INDONESIA on the CHENG HO, Kararu
Raja Ampat to Ambon via the Banda Sea November 4-16 2007
Kararu has a new beautiful wooden pinisi live aboard called the Cheng Ho; a large ship with a lot of space to lay in the sun in comfort and shaded areas with sofa's and tables all on the bridge deck. The salon is large and spacious with many different areas for dining inside and when the weather permits dinner is served outside in the fresh air! Heaps of charging stations in the salon as well. They also have a lovely TV room and library that offers even more space in comfort with sofas, a lovely private area.
Cabins on the bridge deck are the very deluxe staterooms, with king beds and large picture windows and computers and TV. The other cabins vary from twin bedded cabins, queen bedded cabins and 4 single cabins, all cabins on the ship are ensuite.
The dive deck is also very comfortable and spacious with plenty of space to suit up and work on cameras. Dive briefings are detailed and complete, with 3 tenders for 20 divers and 4 dive masters diving at all times with guests. Two morning dives, an afternoon dive and night dives are offered (when not steaming at night). Nitrox is very popular and you can get certified while on board.
Cruise directors Kerri and Hergen did all they could to make us happy, they have been with Kararu for 1.5 yrs and run a good ship along with 2 dive masters, Gusti who has many years of experience and Nyoman. Steve Fish is the video extraordinaire who does a fantastic job on capturing all the best to be seen on your individual trip and sells them at a good price at the end of the trip, well worth the cost!
Our dive itinerary took us through the Misool islands, the southern part of Raja Ampat, a beautiful area with lime stone rock islands, caves and outrageous diving! Stunning beauty here everywhere. We spent 5 wonderful days diving here with outstanding reefs covered in giant sea fans chock a block full of bargi banti hippocampus ( 3 different types of pygmy sea horses) on what seemed to be every fan as well and colorful soft corals. Schools of surgeon fish, giant sweet lips of many varieties, barramundi, several varieties of fusiliers, on most dives! Not to mention trevally jacks of all kinds, barracuda, and my favorite dog tooth tuna. Clown fish here have the Ocellaris clown or fake clown, the spine cheek clown & dusky clowns every where. We were surprised by a school of Mobula mantas, always a delight.
We tried a new dive site and a blue ring octopus was found in 15 ft of water! Gusti one of the fabbo dive guides also found a new species of Pygmy sea horse on red fan, a lovely bright red and white variety! Mantis shrimps of several varieties always makes for a fun dive with our Larry Smith; Mantas shrimp tamers ;-)! One of our guests got one of the shrimps to come out of his hole and do an acrobatic flip like Larry taught us to do!
With a good light (Hargenberger's are a great torch sold on the ship) you can find the lovely purple/pink squat lobsters on the colossal barrel sponges as well as all the beautiful colors of the reef and creatures hiding in caves!
Our 3rd night in Misool the crew had a beach party for us with a delicious sunset, open bar and nibblies, nothing like barefoot on a remote beach in the middle of exquisite rock lime stone islands, yummmmmm.As it got dark the crew made fire torches all around for us, like Gilligan's Island!
Misool Fiabacet was a very lovely island with my favorite orangutan crab's on bubble coral and some just sitting on ledges. A dive site here called 'Black Rock ' was what Jonas and I called, 'Like a Dream'! When that feeling of euphoria does not leave, when you never want to come up, you then know that this is why we come all this way and keeps us coming back for more!! A layered canvas of pastel fans, that went on forever. Hundreds of fish of all different varieties. Sweet lips getting cleaned all over the place, beautiful shallows full of life, a living aquarium, like a dream!
On a dive in a channel we found some wild and very large bright yellow nudi's called Nortodoridae minor are quite a site to see.
Leaving Misool we head south now to Koon, to a dive site called 'too many fish', I met my dearly beloved friend Larry Smith here in 1993 when he was cruise director of Cehili. However this day we did not have the much needed currents that pool the thousands of red and black snappers, jacks and dog tooth tuna's together. They were there, but not all together in tight balls as we hoped for.
Now we head further south some 109 nautical miles to Gunung Api, Manoek Island for the sea snakes! We made 3 dives here starting on the north east side of the island. Outstanding hard coral formations, schools of surgeon fish, fusiliers, giant barracuda schools (very big fish) and lots of them. The coral is stunning beyond words, solidly untouched and full of life! We saw about 6 to 8 snakes and some of them doing that dance, we wonder if mating! Several varieties here, banded and Olive and another green banded type that were very large.
When I was last here 2.5 years earlier in March with Larry Smith we had a lot more snakes on every dive, at least 20 to 30 as you jumped in the water! This is interesting to note if the volume of snakes change in different months of the year and more during mating. It was the same story at the other Gunung Api Island further down the sea as Edi from Pindito had a film crew there at the same time and he said the same thing, interesting. However some divers had gotten mobbed by the snakes at the end of the dives later in the day, they had about 20 snakes around their arms and legs and fins and bc's, a little unnerving for them!
I had my personal memorial for Larry on the 2nd dive, which was extremely sad and painful for me. Larry was so excited to take me to see this magic place and show me all his snakes. We had a ball together on our last visit. My dive buddy Kevin endured my racking sobs as I buried a photo of Larry and I and said my farewell to him under a beautiful colossal mushroom hard coral in a magnificent setting.