Pelagian Live-Aboard: Wakatobi, Indonesia 6 September 2008

Getting There

We are actually on land now, at the resort – it is hard to believe we have been diving now for 16 days, non-stop. Deni on Waka III(Actually, I stopped yesterday – took the ENTIRE day off to give my sore ear, and overloaded eyes and brain, a break – and to get this posted!) And these are LONG dives – 70 minutes or more, all of them. The Pelagian never actually docks AT the Wakatobi Resort – it is too shallow, so it docks about 2-3 miles away around the corner. When we returned to the resort from our 11 days on board, a water taxi picked up Deni (right), our dive guide from the Pelagian, who returned on this resort dive boat to collect us. On this kind of boat is where we are now spending lots of our time!

But to back up just a bit…

On Aug 22rd, after our 16+ hour flight from LA, and an 8-hour layover in the Singapore airport before heading for Bali, then 2 nights and a day in Bali (which I will write about separately later), we arrived an hour early at the Bali airport, only to spend another unexpected 6 hours awaiting our charter flight to the islands of Wakatobi, where we were supposed to have lunch at the resort, and a big welcome/orientation.

Ah, the joys of 3rd world red-tape. For some reason (all this according to our charming and gracious host from the Wakatobi Resort’s Bali office, Krispin, who is an Englishman) some bureaucrat in Jakarta had decided that the Wakatobi airstrip was not good enough for our plane to land!! Even though it had been good enough earlier that morning, and yesterday, and last week, and last month…for 10 years! But all the arriving Wakatobi guests (about 20), were ensconced in the first class lounge by Krispin, who took good care of us, keeping us updated on the many twists and turns of the situation. But we made his day…

Yesterday, our fantastic Bali tour guide taught us an Indonesian expression to surprise locals, and we managed to do that very successfully with Krispin. The words “Cape’deh” (pronounced chap’eh-deh) are said with great drama with the back of your hand to your forehead – it is a melodramatic gesture meaning “I’m so tired!”, or “I can’t take any more!” She told us it is used by the local transvestite community and mimicked as a big joke, and would be a hit when we used it. So, about the 6th time Krispin came to update us, maybe 4 hours along, as he approached, Mel whispered to us “okay, when he is done, on the count of 3…” We timed it perfectly, and Krispin nearly doubled over with laughter, asking “How long have you been practicing that???”

The Pelagian

Finally, after much patience and non-stop unusual but delicious food in the lounge, we were able to take off around 2pm for our 2 hour flight. PelagianOn landing, we were whisked quickly into about 3 vans by the local hosts and villagers for a short bumpy ride across the field from the airstrip through the village to the dock. We then proceeded down a very long steep flight of wide concrete steps to the village dock, completely surrounded by all the local children chattering and smiling and waving and sneaking looks at us, to a Wakatobi transfer dive boat which would take the 6 of us to the Pelagian live-aboard dive boat (left), since it was closer, and the rest of the guests on to the resort. So, after 4 days of traveling (or more precisely, 3 days of traveling, and 24 hours of waiting), we had arrived (Lester and I, Mel and Ellie, and Lyn and Spencer). Lots more follows…

Life On Board
group reading splash news

The Pelagian is a beautiful 1965? Norweigian-built dive yacht, designed for 12-15 guests (6 cabins, 12 divers only) but occupied by only 8 guests on this trip – the six of us, and Manfred and Ilse (a non-diver) – an Austrian couple on their second trip to Wakatobi, but first stay on the Pelagian (they had arrived earlier in the day). So, for the next 11 days, this was our schedule on the boat:

6:15 – 1st breakfast (cereal and often hot rolls or battered fried banana)
6:45 – 1st dive
8:30 – 2nd breakfast! (anything you want, you order)
10:30 – 2nd dive
12:30 – lunch (salad, entre, fruit)
2:30 – 3rd dive
4:00 – snack (usually cake or cookies or sweetbread)
5:30 – 4th (night) dive
7:30 – dinner (soup, entre, dessert)
9:00 – “Pelagian midnight” (bedtime for all the guests – the crew were up until 11pm)

We were fed too much, and the food was always absolutely excellent! We were always given two choices of entre for lunch and dinner, and advised that we could order 50-50; some of us learned after a few days to order 25-25! That helped a lot…and that Spencer and Cornelius, one of the dive guides, were happy to help with any leftovers.  I got a kick out of 1st and 2nd breakfast, but learned VERY quickly that I didn’t need both. There was also a very fancy, very popular coffee and espresso machine in the dining room/lounge that was a big hit – milk steamer and all.

