Sunday, 1 February 2015

Episode 33 Northern Indonesia - Halmahera to Northern Raja Ampat

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

Welcome to Episode 33

Halmahera to Northern Raja Ampat


At the end of Episode 32 we had spent 3 amazing weeks scuba diving in The Lembeh Straights, an area regarded as the world’s best muck diving location.

Our location for this Episode of the blog.


The Crossing – Lembeh to Halmahera

We waited at Lembeh for a few days for a new dive computer for Lisa to arrive. We were watching the weather and hoping for a decent weather window that would allow us to sail for a change.
Being 1 degree north of the equator and in the doldrums, the winds are light and fickle.

On the 13th Dec (Paul’s brother Rod’s 40th Birthday) we departed for the 165nm run East to the large island of Halmahera.
We had only 3 days of wind forecast and it was anywhere from the N to E so we just had to go and hope for more N and less E!
We left a 6am and motored for the first 3 hours until the wind kicked in and it was all sails up and fortunately N winds. So we cranked everything on tight and went NE as close to the wind as possible which also increased the apparent wind through the sails.
 
 

On the way we passed many floating pontoons with a small shack on them. The men come out and spend a few days fishing from and around them as most are anchored in very deep water (over 1000m) and they are like an oversized FAD.
 
 


Each night on anchor at Lembeh the wind dropped out. We had hoped it wouldn’t on the crossing but knew that it probably would.
At 3pm it died and on went the motor but luckily after 45 minutes the wind kicked back in.
It’s the first time in years that we have sailed towards the East so it was unusual to have a sunset behind us.
We sailed all through the night with crystal clear skies, a million stars and light winds on a flat sea. With current assistance we travelled along nicely.

Passing an Indo Fishing Boat at Sunset


Above and Below – Lisa at Sunset.


We actually had no planned anchorage or stopping point but were hoping to round the top of the island if the N winds held.
By daybreak it had swung just south of NE and we had to run south of E and we were heading for the centre of the island.
Fortunately Lisa had done some research and took some Google earth overlays of the area before we left Lembeh.
Thank goodness she did as the electronic charts have very little detail on the area.
She found us a series of islands just off the Halmahera coastline and we arrived there at 10am after having to motor for the final 3 hours.
We had managed to sail over 2/3rd’s of the way so we were very happy.

The coastline of the Loloda Seletan islands was amazing with some large cliffs, tall stone pillars and lots of sea caves.


As we rounded the last reef corner to enter the bay, there were 2 long right hand surf beaks mechanically peeling off the 2 corners of the reefs. What an unexpected score!!


Just in from the break was a large modern fish processing plant. We were hoping they didn’t discard the fish waste into the waters around the surf and the place would be packed with big Tiger Sharks….


Within 10 minutes of being anchored we had some nice guys come out to greet us and give us 6 mangoes which we exchanged for a 50c bottle of Filipino Rum.
Smiles all round….


Surfing and Exploring the Loloda Seletan Islands

The next morning we were up early to beat the heat and go surfing.
We looked outside to find the wind was up a little and it was offshore on the surf break. Perfect!!
We were both a little rusty as Paul had not surfed since Palau and Lisa since Yap in Micronesia so we elected to take our 7’6” Mini Mals for some fun and ease of paddling.
Paul also took his SUP and swapped over half way through the session and caught some looong waves on it.
It was a super fun session and Lisa getting some great waves which were perfect to help her progress.
We got back to the boat at noon totally exhausted.

That arvo it poured with rain. We were so happy.
It washed the salt off Lorelei from the passage, cooled us and the boat down and we completely filled both the main and drinking water tanks which were less than ¼ full before the storm.
With it though came some seriously loud thunder and lightning forks which were a little unnerving…
 
The surf the next day was about the same size. There was only a light wind that was onshore but at least it was sunny and not overcast like the day before.
Paul mounted a camera onto his SUP paddle and took some fun photos of us surfing. It was a little lower in the tide than the day before and sometimes only a few feet deep over the coral reef.
It made for some good photos though…


 Lisa paddling onto a wave over some very shallow reef
 


The next morning the surf was a glassy 2-3ft with some nice lines coming along the reef making for some long waves.
Paul took his 6’3” fish and Lisa kept her mini-mal.
About 1 hour into the session, the swell direction changed a little and just came up out of nowhere. It was a consistent 4ft and mechanically peeling from the outer point around the reef and all the way thru 3 sections. At the end you were surfing into the bay at a 90 degree angle from where you took off.
Lisa got caught inside twice and pounded on the reef in only 2 foot of water with 4 foot waves. She got a little intimidated and went back to the RIB but Paul had an awesome session and some of the longest  waves since cruising.
Strangely the swell left as quick as it came and 90 minutes later it was all but gone and bumpy even though there was no wind.
So Paul went back out on the SUP for a few smaller waves.
Cannot work out why the swell came and went so fast.
Indo is a weird place….

A glassy start before the swell hit

Lisa selfie – look mum I’m wearing a hat….

Paul on the SUP above and below x 2 - taken by Lisa on her board



When we got home Lisa downloaded the weather and discovered the swell was still building and would peak in 4 days time with the wind forecast to be offshore. Perfect!
Guess we were staying a while….

The next day it was big again and we had no cameras.
Lisa paddled out but was a little intimidated. It was a little full and not too heavy so after sizing up a few she just bit the bullet and went for it.
On her first wave she managed to ride it all the way into the bay.
It was over triple the distance she had ridden on any wave previously and she made the long paddle back out with a grin from ear to ear.

We had some spectacular sunsets whist anchored in the bay.
Here is a small sample….





As we watched the sunsets, we would also watch the active Volcano at the southern end of the bay spewing plumes of smoke and ash into the air.
As it went dark you could see the red glow coming out of the large caldera.

