The Seven Seas at Raja Ampat

Newsletter The Seven Seas - December 2010

In this newsletter:

» Lost in Time - Indonesia's Forgotten Islands
» Availability for our upcoming seasons
» New Videos on the Seven Seas Home Page
» Dragons and Hobbits in Wallacea
» Best of the Holidays

Lost in Time - Indonesia's Forgotten Islands

After a long flight delay due to bad weather, fourteen exhausted guests finally arrived in Maumere and boarded the Seven Seas just before dark to set sail on what would prove an extraordinary a 23-day exploratory voyage to Indonesia's "Forgotten Islands". Two years in the planning, the trip would cover over 1,000 nautical miles, sailing east from Flores through the Alor Archipelago to the less known islands of Maluku Tenggara, or Southeast Maluku, then north across the Banda Sea to finish in Ambon.

Weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa), P. Lembata Weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa), P. Lembata

Batu Tara volcano, P. Komba
Our first stop was a small cove on Pulau Lembata. The "Brewery" is home to many unusual critters, including several rare Weedy Scorpion fish (Rhinopias frondosa).

After an overnight sail, we woke the next day to a sunrise with five volcanos in line across Lembata's northern coast. We had an early morning dive at the base of the volcano Illi Api, then moved on to Shark Point for the rest or the day. By night, we sailed north to the Batu Tara volcano on P. Komba, which gave us a breathtaking fireworks display.

Our next destination was P. Pantar, the second largest island in the Solor Archipelago. Our three exploratory dives all turned out to be World Class sites, with pristine coral gardens and big schools of fish. The highlight was meeting a whale shark cruising along a wall in 80 feet of water - a truly unforgettable day.

Our following days in the Alor area included high voltage drift dives in the passages and a half day cultural excursion to Kalabahi, capital of Alor Regency.

Anemonefish, P. Lembata Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus), P. Lembata

While the Seven Seas topped up its fuel tanks, we visited Kalabahi's colorful local market and a local village.

We also stopped by the local Museum, which boasts an ancient bronze drum from the Dongson culture of mainland Asia, Eight of these drums have been discovered on islands in Eastern Indonesia, evidence of prehistoric trade routes linking the southern Moluccas with northern Vietnam and southeastern China.

Woman weaving cloth, P. Buaya, Alor Ancient Dongson bronze drum at Kalabahi Museum, Alor

The next stop was P. Wetar where we had two great wall dives before moved to a bay located by a village and a small river. The local people here still live in harmony with salt water crocodiles - it is tabu (strictly forbidden) to harm these animals in any way. Respect the crocs, we were told, and in turn the crocs will not harm you. This turned out to be exactly the case. Our friends in the local village helped us find, film and swim with a 3-meter salt water crocodile, another unforgettable experience.

Salt water crocodile, P. Wetar Reef scene, P. Wetar

From Wetar, we sailed east overnight to P. Romang in the Barat Daya islands of southeast Maluku. After a fantastic morning dive at P. Nyata, we nived onwards to our planned anchorage on the north coast, where we were able to get in more exploratory dives before dark, one (inexplicably) named Woodchuck Point by Steve.

The following day took us to the smaller nearby islands of Kital, Laut, and Telang and three more new and exciting dive sites. The keynotes of these dives were spectacular beaches, sandy bottom with spectacular coral bommies and massive giant clams. The gin clear water made diving with schools of bumphead parrotfish, jacks (Big-eye trevallies), and numerous GTs (Giant trevallies) and Spanish mackerel a mesmerizing experience. But the highlight of the day came when Wally spotted a giant hammerhead shark, on the third dive. We tried to go ashore to explore further these stunning uninhabited islands, but were chased off by thick clouds of hungry mosquitoes. So ended another great day of exploration.

The Seven Seas sailing near Pantar and Alor Boy, P. Moa, Leti group

Pressing on overnight, we crossed the Romang Strait to the Leti island group, where we had two good dives in the channel of between P. Moa and P. Leti , followed by another excellent dive on a wall near the village of Kaiwatu on the tip of Moa. Those who went ashore experienced an interesting local tour with the unsteady assistance of three inebriated Moanese men who appointed themselves our guides. Those who skipped the shore visit to do another dive may have had the better of it, but all that was trumped by a pod of 200 melon-headed whales that arrived to frolic around the Seven Seas at sunset.