So, the crew handled all our equipment. We never dived ‘off the boat’, but from two ‘tenders’ – inflatable zodiacs with two high-powered outboard motors, geared up for divers. Tender #1 going outWe were divided into two groups (Mel, Ellie, Lyn and Spencer – Lester, Linda and Manfred) for the two tenders. We had 3 excellent dive guides on board who would take turns with each of our tender groups: Fabrice, a Frenchman, and Deni and Cornelius, both Indonesians. [Deni has actually remained our dive guide for our resort stay.] We would get into the tenders suited up, and when we reached our dive site, typically 3-5 minutes wild ride (they were crazy and funny!), the tender drivers (Hary was our driver on Tender 2) would help us get on our tank gear and then say “Everybody ready? 1,2,3, GO!” and we would all fall backwards off the soft side into the water. (And yes, there was a ladder to get back on – thank God!) Our equipment went on the tender for the first dive, and never left it. After each dive we would climb back aboard, the crew would hand up the big cameras and then rinse equipment and refill our tanks. We would use the 3 shower hoses on each side of the boat to rinse off (and have water fights of course), and then change to dry clothes – every time – to eat/nap/whatever! (Lester believes this is to ensure a 2-hour break between dives since they have no decompression chamber on board.) What a life!

After a few days, the Tender 1 divers started having fun with their driver, Komang: when he would get to ‘Go!”, they wouldn’t move, or they would go on 2, or they would do a chicken dance, etc…so we started doing the same, and Hary loved it (as did Komang) – they would howl with laughter! Then Hary started playing with us – he would get the dive guide geared up, then turn to us, no tanks and BCs on yet, and say “Everybody ready?”, and we would all hoot with laughter! We plotted and threatened to go in anyway (we all had our fins and masks on), but we never did.

crew capekdehBut the biggest hit with the crew was indeed “cape’deh” – as promised, they loved it, and it became almost a greeting from the crew, used constantly – to *everyone’s* delight. Someone later told us that it was popularized by an Indonesian soap commercial and a famous Indonesian actress. But we were endlessly tickled at how well it was received, and we continued to puzzle over its ‘true’ meaning and how/why the crew picked it up. So who knows how idioms catch on and are passed around, right?

Another funny thing about living on a moving boat…our second night on board, we hauled anchor at 1am. Even though we were fully warned at dinner, we were sound asleep and I lept up off the bed, convinced we had been rammed or that the front of the boat was falling off – our cabin was right next to the anchor! And it took FOREVER to bring up! (Incidentally, check out the hilarious Australian video clip The Front Fell Off.) Then the anchor was dropped at 5:30 am, and again I was flying off the bed. Needless to say, that was a short night. And again the next night the boat hauled anchor, but this time at 10pm, and we moved northwest into open ocean. So we had very rough seas, making it hard to sleep, rocking deeply from side to side – even after putting everything that was falling off shelves on the floor; but at least WE didn’t fall off the bed!

Under the Sea

The diving really is amazing. We traveled northwest from the island of Tomia (the TO in Wakatobi) a total of about 100 miles, stopping at Kaledupa (the KA in Wakatobi) to the island of Buton, northwest of the Wakatobi Islands where we spent several days diving; then we dived at several islands on the way back, moving mostly after lunch. There are so many types and colors of corals and sponges and other creatures, and so many fish, that my brain simply cannot absorb them, even now. Most of our dives have been either on walls (many that drop to over 150 feet), and pinnacles or ridges that just rise up off the ocean floor – even better, ridges or saddles between pinnacles – one of my two favorite dive sites is called Blade because it looks like a giant serrated knife blade; we have done it 3 times. It has 4 pinnacles, at different depths, with saddles dipping in between, so we go along one side of the blade, up the walls of each pinnacle and then along just below the top of the saddle, then around the end pinnacle and back the other side, then at the end of the dive, octopussince we have to stay up (we start deep and end shallow), we swim open water at about 30 feet between the last two pinnacles with the saddle at about 70 feet below us – weird and wonderful! Some dives (my favorites actually), are on reeftops where you don’t have to worry about your depth, and the sunlight is best so my old eyes can see so much better – many dives end this way. My other favorite dive site, Fish Wall, started out as a wall, but we ended on a plateau near shore that was only about 20 feet, that had a series of what looked like sand channels – sandy depressions between low ridges that had beautiful coral formations and very large rocks – very very cool. It was there that I spotted my first octopus, in his den! (above)