One afternoon a man came out to visit Lorelei with his 12 year old daughter Miriam.
She spoke very good English and they invited us into their village the next day.
All we could see from the bay was a small wharf and were unaware there was a village tucked in a valley behind the hills.

When we arrived there was a lot of adults and a stack of kids on the wharf to greet us and we were made to feel very welcome.
The wharf was in need of some TLC but it still did its job.

The wharf looking out into the bay

and looking bay in towards the land


These are the taxi boats that they use to ferry people between villages.
Everybody has Yamaha 40hp outboards. The bigger the boat, the more 40hp motors they bolt on.
These taxi's have 2 or 3 depending on their size.
It’s interesting that many of the 40hp outboards run on Kerosene and not Benzene. (Petrol or Gasoline is called Benzene here)

At the wharf we met a local Pastor named Usuly and he spoke reasonable English. Between our broken Indonesian and his broken English we got by just fine.
From the wharf he took us for a walk over the hill into the village.
Whilst the village was small, it was very clean with nice friendly people.




The first stop was to Miriam’s house.
Her 92 year old grand father owned the house and we stayed for morning tea.


Being less than a week to Christmas, the streets were lined with colourful flags.



The one thing that we thought was a bit odd was that there were 4 massive churches for such a small community.
However the churches are all non-denomination and quite charismatic.
The one we went into had a big stage with drum kit, keyboards and electric guitar and bass set-up ready to go.
They love singing and dancing in church and having a rocking good time.

Lisa and her entourage walking up to the church


Even though school had finished for the year, the children wanted us to see their school and we even went into one of the open classrooms for a look. The kids were keen to find out which animals we had in Australia and Lisa showed them on some posters on the walls.


On the way back we stopped at a small shop.
It was closed but the nice lady owner opened up for us.
Many other ladies came to watch to see what we would buy.
We brought a lot of things and it only came to A$20 but that was 220 000 rupiah and the onlookers were shocked at how much the total bill was.
It must have been her biggest sale for a while…
We loaded up the kids who were more than happy to carry a little bit each for us.
On the way we also stopped at a few homes to buy fresh produce that was sitting on a table in the doorway of their houses.


Back at the wharf we loaded up the RIB, gave the kids some lollies for their help and left with lots of waving from the wharf.
Overall it was a really fun morning and particularly special as they virtually get no overseas visitors or tourists to their little village.
 

With the big Christmas spring tides approaching we were not able to surf in the mornings as the tides were just too low and too dangerous with the super shallow coral.
So we changed to arvo surfs instead on the rising tide.
In the mornings we would do other things.
One morning we loaded up the RIB and went over to the Loloda Islands to explore and have a look at the large pillars and sea caves we saw from Lorelei on the way in.
On the way over we could see a waterfall tucked deep in a bay.
The challenge was getting into the bay as there was a very shallow reef extending across the mouth of the bay. We found a small channel along the rock wall and entered & exited by ducking under some low lying tree branches.


The waterfall didn’t have loads of water because of the lack of rain, but there was enough to bring the RIB right up to the edge of the rocks and get a good dousing of cold fresh water.




The sea caves were further along the island and some were huge and deep into the rock walls.



The rock formations and free standing pinnacles were amazing and very high.



At the top of the main island we found a few small rocky outcrops.
One had a great sea cave and we were able to get right up close to it.



Paul suggested we take the RIB through the arch but Lisa was definitely not keen so we didn’t.
Lucky as about 2 minutes later a series of waves came though and completely filled the hole with some very rough water.


On the way home we stopped to check the surf and it looked great so after lunch we headed out but Lisa decided to sit it out in the RIB and took some photos of Paul surfing on a short board (a 6’6” he had re-vamped/resprayed in Philippines and it was the maiden voyage)







Lisa had a small sail canoe come past her in the RIB.
It’s the first time we had seen a sailing canoe in Indo.


That night Miriam and her parents came out to Lorelei to have a look and invited us to church and lunch on Sunday which we gladly accepted.

The plan was to meet Miriam at the wharf at 8am and go to her place to get ready for church which started at 9am.
So at 8am we rock up to the wharf only to find Miriam in a bit of a flap as it was actually 9am.
We didn’t realise as we sailed from Bitung/Lembeh to Halmahera that we had gone through a time zone and it was 1 hour different.
Opps…only took us a week to realise!

So we ran up to the house (which fortunately was only 20m from the church), got changed and still had time for snacks and a drink. Turns out church runs on island time and 9am start actually meant about 9:45 ish…
Phew – Lucky!!

Waiting for everyone to arrive – made it in time…

The rock star treatment in church was a little hard to avoid and it’s also hard to convince the church leaders that we would rather sit in the middle with everyone else and watch what the congregation is doing and try to blend in rather than being forced to sit in the front row and having everyone staring at us with no idea what we are doing and no one to mimic.
We compromised and sat in the 4th row…but no one sat in front of us.

It was a very charismatic service and they certainly know how to have a blast at church. Lots of rockin’ songs, backing singers, electric musical instruments, singing, dancing and having a lot of fun. Everyone was in their Sunday best but it was a super fun service.

Lucky for us the words for the songs where on the big screen
– didn’t mean we knew what they meant though….


OH NO NOT AGAIN...!!!
Its 8:37pm on Sunday night 21st Dec and as we sit in the saloon typing up the days activities, the whole boat just started vibrating violently. We both just stood up and could feel it quite strongly through the floor.
It’s another earthquake and must be strong if we can feel it though the 20m water depth and our 6mm steel hull.
Got to stop typing as we are now on Tsunami alert for the next 20 minutes…..

