that the area cannot have changed much since the days of these great explorers. The first dive site is under a pier close to the Ambon airport and has the boasting rights of being able to call itself the first great muck site in the world with multiple species of frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, reef cuttlefish, ribbon eels, nudibranchs, juvenile batfish, two species of blue-ring octopus, mandarin fish. This is normally where one can get a glimpse of the rare Ambon scorpion fish. Also on offer is a pristine wreck covered with hard and soft corals, lots of fish and resting upright in relatively shallow water.
One "floater day" is included that can be spent in an area of particular interest, or perhaps to visit the active volcano island "Komba" if it is erupting....
Depart Ambon for your return home, usually via Bali.
Indonesia, Ambon to Sorong,: October 2 - 14, 2010
Guests arrive in Ambon from Bali and board boat. Set up dive gear and camera equipment.
A full day of Ambon Harbor diving the fabulous critter bonanza of Laha, the rocky slope next to the fishing pier. Replete with multiple species of frogfish, flamboyant cuttlefish, reef cuttlefish, ribbon eels, nudibranchs, juvenile batfish, two species of blue-ring octopus, mandarin fish...the list goes on. One day is the minimum amount of time we would spend here.
We make our way along the west coast of Ceram (the large island north of Ambon) stopping at a couple of sites that Kararu has recently discovered. Batu Satu (One Rock) is a large rock connected to the mainland by a shallow reef. On one side, the rock is a reef slope that seems to be a favorite resting spot for turtles--a beautiful shallow coral garden graces the area directly around the rock itself. Further north lies Jacks on Crack, so named for the large school of extremely hyperactive Jacks that speeds around a shallow pinnacle off of Ceram's north coast. Also a nice site for macro, the shallow black sand reef is loaded with neon-red anemones and critter-loaded whip and black corals.
October 5th and 6th:
Blue Water Mangroves of Misool. The island of Malangkari, located off the west coast of Misool (the Southernmost of the four Raja Ampat Islands) is essentially a "Venice" of smaller mangrove islands. Anchoring the boat in one of the deeper channels, we will offer open-deck diving to this unique environment made famous by David Doubilet in his National Geographic article. At high tide one can dive INTO the mangroves, following small "rivers" back into the inner mangrove islands. With crystal clear water and soft corals of every color living on the submerged roots, wide-angle photographers will be in heaven.
October 7th and 8th:
Boo Island, Misool. Located on the eastern side of Misool, these limestone uplift "Rock Islands" provide a dramatic topside backdrop to the most beautiful untouched reefs around. Just below the surface of Boo and it's neighboring Fia Bajet lie soft-coral covered rock formations covered in fish...did we mention soft corals?
On the neighboring island of Fia Bajet, the shallow reef extends down to 15m and out from the island the same distance. It is literally covered with healthy coral...with deeper pinnacles bringing in schools of larger fish, napoleon wrasse, sweet-lips, etc. Macro is of course also an option here as the sea-fans here are home to at least three different species of pygmy sea horse.
One evening, we will also head to the island of Kaliq to watch the sunset from a deserted white sand beach--unforgettable.
Misool Farundi. Located about 15 miles from Boo, this area is the location for our "bat cave and boat tour." This is a- tighter cluster of rock islands than Boo and we will explore the inner lagoons in our tender boats, cruising back into the interior to visit our favorite little bat cave. The diving here is on three sites that range from soft-coral covered walls, to caverns, to a trio of small islands separated by divable dramatic fish-packed channels. Another signature Raja Ampat species that resides here is the wobegong shark which usually makes an appearance.
Jef Fam and Keruo. Located halfway between the northern and southern part of Raja Ampat, the island of Keruo is home to the shallow reefs surrounding the rocks of Melissa's Garden. With huge clams, wobegong sharks, and healthy hard coral gardens, the diving here is well worth a whole day. With an option to visit a local village before our night dive, we can round the day out with a wonderful cultural experience.
Eagle Rock and Waigeo. The northernmost island in the Raja Ampat foursome, Waigeo boasts deep dramatic bays that play host to a wide range of macro critters and also dramatic walls and reefs. Diving outside of Aljuie bay at Eagle Rock, we will hopefully find the resident Mantas feeding and cleaning before heading in to the bay for our afternoon dives. Inside the bay, we will be diving near the Cendana Pearl Farm, which generally puts on a pearling demonstration for us. Diving here ranges from spectacular macro to unique shallow reefs and a fish packed pier.