cuttlefishPerhaps the strangest thing I have seen is the cuttlefish (right); it is related to the squid, but here they are huge – we have seen several that are about 2 feet long and 8 inches across, with tentacles about a foot long hanging down in the front. I have difficulty seeing the really small stuff, and haven’t really tried to use a magnifying glass – I’m still working on my buoyancy. I think I love most the anemone clownfish – who venture sometimes as much as 3 feet from their ‘home’ anemone and want so badly to play with you, but then get scared or cautious and dive back down deep, hiding in the tendrils; and the reticulated dascyllus, a little pale yellow fish with black bars that ‘live’ on a table coral and act just like the clownfish, dancing in and out of the coral holes – they are so cute in their various sizes from about 1/3 inch to about 3 inches. Then I also love the surgeonfish, with their scalpels between body and tail – one is nearly black with a pink tail and translucent fins, and the many very beautiful butterfly fish: raccoon, pyramid, longnose, Meyer’s, threadfin, and on and on, and the beautiful Moorish Idol. The juvenile batfish: black with an orange outline. The clown trigger: black with large white polka dots on its belly, and a yellow mouth and yellow mesh back cape and yellow on its rear and tail. Turtles of all sizes, small blue spotted rays; we have seen one large manta ray. Puffer fish that look like puppy dogs! Scorpionfish, crocodilefish, deadly poisonous stonefish! And so many beautiful lionfish. Amazingly colorful Mandarinfish – like a coat of many colors. Pipefish that look like branches. A frogfish that looks like a leaf. Cute little 3” square-bodied black box fish, usually orange spotted or mapped with bright blue lines. I could go on and on and on…(as I have already!)

I will spare you the myriad details about most of my dives (over 35 at this point!), but several are really memorable to me:

Dive 1 – Roma: First time under water since Bonaire, and first time in my new shorty wetsuit; added 4 lbs (too much). SEASQUIRTThen, we missed the entry point and landed in blue water – nothing in sight except clear-bodied colonial salps. Had to get back on the tender to find the spot. Still landed too far from the real point but still beautiful…seasquirt tunicates everywhere (left), in every color and size; featherstar crinoids – beautiful black, dark green, yellow, gold, white…like trees. I was very nervous with new buoyancy challenges and the strangeness of the surroundings.

Dive 3 – Treasure Chest: Really beautiful landscape – like a ski jump from pinnacle to pinnacle; great sunlight, amazing coral. Had taken 2 pounds out for my vest only, but now was wearing my shorty again – couldn’t seem to descend; thought that one of my weight pockets had fallen out; but it was just all the buoyant neoprene! I had not added more weight, but it worked out okay.

bubble coralDive 4 – Inner Pinnacle – discovered bubble coral (right), beautiful fans; I bent to tighten my fins and lots of air started free-flowing from the back, then stopped – from dump valve, or octo?? Spooky.

Dive 8 – Tanjung Lindola – I loved this site – beautiful steep sloping wall; we got halfway along to the ‘point’ and the current changed suddenly and dramatically, carrying us back the way we came like an express train; I spread my arms and flew like Superwoman! A great ride.

Muck Diving – Dives 9-12; weird: This is literally diving in muck – mud, silt, trash, junk, etc. where many small and strange creatures live, mandarinfishincluding the beautiful Mandarinfish at Magic Pier (left). On the very first muck dive at Cheeky Beach, Lester had camera problems and I couldn’t see him in the murky water, so I went back to surface to wait for him, as taught – he had already surfaced and gone back down to look for us, then back up to find me. The viz was only about 10’. On the second one at Asphalt Pier, I was VERY nervous – there were 20’x20’ murky pilings and fallen concrete everywhere, again with viz only about 10’, but again amazing fish and creatures – we saw a 13”+ green frogfish! But all in all, I don’t think I am a sophisticated enough diver to enjoy this yet…or ever. Too much muck, and I can’t see the small stuff anyway!

