Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

Now that Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape, the new guidebook we produced for Conservation International, is complete and now available, it’s time to think about diving again. (BTW, you can order the book directly from our website, Just go to the “Books” tab and then click on “fishID” to order. If you prefer, you can order it from Amazon, but it will be drop shipped from "fishID" so save time and order it from them.) The book has received rave reviews. See Drew Wongs’s on Wet Pixel, As Drew will tell you, the book is a must have for anyone visiting the region and for all fans of underwater photography. For those of you with divers or photography lovers on your Christmas list this book is the perfect gift.

Our 2012 and 2013 trips have been sold out for months, so for 2013 we have decided to add a land-based trip to Lembeh Strait and go critter hunting. We will be staying at our favorite resort in the Strait, Lembeh Resort. Just to make it more fun, especially for you nudibranch aficionados, we have asked one of the world’s leading “branchsperts” Dr. Dave Behrens to join us. Dave has written numerous books and identified more species of nudibranchs than just about anyone. Dave will give informal talks and be on hand to help with identifying new specimens. And yes, we will find new species. The divemasters at Lembeh are some of the best on the planet. They will amaze you with their ability to spot these spectacular animals, plus all the other critters that Lembeh is famous for, like Rhinopias scorpionfish and mimic octopus, to name but a few.

Join us in Lembeh June 28-July 8, 2013. Check out our web site for more details.

In 2014, some of our most exciting news is that we will be teaming up with Kerri Bingham and Hergen Spalink for some of our trips. If you’ve dived Indonesia, especially Lembeh, you probably are aware of Kerri and Herg. We were very impressed with them and their skills when we met during their stint as the cruise directors with Kararu Dive Voyages. For the last 3 years they have been the dive-ops managers at Lembeh Resort. They are super people, both of them have incredibly engaging personalities, are very talented photographers, critter spotters, group leaders, and we just love diving with Kerri and Herg.

In 2014 we have decided to spread our wings a bit and visit a destination that, believe it or not, is not in Indonesia. Our first trip with Kerri and Herg will be aboard World Wide Dive and Sail’s (the Siren fleet) new liveaboard in Palau. Palau was the first place we dived in the Pacific (1982) and we still remember it as being magical and have always wanted to return. We will plan a special itinerary that will incorporate Palau’s famous sites, like Blue Corner, with seldom visited, off the beaten track, sites. If you’ve never been to Palau or, like us, haven’t visited for over 30 years, this will be your chance.

The dates for our Palau charter are March 29-April 8, 2014. Look at our website for more details about this trip.

But, there is no way we can let a year go by without at least one trip to Indonesia. Keri and Herg suggested that we give all of you the opportunity to experience what we’ve been doing, virtually alone, for all these years. Exploring, finding new dive sites, and developing new itineraries is what we do best. So we’ve targeted a region we’ve all wanted to explore, the Forgotten Islands, which inscribe eastern Indonesia’s southeast Banda Sea. Names like Babar, Wetar, and Tanimbar should come to mind by those who have read Rudyard Kipling’s fascinating stories. This trip will combine known sites in the central Banda Sea and eastern Nusa Tenggara, with never before dived sites throughout this vast region. We’ll dive with sea snakes at Manuk, perhaps get lost in a huge school of barracuda off Fadol or simply marvel at the sites around the island of Dai.

We have chosen to charter the best boat in Indonesia for an exploratory adventure, the MV Pindito. Edi Frommenwiler, Pindito’s owner, is a legend. Aboard Pindito he pioneered virtually all of Indonesia’s most famous dive regions, but Edi has never been to the Forgotten Islands. (For more about Edi and his impact on Indonesian diving read the dedication, page 30, in our first guidebook, Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat.)

