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Indonesian Liveaboard Experiences

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#1 james


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Posted 29 May 2007 - 08:47 AM

Please post your experiences and opinions here. Which operations did you like and why? What sites are a "must see" etc.

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#2 expatdiver


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Posted 29 May 2007 - 08:57 PM

I went to Komodo with Mermaid II back in '04. It was my third time on a Mermaid boat so I obviously like their service.

For the diving, three sites stand out for me around Komodo:

1) Manta Alley - Had a great manta dive, plus lots of other stuff seen.
2) Cannonball Rock - My first frog fish, but I just remember the site being full of a variety of creatures.
3) Crystal Rock - Incredible visibility, and you could probably shoot an entire reef fish ID book their.

The only thing I would do differently if (when) I go back, would be look into some of the operations that leave from Bima. We did some diving on the way out from and back to Bali, but the best diving was around Komodo.
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#3 jander4454


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Posted 30 May 2007 - 02:21 AM

I was on Odyssea 1 in Raja Ampat in March. It is a clean and comfortable boat with a friendly crew and expert guides. Great facilities for photographers including DVD burning.

My best dives were
The passage in Kabui Strait
Aerborei Jetty
Manta Reefs at Aerborei.

I would love to go back with these guys.

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#4 MikeO


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Posted 30 May 2007 - 04:39 AM

Hi James,

First, though this thread has moved more than I did in nine years in the NAVY, it might be better placed outside of the "Commercial" forum.

Having got that out of the way. I'll try to keep it short. A search through the forums will find that I have, on numerous occasions, recommended SMY Ondina. I've made four trips on the boat (returned from the most recent one two weeks ago) and will make another trip with them next May. The first two trips were to Raja Ampat, the next was from Maumere to Ambon, the latest from Ambon to Raja Ampat. It's quite nice, the food is good, there are good accommodations for photographers, they have NITROX (though in the spirit of full disclosure, they had issues keeping 14 photographers going on NITROX on my last trip), but most importantly they listen and try to improve based on input from the guests. I'd go into gory detail but there is an Undercurrent review I did and if you want other infomation specific to the boat, I'd be more than happy to provide it later. All my trips have been with City Seahorse groups -- Deb and Tony are very familiar with Raja Ampat and their presence, along with the presence of extra crew they bring on board, does make a difference in selection of proper dive sites, etc.

Places to dive: In Raja Ampat, wide angle opportunities are quite good. In the Dampier Straits, there are several good sites: Mike's Point, Chicken, Mios Kon, etc. Depending on the current, any one can be outstanding or only just average. When conditions are right, you can expect to see lots of fish. When there two weeks ago, we saw schools of jack, sweetlips, surgeonfish, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish, and a few sharks. Around Misool, there are a couple great sites called (at least by the Ondina crew) Fiabacet and the Friendly Canyon. Fiabacet is worth a full day as it is a large site. The Friendly Canyon is good as well as long as you like a bit of current (lots of fish, a nice wall with soft corals, etc.). For macro, there is a site near a pearl farm. The Ondina calls it Waterlogged. It is a steep slope near the entrance of a big bay. At one end, there is a coral carden, at the other it is more of a mucky slope topped by a shallow area with fans, small coarls and algae. Lots of nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, pygmy seahorses, ghost pipefish, etc. My guess is that you could see just about anything there if you were into staying at the same site long enough, though some grow tired of seeing the same mucky slope over and over. One year, the group before ours saw a juvenile crocodile there! This year, some of our divers headed down to a different spot a bit further out toward the opening of the bay and reported that there was a very nice reef with a lot of fish as well. Another unique opportunity you may have is to dive in shallow areas right underneath the forest. We typically do it at a place called "The Passage". It is a shallow channel that goes between Waigeo and Gam. The currents flow back and forth through there and it is truly a "different"dive. When the current is ripping, you fly around corners and critter hunt in eddies and slack areas. Most diving at the Passage is shallower than 20 feet. Good for both critters (nudibranchs, flatworms, archerfish, halfbeaks, lamellarids, butterfly fish I am used to calling "copperband", tons of shrimp gobies, etc.) and wide angle (soft corals and fans with trees hanging over them). One final note -- in the past, we've also spent quite a bit of time at a site called Melissa's Garden. Used to be a very nice shallow coral garden with lots of small fish and soft coral. When we went there a few weeks ago, it had been bombed. Still some nice stuff there but not at all what it was.

There is good diving outside Raja Ampat as well. We had some nice diving around Ambon -- there is a great muck site there at the Laha Jetty and found a few good places around Ceram. I was a bit underwhelmed by the diving around Flores and we were unable to get to the Bandas last September due to weather constraints. Next year we wil spend some time around Halmahera -- hopefully that will prove interesting.


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#5 Iggy



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Posted 30 May 2007 - 06:10 AM

Places to dive: In Raja Ampat, wide angle opportunities are quite good.

