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Scuba diving the Forgotten Islands to Triton Bay aboard Damai I
May 13-24, 2017 Trip Report

Escorted by: Cindi LaRaia

Triton Bay underwater Photo by Quentin Bennett

May 13-24 2017
Forgotten Islands to Triton Bay,,,,, Or NOT!
Damai I

So happy to get back on Damai I, love the boat and the crew. The plan is to dive from Saumlaki in the Forgotten Islands to Triton Bay, Papua.

However life happens at sea, as I have told guests over the many years selling dive travel, boats break. Sadly for us, this boat broke. An important part of the engine something like a piston, broke, stuck and we were adrift at sea.

Six days into our trip on the way to Mamon, Papua the engine stopped working. We drifted all night, 7 miles north. As these things sometimes happen, this area is probably about the worst place we could have broken down. Very remote and not close to anywhere.

In the morning they used both tenders to push like a tug boat and pull us to the nearest island. It took most of the day. Tior would be our home for the next 5 days. We got permission from the chief of the island to dive here.

I will start back to the beginning of the trip before our shipwreck. This trip already started a day late due to high winds and big seas from the previous trip. They had to reroute guests and itinerary, they were late to arrive.

The lovely cruise directors Susi and Thomas Erebe booked us rooms at the nicest hotel in Saumlaki! Now that is funny. Luckily the boat arrived in the afternoon, replenished supplies, and we were able to board that evening to sleep on the boat. We did not get underway until later that next day waiting for 2 guests to arrive. We managed a checkout dive that afternoon.

Day three we dived Barasadi, some beautiful hard coral submerged reefs. We had little to no current this entire trip, arriving just after the full moon. Without current there is little action with the schools of fish.

Coral at Manuk IslandWe did have the lovely schools of fusiliers, all different species as well as several species of trigger fish parading the reefs. In the blue some very large dog tooth tunas, coming close to check us out. Wahoo schools of jacks and barracuda to round out the fish in the blue.

We also had the beautiful juvenile bat fish trimmed in orange. Yanto always finding the smallest creatures to inhabit the reef! Next time I will bring magnifiers so we can actually see these microscopic hairy shrimp, nudies, and my favorite skeleton shrimp!!

Concerned about the continuing wind, we were lucky enough to make it to Nils Desparadum, a submerged reef system in the north of the Forgotten Islands! We had remarkable visibility here, a stunning reef system!

The reef gradually slopes down with perfect hard coral gardens. Copious amounts of fusiliers in various sizes and species! Giant size barrel sponges, curious large dogtooth tuna. The reef lush and beautiful, very large spotted and green morays, some sharing one hole! Octopus trying to mate on our deco stop, waiting patiently for the photographers to have their way first!

Rainbow runners zooming by as we are amused with all the action as we decompress! In the right season this is a place to see Hammerhead sharks. 3 of our guests saw one hammerhead plus a gray reef shark.

Manuk Island- Gunung api home of the sea snakes! Coconut point offered us extraordinary vis! Susi and I went out deep into the blue calling in the big schools of fusiliers, surgeon fish, rainbow runners and trevally jacks. Vis so clear you could see all the stunning formations of the hard coral and reef system. The shallower water on the reef offers a fair amount of sea snakes, the bigger green patterned snakes. We did not see any of the red and white banded snakes.

Ultima Frontiera at Palau BuiOur next dive here around the corner was also exceptional, out in the blue scraping our tanks to attract the schools of fish. Giant Trevally came by as well as the usual huge schools of fusiliers and surgeon fish, four big doggies kept coming close. I see and hear Susi banging her tank we had a big manta swimming right below us! So much fun!! Back into the shallows to play with sea snakes, a wonderful day at Manuk!

On the surface the island is mountainous and green with loads of frigate birds, fun to watch them come close to the boat as the crew throws out scrap food.

Next stop Bui Atoll. We have lost our good vis, boo hoo. Lots of big fish here but not able to see all of them. Sure wish we had some current to ball up all these schools of fish! We have seen several large morays out of their holes, the large spotted morays and green morays just hanging out!

Ultima Frontiera dive site has very lovely hard and soft corals, a small school of barracuda. Wish we had some current!

The reef off Bui island is covered with the world’s largest fishing net we have ever seen. Over the years it has made a home for coral and fish to live in. I have never seen such a net go on for the entire dive! Jerry showed me a barrel sponge has somehow grown through and around parts of this net with strings through the middle resembling a guitar, funny!

Otherwise a very healthy reef, a very fishy site with a small hawksbill turtle, nudis and fun small critters. A very fun dive!

