The Seven Seas News - October 2015
East of Flores on Steroids
Trip Report by Mark Heighes. Photos by Bill McGee, ZB Indelak & Robert Delfs.
October is without a doubt one of the best months to be underwater in Indonesia. The dry season is drawing to an end. The fact that it has not rained for the last 4 or 5 months means that we're having very little "run off effect". The easing of South East Trade Winds delivers calmer seas in general, and all this contributes to the fact that the underwater visibility is about as good as it's going to get all year.
Topside is another story as I look out into the haze. Right now everyone ashore seems to be setting fire to their islands and the whole country seems to be on fire. An annual event that I'm still struggling to understand, and probably never will.
The good news is fires don't burn underwater!
Right now the underwater environment is at its peak. All the inhabitants seem to be out and about busily preparing for the wet. The coral seems more vibrant and healthy and there just seems to be a lot more going on. Unusual critters seem more abundant at this time of the year and if you are into watching behavior and interaction it's all happening now.
It feels good to be back onboard in what must be the World's most amazing destination for divers, Indonesia. Due to a recent ear operation and doctors orders I am not permitted to enter the sea myself for another 4 weeks, so everything you are about to read regarding the diving on this trip is feedback directly from all divers onboard.
This trip we once again have the pleasure hosting a group put together by Nancy McGee. Nancy and her brother Bill are back for their 5th trip on Seven Seas along with their friends, most of whom have done multiple charters with us over the last 10 years.
It was largely due to Nancy and Bill that we discovered the now famous Forgotten Islands region of Indonesia a number of years ago. It was a 23 day trip that took two years in the planning and covered over 1200 nautical miles of mostly unexplored terrain. All that started with one question over drinks. "Where would you go if you could go anywhere to explore in Indonesia, and how long would it take?" The rest is history.
This trip is an expansion of the Western part of that epic itinerary of the first Forgotten Islands exploration. We all met in Bali and flew out to Maumere, catching up along the way as you do when reuniting with people you like and haven't seen for a few years. Everyone was excited and ready for a new adventure. Our 3 dive guides for this trip would be Irwan, Jeffry and Franky, all excellent divers and some of the best spotters in the business. And as everyone was armed with cameras and ready to shoot, I had a good feeling about this trip.
The first day we spent diving in the bay of Maumere due to a strong storm from the East that would not let us pass the northern most tip of Flores. So I guess you can disregard what I've said above about the calmer seas in October. Anyway, diving Maumere bay is not a bad thing. There is actually a lot that can be found in Maumere Bay. Here is a comment I will never forget after the first dive of the trip. It was our checkout dive and upon returning back after the dive I heard someone say "I saw more on that dive than I saw in two weeks of diving Bonaire".
The storm passed and that evening we continued diving our way along the north side of the island chain of East Nusa Tengarra, before heading south, to a very productive area that we have been exploring over the last 5 years. During the last 2 trips in this area the Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) had been sighted here repeatedly, so we were hoping to get lucky and encounter this most unusual, mysterious creature. Upon arrival we noticed that the water temperature had dropped from a warm 29 degrees Celsius to a cool 23. This was a good sign as what little we know about these fish indicates that they do like cool water. The other thing we noticed was also a solid 2-3 meter ground swell and a good current running which would make photography a little challenging.
The visibility was excellent so on went the wide angle lenses and the first dive was stunningly beautiful but uneventful for as far as the Mola mola was concerned. So we decided to move to another location and try our luck again.
This next site is a pristine uncharted underwater ridge we call Raindow Ridge. Here we had a little more luck, in that, a short time after the grouper entered the water the crew standing by in the tenders saw a Mola mola swimming around on the surface above the divers who were all looking for one down deep. None of the divers saw this Mola mola but we had established the fact that there was at least one in the area. So back we went again, to the same site with high hopes.
The current and swell had picked up. Undeterred, the divers jumped into the washing machine, and only lasted 30 minutes with a few aborting earlier. No sightings of the Mola mola were recorded however upon returning to the boat, the somewhat exhausted divers were informed that a Mola mola had swum right past the Seven Seas. They were no doubt teasing us, at least that's what it felt like! I decided to stay the night close by hoping conditions would improve and we could have one last attempt at 6.30am the next morning.
We awoke to much improved conditions however the swell was still running. The ridge looked ok. In the divers went and much to my delight were successful in finally encountering Mola mola along with some images to prove it. The only down side was that a few members of the group had missed it.