The ext day led to the discovery of a very special site on the north coast of Moa with an exceptional variety of marine life of all kinds, particularly from 10 to 50 feet. This site was so good that we dived twice before moving on to a great wall dive on P. Lakor, the easternmost island in this group, featuring lots of ledges and overhangs.

The same steep drop-offs to extreme depths close to shore that made our wall dives in the Leti group so spectacular also made it impossible to anchor, so we drifted for another night in order to spend one more day on Lakor, where we discovered another great new site which I named "Point of No Return." There is only a narrow window when currents ease enough for this site to be dived, but the wait was worth it. PNR is a dramatic and exciting dive, very fishy, with great coral reef life.

Blackfin barracuda (Sphyraena qenie), P. Luang

Our next destination was the Sermata group, where we had two good dives in the morning followed by a fantastic drift dive in the passage between P. Sermata and P. Luang - possibly the most exciting dive of the trip yet. After this dive, some of us went into the village on Luang, where we met a young man named Tobias with good English skills who seemed very proud to show us around. According to Tobias, no tourists had ever visited his village before. The economic mainstays of the island are seaweed mariculture and the manufacture of sea salt, which was dried in clam shells.

We learned that more than 20 dugong live in the extensive lagoon that surrounds the island, though we didn't see any on this trip.

The locals call this "the story island" because there seems to be a story explaining why everything is the way it is. For example, the small islands scattered around the lagoon were supposedly formed by a giant marlin that got its sword stuck in the mother island. The pieces that broke off from the mother island as the marlin thrashed around trying to get free formed the small islands we see today. Works for me!

From the Sermata group, we headed northeast overnight to the Babar Islands. On the morning of the next day, we were floating off P. Dai, one of the most striking looking islands I have ever seen, and WOW, did we ever hit the hot spot on a first dive!

Dai was so good we stayed an extra day, much to the relief of the crew as we had not anchored for five days, so a good night's sleep was finally had by all. The village of Dai was also great. The people here still hunt with bow and arrow. The doc and I went off in to the jungle and discovered and old distillery that can produce seventy bottles of palm arak a day.

An unusual feature of traditional island communities in the Babar group is the extensive boat symbolism. Villagers typically view themselves as the crew of a boat, which is reflected in boat-like traditional houses, which are divided into separate areas for descent groups identified with the right helmsman, left helmsman, and right and left pilots.

Another overnight steam north had us arrive at and old favorite site at Nil Desperandum. The name means "Don't Despair" - it may refer to the name of a ship wrecked on this remote reef centuries ago. A mere speck on the chart which I first visited 20 year ago, this atoll is situated in a chain of volcanic peaks that stretch north through the deepest part of the Banda Seas.

While still a great dive, the evidence of recent destruction here was unmistakable. Long lines and pieces of drift nets are wrapped around coral bommies or encrusted in the reef, much to our sadness. Nonetheless, we had another good second dive at Nil Desperandum before continuing north another 30 miles over the mid-day to P. Serua, a volcanic island which turned out to be he biggest letdown of the trip. The extensive reef damage on this once beautiful spot is a wakeup call that all is not well in the Banda Sea.

Banded Sea Krait, Gili Manuk, Banda Sea

After Serua, our next call as we made our way north across the Banda Sea was Gili Manuk. This uninhabited island has large seabird colonies and is also famous for its sea snakes. Although the number of snakes seemed to be less than the previous time I visited the island, everyone had their own snake to photograph on our dives.

On the following day we arrived in the Banda Islands, a regular Seven Seas destination in the middle of the Banda Sea. The original source of nutmeg, these tiny islands played an extraordinary role in history as the "Spice Islands", but were subjected to terrible violence and oppression as the Netherlands and England struggled for control of the islands and the spice trade from the early 16th century.