9:15pm – we've been sitting outside for over 30 minutes and the volcano still looks intact with only a small red glow, the fish processing plant still has power and we have received no alerts on our phone from the Tsunami warning centre (which we now subscribe to after the last earthquake experience – see Episode 31 if you missed that one)
So it looks like crisis averted.
Hmmm - not sure if we are real comfortable with all this increased tectonic activity.


OK – anyway back to normal programming...
After church we went back to Miriam’s house for lunch and the Church Pastor also came to lunch as well.
Lisa baked a chocolate cake which was a big hit for dessert.



The family portrait….

Before going home we had to do a few obligatory stops at other people’s houses that we met in church to get the full introduction to their families.

Once back on Lorelei we changed all the clocks to the right time then had a look to find waves breaking really wide through the pass and refracting around into the bay. It was really big. Paul loaded up and we headed out.
Lisa came along but left her board behind.
It took Paul about 20 minutes and 50 waves breaking on his head to get into the correct position to get the set bombs that were breaking wide.
The big ones were great but made for a long paddle back out.
In the meantime Lisa was in the RIB on anchor with the big wide breaking bombs only just missing her but it brought her a few heart flutters.
At the end it got pretty hairy so she pulled the anchor up and headed out into deeper water and picked Paul up who had no chance of getting back inside to Lisa with the fast flowing current pushing him out to sea.
Whilst we took cameras, Lisa was too worried about the big sets and the cameras safety to pull them out of their waterproof bag.


On our last day in the bay we woke to find the volcano very active.
There was a lot of black and grey smoke bellowing out and the red glow could even been seen from a distance in daylight.


We had a bit of a pre-Christmas working bee and Paul cleaned inside and out and did some maintenance while Lisa started cooking some Chrissy treats.

On the 23rd we left early for the 60nm run up over the top or Halmahera and east to Morotai.
The 40nm leg north had un-forecasted light winds and swell on the nose so we had to motor.
Half way up our main chartplotter/depth sounder in the cockpit died.
The screen backlighting failed. Our identical unit 3 years ago also did the same thing and our new replacement lasted around the same time.
Not Happy!!

Whilst we have many ways to navigate and mainly use a laptop or tablet, the issue was the depth reading under the keel.
When this happened last time we had no redundant system, so next slipping we installed a backup professional quality PC based fishfinder that is effectively a black box with transducer and it can link into any PC via USB.

Problem is when Lisa went to plug in the USB the computer wouldn’t recognize it.
She spent 2 hours downstairs trying to figure out the problem and ended up giving up in frustration and getting a little sick.

When we rounded the tip of the island we turned 90 degrees for the last 20nm run to Morotai. Problem was the wind turned too and we had stronger winds on the nose again. We couldn’t believe our bad luck.

It wasn’t so bad but it just meant that our 3pm arrival was now going to be 4:30pm and getting a little late.
Sure enough we arrived at the outer reef edge and entered the pass just after 4:30pm and found the first anchorage was rolly with swell.
We had no option but to head further into the reef system and try to find a protected area behind one of the many coral fringed islands.
The storm clouds were rolling in, the sun had gone and we had no depth reading! So we motored at a crawl with Paul on the bow looking for shoaling reef patches.
Once again thank goodness for Google earth snapshots which we could overlay onto our electronic charts. Lisa managed to find us a great little anchorage nestled between 2 islands and we were safely moored up by 5:15pm – only 30 minutes before sunset…..
It had been a stressful day but that’s cruising sometimes.
Later that night Lisa managed to reload the software and get the Fish Finder working.

We had intended to move again on Christmas Eve as we had no internet to contact the family for Christmas day but the weather was not nice and the anchorage was great so we decided to stay and leave on Boxing Day.

Chrissy eve we prepped for Chrissy Day and spent the day making lots of yummy treats.
We had a few nice kids come out in Canoes to visit.


They were Muslim/Islamic kids and whilst we were talking to them about Christmas they said they had heard of Christmas before but had no idea when it was or what it represented. WOW!
The area is predominately Muslim so we can understand their lack of knowledge of our Christian beliefs.

For Christmas Day we pigged out – as you do…
We made Coconut Ice, Shortbreads and Vanilla Slice for the morning.


For lunch we had Chicken Parmagana, Potato Bake and Veges.
It wasn’t a traditional Christmas lunch but after 3 months in Indo eating mainly Rice and Noodle dishes, it was a real treat.
Remembering that we have not seen any Red Meat, Ham, Bacon, Fresh Cheese, etc for sale in all of Indo.

For dessert we pigged out on more homemade Baileys (which we actually started drinking at 10am…) and Chocolate Mousse. Yum!!


For Christmas we lashed out and brought ourselves a new powerful blender for making our breakfast smoothies with the local tropical fruits (and the occasional icy fruity cocktails for sunset drinks…)

 
Boxing Day we made the 35nm run south to Tobelo, the regional centre for the Eastern side of Halmahera Island.
We had to stay on permanent watch as there was a huge amount of large floating debris and small rafted FAD’s.
The area was also very hazy and seemed to get worse towards the town.



Transiting past the outer islands of the area was amazing.
White sandy beaches with surf breaks off nearly every point, a maze of coral reefs and the very active Mount Dukono Volcano behind Tobelo.




We had a hell of a time trying to find an anchorage as the first 2 spots had a solid coral/limestone sea floor and the anchor would not grab.
We managed to crawl over a shallow coral reef and into a small area in front of the town with a little help and guidance from some local boat drivers.

Coming into Tobelo Harbour

Our anchorage in front of the town

We arrived 2 hours late for the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race start but with Internet for the first time in 3 weeks we were able to follow it for the rest of the race – and contact our family!
The other thing we checked was the earthquake details from that night in Loloda Seletan. It was a 6.3 magnitude and the epicentre was pretty much right under us. No wonder we felt it through the boat….