Moving further south, we will spend our day around the islands of Gam and Yangelo. Conditions permitting we will dive a site known as the passage--a narrow shallow channel separating the islands of Gam and Waigeo. With lush rainforest growing on either shore (sometimes touching over the water) several small "eddys" provide unique wide angle opportunities of the overarching jungle as well as the resident archer-fish. And for the brave at heart, you can pop out into the current for a ride down the shallow channel past beautiful rock formations and seagrass beds. The day usually concludes at the island of Yangelo. Yangelo's reef is situated at the mouth of a channel, with it's shallows rising up to a beautiful hard coral garden. The deeper parts are home to numerous wobegongs and probably the most abundant schooling large fish in Raja Ampat.
The final day of diving will be in Kri Area, just north of Sorong. Home to one of Gerry Allen's record-setting fish count sites, these large reefs can provide close encounters with schools of giant bump-head parrots and very outgoing sweet-lips.
Disembark for our trip home from Sorong.
Indonesia, Komodo Was Terrific
June 18 - July 11, 2008
We were on a great boat, the Cheng Ho.We had lots of great food choices
...and plenty of spacious places to lounge..... and read
...and another room to watch movies!
Diving is done from two 6 m x 2.50 m unsinkable aluminum tenders. You set your gear up once (using air or Nitrox) at the beginning of the trip and the crew of nineteen members takes over from there. You make a simple back roll to enter the water and come back up the ladder wherever you surface. Guests do about 35 dives on an eleven night trip. (There is no diving on the first day as we will be steaming to our first dive site. Boat photos are courtesy of Kararu Voyages.)
The itinerary was reversed, but I still have it here as traveling from Bali to Bima, taking in North Lombok, Sumbawa and Sangean Island on the way to Komodo Island and the pristine Komodo Marine Park. Officially declared a World Heritage Site in 1991, it is one of the largest protected zones on the planet.
We will now be flying to Bima and cruising back to Bali.
The Komodo region - the islands of Rinca, Komodo, Banta and many other smaller isles and pinnacles - offer divers a huge array of possibilities. This area between the Pacific and Indian oceans and the number and variety of islands in the area, combined with currents of nutrient-rich water, wave action and wind exposure result in a a biological paradise of pristine reef, pelagic fishes and an enormous variety of interesting critters and invertebrates.
Here is a sample of some typical days for our journey of nine diving days.
Famed for its Liberty shipwreck, we will enjoy the incredible view of Bali’s Mt. Agung as well as an exceptional array of very tame marine life. Kararu also takes us to the latest hot spots, such as Seraya Secrets.
Moyo National Park
Here we may just witness one of the whale sharks spotted in the area.
Rinca, North West Sumbawa
We will have the whole day to dive all the magnificent sites. Cruising west we will pass the dormant volcanic island of Satonda where, I am told, the twilight skies hold a rare surprise.
Sangeang & Banta
Sangeang Island, a stunning volcanic island, offers some of the region’s best dive sites. We will spend the morning here, then sail towards the peaceful bays of Banta Island with an enormous array of fish life and exotic above-water scenery.
Komodo National Park
We will visit islands such as Tatawa, return to Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawah Darat. Cruising through this spectacular area, both above water and below will prove an unforgettable experience.
We will enjoy another full day’s diving in Rinca’s Horseshoe Bay. Cannibal Rock, one of the Top Five dive sites in the world is located here as well as Larry’s Yellow Wall of Texas. On top of that we can enjoy one of the best muck sites--Torpedo Alley and there are four more stunning dive sites to choose from. We usually have 5 dives available during our stay in this protected bay. Don't miss the night dive!!
South Komodo & Rinca
Our next morning might begin in South Komodo at Tora Longkoi, home to a famous manta cleaning station. With a 99 percent success rate to witness the mantas, we will marvel at these graceful creatures as they circle around and around. During lunch, we steam to Horseshoe Bay, Rinca Island for the rest of the day's diving. Between dives we can explore by foot or binoculars the nearby beach where wild boars, monkeys and the odd Komodo dragon reside.
Early in the morning, we will begin our walk of Komodo Island to see the region's most famous endemic species, the Komodo dragon, a large monitor lizard the size of a crocodile found only in this area. Usually a few hours are spent on shore viewing the dragons and we are back in the water by noon. We will dive at the famous Pink Beach and other exciting dive sites such as Padar in the Komodo Island region as well.
Gili Lawah Laut & Gili Lawah Darat
We begin on the North East corner of the park at Gili Lawah Laut, famous for warm, clear waters, corals and schooling fish, napoleon wrasse, sharks and turtles. A special dinner will be served on board before our final sail home. The crew will wash and organize our dive gear for drying.
The ship will arrive at 6:00 AM to our dock. We will be served breakfast and afterwards prepare for disembarkation. At 9:00 AM, you will be transferred to your next destination.
The photo on the left was taken in the Solomon Islands, but I believe these are also found in the Komodo area. I was intrigued by the pattern of the rind of this gorgonian, but a pygmy seahorse kept sticking his head in the photo.