This adventure will cover an area so vast that it can’t be explored in a single trip. So you’ll have to choose between the northern or the southern itineraries. Of course, some of you may choose to join us for both! We will begin in Ambon on April 14, 2014 and break the trip in Saumlaki, on Yamdena Island in the Tanimbar group on April 25. The second trip begins in Saumlaki on April 28 and finishes in Maumere on May 9.

Join our team on this journey and experience what few others have ever seen while we discover a whole new world of diving. This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity and the trips are sure to sell out quickly. Book this trip soon and experience the thrill of exploration with us.

Burt and Maurine

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diving with Edi "Pindito"

Our dear friend Larry Smith introduced us to Edi Frommenwiler over 15 years ago. He told us many stories about Edi and his exploits aboard, Pindito, the phinisi schooner Edi had built personally in Kalimantan (Borneo). Fairly new to Indonesia at that time, Larry was somewhat in awe of Edi. Even though Larry became one of Indonesia’s best known and knowledgeable cruise directors, his admiration for Edi never wavered. Shorty before Larry’s passing, he told me that in his mind Edi was the undisputed father of Indonesian liveaboard diving. Now that we’ve known Edi for years, we completely concur. Edi is the king. He’s dived more and in more places than anyone we know in the archipelago.

When we met Edi, a Swiss expat, all those years ago, he graciously invited us to accompany him on a trip aboard Pindito. He said “join us anytime”. Little did any of us realize how long it would take. but, it finally happened a couple of weeks ago. Was I ever impressed! While motoring to Komodo, Edi showed me a film he made about constructing Pindito. And, I was even more impressed! Because Edi is Swiss and wanted the ship to be built correctly and fully insurable, he constructed it to Lloyd’s standards. You might say, “so what…aren’t all boats built to that standard these days”? The answer is NO. My guess is that none of the other ships in Indonesia’s dive fleet can make that claim. After watching the movie, I’m convinced that if it had been Pindito, instead of the Titanic, that struck that iceberg, the iceberg would have sunk.

But, what about diving from the Pindito? Isn’t the experience on this boat the same as any? Again, the answer is NO. As Larry would have said, “this ain’t Edi’s first rodeo”. On Pindito you get the benefit of Edi’s 19 years of experience. He and his super, well-trained staff know more dive sites, how and when to dive them, than any other operation. In fact Pindito is often followed by newer boats just so they can find out where Edi is diving. I asked Edi if this bothered him. He just laughed and said that it used to, but it’s so common, especially now with so many new boats coming on line, he hardly notices any longer.

uses 3 dive tenders (zodiacs) and often sends the boats to 3 different sites. So, the sites are never crowded. The zodiacs are equipped with very diver-friendly ladders, camera racks and tank holders. His current set of cruise directors/divemasters (both German, English and Indonesian) are almost as knowledgeable as Edi.

Edi has immaculately maintained and upgraded Pindito through the years, and it shows. A decade ago when photography became such a major part of the liveaboard experience, Edi reconfigured the ship and installed a camera room. Everything on the ship works with Swiss precision. Edi, a passionate golfer, even installed a “driving range” on Pindto’s roof so he can stay in shape! The captain has been with him for the entire 19 years, the chief mechanic for a dozen. Pindito is accustomed to working in remote locales so there’s a fully equipped machine shop and back-up parts for the back-up parts.

The food on the ship is locally sourced and most of the dishes are Indonesian. Nothing lavish, just simple good food. Drinks are comp, including beer, soft drinks and even liquor. Wine is extra, however. More importantly, Nitrox is included. Pindito was built in an era when diving was the reason people came on a dive trip. There’s nothing “luxurious” about Pindito but it has everything a diver needs, everything works and works well.

We have decided to use Pindito in 2014 for a trip through the “Forgotten Islands”. This is a region we have always wanted to visit since reading Kipling’s accounts of life in Babar, Wetar and Tanimbar. Parts of this trip will even be new territory for Edi! So keep a look out for details on our website and consider joining us for this excellent adventure.

Thanks again Edi (and Pindito) for a great experience.

