Northern Raja Ampat on Damai 2: February 2020 (Part 2)

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

After an idyllic week at Papua Paradise, it was on to the main course, a 10 day cruise on Damai 2 (that post is linked, in case you missed it).   Over the week, our group had assembled, Noah’s ark style, two by two, and Tanya had arranged for the Damai to come pick us up at Papua Paradise’s dock, saving us all from packing up our gear and breaking down our cameras and transferring back by boat to Sorong, which would have been SoWrong!

For this trip, Carlo from Italy and Shawna from Canada were our cruise directors, with the addition of Tiesa from Brazil, cruise director in training.  Changes in policy stemming from the Conception tragedy last fall had been implemented since our last cruise on Damai 1.  Namely, no overnight charging was permitted in the camera room.  A white plastic box in our staterooms was now available to protect electronics from unexpected leaks.  I presume this change directly stemmed from our friend Greg’s ill-fated cruise, during which his porthole burst in the middle of a calm night, apparently an unlucky driftwood strike, spraying and frying his phone and laptop with sea water.

Over the subsequent 10 days, we would make a circuit of Raja Ampat’s delights, both north and south.

We were picked up at Papua Paradise Eco-resort on Batanta, about 1.5 hours by boat from Sorong, the gateway to Raja Ampat. From our pickup on Batanta, we headed northwest as far as Aljui Bay, then south via Penemu and south Batanta, before heading south around Misool and Daram (coming in a future post).

I think we were all pleasantly surprised by Carlo’s suggestion that there was time after boarding for a late afternoon dive.  The highlight was the find of a harlequin shrimp pair! Picturesque damselfish were creeping around at the end.

We dove a site on the north shore of Batanta before heading northwest on a circuit of northern Raja Ampat.

Wruzwarez Slope (Batanta) (78 minutes 60 feet)

A delightful find on a shelf under a ledge at Wruzwarez Slope: a pair of harlequin shrimp!

Halgerda batangas, Wruzwarez Slope, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Janolus species, Wruzwarez Slope, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Another colorful resident of Wruzwarez Slope, a peacock mantis shrimp, out on the hunt.

Razor coral, Wruzwarez Slope, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Picturesque, indeed, this lovely little damselfish. Wruzwarez Slope, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

(Dampier Strait)

Dive 1 Sardine Reef (Dampier Strait) (68 minutes 71 feet)

Dampier Strait reef scene, with glassy sweepers, Raja Ampat Indonesia.

This was an “avoiding other boats” selection.  I made a horrifying discovery after the first dive, namely corrosion of one of my Panasonic battery charger’s contacts, literally dissolved. It was in the camera room and there didn’t appear to be a leak from above.  I can only suppose I flung my still wet camera open too vigorously, splashing the contact.  This was a disastrous development.  No one else had the same system and that was my only charger.  The batteries couldn’t be charged via the camera.  Kevin made the critical discovery that I could still eek out a charge by pressing the battery very hard against the charger, making just enough contact.  For a few days, I managed by lashing the battery onto the charger with 2 interlaced zip ties; later, 2 weights from the dive deck were required to keep the critical parts in contact.

Dampier Strait reef scene, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Dive 2 Blue Magic (Dampier Strait) (63 minutes 89 feet)

If only fish were always so cooperative! Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

A walking shark was sighted, which I did not manage to capture.  Jacks were schooling in the water column, spiraling upwards.

Batfish cruises the reef, Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Silvery jacks dance over Dampier Strait reef.

After lunch, I had the first of near-daily, blissful massages with Komang, a strong but gentle giant.

Dive 3

Friwibonda (Dampier Strait)  (72 minutes 43 feet)

Squirrelfish peers out from a barrel sponge, Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Two-spot snappers broke their tight ranks every time I tried to approach closer.

Anemone reef scene, Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

 

Later in the afternoon, anemones ball up, closing up shop for the night. Sometimes, the anemone fish are a little less active and easier to photograph.

A pair of spinecheek anemonefish, Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Balled up anemone with pair of skunk anemonefish.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Yangeffo

Dive 1 Citrus Reef (63 minutes 86 feet)

Citrus Ridge, so aptly named, what a profusion of orange soft corals!