Navigation buoy at P. Karaka, Banda Neira, Banda Islands Dutch church in Banda Neira

Exploring ashore, we visited the Banda Neira Historical Museum, Fort Belgica, Fort Nassau, and the ruined mansions of the perkeniers, who had owned and managed the nutmeg plantations, known as perken. That afternoon we had an enjoyable dive on the lava flow from the 1988 eruption of Gunung Api, now densely covered in Acopora corals.

We also had a visit by children participating in the "Seven Seas School Shuttle" program, which is now in its 4th year. Supported by the Seven Seas and many of our guests, this program provides boat transport to 60 poor and under-privileged island children enabling them to travel to Banda Neira everay day to attend school.

Bus service in the Banda Islands.  Background: Gunung Api volcano. Nutmegs drying, Banda Besar, Banda Islands

We split up for our second day in the Bandas, with some guests hiking up to visit nutmeg plantations on Banda Besar, while the rest had a great dive on Batu Kapal, or "Boat Rock." Then we all did a dive at Tanjung Burang on the north side of Banda Besar before heading out to P. Hatta for the afternoon dive. That night we returned to same site in search of the elusive flashlight fish. To our delight, they were abundant, lighting up the wall on P. Hatta like the streets of Manhatten.

Manhattan is a fitting comparison, as our dives on the next day were on most far-flung of the Banda Islands, P. Ai and P. Run. Both islands were controlled by the British in the early 1600s, but the British ceded their claims to the Dutch under the 1650 Treaty of Breda in exchange another island under Dutch control which at that time was known as New Amsterdam, but today is the location of Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, Central Park, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Divers surfacing after drift dive in the Banda Islands New Amsterdam today

We departed from the Banda Islands with a beautiful sunset to port as we headed north to Nusa Laut, where the diving is better than ever in all departments. The local village protects this site. We pay a fee to the community to dive - a system that seems to be working well. All three dives were done on the same site; all were excellent.

As we neared the end of our journey we Arrived in Ambon bay and spent our last full day of diving at the Twilight Zone in Laha, arguably the best site for weird and bizarre critters in the world, rivaled in Indonesia only by the Lembeh Strait.

Ringed pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactiliophorus), male with eggs, Twilight Zone, Ambon Bay Honshu pipefish (Dorythamphus japonicus), male with eggs, Twilight Zone, Ambon Bay

Nutmeg fruit, showing mace around seed. Banda Besar.
A final day de-gassing as we packed and cast our minds back over our 23 day odyssey through the Forgotten Islands and across the Banda Sea - an adventure which has made the "Forgotten Islands" a place we will always remember.

Thanks to the Seven Seas crew, who worked their butts off day and night, and also to Nancy McGee and her people who made this epic adventure possible.

- Mark Heighes, Co-owner and Cruise Director of Seven Seas

Go to top

Remaining Availability for 2011

  • 4-12 February 2011, Raja Ampat (8 berths)
  • 30 May - 10 June 2011, Komodo (open)
  • 22 August - 3 September 2011, Komodo (open)
  • 5-17 September 2011, Komodo (4 berths)
  • 16-26 October 2011, Alor (8 berths)
  • 14-26 November 2011, Raja Ampat (4 berths)
  • 11-23 December 2011, Raja Ampat (open),
  • 25 December 2011 - 6 January 2012, Raja Ampat (6 berths)
Go to top

New Videos on the Seven Seas Home Page

Three spectacular new videos are now available. They can be viewed on our home page, or just click on these links:
Go to top

Dragons and Hobbits in Wallacea

Komodo Dragon, Rinca, Komodo National Park
Does you still have a 'jones' for toothy, drooling Komodo Dragons that doesn't let up? Do you wonder who the ancient "little people" recently discovered on Flores really were and what happened to them?

Robert Delfs has written an article about the history of Komodo Dragons and Hobbits on Flores and our favorite dragon islands going back to the very beginning, more than a million years ago. This could answer some of your questions about dragons and the other different kinds of wildlife in Komodo National Park and how they got there - a story in which two-legged animals who made stone tools and hunted now pygmy mastodons turn out to have played a surprisingly important role.

The article can be found here.

Go to top

Best of the Holidays

Best of the Holidays

The Seven Seas would like to take this opportunity to wish you the best of the holidays
and a safe and prosperous New Year!