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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

A Life On The Ocean Waves

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 2 December 2006.

Indonesia, Country 24, Diary entry 22nd-28th Sept 2006, Total distance in Indonesia: 8396KM

Disappointed at having to leave our Mimpi resort luxury in what seemed like a flash, we were back on the road and pressing east towards Sanur when we noticed the orange ‘Overdrive’ light flashing rhythmically on the dashboard. Hmmm what could that be, but more importantly, will it delay us getting to the boat on time..?? A quick visual check underneath and around the engine followed by the obligatory ATF fluid level check, all seemed fine, so following an age old computing technique, we turned Tinfish off then on again… hey presto – no more flashing light!

The local kids race over to see us

As with all of our appointments, getting to the boat for 2pm wasn’t as straight forward as you’d have imagined. Stealing the opportunity of a set place and date we’d arranged with Jonathan of Blue Season Bali, who we’d been talking to for awhile about diving in Bali, to abuse his address as a Poste Restante. If all things had gone to plan, we should have a bunch of parcels waiting for us at his office, the most important being a stack of new slide film ready for our liveaboard trip. On arrival at Sanur, we soon drove past the offices of Kararu, our rendezvous for the shuttle bus to the boat, but couldn’t find Blue Season Bali, so as I slowly cruised the streets, Maz called Jonathan and arranged to meet him at an obvious point.

They are soon onboard - everywhere!

Sanur is only one main street, which we’d already reached the end of and as we were turning around, a girl on a moped beeped and waved at us. It was Siska, from Kararu, who’d seen us drive past and jumped onto her moped to catch us thinking we’d missed the shop. I told her that we were stopping for a quick bite of lunch first, but had spotted the shop and would be back straight after. No sooner had Siska scootered off, then another car pulled up and a chap and his wife got out to say hi, we’d found it okay. Assuming this could only be Jonathan, we exchange greetings then jumped back into cars to follow him to the shop. I was mildly surprised when we stopped outside the Kararu offices, then doubly confused when the mobile rang again and it was Jonathan asking where we’d got to…!?!?! The chap we’d followed had to dash off and they’d see us again at the boat…. Slowly the penny dropped… this was Sascha and Lisa, the owners of Kararu… aha..!

We might be remote, but it's still busy

As they dashed off doing a million last minute things in preparation for the voyage, another chap on his Ducati motorbike pulled up outside… ah this must be Jonathan.. greetings! As Maz and I laughed at the mix up, the comedy timing couldn’t have been better, we settled into the important business of lunch at a little place Jonathan new, his treat. We chatted about our adventures to date as our eyes scanned the menu and stood out on storks… salads – yum yum, when was the last time we’d had a plain simple salad. One Chicken Caesar and one Nicoise salad and make it quick. Both salads were divine and Maz’s tuna fillet was grilled to perfection, with just a little red meat in the centre. Definitely one thumbs up for coming back down onto the well trodden tourist path. Our bowls of lunchtime Mee Goring Telor (noodles with a fired egg on top) rustled up on the tailgate of Tinfish, seemed worlds away.

A local spear fisherman

Our parcels had indeed arrived (including some replacement ipod speakers sent over by Max – ta mate) and they we’re being dropped off at Kararu’s offices as we ate. We said farewell to Jonathan, thanked him for lunch and looked forward to diving with him when we were next back in Bali. For the last time that day we went back to the Kararu office. With time ticking, we did our best to utilise every spare minute and whilst Maz checked emails and put up the latest web diary, I unloaded the car of all our dive kit and organised getting Tinfish taken round to Sascha’s, where it’d be safer left unattended than on the side of the road outside the office. It’s not often we give our baby’s keys away to be looked after, but I knew Sascha and Lisa would look after it well. We’d been told to board the boat and relax, leaving the road far behind and we had every intension of doing so, for the next 14 nights we were cruising the Banda Sea.

Our stateroom

We boarded Voyager (a familiar name in dive boats) and were both greeted by one of the crew in his white uniform with a glass of chilled fruit juice (Voyager, Littlehampton take note..!) then shown to our cabin, or should I say suite. Good grief, speechless would aptly describe it! I’ve been in far worse luxury hotels! They even had the bathrobe and slippers, a full turn down service with choccies on the pillow and a welcome bottle of red wine, another of our often longed for, but unattainable luxuries. And there on the desk.. a computer, some serious diary writing would be called for in between dives. The ship was huge and warranted a thorough exploration.