Turtle on Citrus Reef, Yangeffo, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Citrus Reef scenic, Yangeffo, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Dive 2 Mayhem (69 minutes 52 feet)

There was more boat mayhem than fish activity.

Dive 3 Pretty Shallow Reef (Mayhem Ridge) (91 minutes 53 feet)

I started practicing deploying a surface signaling device on a line while on my safety stop.  With a camera, this skill is harder than it looks.  I dropped the reel on my first attempt.

Wes and Kelly were only takers for the night dive.  I was really starting to feel my age on this trip.  For someone who used to routinely do 5 dives/day, now 3 dives/day, with an occasional 4th, seemed like enough.  I also was really struggling with my vision underwater.  I had Lasik years ago, and have mono-vision.  My right eye is corrected for close work and luckily, happens to still be just what I need for computer and radiology work.  My left eye, corrected for distance, has drifted badly and now, for social occasions, I wear a soft contact in order to partially correct astigmatism and myopia.  Underwater, I have been having to lean more and more on autofocus, but now I was finding I could hardly read my parameters (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) through the viewfinder.  I mostly relied on experience, changing the dials and seeing the image brighter or darken.  I was now having for the first time to bring my non-dominant eye (the right) over to try to read my settings.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Aljui Bay

Aljui Bay dive sites we visited (near Waigeo), the northern and westernmost extent of our wanders.

It was drizzly and overcast.  Today, I tried diving for the first time without wearing a left eye contact.  My mask is prescription; maybe my imperfect contact correction was interfering with corrected mask?  I thought I could see a little better, so continued from this point on in the trip to dive without wearing a distance contact. Today was my first day to try out a 45 mm macro lens which Kevin had brought along for me to try.

#1 Channel Island (82 minutes 47 feet)

Flower-like Clavularia palm corals, Channel island, Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Steve left his lens cap on-woops! Tanya , Kevin, and I were swept rapidly by a strong current until we reached a little wall, studded with fields of opening and closing flowery Clavularia tree ferns (palm corals).  Long white antennea signaled the presence of a small lobster, while nearby, an eel peered out from the wall.

Doesn’t this eel look delighted to see me? Its cleaner wrasse friend hovers nearby. Channel island, Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Trio of squarespot combtoothed blennys; Channel island, Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Captivating crinoid, Channel island, Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

The long white antenna give away a small lobster on a colorful wall. Channel island, Aljui Bay, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

#2 Tears drop North Side (80 minutes 46 feet)

#3 Dalton’s Point (65 minutes 52 feet)

I finally took our newly acquired snoot/strobe into the water.  Tanya found a suitable starfish subject for me to start experimenting.  It was tricky getting it adjusted but eventually I had it somewhat dialed in and was pleased with some of my initial results.

My first snoot, what else but a starfish?! Notice the tiny brittlestar draped over one of the orange tubercles (upper left).

A coil of a whip coral, by snoot.

My favorite of these snoot trials: a fallen leaf.

I lobbied to visit the “stingless” jellyfish lagoon we had visited in 2017, but our short visit was too rushed and too late to be really satisfying. Part of our rush was the plan for the night dive, reportedly the one not to miss.

Dive 4 Cendana Fuel Dock night (85 minutes 24 feet)

We weren’t able to arrange a visit to the pearl farm but the night dive at its pier was very satisfying, exceptional really!  Even I found subjects galore, although I did manage not to see a green frogfish Kevin showed me (I was distracted by the swarm of pipefish on the same beam).  I found a pair of crocodilefish, so large together I had a hard time including both in my 45 mm macro frame.

Crocodilefish couple: shortly after taking this image, they jumped apart and sand flew everywhere.  Since they are normally so placid, maybe that was a mating event?

Frantic flashlight activity drew me off the crocodilefish couple.  As I swam toward the increasingly frenetic flashing, I paused momentarily to admire one of my favorite subjects, a reef squid.  The signaling seemed to insist I come so I reluctantly swam on, to find Carlo and Shawna over a pile of rubble, in which was partially revealed a truly amazing find: a baby walking shark!

