Monday, October 26-Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Part 2: Misool
Most dive trips begin with a fitful mess of lurches and starts, and this was no exception. Most problems (forgot/ broke in transit/ brought the wrong X, Y, Z) were resolved by the end of the first day. Burt found himself without a crucial piece of equipment, the plate used to lock a land camera to the inside of an underwater housing. Such pieces are so specific, they almost can’t be jerry-rigged. Amazingly, the crew borrowed Steve’s (luckily for Burt, we also shoot Nikon D7000s in Subal housings) and used it as a template to make him a wooden substitute which worked, well enough to put him back in business. It was a relief to me to learn even pros make such mistakes, as this is one I have most dreaded since taking up this sport.
Our first night on board was restful, at least until the deepest dark middle of the night, when the rain which accompanied us out of Sorong harbor suddenly materialized in our room, on the bed,and more specifically, on my chest. The Pindito, although a soundly constructed and solid-feeling boat, is wooden and creaks and periodically springs leaks, most of which are resolved after some detective work by the crew.
Woken up by cold water splashing me, I groped for the footholds to ease myself down to the floor, and fumbled to locate the light switch.
Me (to Steve): “I’m going to have to turn on the light.”
Water was finding its way through an overhead beam, forming an unattractive brown stain on the sheets. I threw my thick deck towel onto the wet spot, and eased back into the bed, scooting us both into the half formerly occupied by Steve.
We were still underway by the time for the first planned dive rolled around . The general plan is “first” breakfast of toast, juice, fruit, and coffee, followed by a first dive around 8 am, with a cooked “big” breakfast afterwards.
Searching for the first dive site was a flail. Following Burt’s GPS coordinates , we took a long skiff ride out looking for an underwater plateau which did not materialize where predicted. It turns out the coordinates were written down wrong, wasting an hour while we searched. Steve ended up with a sunburned face . Surprisingly, the skiff drivers didn’t have radios to communicate with Pindito.
An alternate plan was formulated on the fly. Another long ride away, we arrived at Julliet kecil for a late morning dive. It was very fishy, with great fans and soft corals, despite greenish water.
The afternoon dive was to Boo Window, on Boo island, where the image Burt and Maurine used for the cover of their first book on this area was taken.
The night dive (Tempat Lego on Boo Island) with Greg, Markus and Lea, featured many nudibranchs, as well as lovely sponges and corals.
The current picked up in the second half, making it difficult to stabilize enough even for a large unfurled basketstar.
A beautiful full moon over the island and mottled clouds greeted us on exiting the water.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015 (Fiabacet)
Despite staying up late talking to Kerri the night before, we had a restful short night, without any unwelcome water incursions.
Arriving at our first dive site, Nudie Rock, with Kerri, Ronan, Greg, Markus, and Steve, I was brought up short as we suited up to discover I had a short fill (2200 psi). My tank was swapped with Ronan’s, and then just before rolling over backwards into the water, Kerri noticed my regulator was now missing the exhaust manifold, a piece of plastic which keeps bubbles from blowing into one’s face. The piece wasn’t in the boat, and presumably had been dislodged during the exit from the night dive.
Back to the boat went Ronan and I, after sending the rest off via simultaneous back-roll. We swapped out his tank and I located our spare exhaust manifold. It popped right into place and back to the dive site we sped.
Awaiting us were gorgeous clouds of swirling schools of fish, a wall loaded with color and activity, with huge feeding Napoleon wrasses. Ronan found a lovely golden brown robust ghost pipefish. Crinoids danced their way comically across the reef.
Dive number 2, Tank Rock, was equally beautiful, but frustrating-my camera would not turn on, no matter what, a problem which had dogged me during our dive trip to Cuba in July. The current was swirly up top, and it was Mr. Toad’s wild ride for a while. There was a fantastic variety of soft coral colors and textures, large hard corals, and fish galore. I was the first up for a change, swept off inexorably toward the end of the dive.
Dive 3 (Batu Paus) was fabulous. Kerri led us through a series of pinnacles.
In one cut, large plate corals sheltered fish, while the water above was alive with schools swooping through. I saw a turtle and gave pursuit, but it was not ready for its close-up. In the more quiet shallows at the end of the dive, I worked a large coral head, waiting for schools of fish to provide a secondary point of interest, keeping in mind tips for wide-angle that Herg had discussed in an after lunch presentation.
Our late afternoon dive (Boo West) was spent very shallow, trying wide-angle shots combining colorful coral bouquet foregrounds with the glowing island above as the background.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Dive 1, Boo Window.
Another dive at Boo window without seeing the namesake windows. They are very shallow, even partially visualized at the water’s surface at low tide, so Herg and Kerri said they preferred to visit them at the end of the dive. A good plan, assuming you can stay on the island. I found myself blown sideways with such force there was no resisting. Eventually, I found shelter in bommies in the lee of the one tree island. I tried several times to venture out, but quickly retreated, afraid of being blown out of visual range. Several large bump-head parrotfishes noshed their way through the range.