Maz catches up on some work

Starting from the top was the bridge and open air lounge/dinning area with fridge stacked full with soft drinks and beers. A deck below, were the cabins, accommodating 18 guests (there were something like 22 staff onboard to look after our needs both above and below the water..!!). The main deck was the dive deck, with a row of seats back to back which safely secured your dive equipment all rigged up and ready to go… you just struggled elegantly into your wetsuit, sat down after remembering to don weight belt (guess how many times that was forgotten) and slipped your arms into the straps of your stab jacket (the floaty bit that your tank attaches to) before leaping to your feet and waddling over to the tender boats which ferry you off to the dive site…. The perfect means of diving. You all know how obsessed by diving we both are, well take my word for it, the crème de la crème of any diving is always the liveaboard for sheer simplicity… sleep, eat, dive, eat, snooze, dive, eat, relax, dive, eat, dive, drink beer, sleep... repeat until disembark..!

The bridge Ample space on the dive deck

Forward of the dive deck was the camera station and boy was I the new kid on the block. There were something like 4 pros on board all hoping to get those shots and they had some impressive setups, but most incredible, or should I say awe inspiring, winning hands down, was Clay’s setup. He’d obviously seen Star Wars, got spaceship envy and decided to make one of his own and cart around this most ungainly huge monster of a camera, which when sat atop its tripod looked like some kind of lunar landing module! I kid you not when I say this thing must have been near 3 foot long! It was in fact a High Definition video camera of industry quality and wouldn’t have been out of place in any film studio. He’d then had the camera specially housed to allow him to take it beneath the waves and capture the underwater realm in exceptionally high quality. When it came to diving with the thing however, I take my hat off to Clay for his perseverance!

Clay's spaceship! Clay colour balancing Maz

As if that wasn’t enough deck space on a dive boat, below the main deck was the saloon, again with a well stocked fridge, TV & DVD area, a projector for the photographers to show off their best shots and a massage area where the onboard masseuse could ease away your worries, or relating to my previous massage experiences legally get away with GBH! Most importantly however, the saloon contained the espresso machine and an endless supply of Oreo cookies and Pringles that Max (one of the other guests onboard) soon routed out! We’d need a fortnight just to make the most of all the various places to go and hang out!

The Saloon Richard Fish Hugger & Maz

Sascha and Lisa were busy with last minute rushings about, but we managed to catch them for a few minutes to say thanks for their help and confirmed that we’d be able to merrily relax onboard for the next two weeks. Sascha was actually flying out to Labuan Bajo, Flores to join us in a few days time, so we’d have more time to catch up then. He did however joke that he thought we might have been able to crane Tinfish aboard and stow her on the dive deck then drop us off further along our route… the thing was there would have been ample space had we tried!

Tender boats waiting to pick up divers A local boat passes through

So we cast off and chugged out of Bali on our two week epic voyage, taking us east past the north of Lombok, carrying on across the top of Sumbawa, visiting Komodo and Rinca before cruising along the top of Flores until we reached Alor. From there we’d be turning left and heading north to Gunung Api (Snake Island) before briefly stopping off at Banda then on to our final destination Ambon. Quite a voyage and with many miles and exciting diving to be done in between.

A fishing village using fish traps

It makes me recall a conversation with an Indonesian friend we made in Makassar, Sulawesi who helped us arrange the ferry to Surabaya, Java. He also helped us book our required flight from Ambon back to Bali, but was having great difficultly understanding how we got to Ambon in the first place having only just organised a ferry to Java and why we only wanted one way? Once again we explained we were taking a boat from Bali to Ambon and that we’d be onboard for two weeks before getting off at Ambon and flying back to Bali. You could see him struggling with the concept. With our displeasure at having to spend 35 hours sailing to Surabaya, we then voluntarily boarded a boat to spend 2 weeks sailing all the way to Ambon before jumping on a plane, which changed at Makassar incidentally, and ending up back where we started in Bali! Incredibly to him we called it a holiday..?!?!? The whole concept was completely lost on him!

