East of Flores to Komodo - May 2014

The Seven Seas News - June 2014

East of Flores to Komodo 2014 - Trip Report by Mark Heighes

Photos by Foued Kaddachi

Every year for the last 6 years we have been joined by a group of friends who like to do things a little different than our average group. They take the whole boat and insist on keeping the numbers down around 6 to 8 passengers. This means they get a cabin each to themselves. Plenty of room to move, privacy when you want it, and most importantly for them, fewer people on the dive sites.

This year our voyage started in Maumere and ended in Komodo via the islands that lie east of Flores. We focused on Lembata and Pantar for this cruise. No cameras, no critters, no nitrox, no night dives. Just good quality, high adrenalin, adventurous diving with a maximum of three dives a day. Everyone was experienced, in good physical condition, and well aware if their own limitations. "Stick together and keep an eye out for one and other. Reef right or reef left, maximum depth of 50 meters" was pretty much it for the briefings on most sites.

Our first stop was shark point in Lembata. An overnight steam from Maumere. Flat calm, good vis and sharky it was. The spectacular Volcano of Illi Api, smouldering away, flanked our anchorage as we settled into our first day of diving operations. There is nothing quite like surfacing from a wall dive to be greeted by the sight of this perfectly shaped volcano filling the lens of your face mask. Wow ... I felt it was good to be back in Indonesia after a 2 month stint in Australia.

Volcano of Illi Api
Reef shark

Another calm passage that night to South Pantar where we would be spending the next four days exploring. It was half-moon which meant neap tides and that was exactly what we needed for this area. The other 2 factors that dramatically influence this area are the vis and the south westerly ground swell. Looking over the side of the boat, the water was blue and there was no sign of any significant swell. All the variables were in our favour.

The passage that runs between Lembata and Pantar is called Selat (Strait) Boiling on the old British Admiralty Charts for a good reason. It is approximately 10 miles wide and over 650 meters deep. This means a huge volume of water passes through it. Also it is the only passage in the chain of islands that stretch over 1000 nautical miles, from Java to Timor and beyond, that constantly flows in one direction (South) during a rising and falling tide, apart from the notorious Lombok Strait.



As we were sucked down the passage aboard the Seven Seas in the early hours of the morning on day 2, I noticed on the GPS we were travelling nearly twice our normal cruising speed. There was no turning back now. The hair on the back of my neck stood out and I had a strange shudder that went through my body signalling that this was an area to be treated with great respect.

There are 3 good sized islands in the Passage. Marissa, Kambing (Goat) and Rusa (Deer). Rusa was our first stop and we had two locations to check out that we had visited for the first time on a previous exploratory expedition. We were not to be disappointed experiencing good sizes schools of snapper, Barracuda, Sharks, Dogtooth Tuna, Giant Trevalley and Eagle rays. The coral cover was excellent and swarming with Anthias.



 


We retreated to the only safe anchorage in the area that afternoon. It's a small hole in the fringing reef of Pantar that protects us from the relentless current.

The following day we further explored and continued to map the sites of Alcatraz and Jaws. Two world class sites we discovered on our first dedicated forgotten islands expedition of 24 days in 2010. The vis was good and the dives were extraordinary. We returned to Jaws 4 times during our stay and each time the conditions were different. No two dives were the same apart from being totally mind blowing each time. The site seemed to have everything from a maze of fish filled coral gardens with more colour than I have seen anywhere in Indonesia to swim through caves filled with pelagic fish, a class wall and freestanding giant boulders. Not an easy site to get on and definitely not for everyone, but without a doubt one of Indonesia's top 10.

We found more new sites on Marissa and visited an old favourite on Kambing before heading off north to the erupting volcano of Komba for a night of fireworks and onwards sailing towards Komodo.



 


As we were diving deep and doing a lot of swimming during our dives we decided on a day off to de-gas so we went ashore and visited the spectacular multicoloured lakes of Kelimutu in central Flores.

Next stop was Komodo where we spent the last 4 days of the trip and revisited all our favourite sites including Manta alley which was swarming with 40 to 50 good sized Mantas that put up a great show for us. Batu Bolong, Crystal and Castle were all in good form. Cannibal rock was rocking and it felt good to be back doing the stand out dives in Komodo.

No doubt the boys will be back and I just can't wait for the next adventure into the most beautiful, fishy current fed sites of the Indonesian Archapeligo.

Mark Heighes, May 2014


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