Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Twice the Fun

We just returned from two very pleasurable Secret Sea Visions trips; through the Banda Sea to Raja Ampat and then a pure Raja Ampat departure.

Our first group was with friends, part of the old Diving Docs group. The trip began in Ambon where we spent the first day diving Indonesia’s first “critter haven”, the Twilight Zone in Laha Bay. In 1995, while on a trip with Larry Smith, we “discovered” Laha’s amazing, bizarre critter life, but we haven’t dived there recently. On Steve’s, the Diving Doc’s founder, first dive he and his wife Linda literally landed on top of a pair of harlequin shrimp eating a seastar. These animals are rare, but the group saw 5 during our first day of diving. Frogfish were abundant and Phil got a great shot of one yawning. The group saw many pairs of mating pygmy cuttlefish, seahorses, yellow ribbon eels (the rare phase), and countless other oddities. What a way to start!

We spent the next few days zigzagging across the Banda Sea. One of the highlights was our visit to the Banda, or Spice Islands, the fabled islands Columbus was searching for when the Americas got in his way. Everyone’s favorite dive site was Run Island. Never heard of it? Likely not, but this island was part of a trade between the Dutch and the British in 1667. If the British had not traded Run for a similar size island in the Americas, called New Amsterdam (Manhattan) we’d all be speaking Dutch!

Our last stop in the Banda Sea was at Koon Island, at a site Larry Smith named “Too Many Fish”. Even though two decades have passed since Larry named this site, the fish life is still off the scale. The fish biomass was so thick that at times it blocked out the sunlight.

An overnight steam brought us to SE Misool in Raja Ampat, where we spent the rest of the trip. The Docs had been to Raja before, but they all agreed they had never seen Raja like this. One reason may be that we took them to our new favorite sites, many of which we discovered only recently. The Daram and Balbulol sites are not only as pretty as many of the more popular sites, but they have the distinct advantage of being off the well-trodden path of most liveaboards.

On our second charter was comprised mainly of prior clients who had also all been to Raja. The only exception being the Johnston bothers, Jeff and John, plus John’s wife, Pam. Even though they are all very experienced divers, this was their first trip to Indonesia and with us. Did they ever get their eyes opened! They were totally blown away.

The group’s interests were diverse. Jeff and John are keen photographers and very easy keepers. The only question they ever asked was “What lens for the next dive?” Pam, who has a hi-stress job, was on holiday. Although she made most of the dives, she was very into relaxing and taking advantage of Damai’s many amenities. Sally, from NYC, and Judithe, from Paris, France have both worked for environmental organizations and are very knowledgeable and avid divers. Judithe too, is an aspiring photographer. Mickey and Ellen are adopted Texans and very well traveled divers. They’ve been everywhere, numerous times. Mickey is interested in nudibranchs, and Ellen has a passion for Butterfly and Angelfish. Brian, a very distinguished British chap, was up for anything.

They all came with high expectations that were met and surpassed. Since many of the guests were interested in photography, we presented our lecture series, Revealing the Art in the Animal, How to Stop Taking Pictures and Start Creating Images. This multi-part series is designed to help any level photographer improve their image making. Jeff and John, both accomplished photographers, were amazed at their improvement. Judithe, although just getting started, made huge progress as well. Everyone, even the non-photographers enjoyed the shows. Mickey found 7 new (to him) nudibranchs and Ellen recorded more species of butterflyfish than she’d ever counted on a prior trip. Pam unwound and left the boat a very happy camper. Sally enjoyed “the best trip of her life”. And Brian, well, Brian got exactly what he was looking for…a little bit of everything.

Our vessel, the Damai 1, even though it is the same basic size as most of the boats operating in Indonesia, is built for luxury and only holds 8 pampered guests. Damai puts 4 dive guides in the water on virtually every dive. Quickly do the math and you’ll realize that means every buddy team has a guide. Talk about experiencing the reef. Everyone sees everything. It is amazing.

Maurine and I were very happy as well. Not only did we get some new images for the new book, but we also found an excellent new night dive site. The most gratifying thing we received, however, was thanks from our guests for “their best trip ever”. What more can we possibly wish for?

Join us on a Secret Sea Vision charter soon and let us take you on your "best trip ever"!