Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Episode 34 West Papua - Central Raja Ampat

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

For Episode 33 we had spent 3 weeks surfing, exploring Halmahera and enjoyed Christmas/New Year before heading over to Northen Raja Ampat for 2 weeks of diving and exploring Wayag, Kawe, Bag & Uranie Islands.

Our location for this Episode of the blog.

Right at the end of Episode 33 we had sailed south over the Equator with a large pod of dolphins as a great omen.
We had arrived in the Southern Hemisphere and Central Raja Ampat!

Central Raja Ampat


Our first stop on the way south was Aluji Bay.
We entered via the top of the bay but with no known anchorages around the islands we didn’t know where to stop. We had seen a small mangrove lined inlet further into the bay on the chart that looked promising but it was a few miles from the main islands and dive sites and it was to be a last option if we couldn’t find anything better.

On the protected sides of the northern islands we found a few beaches and protected bays but most were too deep to anchor. Eventually we found a small patch of sloping sand and rubble in 24m and successfully anchored.

Australian pearling company Atlas Pearls and Perfumes has a large area of the bay leased for their pearling operations and according to the dive guide book, vessels entering the bay and in particular dive live-aboards & yachts must report to the Cendana Pearl facility.

To get to the pearl farm in the RIB we had to navigate an amazing meandering channel with steep sided cliffs with mangroves and coral lined edges. It was glassy flat and fun to explore.

At the pearl farm wharf we were greeted by a local security guard named Joseph who was very friendly and gave us a 3 page info sheet on the area.
It outlined  a new policy (only 2 months old at the time we were there) where  boats entering now must go to the village of Selpele first which is a few miles further south and pay Rp 1 000 000 (A$100) to them for bay access and scuba diving.
 We balked at it because the paperwork appears to be written and geared towards the large live-aboards and not small private yachts so Joseph said to come back in the arvo and speak to the managers.
It was Sunday, their day off and they were out fishing.
And one of them was an Aussie…..

So we returned at 4pm with dive gear rigged just in case we could dive but we were well aware we might not be able to and would have to leave.

It could have gone either way but 1 hour later we were sitting on a couch at the manager’s house.
There was Jarred an Aussie who grew up only 1 hour north from where we grew up, Remy a New Caledonian manager and his younger brother Martin who was visiting from Australia.
They were all top guys and we chatted about spear fishing as that’s what they had been doing all morning.

Unfortunately we could not dive under the facilities 2 wharfs (which are popular dives) without the Selpele permit but as long as we were out of sight of the facility and the local staff then it should be OK.
So as a dusk dive we dived Channel Island.
The site is reported to have fire urchins with the rare Coleman’s Shrimp on them which we have never seen before but we did not find any and it was very late to be getting reflection  shots of the shallow soft corals with the overhanging trees and cliffs that the dive is also well known for.
The terrible viz and green water also did not help.

Australia Day - Jan 26th

For Australia day (our 4th since leaving Brisbane…) we returned to the Pearl Farm and Remy took us for a guided tour through the facility.
It was our good luck that the harvesting had started that day and only goes for about 1 week so it was a very busy time at the facility.

The tour was great and we felt very privileged as the larger groups from the live-aboards only get a tour of a staged area showing the production and are not taken into the actual processing area.

The oysters take 2 years to grow and then are inserted with a small mother of pearl ball. The oyster takes another 2 years to produce a pearl.
The oysters arrive in the processing area in racks with 8 shells to a rack.
They are scrubbed cleaned on the outside which causes the oyster to close tightly.

The oysters are sent through an X-Ray machine to determine if they have a pearl inside. They are placed in a rack to rest and after a while they re-open slightly

A wedge is inserted in the oyster to stop it from closing during processing

In another room the shells are pried apart and split into two sections.
The pearl is removed from the internal organs.

Nothing goes to waste! The organs are re-checked no pearl is left inside before being stripped away leaving only the abductor muscle attached to the shell.

The meat is then removed, cleaned and washed.

It is then packaged for export mainly to the Asian food market.

In another room the pearls are cleaned and washed before being graded and sorted.

There are 5 quality characteristics (virtues) to determine the value.
Size, Shape, Colour, Complexion and Lustre.
These 3 are excellent quality pearls.
The one on the left is 16mm in size and near perfect in all 5 Virtues.
It would retail well in excess of US$5000.

High quality pearls are on the left. Average ones are on the right.
It was weird holding a Tupperware dish with over $150K of pearls in it.

An easy way to count them... 100 fits in the tray.

The counting process starts right from the first oyster being harvested and is re-counted through all facets of the processing for security purposes.
There is a showroom at the facility for guests to purchase pearls.

It’s interesting to note the prices.
The left bracelet is $5000 with very high quality pearls.
The right one is $1500 and looks very similar but the quality of the pearls in the 5 virtues is not quite as good.

The main wharf.

The shells with the mother of pearl inlay are also kept.
The rough edges are broken away and the shells are left to dry.
They are sent away where they are processed for different things.
Some are polished and used for souvenirs.
 Some are ground into small balls which the company uses to re-insert into an oyster to start life as a pearl.
The rest and majority are processed with the natural oils used to make perfume.