Exploring Tobelo was a real eye-opener.
Getting ashore was easy and we didn’t have to use our RIB. We flagged down a passing taxi boat and paid the 20c fee per person each way. This became our standard way of getting ashore.


The waterfront is filled with a lot of small ferry traffic.

One street back we found a traditional passar (markets) filled with every piece of clothing, shoes and bags you could possibly want - and then some.



There is also food, kitchenware and toys galore.


The main street is busy with bikes galore and lots of stores including a large supermarket.


That night the wind came from the direction of the volcano and at daybreak we went outside to find the entire boat covered in a layer of fine black ash. Paul was NOT HAPPY!!!
It was present all over the town with a thick haze that could clearly be seen from Lorelei. The ash has the potential to be toxic so we decided to stay indoors for the day and do some maintenance. It was Sunday and the stores and official offices in Tobelo were closed anyway.




Volcanic Ash over the city at 2pm

On Monday we went back into town and it was very busy with bikes, trikes and people going in all directions.
We had a nice man show us where the best fruit, veg, fish and chicken was at the oversized local markets that are all too easy to get lost and dis-orientated in.

Further out of town we passed some Islamic/Muslim kids reading the Koran and singing. We stopped to watch and they came out for a photo.
They were really nice kids and on our return we dropped in a small bag of treats for them.



Two weeks prior back at Loloda Seletan we had a guy in a canoe come out and try to sell us some rocks and when we looked at him weirdly he indicated they were for making jewellery. It didn’t make any sense to us at all – BUT Lisa jokingly harassed Paul for days as to why he didn’t buy her a rock for Christmas….
 In Tobelo we saw scores of people both in shops and in small booths on the street shaping stones and setting them into jewellery.
There were no expensive gems or opals, just nice looking and colourful opaque stones.
We couldn’t believe how many people were making and selling the pieces and yet we had not seen anybody else doing it in any other locations in Indo so far. Many of the rocks were like the ones the guy had tried to sell us. Now it made better sense...
Paul’s late grandparents were very much into Lapidary and he had done a little bit of it with them as a kid so he was pretty interested in the process.
There are no tourists here and the items are designed and priced for the local market.
Lisa still didn’t get one – and is still complaining……




Upon leaving The Philippines, Paul’s zoom lens died and we had been without one ever since. We had only been using the very wide 12-24mm lens for above water but with a bit of mucking around we started to use a 60m macro (which fortunately focuses to infinity) and a 1.4x converter giving a 85mm range. This is what we had to use for the surfing photos but it certainly was not ideal.
In Tobelo we did some grocery shopping and as we were leaving the store, Paul spied a small camera section with a whole shelf of DSLR’s and lenses. There was one Nikon zoom lens and it was a 55-300mm which is close to what we were looking for. It wasn’t the higher quality 70-300mm we were wanting or an F2.8 but it was better than nothing and he had the correct size UV and polarising filters too.
 It would do the job and the price was right so we grabbed it.
We were so happy and so was the shop owner!!!
Bring on the waves and wildlife…..

Just like in The Philippines, Cock Fighting is also very popular in Northern Indonesia.
The birds are bred solely for fighting and are big and powerful.
They have to isolate them from fighting even in the street.


New Years Eve at Tobelo

We had a quiet day before getting ready for New Years Eve.

In the evenings leading up to New Years, random fireworks could be seen and heard through the town. The closer to the date the more regular it became.

At dusk on NYE the fireworks started at many locations around the town, on the wharfs and surrounding islands.
From Lorelei we had them 270 degrees around us.
As the night progressed the fireworks got more intense and at 11:30pm it just went ballistic.
Pretty much every 2nd house, park, wharf, balcony and flat rooftop had fireworks blazing from it. It was just incredible and it went at that intensity until 1am.

It was by far the most amazing fireworks spectacle we have ever seen.
The thing that made it all so special was it was not a professional choreographed event. It was just the local people with fireworks they had purchased from local stores and had fun as a family letting them off.
It was the quantity being let off at the same time that made it incredible.
Literally 100’s were going all at once from 11:30pm to 1am.

At 4am people were still letting them off but the intensity had slowly dwindled.

Paul set his camera tripod up on the bow of Lorelei and whilst it was a beautiful calm night, even the slightest movement from Lorelei made for blurred backgrounds and lights but sharp fireworks on the 5 to 30 second exposures.
It wasn’t the perfect photography platform but it was the perfect location to see the entire town all lit up.
We did get some interesting photos though.
We were the only international yacht in the harbour and to the best of our knowledge the only westerners at Tobelo.


 




 

On the 2nd we ventured into town but it was like a ghost town.
Further out of the CBD, people were in the front yard of their homes dancing and partying to some very loud music.
Apparently this goes on for about a week after NYE.

We also managed to meet up with Yus who is the local tourism guy. He had been away visiting family and had only returned to Tobelo the day before.
He kindly took us to Immigration to get a new visa (which amazingly only took 1 hour but we did have to pay an extra “holiday fee”…).

We then went back to Yus’s house to meet his family before we all went out for lunch.
On TV at the restaurant was the non-stop live coverage of the tragic Air Asia plane crash recovery. It was a huge thing in Indonesia and the non-stop live coverage went on for days.



The next day we noticed on the net and on the surrounding islands a pulse of swell coming down from the north.
Anchored either side of Lorelei were 2 local charter boats (1 surf and 1 dive but they had no guests) and we noticed the 2 managers loading boards into one of the tenders.
So we also loaded up and followed them out to an isolated reef break off a small island.
It was only 3ft with a little wind but it was sunny, hot and a lot of fun in the cool water.
When Lisa went back in she gave Paul a try of her mini-mal for the first time and she used the new Nikon lens which worked a treat.