Most important cabin on the boat.. The galley

With such a distance to travel, the first few days would be just steaming to make up some distance, so that evening we got down to the important task of meeting the other guests, enjoying the evening meal which was splendid (as were all subsequent feeds, A++ to the chef, Yudi) and enjoying a sundowner to the first of many a spectacular sunset. Onboard was a mixed group, all highly experienced in enjoying the dive leisure industry and the names banded around the table of places previously visited sounded like the ‘worlds top dive destinations’ guide book being recited. The group was pretty much split 50/50 between Americans and Europeans (the Brits making up the majority, with a couple from Holland the balance) and the ‘Cruise Directors’, Kerri and Herg a couple from America. All seemed pleasant enough, one thing was certain we were sure to see a lot of each other as the trip progressed!

The sun sets over Bali

With a day off cruising, we buried ourselves in our cabin making good use of the computers and did some catch up on diary writing, only popping our heads out at meal times when the steward walked around decks ringing his little bell. The others were biting at the bit to get in the water, but for us this was luxury. The evening brief informed everyone that their wish to get wet would soon be answered as we would be diving early the next morning… just listen out for the BIG bell! As with all dive boats, dives always start at too early O’clock, but this meant a spectacular arrangement with breakfast on this boat. As we dragged ourselves out of bed, fresh coffee, pain au chocolates and croissants were laid out for us to graze before the morning dive and we could then put our order in for second breakfast!!! This would be served right after the dive and was a choice of full cooked breakfast, eggs toast, etc etc or even some local delights. It was worth getting up for that alone.

Tender boats get craned into the water

What was all this muck about then…? Before hitting Indonesia we’d yet to experience the delights of muck diving, now it appeared we couldn’t get enough of the stuff! With all the photographers onboard and the majority of the guest in favour of muck, we were being served up muck in ample servings! There is something intriguing about rummaging about on the bottom looking for the weird and wonderful fish that apparently still call themselves fish, but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. Ideal for me with my antiquated camera setup that requires a metal ‘framer’ sticking out in front of the lens to get the subject in focus, these muck critters don’t move too much, preferring instead to adequately resemble the muck that they hide amongst. Hence I believe my repertoire of ghost pipe fish, ornate or otherwise, has been fairly well perfected!

Enjoying some of the first class cuisine Relaxing after a hard feast

You do need a good pair of eyes and a lot of patience to track the subjects down… aka a dive guide who knows what he’s looking for, but once you’ve lost him as you try to frame that pesky ghost pipe fish, you’re pretty much on you own and for me that means building on my collection of starfish and anemone photos! It does help when you’re diving over the black volcanic sand however, apparently it makes the critters easier to spot, but for me I can just float along thinking ‘Wow black sand, how cool’ then sneak up on my next starfish subject. We did however tag a reef onto the side of one bit of muck, which was unique in itself as a constant stream of bubbles escaped from the submerged volcanic vents which dotted the reef, we were diving the slopes of a perfectly conical volcanic island! With excellent visibility, near perfect coral formation and an abundance of colour reef fish, the added bubbles were exactly like swimming through an aquarium, complete with bubbling divers, but no sunken galleon or opening treasure chest, alas.

Happy Birthday to you

It just so happened that within a few days of being at sea a certain person was turning 21 + a bit again! It was quite weird to think that this was Maz’s second birthday since we’d been on the road… my, we have been gone a looong time. As you all know Maz loves a party and surprises she gets giddy over!! Sneakily I’d let Kararu’s know that there was a big day immanent and Yudi had rustled up a superb strawberry sponge cake down in the galley. We all sang happy birthday and toasted in another year for Maz as she blew out her candles delighted at the surprise. Not a bad way to spend your birthday really.