We were going to do a dive in the arvo but after checking a few recommended spots, they were all green and with the boys coming to Lorelei for Aust. Day drinks and dinner, we figured we would go spear fishing instead.
The green water helped in our hunting and on Paul’s second dive he shot a great Mangrove Jack and on the 4th dive his PB Maori Sea Perch.
Well that was dinner taken care of….

We had a great night and in Aussie tradition a few drinks, music and a fish fry up!!
All that was missing was the Triple J Hottest 100 on the radio.

A HUGE thanks goes out to the boys for all their help and for the private guided tour of the facility during such a busy period.

L-R: Remy, Martin, Lisa and Jarred.

With the green water all through the bay and not wanting to push our luck with diving without paying, we took off in search of cleaner water.
 To exit the bay we took Lorelei though the channel.

As we rounded the tip of West Wagio we headed SE into another large bay and to the 4 small islands of Wofoh. They were protected in the top corner of the bay from the north winds.
Again we had no idea of anchoring depth but managed for find a deep anchorage just off the stunning top island that was more reminiscent of a South Pacific Island.
This was one of Lisa’s must do locations in Raja so she was very happy.

The southern tip of the bottom island had a very good deep dive with an amazing Black Coral Forest.
It took us a while to find it and it was just incredible.
We didn’t get too many photos down deep due to the searching but the fish life and the  soft corals under the overhangs in the shallows was also amazing.
We came back just blown away and agreed to dive it again the next morning on the top of the tide.

 Trying to see Lisa through the bait fish

 Lisa saw this fish with 2 unusual parasites on it

That evening we enjoyed a great sunset over the 2 small central rock islands.

The dive the next morning gave us much more time below 30m to view the large black coral trees. We also met a very friendly Turtle on our way to the bottom.

Just as we were about to leave the bottom a local guide came down with a group off a large private cat that had arrived that morning.
He posed for Paul for this shot.

On the way back up  we found a small cave full of bait fish and the Trevally were going in and out smashing though the bait.
Paul managed to get inside and take photos looking out of the Trevally and Lisa at the entrance which was a lot of fun.

We did a late afternoon/night dive in the shallows at Red Patch Wall which is reported to have Mandarin Fish.
It turned into a 2¼ hour marathon dive with the 60mm macro lenses.
Whilst we saw and photographed the Mandarin Fish, they were mostly shy males and we did not see any of the mating rituals on sunset. It was fun but nothing like the Mandarin Fish dives we had in Yap, Micronesia.

After 3 days of fantastic weather in Wofoh we took off for a 24nm run south to The Dampier Straight.
We tried to troll again after having 2 weeks of not catching a decent edible fish.
Remy and Jared recommended a different lure from the ever reliable White/Red & Blue/Silver Rapala’s and go for a deeper diver in a gold colour.
So we pulled out 2 Sebile’s Paul’s brother Rod had given us as a present.
1 hour later and bang – a double hook up of all things on 2 near identical Big Eye Tuna.
We had the desal running and within 5 minutes we had them filleted, the decks all washed and cleaned with fresh Sashimi and Sushi in the fridge for dinner. YUM!!!

We passed a few islands and small villages with leaf houses and pig pens on the end of the wharf over the water.
They were very similar to South Pacific villages.

Towards the end of the trip we transited through the Yanggefo Mangrove Passage which had loads of dive live aboards anchored close to it. There were divers down at the narrow pass entrance and we had to motor directly over them to enter the passage.

We saw this deflated dive boat on a beach in the channel – guess they weren’t going very far…

The popular Indo Siren live aboard in the Yanggefo Passage

With the near glass out conditions we chose an exposed reef anchorage only 1nm from the premier dive of the area, Manta Sandy.

Lisa managed to guide us though the extensive reef system and we found a shallow sandy patch to anchor with fringing coral reef all around us.

Just behind Lorelei was a small sand cay with an unusual bamboo framework that was popular with the large sea eagles.

The next morning Manta Sandy looked like a circus with a 2 large live aboards drifting close by and 3 or 4 other boats buzzing around from the 6 or so dive resorts in the area.
We weren’t diving in the mêlée so instead we headed the other direction to Mansuar Island and dived West Mansuar.

It was OK with good viz and in the shallows we found a lot of small bait fish schools hovering around the colourful coral bommies.

Trying to see Lisa who is only 3m/10ft away….

When most of the boats departed in the afternoon we went and dived Manta Sandy.
We spoke to a few live aboard guides/tender drivers and they said there were no Manta Rays about but we had to have a look anyway.
Sure enough no Mantas but the dive was just amazing with fantastic viz. The shallow bommies were full of fish with the occasional school of Tuna buzzing though and feeding directly overhead. We also saw Dog Tooth Tuna, Green Jobfish and large Spanish Mackerel.
Paul took dozens of photos of the bait fish around the bommies. It was so hard to choose the ones to put in the blog so we put in a few...
Lisa got some great macro shots on the sandy slope too.