 



After the surf we went over to another island and had a little picnic in the shade of the trees whilst watching the surf.


That evening we went over to Sama Sama the surf charter boat.
The boat is a traditional Phinisi which are built near Makassar. This is a very popular boat building area for this type of vessel in southern Sulawesi.

The interior was amazing with most of the beams and frames exposed with a beautiful varnish job.
Nothing was perfectly milled and it gave a lot of character and brought out the grain and shape of the timber.
Inside was huge, light and airy.
Jockheim is the manager and was really helpful with info on surf breaks in indo and we swapped location details with him about the south pacific.

Alex from Lambo (the dive boat) was also there and we shared info with him about diving locations.
He does charters all through Raja Ampat and we got a lot of helpful info.


Our last day at Tobelo turned into a mission.
Firstly the tide was very low and Lisa slipped & fell into the water trying to climb up onto the wharf. So it was back to Lorelei to change before heading into town.
The bank had a 2.5 hour wait to see a teller, the harbour master took ages to give us clearance and questioned some of our paperwork – the pages that came from the Tobelo Immigration Office only 2 days prior!!

The local markets had limited and poor quality produce and every male stall owner wanted to charge us super inflated prices.
Luckily we found a nice group of ladies who were helpful and had nearly everything we needed – at local prices…

The last straw was the supermarket. It is the only one and we walked in to find many of the shelves bare and the place stripped of many of the staple foods. Not happy!

Overall we only had an average time at Tobelo.
The upsides were the NYE fireworks, the surf and finding the camera lens. There were lots of negative though. The biggest issue was delays in getting new visas and a 3 monthly customs inspection. Both these problems were due to the holiday season, closed offices and a change in procedures for customs which meant a new inspection before the end of the year (of which we were informed about it on Dec 20th….)
Additionally, the volcanic ash, limited services, on the take officials, and just about every male trying to rip us off made for a less than pleasant experience.
Every time we tried to hop on a bike, trike or taxi, the driver wanted crazy prices often 10 times the going rate. In the end we walked everywhere.
The harbour and coast guard officials tried to sell us fuel at A$2 a
litre which they said was the standard rate. We later got it for A$1.10.
And on and on it went….

The day we tried to leave we were both sick with cold and flu symptoms (no doubt caught from being in town) and the blasted depth sounder wouldn’t work again.

As we motored out the wind came up and we put up the mainsail and then spent 1 hour wrestling with a jammed spinnaker halyard and a very twisted and wine-glassed spinnaker. Finally we had it up and 10 minutes later the wind died. Arrrrggghhhh!!!!!

The Tobelo curse was still following us….

As we motored along Lisa yelled to look back and Paul snapped a quick shot of VERY BIG fin cruising around the back of the boat.


It was a rough passage and we were supposed to go overnight for a 170nm run to Wayag in Raja Ampat.
However we both felt average and there was a slim chance we could find an anchorage 50nm away on the very eastern point of Halmahera.

At 2pm as we raced to the possible anchorage, we went past a few boats Tuna fishing in the old school method with large split cane rods with a fixed line and hook. It looked rough and back breaking work as they hauled the Yellowfin aboard.


Note the tuna flying through the air at the back of the boat



We arrived at the possible anchorage at 5pm with failing light but thankfully Lisa had taken google shots and had some overlays. Lisa navigated Lorelei through the coral reef and into a very protected mangrove lined bay to safely anchor for the night in a reasonable depth. Paul had never been so happy to be anchored up and secure.
Lisa cooked a wonderful dinner and we enjoyed 10 hours sleep in a quiet anchorage with no blaring mosque calling all to prayer at 4am.
Thank goodness we were there because at 1am we copped a crazy storm with strong winds and rain.

The next day was sunny, glassy & calm and we felt much better and things were finally going our way.

We saw an amazing sight of a large bull Mahi Mahi chasing a flying fish by jumping along behind it as the fish few above the water surface. They went for over 100m before the fish landed and the Mahi Mahi got its meal.

At 3pm we came across a pod of Sperm Whales. It was very exciting as they were the first Sperm Whales we have ever seen!
Slowly we motored up to them before shutting down and drifting along with them.
We just couldn’t get close enough to jump in for a swim with them so instead we sat on the bow and had an afternoon tea whilst watching the whales and taking photos.





There was a cute little one that would dive and then come up near Lorelei and vertically spy-hop to have a look at us.


We expected a current against us but instead it was with us and we made very good time, arriving at Wayag at 2:30am. We were going to enter the first inlet and pick up the liveaboard dive boat mooring but we could see a large boat all lit up on it so we simply cruised up and down out the front until 6am.

The sun was in front of us but we still took some nice arrival photos using the 10mm fish-eye lens.
Hooray! Finally we had made it to Raja Ampat.


Lisa winding in the lures as we were now in a National Park



Paul managed to stitch 2 x 10mm fisheye photos together to make this 180 degree panorama shot.


Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat is situated on the NW tip of West Papua (the former Irian Jaya) on the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula.
It encompasses an area of 50 000 square kilometres.


 
The name Raja Ampat translates as “The Four Kings” referring to the four main islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool. Myriads of smaller limestone karst spires (similar to those found Palau)  lay scattered around the major ones, all together hosting vast expanses of mangroves, powder white sand beaches and lush tropical reefs.
Scientists believe the area has significant larvae-bearing currents which makes the area function like an underwater species factory and seeds the entire coral triangle.
It is believed to have the richest bio-diversity of underwater life on the planet.
 