Best Fishes,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To Blog or Not to Blog

Greetings Fellow Divers,

Maurine and I have been wondering about blogging. We know some of you seem to really enjoy reading about what we’ve been doing. But a blog is not nearly as timely as a posting on Facebook, so we are questioning the value of continuing the blogging process. To us, the value of the blog is that it allows us to write in greater detail about our wanderings. If you like the blog let us know and we will continue the process. Otherwise, check us out on FB, where we post much more often. On FB search for Burt Jones or Secret Sea Visions. And, do let us know what you prefer, bits and pieces on FB or the longer blog approach.

It has been four months since our last blog post so I will bring you up to date. We spent the first five days of August sleeping on the floor of a Chinese print shop in a not so lovely Jakarta neighborhood. Printing a book is exciting, but the presses seldom stop, and having press checks every two hours, 24/7, is very fatiguing. Thankfully, that ordeal is over and a couple of days ago we received the first bound copies of Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape. It looks super and we can’t wait for you all to see it. As luck would have it, we began printing on the first day of Ramadan, the fasting month for observant Muslims. It was poor timing on our part, but the printer worked with us and got the job done. The book will be available at all Periplus bookstores in Bali and Jakarta as soon as Ramadan is over.

I haven’t mentioned that we are very proud of the fact that every marine life image in the new guidebook is new; no underwater photos from our previous book, Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, are included in the new guide. We have been fortunate to have dived in the Bird’s Head so often and have so many wonderful images of the area that we could do another book and still not repeat ourselves! We listened to your suggestions; the new guide has much improved dive site maps and is easier to read. Enjoy and let us know your comments.

We are now in the midst of the tedious process of organizing the shipping of some of the book stock to the USA. Before 9/11 this was a simple endeavor, but times have changed. Or hadn’t you noticed? To give you an example, the pallet of books has to have it’s own “documented” security clearance. Finding a US certified inspector in Jakarta, despite it being a city of 17 million +, is not exactly a matter of looking them up in the Yellow Pages. Fortunately our Singapore agent has found the ways and means to get this done. But talk about jumping through hoops. There are at least 20 different forms that have to be in place before the books can be shipped. But that’s not really the issue. All those forms are so the books will clear US Customs upon arrival. If all the documentation is not in order US Customs will not accept the shipment. They don’t ship it back either, they just destroy it. And, for their trouble, we would be fined $5000. Yikes! Please keep your fingers crossed.

If we indeed have all our paperwork in order, the books should be in the states by late October. It will “officially” debut at DEMA in early November but it will be available on our website, from our US distributor, New World Publications ( and on Amazon as soon as they clear customs. We will post an announcement on the website and FB as soon as they are arrive.

Have we been diving lately? NO. Are we ready to go diving? YES. I’m going out on Pindito in early September, but Maurine won’t get wet until our next Secret Sea trip in late September.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t been photographing, though. Bali is a treasure trove of accessible exotic subjects. We recently spent a few days in Ubud, where a royal cremation took place. What a spectacle! The cremation tower, used to transport the corpse from the royal palace to the Puri Dalem (Temple for the Dead) where it is cremated, was easily five stories high. It takes over a 100 men to carry it. The bull, the final vessel for the body, was huge as well, about twice the size of the largest real life bull you will ever see. I staked out a spot to photograph the scene at the death temple at 11:30 AM. There were already at least a 1000 people there who arrived before me. I found a good vantage point, however, but it meant sitting in the hot sun while fighting the mounting throngs to maintain my view corridor. The crowd grew to easily over 10,000, but I’m not good at estimating numbers and it could have been much larger. The tower and bull, to which the body is transferred at the temple prior to being set on fire, didn’t arrive until 3 PM. Finally at around 6 PM the bull, now containing the corpse, was ignited. It was a long, hot day to say the least. I must have drunk 10 liters of water and still felt dehydrated, not to mention sunburned to a crisp.

