The Seven Seas

The Seven Seas News - November 2013

Journal: Komodo and points west on the Seven Seas, Sept 21 to Oct 3rd, 2013

Elaborated and based on Bob Seiffert's personal diary

Participants

  • Master, Captain Mark Heighes, Sydney and Bali
  • First Mate (ish) 9 year old Daniel Heighes.
  • David & Scott Goldsbury, Bali and New Zealand
  • Lyn Babcock, Bali
  • Dr. Lawrence & Aly Blair, Bali
  • D.J & Diane Smith, Napa Valley, California
  • Tim, Philly & 8 year old Lily Rose Roberts, Bali
  • Andrew Stevenson & Annabel Carter, M.D., Bermuda
  • Ruth Naderer, Bali
  • Michael Spurling, & Big Michael' Whittal, Bermuda
  • Bob & Lisa Seiffert , Boulder County, Colorado

September 21st, Saturday

We're up at 4 am to make 7 am flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, Flores Island, about 300 miles due east. Within an hour of landing at 9 am we are already tucking into a good breakfast aboard the Seven Seas. After that, an equipment-testing dive, for the divers, off the island of Sebayor Kecil, and a drift snorkel nearby. Not having snorkeled for many years, I had some trouble breathing, and got out early. Lisa stayed with it and had a very good time seeing bright blue starfish, a stingray and other reef denizens. By lunchtime, Tim, Philly and Ruth, having arrived on a later plane, caught up with us by speedboat, and we sailed west into the Komodo National Park. In the evening, a short talk from Lawrence about Komodo and its denizens.

September 22nd, Sunday

It's up early again (before the heat), to visit the dragons on Rinca Island. Speedboats take us to the jetty in Loh Buayah bay. A mile walk takes us to Dragon Park Headquarters, where we acquire a couple of local guides. Before we even started walking, a group of 6-10 dragons were 'sharing' the remains of a wild boar which we were told they had caught the previous night. The dragons looked much as we had seen them in films, but a lot scarier close up. Walked for an hour through their dry, scrubby habitat, and spotted monkeys and megapode birds, whose nesting mounds are shared with egg-laying female dragons. One of these mounds was being guarded by a mother dragon, lurking close by in the bushes.

Back aboard for a late breakfast then word comes in that the mantas are feeding. Quite strong current, so the divers have difficulty in filming them, but Andrew manages some great shots and footage, while the snorkelers see dozens of mantas from the surface, drift snorkeling over the desert-like dunes which seem to attract the plankton the mantas feed off. Lisa continued to see lots of interesting underwater creatures. Later that night, with Lisa and Lawrence on deck, we spent minutes watching a yard-long crocodile needle fish hunting in the pool of light next to the gangway.

Manta

September 23rd, Monday

Another beautiful day lies ahead. Lazed about until early afternoon, then got my 'water mojo' back and had a very good snorkel for about an hour and a half off the beaches at Sabolan. Later in the afternoon, we returned to the beach for cocktails and a stroll along the surf line. We were joined by Tim and Philly's delightful 9 year-old Lilly Rose, who now started collecting the first shells of the kid's expeditionary collection. That evening we all watch Andrew's extraordinary documentary 'Where the Whales Sing,' about Humpback whales round their home in Bermuda. Very moving indeed.

September 24th, Tuesday

I'm up by 6 am, my usual habit, for a peaceful start to the morning. We're now in Batu Monco Bay, off the northwest coast of Komodo Island. Lisa is straight in for the early snorkel. It is said there are no dragons on this bay but both kids insist they saw one. Had a great hour's snorkel in the afternoon, spending much of it gently pursuing a couple of large, (about 18") cuttlefish as they indignantly changed color and pattern. A group of us returned from a beach excursion saying they had seen deer, wild pigs and sea eagles, as well as dragon tracks in the sand - so the children may have been right.

After dinner we watched the movie 'Flight.', chosen to amuse Tim, our airline pilot, and to examine him whether it's possible to actually fly a jumbo jet upside down at 100 feet off the ground. Tim says it is. Lisa remained on deck after the movie watching the waning moon, the waxing stars, and small bats seeking the insects drawn to our ships lights.