With a huge number of bird and plant species (many endemic to the area), amazing rock formations and very few local people & tourists due to its remote location, it all combines to make Raja Ampat one of the world’s most amazing natural locations.

 
Wayag

Wayag is a small series of rock islands at the north western tip of Raja.
The area is a National Park and aside from a small Ranger Station and the occasional live-aboard charter boat or yacht, the area is uninhabited.

Whilst the diving is average in Wayag by Raja standards, it certainly makes up for it in above water topography.
The area is visually stunning with its limestone beehive style formations, offset by shallow coral areas and pools of aqua blue clear water.
The aerial photos of Wayag are amazing.
 

Negotiating the tight and meandering channel with the sun in front of us was a little un-nerving and we had a few heart flutters as we negotiated some of the shallower coral studded areas.


Just after we anchored at Wayag a tinny came around the corner to greet us.
It was from the large Ratu Motu live-aboard cruise boat and John the Aussie Captain invited us to drinks that night which we gladly accepted.

After a sleep we went to a nice sandy beach for a swim in the cool clear water before heading out for the evening.




John said he was going to move the boat from the mooring to a secluded spot further into the rock island system and as we buzzed along in our RIB to get there, the surrounding scenery was amazing.




Ratu Motu is the former True North & Indies Trader 4 and is a well known luxury charter vessel.


It is currently owned by Al Green the owner of surfing company Quicksilver. We arrived to find the boat had been chartered by Al’s good friend Brian Singer the founder and owner of Rip Curl, for a 2 week family holiday. He had 17 of his children, partners and grand kids onboard and they made us feel very welcome and also invited us to stay for dinner which was an amazing 3 course a-la-carte meal in the beautiful dining room.
Thank goodness we dressed well!
We swapped stories and photos well into the night. It was a real honour to meet such a prominent surfing family.
Respectfully we didn’t take any photos of the guests but to say the boat is well set up with water sports toys is a major understatement.

The next morning the wind was up early so we elected to give diving a miss for a day or two.
Instead we did a long kayak through the No.2 fjord and back around into No.1 fjord and back to Lorelei. It turned into a long paddle with a few stops for a swim and snorkel on the way.
 







In the arvo John turned up to say hello. He is also a yachtie when not at work and had a look over Lorelei.
Not long after, Brian and some of the family also came over to have a look and invited us to fireworks onboard Ratu Motu at 7:30pm.
What they didn’t tell us was it was a Tropical Hawaiian theme party night…
So at 7:15pm we rock up and discreetly head up to the bar while everyone was downstairs inside having dinner. Andy the chef spied us and 10 minutes later we had an amazing entrée and main in front of us.



After dinner the crew set up fireworks on shore and everybody went up onto the Helipad to watch them.


We had an awesome party night around the bar and drank, talked and danced until after midnight.
We took lots of photos this time….




Drinking Buddies – Paul and Brian

 
At 11pm Christophe and the girls decided to jump off the boat for an evening swim. The bar is located on the third level which made for a high jump.


For the second time in 2 nights we found ourselves motoring home in the RIB though the maze of rock islands – only this time we were a little intoxicated.
The tide was low and we had to take a different route (where we had never been before…) to the route we had taken on the way there.

At noon the next day Ratu Motu left to take the guests surfing over on Halmahera Island.
A huge thanks goes out to Captain John, Andy the chef, Sri and the fantastic staff onboard Ratu Motu.
To Brian, Doji, Neneta, Naomi and all their wonderful family – THANKYOU!!
What an unexpected & fun 48 hours….


It was pretty overcast for the following two days as the marginal weather north of us went past. It brought strong winds, big seas and some much needed rain.
We managed to get out the scrubbing brushes and finally clean the last of the volcanic ash off Lorelei’s deck.
We also topped up our water tanks until they were overflowing.
It’s so much nicer to have rain water rather than desalinated water in our tanks and bellies…

We did manage a few sorties out and had a picnic lunch in a small channel on the NE part of the islands.
It was a bit of a maze getting there and avoiding the shallow reef areas.



Our lunch spot – Lisa is under the palm tree on the far right.

We also had a drift snorkel through the pass. The current was flying and the water very clear. There were loads of larger fish like Maori Sea Perch, Big Eyed Bream and Parrotfish.


On the way home Lisa found some beautiful Orchids overhanging on the small rock islands within the lagoon.






We took an aerial photo from the web and marked the locations of our activities.


When the weather cleared we loaded up the dive gear and did our first Raja dive at Ridge Rock.
It was only 2 days from neap tides and we dived right on the turn of the high tide but the current was still flying around the small rock. We couldn’t have drifted it even if we wanted to as the rock was only about 50m long by 30m wide.
The water was green and the viz not so good which did not help with
wide angle photos.
It was an average dive but we did see some big Dog Tooth Tuna, lots of small soft corals down deeper and a big school of Batfish whilst doing our safety stops.
Thank goodness we had our reef hooks as we spent 2/3rd’s of the dive hooked in.





Lisa had no hope of photographing the large batfish with the macro lens so she got creative and took some great face shots and the little pilot fish that travel alongside the batfish.




That arvo it was sunny and hot so we decided to climb up to the lookout.
It’s only a 15-20 minute walk up but the track is steep and the rocks are very sharp.


The scenery from the peak looking down over both fjords is stunning.
Paul had a blast photographing with both the 10mm fisheye and doing stitched panoramas with the rectangular 12-24mm.

The 10mm fisheye shots…





Paul’s stitched panoramas



Just as we were about to leave, a noisy group of older Europeans boomed up the trail.
They were holidaying onboard the large Phinisi Dive Live aboard that was moored in Fjord No.2.
The boat has 2 large RIB’s with a 200HP engine on each. One RIB was broken down and the other not working properly and could only go very slow making sightseeing and diving a long exercise.
Also the liveaboard’s anchor winch was broken so they could only go to locations in Raja where there were moorings. Without the ability to anchor they would miss more than half of the stops, many of which are the top areas to dive.
No wonder the guests were not happy....