A slick and glistening baby walking shark, about the size of a pencil, perhaps just born.

Adorable tiny crab, Cendana Fuel Dock night dive.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Penemu

South from Aljui Bay, we arrived at Penemu.

I shot wide angle all day.

Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Glorious glassy sweeper scene, Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#1 Keruo Channel (70 minutes 71 feet)

This was a drift dive, in a strong current; Kevin accidently tried to relocate my mask for me; surprisingly, it didn’t leak.

#2 My Reef (seamount) (44 minutes 83 feet)

I found my own woebegone shark.

It pays to peek under every ledge! A wobbegong shark hides in plain sight in Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

#3  Melissa’s Garden (60 minutes 56 feet)

Love these fields of lettuce corals at Melissa’s Garden, Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Melissa’s Garden, Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Melissa’s Garden, Penemu, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Beautiful Melissa’s Garden is famed for its vast fields of healthy hard corals, but I did find a colorful soft coral corner. Click the link to swim in Melissa’s Garden.

Steve is a turtle whisperer. Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Steve also attracts sea snakes! Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Sea snake heads to the surface to catch a breath. raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Steve lost his stick inflating his SMB, which shot to the surface with the safety sausage and was waiting for him on the surface after an unsuccessful search below.

Our day was capped off with a visit to a picturesque overlook.  The scary craggy limestone hike has been replaced in the years since I did this by wooden stairs.  Up top, I launched the drone for a short flight and this gorgeous panoramic view:

Years ago, this required a hike over scary, craggy limestone; now, there is a staircase leading to this viewpoint.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

South side of Batanta

Southern Batanta dive sites we dove as we made our way south.

#1 Reflection 1 (76 minutes 80 feet)

Elephant ear sponge edge detail, Batanta, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Using the 30 mm macro lens, I took close-ups of the edge of an elephant ear sponge.  The highlight find was a halimeda ghost pipefish which sharp-eyed Yanto found after Tanya combed through the promising-looking substrate twice.

One of my favorite fish, the Halimeda ghost pipefish, exactly matched in color and texture to its substrate.

#2 Algea Patch 1 (85 minutes 56 feet)

For this dive with the snoot, I swapped out for a chubby Nauticam arm, wanting some relief from the weight of this accessory.  I had been waking up with a dense acute carpal tunnel syndrome which lasted upwards of a half an hour, although wasn’t all that symptomatic during the day once it wore off.   The dive started with a bang, with Tanya dropping into the gravelly shallows to find a wonderpuss! It cavorted in the shallows long enough for most to take their shots, before diving into the rubble not to be found again.

Wonderpuss (its actual scientific name is Wunderpus photogenicus!), Algea Patch, south Batanta

Bill found a blue-tinged octopus by accident, as it tackled a tiny mantis shrimp.

I struggled with the snoot trying to capture a dragonet on the sand, but fared better with a tiny long-armed octopus, only its two eyes protruding from the sand.

A small army of reef squid kept their distance.

#3 Algea Patch 2 (55 minutes 62 feet)

I chased an elusive seahorse around a clump of coral before losing it in the struggle to turn on the snoot.  It turned out I installed the battery wrong.

Thorny seahorse, Algea Patch 2, south Batanta, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Strong current made this dive not so productive for me photographically. Even more frustrating was learning later that others had found additional blue-ringed octopi.

Rolling on a gentle sea towards Misool in the south introduced a new sound to the boat’s soundtrack.  The accentuated creaking of a wooden boat served as the background baseline.  In the camera room, a scudding, gently thudding sound reverberated intermittently in the walls. I imagined small animals scurrying through the walls.  Tonight a new noise emerged, like a tiny incessantly barking dog in the distance. Clever Kevin quickly made the diagnosis-the guitar hanging on the wall of the camera room was gently swinging, making its own music as it rubbed against the paneling.

We still had a short week of diving left, which would be spent in southern Raja Ampat,  the final leg of a 60 birthday-worthy journey.

Thanks to corona virus clearing our calendars for the foreseeable future, I feel confident I’ll finish the last post on this trip well before my next birthday.

-Marie

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