Up early to find dragons Bay of Rinca

As we were passing Komodo and Rinca, it would be rude not to pop in and say hi to the infamous dragons, so having placed our orders for second breakfast half the group who could tear themselves away from the muck made wake for the Komodo National Park, on Rinca? The surroundings are picture perfect with a beautiful deep blue sea lapping against the rocky outcrop of Rinca, who’s fauna and flora are starkly different from Bali as we had now once more on this expedition crossed the imaginary Wallace line which runs between Bali from Lombok. Waiting to welcome us to their island, a big dragon sat lazily by the landing jetty lolling in the sun. A short walk to the rangers station and we saw two more, one a magnificent specimen who stood proudly in the middle of a dried grassy patch. He definitely worked it for the paparazzi as a group of us edged ever closer getting bolder as he stood rock still. All I could recall is that only one tourist had actually been killed by one of these monsters before, but a quick look around the group and I reckoned that I could at least run faster than a couple of them if things turned nasty!

Mr Dragon Smile for the camera

Once at the ranger station, we met our guide who would take us on a quick stroll around the park with the possible promise of more dragons, wild buffalo and who knows what. With two more dragons hanging around the rangers’ station I think we could say we’d seen these chaps, but a walk around would definitely build an appetite for second breakfast. We saw a nesting site for the dragons, a big mound of earth with a few burrows, some decoys, dug into it. No one was home and we ended the walk up on a small hill which gave great panoramic views of the area.

Different life of Rinca The dragon hunters

Back on board the mood was jubilant, we’d battled the mighty dragons and the divers had seen a flamboyant cuttlefish..!!! You would have thought they’d found the ships bell from a long lost shipwreck to listen to them all. With the stakes high we all dived back into the muck to track down this Llewelyn-Bowen of the cuttlefish world. I found a cuttlefish, but it wasn’t flamboyant, although cute nevertheless, then promptly lost the others. Not wanting to overdo the muck on our first few days, I gave up the chase. Fortunately for us Clay had a showing that evening in extreme high definition of Mr F Cuttlefish in all its splendour and I have to admit it was pretty impressive. Richard, about to start his Phd in Marine Biology, but somehow managing to squeeze in these exotic dive trips in between, declared that that was the one specimen he’d come on the trip to see… a little early to peak I thought!

Off for another dive

As we moved further east, we had a pause from muck and turned our attention to some wall diving. This is always an exciting prospect as in addition to the corals, pretty reef fish, huge sponges and large impressive sea fans that adorn the walls, you never know what bigger beasties may swim by and pay you a visit. This is what I love, keeping a watchful eye on the big blue as you drift along the wall taking in the abundant life. We’d nearly always come across a turtle or two, now and again we’d see an occasional sharks meander by, whereas huge dog tooth tuna would storm by with an obvious place to be, however if you waited 5mins they’d inevitable storm pass in the opposite direction keeping one beady eye firmly fixed on you! Sometimes we saw a lone giant barracuda and on one occasion I could just see out in the blue the rest of the shoal and headed out to take photos. Being surrounded by these silver darts hanging in mid water is always awe inspiring.

Just bobbing about

One site we arrived at promising such big critters was a smaller kidney bean shaped island, just off shore from some of the larger volcanic islands. The brief was simple, the tender boats would drop us off in the ‘dent’ of the kidney bean and we’d swim with the wall to our left and follow the current round. As with all dives so far, we’d be diving Nitrox, a gas mixture with a higher percentage of oxygen allowing for longer dive durations before encountering decompression obligations, an overall safer breathing mixture for divers than the normal plain air, which in itself is ‘technically’ a Nitrox 21 (ie 21% O2) The flip side however is that oxygen gets toxic with depth, so each Nitrox ‘mix’ has it’s recommended safe depth, below that the diver could experience convulsions due to the concentrated oxygen level and inevitably drown! We had a standard 32% mix, which would give a safe depth of about 32m.

Another sunset blocks our view!

So in we splash and almost immediately descend into a shoal of swirling Rainbow Runners, with the occasional tuna and barracuda racing through, a real fish soup with some definite action going on. This was more like it. Unfortunately the visibility was pretty poor and the water green with plankton. Nevertheless I edged out into the fish ball and started snapping away with the camera. As was becoming typical, when I turned round to find the rest of them, they’d disappeared into the gloom. Following the brief, I started around the rock with the wall to my left but met a strong current head on. Knowing that Maz rarely swims into a current, I decided to go with the flow and drifted round the rock the other way, pausing to take the occasional photo and stumbling into a gigantic grouper with a mouth easily the size of a basketball. Then suddenly things started to go a bit pear shaped. The current picked up substantially, so much so that you now couldn’t swim against it, nothing too bad in itself, but the best was yet to come!