We decided to move on and head over to dive Alcatraz where I knew we would be protected from the persistent ground swell. Much two my amazement the group returned happily from the dive chanting "Mola mola"!
They had encountered another Mola mola on Alcatraz. Wow! From all reports it was on the sand in 20 meters and the only people who did not see it were the 2 divers it swam directly over while they had their heads buried in a crinoid shooting ghost pipe fish! We did another two incredible dives on Alcatraz hoping we might find the Mola mola again but this weird fish, that has no tail, had obviously satisfied its curiosity and moved on.
Later on that night during dinner I overheard one of the guests casually talking about some hammerhead footage. I asked where he shot it and to my surprise he replied "oh, I got that at Rainbow Ridge earlier today". I was absolutely astonished he had not mentioned it earlier. I guess he was a quiet achiever!
Next stop was Beang Abang. A black sand beach located on the South East coast of Pantar that slopes down into very deep water. This site was discovered by the late Larry Smith in 1997 and has been a very productive critter site ever since. It's actually the cleanest muck dive I've ever seen. Once again, the black sand here was alive with critters and here is a list of what our 3 dive guides found on the very first dive:
- Coconut Octopus
- Long Armed Octopus
- Wunderpus Octopus
- Poison Ocelate Octopus
- Frog fish
- Dragon Sea Moth
- Ornate Ghost Pipefish
- Robust Ghost Pipefish
- Pigmy Pipehorse
- Thorny Sea Horse
- Flying Gurnard
- Bobtail Squid
- Pigmy Cuttlefish
- Cockatoo Wasp Fish
- Rhinopias Scorpionfish
- Mantis Shrimp
- Harlequin Shrimp
- Snake Eels
In all we did 8 dives in on the black sand of Beang Abang. To our amazement we kept finding more stuff each time. Three of the 8 dives were night dives and on our last night dive we found the Flamboyant Cuttlefish in both adult and juvenile stages. I don't think I have ever seen the site as productive as this. Many of the group would have been happy to spend the rest of the trip in the sand but it was time to move on.
We spent the next 3 days diving the slopes, ledges and walls of the 3 islands that lie in the straits between Alor and Pantar. These volcanic islands and the friendly, carefree people that inhabit them have a very unique feel that is like nowhere else in Indonesia.
Everyone loved the diving in the Pantar Strait and a good time was had by all. But on we had to go, and we sailed overnight to the small island of Komba, which is actually the top of a huge volcano, rising 4000 meters from the bottom of the Banda Sea, about 35 miles north of Lembata. We were awoken very early the next morning by loud thunder that shook the whole boat as the Volcano erupted. The show was spectacular with red hot lava flying everywhere in the pitch black night sky.
As the sun rose we had Komba in the twilight, erupting in all its glory. To the east we had a perfect sunrise, with the volcanic fireworks to the west. One was not sure exactly which way to look. We have been visiting this island since it started erupting in 2005. The first visits were fleeting glimpse of the power of Mother Earth. After 2 years we had decided that it might be safe enough to hang around and dive...
Not only spectacular topside, Komba has some great diving indeed. The reef is in surprisingly good shape, and with some current it can be very fishy too. Not unusual to have schools of tuna, giant dogtooth and sharks buzzing you during the dive. At the same time you can hear the eruptions under water. A very dramatic location and while I'm still not 100% sure how safe it is to spend the day, it is worth the risk, I think, as I sit here writing this, only just clinging to our anchorage at the foot of this growling mountain of fire. On numerous occasions the Seven Seas been dusted down by Volcanic ash.
All it takes is a little change of wind direction to send us running for cover. It can take the crew up to three hours to clean the boat down after a good dusting from Komba.
We had a great day of diving then returned to the crater for another fireworks display at dusk before sailing most of the night towards our next destination. The group wanted more critters so we dropped into a site called the Brewery in Lembata to pick up a few more critters for our list and then sailed for Maumere. A last dive along the way and then we stopped for another one of our famous farewell sunset beach barbecues.
And that concluded 15 days of fun in the sun, diving the fabulous "East of Flores" itinerary, which keeps on getting better year after year. Nancy, Bill and their friends were a pleasure to have onboard once again and have already booked their next charter with us. All of us onboard Seven Seas are looking forward to our next adventure with them exploring more of Indonesia's 15,000 islands.
East of Flores, October 2015
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