Divers and turtle

September 25th, Wednesday

Outside the Komodo National Park we are now off the North coast of the active volcano of Sangean Island, just to the North East of Sumbawa Island. Here the divers enter a strange volcanic wonderland of recently-blooming corals, and frolic in bubble streams of escaping volcanic gas. Too choppy to snorkel until we later move the Seven Seas into the lee of the volcano.

After a characteristically good lunch, we go ashore to visit Bontoh, one of only two tiny and very primitive villages on Sangean. Coarse black volcanic sand beaches are all around. Bontoh was largely empty as most were working in their plantations of cassava, breadfruit, tamarind, coconuts and bananas. The villagers well remembered when Sangean fully erupted in 1990, forcing the full evacuation of the island. Villagers have also started to tend cattle for absentee owners on neighboring Sumbawa. I counted about 50 around the village, but Mark said the island has about 1000 head of cattle, a mixture between Brahminy steers (originally from India) and Balinese Bentengs. And lots of water buffalo are walking around here too.

The village has recently erected a large wood and bamboo shed for boat building, about 150' long and 40 wide. The actual boats will be built by shipwrights from neighboring Sumbawa, for which we now set a course further west. Good views of the shattered remains of Mt.Tambora about 50 miles distant. Mt Tambora's eruption in 1815 was the largest volcanic explosion in historical times, four times greater than Krakatoa, and changed worldwide weather patterns for years afterwards.

We will be sailing for fifteen hours, towards the Northwest prominence of Sumbawa, under the remains of Mt.Tambora, and then South around the West side of the island on our way to the resort of Amanwana. Rough seas are tossing our boat around, lots of spray coming aboard.

September 26th, Thursday

After a moderately rough passage (for some) we are off the Western side of the island of Moyo, which lies just off the Northwestern coast of Sumbawa. It is Philly's birthday, and before she rises many of us are blowing up balloons and preparing decorations for the celebration. After several days of seeing no other dive boats, there are now several others within sight.

Mid-morning we went ashore at the village of Labuan Haji, where Lawrence and Mark have organized a small fleet of motorbikes and their young drivers to transport us some five miles over a very narrow and treacherous track to a beautiful waterfall. Crystal clear water tumbling into a series of stepped pools 5 to 10 feet deep. The heavily calcified water has formed ledges and stalactite-like protrusions down the cascade. Everyone (except me) went in for a dip in the pools. Lawrence insists on driving his own motorbike (for the first time in the 14 years since he lost his eye), and he comes off it, damaging both his finger and his pride. It is an exhilaratingly precarious ride back down to the dock.

After the divers explore the life-filled reef in front of Labuan Haji, we all showered and smartened up for the short speedboat ride to the Amanwana resort for Philly's birthday lunch. A beautiful meal, with lots of cheese and chocolate, washed down with generous lashings of Chandon Brut, followed by a very good Pinot Noir. Back aboard Seven Seas we had another birthday celebration in the evening, with cake before some serious star-gazing.

Moyo Island

September 27th, Friday

We awake to another lovely morning, which some of us seemed keen to spoil by visiting a cave of bats and pythons, though the pythons were not seen on this occasion, and it was hoped they hadn't been hunted out for their valuable skins. Others preferred to stay aboard or snorkel. In the afternoon we all went ashore on the little caldera island of Satonda, across the straits from Mt. Tambora volcano. A few minutes walking into Satonda, we reach her caldera lake of brackish water some 600 ft. deep. A sacred spot to the seafarers, the lakeside trees are hung with offerings to the Sea Goddess, Ratu Kidul. Satonda's forests are also home to tens of thousands of flying foxes - giant fruit bats - which every evening fly across the straits to feed on the slopes of Tambora. Although we'd strategically positioned the Seven Seas to watch them, the breeze was now so strong that only a few dozen bats were spotted frantically trying to make it across the straits into the headwind. A fairly bumpy crossing then tool us back eastwards towards Komodo again.