Prior to the cremation we photographed the Bali Kite Festival. Kites are flown to honor the gods. I’m sure the gods were duly impressed. These aren’t your typical diamond-shaped, Walmart variety, kites by the way. These things are colossal. Some of them are over 100 feet long! I will post a few images on the website and on FB of all these happenings soon. Of course, even if there is not an event of epic proportions taking place there is always something interesting to photograph in Bali. We’ve been visiting beautiful, off the beaten path, temples, which despite Bali’s overloaded tourist scene, are never crowded. Also jukungs, the native Balinese-style outrigger fishing vessels, with their big eyes and wildly painted hulls, make good subject matter.

Back to diving. For those of you interested in liveaboards, we just had lunch on Damai 2. We’ve been watching it being “finished out” for the last couple of months, but hadn’t seen it in the last few weeks. We could tell it was going to be something special, but were unprepared for the grace and beauty of this ship. It is completely over the top luxurious! If I had to choose one word to describe it, that word would be magnificent. This boat is going to raise the bar and every other operator is going to be jealous. We can’t wait for our first charter on September 30th.

In the meantime we are working on a Bird’s Head Seascape slideshow/movie to accompany the book, which will be posted on our website and on You Tube. If you haven’t seen the show we produced for the first book go to our home page and click on the movie (left hand column). The software program we are using to create the program is giving us fits, but the real problem is culling the photos for the show. Unfortunately some of our favorites images from the new book won’t make it. Don’t worry though, since vertical images don’t work well in the slideshow many “landscape” formatted images that didn’t make the book either will be included in the movie.

Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Just another trip to Raja, NOT!

Maurine and I just returned from another wonderful trip to Raja Ampat. We’d like to thank all our Secret Sea dive buddies for joining us. And we’d like to thank new comers Ray & Sheri and Rita & Dieter for fitting in so well. As some of you may recall this trip’s original itinerary was planned to begin in Ambon, then to transit through the Banda Sea, before finishing in Raja Ampat. Due to two major storms, on either side of the equator, our live-aboard The Seven Seas was not able to meet us in Ambon. Everything had to be rescheduled. Many of our divers, expecting to meet us in Ambon, were already in the country, but they were scattered all over Indonesia’s archipelago. What a mess! With 7 Seas help we were able to locate everyone, reschedule flights, etc. and the trip started on time and finished successfully in Sorong. Major kudos and our heartfelt thanks go to 7 Seas.

Our mission, photographically, on this trip was to fill in a few gaps for our upcoming guidebook, Diving Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape, which will be published later this year. In fact we will be house, or should I say, office-bound for the next few months until we go to press. The book will be an expanded version of our original guidebook, Diving Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, published in 2009. The new book is planned to debut at DEMA in November and will include Cenderawasih and Triton Bays along with Raja Ampat.

One of the highlights of the trip was the best Manta encounter we’ve ever had in Raja. We’ve never had manta interaction like this before! There were 8 mantas around the site for the entire dive. They seemed to enjoy our presence and frequently swam out of their path to play with the divers. Jerry had a manta hovering over his head for 15 minutes while Ingo snapped away, and Linda filmed the scene for 7 Seas. BTW, right next to the manta cleaning station, and just out of the mantas path, is a small group of coral heads where a few cometfish live. Unlike most cometfish, which are very shy, these fish seem accustomed to divers and don’t mind being photographed. The group also photographed sea moths on the slope above the mantas, so now you need both macro and wide angle for the manta dive. What a dilemma!

Other highlights include Todd’s incredible spot of a frogfish carrying its eggs on a night dive at the Cendana pier in Aljui Bay. Dave got some great images and we plan to use one in the new guidebook. At “Happy Ending” on Batanta we found both a mimic and a wonderpus octopus. And on a new night dive at Balbulol, which we call “Surprise”, dive guide and cruise director Karl found a blue-ring octopus. Fortunately I did a rare night dive was able to get a couple of nice images. Even though we had to deal with a stiff current “Mayhem”, one of our favorite sites in north Raja, proved worthy of its name. We had fish galore and even a few grey reef sharks, spotted by Rowan, joined in the frenzy. “Blue Magic” also surpassed expectations with massive schools of barracuda, trevally, surgeonfish and fusiliers all swirling together.