I get big time depressed everytime I read this from someone :) In three trips to the archipeligo covering 9 weeks of diving I have seldom had the good fortune to experience water decent enough to consider the wide angle even acceptable. The subject matter is there but water good enough to exploit it hasn't yet been in the master plan for my diving in Raja. Looking around the web and in the galleries/portfolios of fellow divers I don't see overwhelming evidence of good water either. I see nice composition, subjects and photography but not superior background water.

I'd hope to be able to shoot wide in Raja with water even somewhat clean/clear but I am hesitant to spend the time and money, again, in the wish that I might hit it well. And shooting macro for weeks on end makes me looney. I've followed the advice of those who have a great deal of experience in determining which seasons/months are best, but to no avail. Certainly the overall health of the environment is predicated on on the thick nutirent rich water column (so I should stop bitchin'). But I think I may be relegated to only hearing about the great wide angle in Raja and never actually seeing it myself :)

Last Indo trip was on Pinditio-
Cabins -- quite nice and very roomy, good AC but some other cabins AC was broke or diminished
Food -- very Indonesian, some monotony to the offerings, I enjoyed it, many on board did not
Ship -- suffered a number of minor breakdowns not handled well by the ship's engineer, though nothing that interupted diving or cruising
Dive Crew -- I enjoyed the work of Annalisa, Dave and Housi, they worked very hard for us, good people in my book
Leadership -- I am told Housi is normally cruise director, on this trip Edi was on board (photo hog he is, even though we were the paying customers), it's my gut feeling the boat is more friendly with Housi in charge than Edi, I like Edi but I don't think he should be allowed to handle customer requests or questions!!! :P :) :)
Diving -- you suit up on the forward deck, the crew brings the tanks to you, you walk down a flight of ships steps to the waiting panga, your gear is removed from the tanks after the dive so you do have to setup for each and every dive...not a major hassle but not as streamlined as it could be either, Nitrox check isn't industry standard given the way the tanks are filled, stored and delivered to the diver, one downside to the operating standard is that someone has to carry your photo gear across the deck and down the stairs...the opportunity for disaster is ever-present
Overall -- good expenditure of money for this cruise, a lot of small issues with the charter but for what is really an immature market and service industry it'd be difficult to say one should expect more. Hope maybe, but not expect :(
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#6 scorpio_fish



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Posted 30 May 2007 - 06:11 AM

Well, we just got back from a trip on the Pelagian. The boat operates out of Wakatobi for most of the year, but spends part of the year in Komodo. While it did some trips in Raja Ampat, they are not planning on returning to the area. We were on a 7 day itinerary.

It is advertised as the most luxurious live aboard available. It's big at 35m and holds only 12 divers max. Diving is done from 2 tenders. All gear is stowed on the tenders.


Great food
Great staff


Well, here goes. First, there are 4 classes of rooms among the 6 rooms. The master stateroom is like a suite. The two standard rooms are very standard, i.e. small. It's like staying in a closet at the Bellagio. I asked where the bags will be stored. The reply was, "in your room". The other rooms were quite large and this wasn't an issue. With four checked bags and 3 carryon bags of camera gear, this was absolutely the worst living space arrangement I've ever experienced on a live aboard.

The camera room was quite spacious, but it also was the walk way to the master stateroom and the stairs to our standard cabin and crew quarters. The camera table was tall and head closed cabinets. The cabinets were full of boat stuff, so no room to store anything. All the camera bags had to be stored in our room. If there had been a lot of housed cameras on the trip, it would have been a problem.


The diving. Several people on the trip had stayed at the resort. We liked the diving at the resort better than the live aboard itinerary. Others preferred the Pelagian itinerary. More big stuff. More nice walls. Fewer critters.

I would and am considering this boat for a Komodo trip. However, I would never get on the boat if I had to take one of the standard rooms.
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#7 Drew


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Posted 30 May 2007 - 07:00 AM

Does that mean it's more like a Motel 6? :)

The two standard rooms are very standard, i.e. small. It's like staying in a closet at the Bellagio.

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#8 Taxgeek


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Posted 30 May 2007 - 10:04 PM

I'll build a bit on MikeO's report on the SMY Ondina. This was my first trip on it, and I've never been on another Indonesian boat before.

For context: the last boat I was on was the Seahunter, at Cocos Island. Before that, Faah Yai in Burma, and Palau Aggressor. Also dive Truth boats etc in SoCal.

It's hard to rate the boat in terms of dive site selection, since we had Deb and Tony along who apparently had a lot of input into that decision (which was the reason I chose to dive with a City Seahorse charter, and proved to be a really good decision).

The boat is spacious (even with 14 photogs with 12 or so dSLRs) and quite clean. The cabins were large, although some seemed to be larger and quieter than others. There was lots of room, for instance, under the queen size double bunk in our room (twin upper) for I'd estimate 6 or 7 full size suitcases if you wedged them in right. Two large cabinets for clothes. Plenty of light. There was only one electrical plug in our room, (plus one in the bathroom) but a strip easily handled that problem.