Kids

September 28th, Saturday

Was up by 5 am today, to watch the sunrise. A very pleasant hour on the bridge with the Captain and Andrew. Arrived off Wera, a ship-building village on the Eastern edge of Sumbawa. Two large, wooden 'phinisi' type traditional boats are currently under construction. One, a 100 footer similar in size to the Seven Seas, the other a bit larger but much further from completion. They both have heavy 15' x 15" keel structures supporting 8' x 8" ribs. The planks are secured with 1" wooden pegs hammered home with a small sledge. There is considerable gapping between planks which is plugged with copra oakum after an initial soaking. The village seems prosperous with many satellite dishes, fresh paint, glazed windows and lots of variation in decoration on simple basic themes. Nearly every well-kept home had one or two looms in use, and an instant trade in fabrics sprang up as soon as the ladies stepped ashore. Leaving Wera we steamed South through the passage between Komodo and Sumbawa, through choppu seas. Sea calmer by 3pm. Lisa in for a snorkel at Loh Tonka, un-named on chart, just North of Tk. Lajupamale and ended the day beach combing with Big Michael.

September 29th, Sunday

We awoke at anchor at Gililawa Laut Island off the Northeast coast of Komodo. Morning excitement. This is a region of brilliant, current torn dives, especially at Crystal Rock and Castle Rock. The divers had a spectacular experience in the very clear water, with turtles and sharks galore. The next dive was at the famous 'shotgun' passage, between the two islands of Gililawalaut and Gililawadara. Usually an exhilarating and demanding 'speed drift-dive', Mark had judged the tide change perfectly. The divers assembled to worship at the 'shrine', just before the current turned.

After lunch we steamed South through the passage between Komodo and Rinca arriving at Loh Hoksera, a peninsula off the Southeast coast of Komodo. Had a good snorkel with Lisa and Diane accompanied by Irwan the divemaster who is my "water guardian". In the very clear water close to the beach I saw a beautiful Lion Fish. After the divers returned, most of our shipmates and crew went ashore for an exuberant game of volley ball, as well as a hermit crab race. Both these seemed overly active sports to me, and Lisa and I stayed aboard gossiping with Lawrence and Aly.

Diving Komodo

September 30th, Monday

Sailed down to the southern-most point of the Komodo National Park to South Rinca and moored at the only buoy in the half-moon bay of Nusa Kode. Very dramatic landscape was all around us, with sharply rising hills of primary forest. The beach, within a hundred yards of our mooring, was populated by wild pigs, crab-eating macaques and a number of very feisty dragons. We took chicken scraps in speedboats to within 10-15 feet of the shore, and the dragons came swimming right out to us and would have happily climbed into the boats if they hadn't been discouraged.

Lisa and Lily Rose, on a beach less populated by wildlife, made good progress with the kids' seashell collecting project. The divers returning from diving Cannibal Rock wide-eyed at the fairy land of strange soft corals and frog fish which they had encountered.

October 1st, Tuesday

Steamed North along the West coast of Rinja to Padar Island. Spectacular rising crags, and neither a human nor a dragon soul on the island. Spent the morning beach combing, while the divers braved the rather turgid deeps of 3 underwater crags called the Three Sisters. Many of our party then climbed a high ridge between the North and South beaches, which provide a breath-taking view. Difficult going, with loose rock and no handholds. After lunch and more diving, we all went ashore on Padar to make an 'easy' trek over the ridge to the 'Pink' beach on the South side. A lovely bay and beach, we also found the mysterious remains of a whale, probably a Minke.

The Seven Seas at Komodo

October 2nd Wednesday

In the last minutes of the last dive of the trip, (a fine drift dive at Tatawa) poor Annabel, who'd looked after everyone else's injuries on the voyage so well, got stung by a famously painful 'hellfire anemone', receiving a large welt to carry back to Bermuda. What was that about "don't touch anything"? We understand that her memento has now happily vanished. In the afternoon we took a couple of speedboats out to visit the famous 'strawberry rock', a prominence of seemingly rose colored marble, and then on for a taste of the furious currents and whirlpools that rip through the narrow straits between Rinca and Flores islands.

At the end of our expedition, we were all aware of what an adventure we had shared, as we were ferried ashore in Labuan Bajo again, on Thursday October 3rd 2013, for our flight back to Bali.

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