The night of May 19 we started to head to Mamon, Papua. This is when the engine broke, none of us knew this until the next morning when we had hoped to waken to start our Triton Bay part of the trip! I had not been back for five years, looking really forward to it! They tried everything. Took all night to get the piece that broke out. Then the saga to try to get the part needed with the head engineer from Surabaya to the boat. Mama mia, we are not in Kansas any longer Dorothy!

We arrived Tior safely with both tenders as tug boats. This was our home for the next 5 days for diving. The dive masters worked hard to find us different places to dive. After getting permission from the local chief, actually he was the Raja, we dived all over Tior.

Triton Bay underwater Photo by Quentin BennettTriton Bay underwater Photo by Quentin Bennett

We had a variety of some good dives and some OK dives. For the most part they were pretty good. The hard coral was lovely and in good shape. These villages did not over fish or hurt the reefs. We found blue ribbon eels (the juvenile black ones with yellow stripe); different varieties of lion fish, nudi’s. Some of the bommies had an array of glassy sweepers, I love them! As well as small schools of baby catfish, they mesmerize us with their dancelike movements.

Every morning we had a very large pod of dolphins feeding, they would circle and feed, jump and play, we could also hear them underwater at times. One of the sites we dived at the end of the ridge was outstanding. This was our first morning dive, we had 2 large Giant Trevally right beside us, an eagle ray in the blue, large schools of fusiliers, blue trigger fish, surgeon fish. Near the shallows a percula clown fish wrapped in a neon raspberry cape, stunning! A cute pygmy sea horse and to end the dive a playful cuttlefish!

We dived all over different places, tried muck diving with some success. Went to a nearby island named Yuron Damai has dived before. A very beautiful coral reef, but again no current to ball up all the fish for some real action.

Our last day of diving on Tior would offer us the jackpot! Gusti did a great job of scoping it out before hand, it was a winner! Finally Yanto the great teeny tiny critter spotter was back on his game. Found us a minute hairy shrimp and my favorite even teeny tinier skeleton shrimp on hydroids! How does he find these things? They are wild as can be, no larger than 1/16 to maybe 1/8 of an inch long! Quentin got pictures for me and when we make them larger, wala they are amazing perfect little skeleton like creatures! Just amazing to me! Teeny nudies and a gorgeous juvenile electric clam! The same resident 5 bumphead parrot fish patrolling the reef, lovely schools of fusiliers, surgeons and a large school of pyramid butterfly fish.

The second dive they found more crazy stuff, a crazy large decorator crab that hides under dead looking black coral, it was just sort of lying there, Gusti lifted it up to find the wildest crab I have ever seen! Quite large with bits of smutz all over long lanky legs that bend all over the place, remarkable really! The photographers left I watched him, change posture and became more relaxed, he sat on his haunches, put out his arms to reveal purple long bits. I love this stuff!

Again a very fishy dive, in the shallows were four different varieties of clownfish and anemones! With yet another cuttlefish that displayed his colors and did not run away!

We came up from the dive very happy. Then we noticed the large dolphin pod was not too far away from us! We approached them, shut the motors, fins and masks on (of course my snorkel safely on the big boat), we got in to swim as we were very close now. Takes some work to swim fast head in water and no snorkel! After more swimming they turned to us and we all got to see them swim under as we are squealing with excitement trying to breath and find them!! Rita look down!!! OMG there were hundreds and we only saw a very small part of this huge pod! They were doing the clicking and squealing sounds. They were so unique, they had rounded heads that were a bit lighter color it seemed.

Some turned to look at us, I love this!! It was pure magic and made us scream with joy! Even Gusti who has been a Dive Master for years was excited, eyes and smile so big and laughing!

Not much can make you this excited in the sea than to have these sorts of interactions with dolphins and whales!

We had a glorious last dive at our new home on the reef at Tior Island!

Triton Bay underwater Photo by Quentin Bennett

Even though our dive trip did not go according to plan, it could have been much worse. We were lucky to be shipwrecked in safe anchorage, lovely fish reefs and dolphins! We are sad to have missed Triton Bay however I am working on a plan to head back in May of 2019 with Damai I, we will go from Raja Ampat to Triton! If at first you don’t succeed, try try again ;--)

The engineer finally arrived with the needed parts, they worked some 14hrs nonstop to put the engine back together. We made the long steam to Kaimana past Triton Bay to catch our flights back, just in the nick of time no less!

Alberto one of the owners of Damai, greeted us for breakfast before we left for the airport. He kindly offered everyone a full refund which was wonderful and certainly helps to take the pain away. It was not the trip we hoped for, however we still had some enjoyable diving, the crew worked their magic as usual they are superb, Susi and Thomas our valiant cruise directors were outstanding in how they handled the situation.

We shared 11 days with our friends, had quality time together and made some new friends!

Thank you Damai for doing the best you could for us, as they say, shit happens, boats break. We made the best of it!

We will be back!

Cheers to all,

Cindi LaRaia