Once back at the bottom we enjoyed a well earned swim and a drink.


The next day we tried another dive but this time at Figure 8 Rock.
The viz was better and the current much less making it a fantastic dive.
We found a rock overhang at 24m with some great soft corals and lots of Trevally smashing through the bait fish overhead.












Towards the end of the dive we went up underneath the big undercuts in the rock islands.
It would be calm for a while then a big surge would hit causing lots of turbulence on the surface. The roar of the surge was very loud underwater.
The 2 sequences below are a calm photo followed by a surge photo.





After the dive we went back to a beautiful secluded beach for a swim.


In the afternoons we would set our directors chairs up on the bow for sunset drinks and nibbles.
Instead of drinking spirits & mixers we made alcoholic fruit cocktails with the new blender.


We were going to leave the next day but the next anchorage is very exposed to the West and we still had one more day of west winds before it swung to the NE so we decided to stay for another 24 hours.

Instead we went to dive Far Out Rock or as John from Ratu Motu called it “Pelagic Rock”.
It was the day of the neap tides so the timing was perfect for this exposed island which is known for its strong currents.
Or so we thought…..

It was sunny with light winds but the rolling NE swell was hitting the small exposed rock island and causing a lot of bounce-back off the rock with turbulence and foam spray going in all directions.
Underwater the current was really ripping along.
It took us about 10 seconds to realise we had no hope of safely diving there.

So a little bummed we headed back into the 4th dive location in the area,
Two Hump Rock.

It was a lot better protected around the very small rock island, the current was a lot less and the viz looked fantastic.
The only issue was the rock walls went almost vertically down to 25m+ most of the way around.
Just as we were about to abort, Lisa spied a very small ledge at about 15m off the back of the island.
It was smooth rock with one small single lump in the middle.
So Paul dropped the anchor to about 15m and hung over the side with his mask on while Lisa drove the RIB in until the anchor was over the top and Paul dropped it over the back of the lump. Bullseye!
It held long enough for us to get geared up and dive down to wrap the chain around the rock and secure it.
Fortunately the wind and current held the RIB out and away from the rock face.
It turned out to be a brilliant dive and one of the best we have done in Indo.
We found an overhanging ledge at 24m which was adorned in stunning soft corals, Black Coral Trees and massive amounts of fish.
We must have seen over 150 species both small and large!!!
Paul had a blast photographing the fish schools.
When Lisa wasn’t modelling she managed to find some nice Ovulids in the soft corals and get some close up facial shots of some larger reef fish.














Towards the end we found another big overhang just under the surface like the previous days dive. The wave action was a little less but the cutting was a lot deeper into the rock creating a lot of surge.


Kawe and the Equator Islands

After 8 great days in Wayag we decided to move on.
The destination was supposed to be Uranie or Bag Island but the swell was up and building so we elected to run 15nm south to the more protected Kawe and The Equator Islands.
We trolled and hooked 3 fish. The first  was huge and we had no chance of stopping it and we lost it and a new Rapala lure after 5 minutes. Bugger!
The next 2 we landed but they were stinky Barracuda so we threw them back.
Were we ever going to catch a decent fish for dinner??

We had a small inlet in mind at Kawe and it was beautiful and calm inside.
The problem was the depth. We tried the first spot we thought would be OK but we had Lorelei’s bow virtually touching the coral edge and the depth sounder reading under the keel was over 40m deep. Crazy!!
It was the same all along but eventually we went right up into a small arm and found 7m depth. It was very narrow so we dropped the anchor on one edge and stern tied ourselves into the mangroves on the other side.
It was the first time we have ever had to do this so it was a good exercise in the still conditions.
Paul had to Kayak over to the mangroves with 100 metres of 25mm rope and tie up.
After tying up we realised we were only 150m north of the equator.
 


As we looked out into the bay we could see waves refracting around the point. It was a run out tide with offshore winds and it certainly looked surfable.


So we dropped in the SUP and Lisa took Paul’s kayak for a spin as it was already in the water.
We paddled over the equator before heading to the surf break.
It was only 2ft but it was sucky, fast and very clean.
Lisa didn’t hold back and got some great waves on the kayak.


We stayed until almost sunset before paddling home over the stunning coral and mangrove lined shores in glassy conditions.



For our first Kawe dive we went out to One Tree Island.
You can dive the east or west face so we decided on the west side.
In hindsight it was the wrong decision and we broke the golden rule of diving an east face in the morning and west in the arvo to take advantage of the sun angles for the photos.
Instead Paul was looking up into the sun for the soft coral photos rather than it being behind him.
It was still a good dive with lots of bait fish schools and some caves &
swim-thru’s in the shallows.





Lisa’s getting creative with her photos….







 
The next morning we tried to dive Weka’s Wow, another rock island dive site further out from One Tree.
Just like Pelagic Rock in Wayag it was steep sided with no anchoring area so we had no option to abort and go back to One Tree but this time we dived the east face.
Lisa found an amazing new Nudibranch we had not seen before.
She spent a lot of time getting the right photograph and it certainly paid off.












After a frustrating afternoon of trying to fill the scuba tanks in between rain squalls, we finally managed to get it done so we could have a full day over on the Equator Islands the next day.

We packed all the gear and a picnic lunch and headed over for a full day outing.
Making the 3nm crossing from Kawe to The Equator’s into the swell and wind with a fully laden RIB was a mission and we had to go slow to avoid a pounding.