The camera table runs the entire width of the boat at the (tapered) stern (which I don't remember and am too lazy to look up - maybe 12-18 feet) but is about 4 feet (or two camera rigs) deep. And underneath the camera table, there are two layers of shelves with large milk crates, each capable of storing a full rig with dual strobes, and each holding a nice big towel to use as you well for your stuff. During our long crossings, nobody's camera was up on the table, and to my knowledge, nobody was storing theirs in their room. All fit into the crates. Two large rinse tanks. Crew VERY careful with cameras and well trained - nobody EVER tried to pick my Ike housing up by anything other than the same tray handle I handed it up with from the water. Boat drivers even learned who had port covers they wanted removed before handing camera down, and who wanted theirs left on before handing down, who wanted towels over their housing on the way to the divesite, etc etc etc. Quirky, crazy photographers were no problem for these guys. Crew carried cameras to the RIB tenders - there was never a dramatic moment. No mishaps, no near misses, no false steps (that I ever saw or heard about). These guys were good.

The boat is fairly cushy, but not up to Seahunter or Aggressor Cush standards. [Cutting to the chase, not real mattresses and not real sofas. Other than that, all was very good.] Mattresses in the room were 6" ish foam mattresses. I was plenty comfortable at night. Pillows good. No funny smells. The only lack in the "cush" department was the salon/dining room. There are two large tables, each of which seat about 8. There are 6 chairs (big wooden chairs like captains chairs - comfortable). The rest of the seats are around the wall on wooden benches with thinish foam cushions (say 4" thick) with matching back cushions. They weren't thin enough to warrant complaining, but if you spent alot of time on them, and have a bony fanny like me, you end up with a few numb butt moments. I have to say I'd vote for the actual sofas the Seahunter had as far as the cush factor. But then, this is Raja Ampat. :-) There is a nice big table on the front deck under a sun shade tarp (boat is good for people shy of sun like me), but when it rains, they put away the cushions so they stay dry. The benches are hard! There are 2 hammocks, which are comfy. There are comfy wood deck chairs with nice thick cushions on the top deck (yes, three separate decks of public areas), but again the cushions get put away if it's wet.

A/C was very reliable in our cabin (like other boats, this apparently varied) and in the salon. Bathrooms were perfectly adequate. Really good heated showers in the wetsuit storage room (showers in room are air temperature only).

Food was good. Not fantastic. But definitely solid and appetizing, served nicely and with good variety by friendly, happy and helpful waitresses. About 1/2 Indonesian, 1/2 "international" food. I was able to find plenty to eat that I liked, and this seemed to be the general sentiment, although I wasn't raving about the food at the end of the trip (unlike the Faah Yai with its Thai chef - yummm.) Snacks always available. Beer and sodas and water in easy and plentiful (and cold!) supply.

Overall, I'd give the boat an A after hearing some of the workings of the other Indo boats. The main point is that I never had a worry about my camera, my gear, the tenders, the dive schedule or dms or supervision, or how the boat was handling things. I was more or less comfortable the whole time (dry and warm enough or cool enough and with adequate places to sit or lay). Layout and logistics worked out really really well. I'd dive this boat again in a heartbeat.

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#9 bmyates


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Posted 31 May 2007 - 07:45 PM

I'll add my $.02 worth. I, too, can highly recommend Ondina, especially on trips organized by Deb Fugitt. I've been on Ondina twice in Raja Ampat, once with Deb and once without. I've also been to on several boats in the Grand Komodo Tours (GKT) fleet - once in Raja Ampat and twice in Komodo.

Much in Raja Ampat - especially with regard to wide angle opportunities - depends on current, specifically diving sites when the current is strong enough to make all the soft corals "stand up" but diving in front of the reef in the "sweet spot." This is considerably more difficult, since tender-drivers need to be much more precise about where they drop divers, and the diving can be more challenging for less experienced divers. Many boats, including the GKT boat I was on up there, take the easy way out, and dive the slack tides or lee side of sites; hence, crappy corals/wide angle opportunities. Hence, it is especially important to dive Raja Ampat with an operation that understands the importance of diving IN current, and chooses sites AND drop points based on it. Ondina tends to do that, sending someone into the water before every dive to check current. With Deb aboard running the charter, your chances are even better, as she is almost maniacal about diving sites at optimal currents.

Many of the sites in Komodo, OTOH, are less current dependent. We dove some sites (Crystal Rock, Current City) multiple times the same days there, and many of the good sites were equally good under different conditions. GKT (which has boats based in Bima) does an excellent job there, and offers outstanding value for the money (FAR less expensive per dive than the bigger, more well-known boats). Their boats aren't fancy, but if you don't mind "rustic" accomodations, I can recommend them...and they go above and beyond to do everything they can to provide guests with a great experience.

Be sure to take a warmer wetsuit for Komodo so you can dive the South (where the water can easily be 10 degrees colder - around 70 - than on the North side of the islands, where it is closer to 80). On one trip there, the women on the boat got so chilled that we had to go back up North (missing out on some of the best diving, which is in the South).

Edited by bmyates, 31 May 2007 - 07:46 PM.

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