The Adventure Continued...Thailand,
February 6 - 25, 2003
We visited Thailand above and underwater. I have wanted to go to Thailand for a very long time, and we finally have it on our schedule.
Presently we plan to leave Los Angeles (or NY/JFK) on February 6, 2003 and arrive in Phuket on the evening of Feb. 8. We will have nine days of diving aboard the M/Y Aqua One in the Andaman Sea and Burma's Mergui Archipelago (weather permitting). We disembark Aqua One February 18 and fly to Bangkok and overnight before our next flights. The land tour continues to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand (Hilltribe Country) and Angkor Wat--an incredible ancient city in Cambodia, near the Thailand border. (More information below.)
Cost for the boat portion is $3425.00 for lower deck rooms and $3675.00 for upper deck rooms ($3562.00 and $3822.00 respectively if paid by credit card); air from New York or Los Angeles is $1125.00 plus tax. All air must be booked through Poseidon Ventures in California (1-800-854-9334). Price does not include one overnight in Bangkok when we get off the boat. There will also be a US$150.00 cash payment paid during the trip for the Burma entry fee. The land tour price is $1357.00 for a double room per person or $1772.00 for a single. (*We require a group air booking because flight schedules have been subject to last minute changes. If this happens, we need only notify one agent to take care of everyone. We have booked this trip as a complete package through Poseidon Ventures. Also, if we book as a group we will have more clout should a problem arise.)
The AquaOne is a nice boat, 35 m long and a beam of 6.5 m, specially built for 16 divers in 8 staterooms, each with private head and shower, piped-in music, reading lights, hair dryer, wardrobe and plenty of storage space. The upper deck rooms are slightly smaller and have windows and the below decks rooms are larger, but no windows. On the main deck, there is a smallish lounge/dining salon/entertainment area with large panoramic windows; on the upper deck is an air-conditioned lounge that serves as the photography station and library. There is an open-air barbecue/eating area and an open-air sitting area forward. Of course, there is sunbathing on the very top deck accessible by ladder.
Thailand provides the backdrop for the menu with an emphasis on Thai, oriental and seafood. According to their brochure and from what we have learned from Poseidon, the food is delicious and healthy, with three meals and lots of snacks daily. They presently tout a Cordon Bleu Chef on board.
The dive deck provides spacious gearing up and storage areas. Large twin staircases lead down to the diving platform. Diving is done from the deck when moored, and from one of the two 15-foot support inflatables. There are hot towels after every dive and four showers and a toilet are on the dive deck and dive platform. Nitrox is available for Nitrox certified divers at $8.00 per tank, or $15.00 per day with whole trip package for up to 5 tanks per day.
If you want to try something else, you can take up sea kayaking, kneeboarding, exploring uninhabited islands or rest on a quiet beach.
The staff is certified to carry out first aid treatment and cell and sat phones allow quick contact with the mainland, including the DAN approved decompression facilities in Phuket.
Boat photos courtsey of Art Travers from Poseidon Ventures.
We will dive in the Similan Islands --in the Andaman Sea northwest of Phuket-- and Burma's Mergui Archipelago further north. Average visibility ranges from 50 feet to over 100 feet, the water temperature is a warm 83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and February is right in the middle of the best time of year to dive here.
We will enjoy destinations that may include such great dives as Richelieu Rock and the Similan Islands--a scattering of massive granite boulders almost 50 nautical miles northwest of Phuket. Here it is possible to find everything from small beautiful nudibranchs, rare species of anemones and their anemone fish, frogfish, ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimp, to larger shovelnose rays and potato cod.
The top thirty feet of the pinnacle is a carpet of red, blue and purple soft corals and often, swirling schools of snapper, jacks and barracuda flowing in and out of the canyons between the boulders. Whale sharks and manta rays once common are becoming more rare.
The water off Myanmar (Burma) has long been off-limits for the average tourists, but since 1997, a limited number of permits have been issued and of course, the Aqua One has one. The Mergui Archipelago is made up of hundreds of islands offering a rich variety and even some unique creatures. I can't wait to see dive sites such as Black Rock, Okay Rock (I hope that doesn't mean just okay), High Rock, North Twin and Little Torres. If any of you have been here, let me know which is your favorite.
UPDATE (June 27, 2002)
Some friends just got back and plenty to tell me. On sites closest to Phuket, such as Richelieu Rock, there were sometimes dozens of other dive boats. Many sites are in the open ocean and the weather was too rough for them to get to the Burma Bank. They loved all of the diving that they did. Of course, the weather can affect literally any trip, so I am sure that you are not surprised at the possibility.
They said the water was cool, so bring a wetsuit. They noted that the visibility was up and down, but we already knew that too.