The dive sites were around rock islands in the south protected by the large main island from the wind but the swell was still wrapping around and the current was howling. We tried all 3 spots we had GPS marks for and the current was either too strong or there was nowhere to anchor.
Eventually we found one small rock island with a lot less current and a safe ledge to anchor. It was only 200m from the other spots so we figured it would be similar so we dived it.
The fish life was amazing with both big and small schools from the surface down to the bottom.
As we swam around the base of the island, we found a deep gutter at 30m that was packed full of sea fans and black coral trees. Not big ones but 100’s of them in a condensed area. With the bait fish all around them it made for an awesome site.
It was a quirky dive as we were able to swim back and forwards over the equator whilst underwater.







For lunch we headed around the main island and into a small gap
in-between the tall vertical cliffs. Once inside it opened into a magical protected bay fringed with shallow coral and mangroves around a deep green central pool. It was surrounded by large towering cliffs and mountains. It was just incredible!!
We had to walk the RIB over the shallow coral rubble and limestone entrance to get in.



We found a beach in one corner and had a picnic under the trees.

 

For the second dive we checked the GPS spots again and found the current to be much less but the water was a little green. We found West Ridge to have the best anchoring area so we dive that.
With little current we were able to swim around two of the rock islands and marvel at the amazing underwater terrain that forms them.

 
We had small Scad Tuna, Fusiliers, Spanish Mackerel and Manta Rays cruising around in the shallow wash areas and the deeper gutter in between the islands had fans and a garden of white sea whips.
It was great to see lots of schools of different species of fish. It’s something we have not really seen since Palau.


Lisa using some new camera techniques
and her only blog shot of the day.
Quality not Quantity she said……




Before leaving we had a look around some more of the amazing Equator Rock Islands.


Fortunately the trip home was down wind and with the swell and waves making it a lot faster and more comfortable than the morning’s trip over.

Uranie & Bag Island

After 4 nights safely hidden up the inlet in Kawe we left and headed 9nm NE to Uranie.
For our entire time in Kawe and the Equator’s we didn’t see another soul.

Uranie is a small island and now the rough weather had passed we were hoping it would be a comfortable anchorage in the only bay on the island.
Well its not actually an anchorage where you put the anchor down.
Instead it is a small bay where you can tie up between 2 rock islands.
We had seen this aerial image on the net and just had to go there
 –so we did!!!


We still had the lines on the deck from Kawe and the 2 rock islands had large rope tie-off loops already installed so it didn’t take us long to drop the kayak in and set the bow and stern lines to get us safely tied in between the two. The 360 degree view was stunning!


 Lisa took off half way through the photo shoot for a swim….




Kayaking around the bay was excellent with lots of small beaches and rock islands to explore. There were some small sea caves in the rocks at sea level and some amazing cliffs and terrain up higher.
We searched for a walking track to a peak or lookout but we couldn’t find one and could only assume the aerial photo we found on the net was taken from an ultra-light or a drone.






The main dive spots at Uranie are in the channel between Uranie and Bag Island with most of the locations closer to Bag.
The premier dive (and one of the best in Raja) is Magic Rock which is a rock island only 150m off the Bag Island coastline and in the pass.
The crossing from Uranie to Bag was challenging with very rough conditions and a lot of current.
The current around the rock was super strong and well over 6-8 knots. We virtually had to have the RIB on plane next to the rock just to hold our position. There was no way we could dive there even though it was dead low tide.
So once again we aborted and went around to Y-Reef in the southern protected part of Bag Island.
The reef wall was like a nursery with lots of small fish, bait fish schools, pretty corals and many Nudibranchs for Lisa to photograph.
She even had a large Manta Ray come in and circle her a few times before swimming off,
The water was green again and the viz average.
 











The amazing seaside terrain of Bag Island

On the way home we noticed the tide had slowed considerably on Magic Rock.
At least now we knew the correct time to dive it for the next day.

So we tried again the following day. We did a current check as soon as we got there but it was still strong so we went behind Bag Island and waited for 30 minutes before checking it again to find it was much less. By the time we anchored, geared up and got in it was only light.
The highlight of the dive is a series of caves of the NW corner that are huge and full of fish life with soft corals on the floors and walls.

Outside of the caves on the deeper drop-offs there was still current and loads of fish schools with some big pelagics & sharks.
It was awesome and certainly worth all the effort to dive it.
Finally we had some decent viz too...
 









After 3 days at Uranie we took off for the 20 nm run to Waigeo and central Raja Ampat.
 
When we motored out of the bay we spied a live-aboard dive vessel in behind Bag Island - the first people we had seen for over 10 days...



As we headed south we had a large school of dolphins come and play in the bow wave for a long time and they crossed the equator with us which we thought it was a good omen….






So that’s it for The Northern Hemisphere, Northern Raja Ampat and this episode of the blog.
We’ll now be in the Southern Hemisphere for just under 1 year before heading north across the equator again.

Overall Raja Ampat is proving to be a real challenge both to sail, cruise, anchor and dive.
It’s little wonder no-one lives in the northern sector and the only tourists are from live-aboards and the handful of yachts that visit each year.
However it is the remoteness, beauty and amazing scenery both above and below the surface that make all the effort worthwhile.
Hey, if it was easy everyone would be doing it!

We are only stopping Episode 33 now because of its large size and well over 250 photos, not because we have internet access and could post it.

By the time we posted it and you have read it, we have already completed Central Raja, Sorong, got our visas renewed and are heading back to do the southern section of Raja Ampat.
Episode 34 is already 1/3 completed.

We will most likely post Episode 34 from Ambon around the end of Feb/early March.

Cheers for now.
Paul and Lisa Hogger
Yacht Lorelei
Raja Ampat
West Papua
North Eastern Indonesia.






















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