Dive 2, Magic Mountain
Divers can be a superstitious lot. The possibility of seeing “large floppy white things,” aka manta rays, was whispered as a hope for this site. Never in our wildest dreams would we have conjured up the experience we actually had.
Descending, I found myself eye to eye with a group of 5 large and very approachable batfish.
The main dive site is a plateau at about 40 feet, dropping off steeply at the edges.
After a quick perusal over the edge of the plateau, I made my way back up to the plateau. I found 3 divers aligned along a mini-ridge, staring intently in the same direction. Hunkering down in the rubble, I trained my eyes in the same direction. A faint line organized itself from the murk; yes, a manta. At first, they weren’t close enough to shoot well, but with time, their arcs swept closer and closer. The divers dispersed over the plateau. When I started to wander from my corner, one of the other divers pointed behind me. A huge manta incoming, coming closer, closer, larger, larger, eye to eye. So big, these oceanic mantas, 6-7 meters across, 20 feet wingspan, making the variety we’ve encountered before seem small by comparison. As the plateau emptied, they came in closer and closer.
It was a manta religious experience. Just call me a manta whisperer.
Dive 3, Magic Mountain
My luck in summoning mantas held for our return to Magic Mountain. Not seeing mantas on entering, I started to circumnavigate the edge of the plateau. I made it about a quarter of the way when I spotted mantas incoming over a small promontory. This proved to be a manta sweet spot, as we had flyovers and close inspections for the next hour.
Next to me were Gail and Markus, with dive guides Erik and Lea hanging in the current on a reef hook. I tried several times to retreat, thinking someone else might want this premium site, but the current basically kept me pinned there. Towards the end of the dive, Steve and Greg appeared. They apparently had been on the opposite corner and mantas never showed up there. We’d been told to spread out over the plateau so as to let the mantas come to us, but apparently the mantas were not comprehensive in their coverage. A large school of fusiliers appeared, momentarily nearly obscuring a large manta. A beautiful eel was free-swimming on the plateau’s edge, hunting.
Dive 4, night, Tempt Lego Boo was a frustrating dive for me. I found plenty of subjects, but was hard pressed to obtain enough exposure and had a lot of trouble adequately stabilizing myself.
A serene full moon lit up the night sky as we exited the water.
Friday, October 30, 2015 was our last day in the Misool region of Raja Amat, near the island of Daram.
Burt gave the briefing for a double pinnacle system, the Candy Store, connected by a ridge underwater, forming a “T” shape. What a splendid site, with huge fans and soft corals, fish streaming in schools up, down, and around, including jacks.
Kerri had a solitary visitation by an oceanic manta. My right-hand strobe did not seem to be responding to changes in setting as I struggled to light the upper half of a large purple barrel sponge.
After my usual breakfast of nasi goreng (fried rice), Herg went over my strobe settings and uncovered the problem. It turns out there is a magnet on the back of the strobe which needs to be in for the Inon strobe to operate properly in manual.
Our next 2 dives were on a site called Andiamo, named for the sailboat from which Burt once mapped out this site’s potential for diving. I spent the whole first dive on the pinnacle, from which the mooring ball was suspended, never making it to the actual site.
It was stunning, with a glorious array of soft coral and fan colors and textures, with schools of fish everywhere.
This time, I was the only one to see a solitary, fleeting oceanic manta, which veered near for a quick sighting. In the shallows, a ball of convict bennies shimmered as a unit over a large brain coral, shape-shifting and morphing as they darted about feeding.
Burt later told me that the parents are rarely seen, living in a sand burrow, the numerous offspring venturing forth periodically to feed. It is theorized that the offspring may be so numerous to offset predation by the parents.
Hearing that Lea had found a woebegone shark on a ledge surrounded by fusiliers, I followed her into the water on the 3rd dive back to Andiamo. The ledge was concealed by a dark cloud of swirling fish. The shark was placid and didn’t move as his close-up was taken by one after another of our group.
The water was rent by a hurricane of jacks, with a loose aggregate of batfish among the streams of fish. It was the aquatic equivalent of traffic with car trails of light, a frenzy of activity.
Our late afternoon dive was a return to the Candy Store, this time to the actual site. Up on the ledge, anemones were balling up for the night.
The swim-through opening just below the surface was where we ended our dive, taking turns swimming through and modeling.
After dinner, I finally made it to the end of the horribly funny Danish film we’ve been watching in segments over the last several days, “Klown.”
I begged off a repeat match of “Cards Against Humanity” and limped off to bed early for once. Greg and I had joined in a match of this “party game for horrible people” after the night dive the night before and acquitted ourselves reasonably well for latecomers. We were introduced to this awfully amusing game by Lori and Javier on the boat in Cuba. However, two gin and tonics and 4 dives were enough to do me in by 8 pm.
Coming soon: Part 3 (Triton Bay)