Dive 15 – Fish Market: Another gorgeous wall – nearly vertical and deeply crevassed/ undulating with lots of overhangs and caves, and SO MANY schools of different fish. Also beautiful gorgonian fans of so many different colors. And we saw an orangutan crab – fuzzy and orange; so cute with long arms and only about 1” across.

But, before we got there… First of all, we were having outboard motor problems this morning,a and Hary kept working with one of the motors to get it to behave, and we sort of limped along. Then, our dive site was supposed to be “Bianca”, off the island of Wangi Wangi (the WA in Wakatobi), but as we approached the dive site, our Tender was nearly rammed by a local fisherman in sun protection gear that looked like a terrorist mask. Tender #1 was stopped about 100 meters away, and driver Hary discussed something (quietly, persistently) with the fisherman for about 10 minutes; clearly the fellow didn’t want us to dive there – Hary said that they believe we are disturbing the fishing. Then Tender #1 motored over, and both drivers continued to negotiate for another 10-15 minutes, but the fisherman was resolute – no diving in this area (good thing we got in a beautiful morning dive here). speedboatsThey tried to get him to let us just dive there since we were ready, and then move on, or to let at least one group dive, but no luck. So we went back to the ship, conferred with the captain for a bit, then our two tenders headed off (speedboat style – the finicky motor seemed to be working just fine!) across the straight to the next small island. We were about halfway ‘there’, studying intently ahead to where we were going and hanging on for dear life (have I mentioned they were wild men behind the helm?), when suddenly we heard a shout. I looked around, and YIKES!!, there was Lester (with his bright turquoise blue pirate do-rag still on his head) – bouncing in the wake beside the tender, holding onto the rope with two white-knuckled hands, having a grand ride!! As we came to a stop, he shouts, ‘I lost my fins’! My heart sank for him (we didn’t think they were floaters), but we went back, and luckily, his booties had come off inside them too, so they *were* floating. Anyway, the dive was really great, but when we came to the surface, there was no Hary with Tender #2! We have been spoiled – he is always right there. So, we hung around on the surface, in pretty heavy surge, for about 20 minutes, when he finally arrived…he had gone back to the Pelagian to try and fix the motor, and lost track of time! I was sure ready to get out!

Dive 19 – This was a night dive (my only other except at Magic Pier) – along a gorgeous crenelated wall, but most beautiful were the stars when we came out! I quickly spotted the Southern Cross.  We can’t really see the stars very well at night on the boat, unless you get up very early in the morning, which I did one morning – it was very cool…everyone but the captain was sleeping, and the breeze was mild on the upper deck. Still a little too much light, but better than earlier when all the lights of the ship are on. (Footnote here: when we got back to the resort for dinner the night before transferring off the Pelagian, one of the crew pointed out the light on the horizon and said ‘See the glow of the village over there beyond the trees? Just kidding…that’s the Pelagian!’ I think it anchors over there because the resort doesn’t want the light pollution – they keep all the lights very low around the grounds.

channelDive 22 – The Channel: Have I mentioned our crazy RACING Tender drivers?  Today they raced each other in earnest, as we bounced and jounced holding on for dear life, following closely in one another’s wake on the long ride, then weaving braided wakes, heading past stilt fishermen’s houses on the reef. As warned by Fabrice, our guide for this dive, when we splashed into the water, we would be going with the tidal current racing out of the channel, and we had our wildest ride yet – literally flying through the water across the sandy bottom! (The Channel dive site is that thin blue horizontal line in the reef in the photo above right, and the sandy bottom was sort of like this photo below.) A huge school of huge barracuda, then tuna passed us by. Then, as we rounded the last corner, down low, I was just a BIT too far out (maybe only 12-18”!), and the current caught me really good and started to carry me very fast up and away. I dumped my air but started to panic and caught at Fabrice’s fin (Lester was too far back), as much to get his attention as to stop my passage. sandy bottomHe turned and wagged his finger at me, then realized what was happening (I’m sure my eyes were big as saucers) and grabbed my hand, pulled me hard and then propelled me, Superman-style, (actually hurled me), down and across the current while I finned like crazy. Wow – it was the most spooked I’ve been – took me a few minutes to relax! But I thought about it afterwards (while flying along again at about 10mph) – the only thing I am really worried about is ascending too fast. I have plenty of air, and a diver sausage – if I can’t get out of the current, just try not to ascend too quickly and enjoy the ride! Anyway, the Tenders are nearby.