Help I'm sinking!

Unbeknown to me in the direction I was heading was a sheer cliff wall which I was about to go over. At the moment I was quite shallow, no more than 15m, then unable to prevent myself, I was suddenly sucked down over the side of the cliff with the sheer weight of water coming over the edge pushing me down further. It all happened very quickly, but instinctively I inflated my buoyancy jacket to counteract the sudden depth change… nothing, still going down, the jacket was now full and I was still going down – bugger! At about 30m I dropped below the murky water and was now in the deep inky black of the depths and still caught in this underwater waterfall taking me deeper. Most disconcerting were the bubbles that were following me down, some of which were pinned against my mask. Even looking up and shaking my head didn’t free the trapped bubbles, which apart from disorientating me further meant I could barely see my depth gauge which had now passed 35m and sinking!

Shop gets set up on deck

The next course of action was to fin away from the overflow and get into calmer water. Frantically I kicked away from the wall, but with holding onto the camera whose meter long strobe arms had conveniently wrapped themselves around my neck, the going was difficult. Eventually I saw the depth gauge slow and then stop at 40m. I’ve breathed high levels of oxygen before at depth, but never like a locomotive, so I was wanting out of there fast. Of course physics was close by to lend that helpful hand as my fully inflated buoyancy jacket started to take over and without reacting quickly I would have Polaris up to the surface like a cork, a very bad idea for a diver! It needed fine control as the overflow still had some grip on me and it’s fair to say I was a little shaken by this stage. Nevertheless I managed to ascend in a controlled enough manner and get back into the murky water still breathing like a trooper.

The locals loved climbing onboard

At that stage I decided to turn round and meet the cherry on the cake staring straight at me only a few feet away… an f’ing enormous hammerhead shark..!! Normally we go out of our way to have shark encounters, but right here, right now, up close and personal, no thank you very much! I did managed to get a quick snap before it disappeared into the murk, more out of reflect (or defence) than anything and with my heart pounding a rate it was never designed to sustain I caught a faint glimpse of the bottom racing past just below me. I had no idea where I was, but the first thing I had to do was regain composure, unwrap the strobe arms from around my neck, send up a buoy to mark my position for the surface cover, then get the hell out of there!!! All easier said than done in my heightened state of panic!

I wave goodbye to the island of MC Hammer

As I ascended big fish continued to zap by, out of the gloom and within feet of me a blur of silver fish, so still wary I slowly circled keeping a watchful eye out for MC Hammer. Once on the surface, no boat to be seen… greaaat. Out came the flag to make me more visible and for once in my life I wanted to just get out of the water. After what seemed like an age but was probably nearer a few minutes one of the tenders came and picked me up. As I climbed up the ladder they say my face was white. Take my word for it, I’ve done some pretty mad dives in my time, but I can honestly say that was the most frightened I’ve ever been underwater and the whole experience lasted a mere 15mins! Fortunately Maz had escaped the same ordeal as me, but again had got caught in the current… they couldn’t believe how far she’d got when they picked her up! My escapade was story of the night and the guys couldn’t believe I thought about taking a picture of the shark, unfortunately I don’t think I got his best side, so even if it’s not blurred from camera shake I won’t be able to identify the beastie.

To be continued...

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Comment from Marion
Alex,

I thought it was only the Fall of Lorna up outside Oban that could get you into that much trouble. Glad you survived to tell the tale.Hope you both are keeping well.

Marion x
03 Dec 2006 @ 11:46:52

Comment from Maxine
One of your more "edge of the seat" sharkie dive stories... Divers...mad...surely not!?! I once saw a vicious pike in a flooded brick pit - does that count? Just wondering what the ozzie diving's going to entail...
03 Dec 2006 @ 12:42:51

Comment from scooter
Now fishermen tell tales, where as Alex tells some real porkers ;0) Glad you made it mate.

BTW we'll have to get Paul a new Voyager - that is one heck of a dive boat.
04 Dec 2006 @ 22:20:39