For those of you who have never been to Raja and would like to go with us please see the “Travel” page on our website for availability.

So now the fun begins. While most of you are enjoying springtime we’ll be at our desks for the next few months working on the text and layout of the new guidebook. We’ll keep you posted on our progress from time to time.

Cheers and Best Fishes,
Burt and Maurine

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year

Maurine and I would like to wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year. We hope it is prosperous but more importantly our wish is that you all get to dive some place special this year.

Since our last outing we’ve begun working on an expanded revision of our 2009 Raja Ampat dive guide. The new book will encompass the entire region known as the Bird’s Head Seascape. In addition to Raja, it will include Triton and Cenderawasih Bays. Scheduled for publication later this year, it will debut at DEMA 2011.

For the holidays we took a break from diving and visited Laos (for Christmas) and Thailand (for New Years). We had a blast. Laos was an incredible surprise and we loved our time there. We landed in Vientiane, the capital city. One of the reasons we chose Laos was that we had heard it wasn’t crowded. The population of Vientiane is only 300,000, which is nothing when you live on a small island with a population of over 3.5 million! Laos has a long history of French heritage so the architecture is a combo of Asian and European. And the food, OMG, it was fabulous. Laotian food can best be described as a mix of Vietnamese and Thai, with the emphasis on lots of fresh, fresh lettuces and veggies. Of course there was plenty of European choices, mainly French and Mediterranean.

Due to the nature of the import laws in Indonesia, “non-essential” imported items like cheese and wine are scarce and very expensive. That is not the case in either Laos or Thailand. We usually ate Lao for lunch and French, or Italian, for dinner. Vientiane is a culturally interesting city with numerous major, and active Buddhist monasteries; many are quite old. We spent our days walking and photographing these amazing temples. It was so nice to be able to walk without sweating.

We thought Vientiane was nice until we arrived in Luang Prabang. LP is located "up country" on the Mekong River and the weather was cool and cloudy. Believe it or not, a sweater was comfy in the evenings and early mornings. The old town of LP is a World Heritage Site. There are over 60 monasteries in this sleepy laid-back town and most of them are active. In the World Heritage section of town motor vehicles are kept to a minimum, which means you can walk down the middle of the street without fear. Bars close at 10pm. The people are lovely and friendly, and the sites are spectacular. The surrounding region is an adventure lover’s paradise and there are many remote areas where trekking to visit isolated “hill tribes” is encouraged. We are insatiable collect-a-holics and the crafts of the region, especially the woven textiles, are superb.

We couldn’t have been happier. Great food, culture, crafts, and an uncrowded friendly population that believe in karma. As photographers, we never lacked for subjects. What a find. Go there before it’s “discovered”, but please don’t tell everyone about it!

Bangkok, well what can we say? It’s fun but very, very crowded. This was our 3rd visit to Thailand and it was a great spot to ring in the New Year. BTW, the bars never close!

We are now back in the office continuing to work on the new book and planning our diving travel for years to come. Thankfully all of our 2011 trips are full and for 2012 there are only a few spots still available. So if you want to “have the best dive trip of your life” book now!

Even though our 2013 schedule is not yet posted (we still have a few more details to work out) we are planning to make 2013 “The Year of the Bird’s Head”. Keep an eye on our travel page where we will be offering journeys to all the region’s areas including Raja, Triton Bay and Cenderawasih Bay. Even though it seems far away our trips fill fast so don’t wait too long. We’ll keep you posted and hopefully travel with many of you in the years to come.

All the best fishes,