At the top of the list of Paul’s things to do in the Dampier straight was to dive under the Arborek Jetty.  It is an afternoon/dusk dive and both arvo’s we were anchored nearby we would look across to see 3 large live aboards anchored off the jetty and figured it just wasn’t worth it. Trying to photograph schooling fish under a shallow jetty with 70 other divers is not appealing to us. Guess we will be doing it on the return trip - hopefully…

Check out the size of this dive live aboard anchored at Arborek Island….

In the 3 days we stayed anchored in the Dampier straights we saw over a dozen large Phinisi live aboard dive vessels.
It was interesting that Remy had said prior to the new fees in Northern Raja that they would get over 7 liveaboards a week diving Aluji and heading further north. Now they get less than 1 a week.
We surmised by the number we had seen that they are all hanging out in central and southern Raja Ampat.

We reluctantly had to leave as our 30 day visas were expiring and we still had 55nm to get to Sorong for the monthly renewal process.
As we turned the key to start - no charge from the alternator.
We couldn't believe it!
The charging issue has been our biggest nightmare since leaving Australia and we were up to alternator no.6.
In Palau we were fed up and completely ripped out the old system and replaced it with a large frame 200Amp industrial set-up that was suppose to give us years of trouble free service.
It had lasted just over 6 months....

So we split it into 2 passages to minimise the power drain.
The first was a 30nm run SE down to the island of Batanta and a protected bay with a small village called Andui.
The ocean was like a lake and we motored the whole way.
However it was no boring trip!!
We stopped to view 2 different pods of whales.
The first were large whales that looked like Humpbacks and the second were small ones and Paul was pretty sure they were Minke whales.
We tried to double back to go for a swim with them but they were on the move and didn’t seem to want to stop and play.

We also saw stacks of Manta Rays on the surface feeding.
We stopped so many times for photos and even had a very large one circle Lorelei a few times.

All the stopping put us about 2 hours late to arrive at Andui and we had planned to do a dive there but in the end went swimming with the dozens of local kids that came out in their timber canoes to visit.
It was a very fun 1 hour and you could certainly tell in their features, hair and skin colour that they were more Papuan than Indonesian and looked just like the kids from the Solomons.

The next day we made the final 4 hour run to Sorong in terrible conditions – wind on the nose, choppy seas and a lot of rain.
At least the wind generator was outputting a stack of power.

Sorong is at the southern end of Raja Ampat and is on the mainland of West Papua.  It is the largest town in Raja and is the main hub for industry. It has a very busy port for a large variety of ships including the dive live aboards.

Just as we were sailing in we were hit with a squally rainstorm but fortunately it subsided before we anchored.
We were amazed at the amount of commercial ships and dive live aboards.
We counted 27 Phinisi dive live aboards all between 85ft (25m) and 140ft (43m) long.

A small island with a monument on the way into Sorong Harbour

We certainly had mixed feelings about arriving in Sorong.
On one hand we were pretty much out of fresh produce and getting low on many of the basic staple supplies after our terrible shopping experience in Tobelo 1 month prior.
We were so looking forward to re-provisioning with some fresh fruit and vegetables.

On the other hand we had heard many stories of outboards and tenders being stolen and yachts being broken into in the Sorong Harbour.
But above all else the biggest hurdle was going to be Immigration. There are so many terrible reports about the Sorong Immigration office. They are so far from Jakarta and Java that they can basically do and charge what they like and it is well known that they do not like tourists and in particular yachties.
We had heard horror stories of the 30 day visas costing as much as A$200 each instead of the normal A$35 and taking as long as 10 days to process instead of the normal 2 day turn around.
We were dreading the experience.

Immigration trip no.1 turned out not so bad as we were able to complete all the paperwork on a Tuesday but we had to wait for the following Monday to pick our visas up as it was a public holiday in West Papua on the Thursday and Friday making it a 4 day weekend.
So far so good but we hadn’t paid yet….

In the meantime we re-provisioned, explored town and caught up with friends.

Exploring was fun and we spent a full day walking around town.
There are a lot of large Mosques and we stopped at one and took photos with the friendly kids from the school next door.

Above & Below: Our RIB tied to the old Fish Market Wharf
Note the densely packed shanty town in the background

Just some of the local fishing boats with Lorelei at the far left

Each afternoon we would get a storm around 5pm.
Most were mild but a few were really fierce.
On the second night there was a beauty which caused Lorelei to drag anchor through the harbour.
We had over 90m of chain out and more than enough for the depth.
We virtually never drag and had to sit with the motor running into the wind and rain until it passed and we could re-anchor.
When we pulled the anchor up it was covered in all sorts of garbage – plastic bags and pallet strapping, old clothes and wire.
It was a mess. No wonder the anchor did not set and hold properly.

3 days after we arrived it was Paul’s birthday.
We went into town for lunch but ended up re-provisioning at the supermarket instead and finding yummy things like Avocados and Cheese.
Inside the mall we found a fantastic bakery so we brought lots of yummy treats for the afternoon.

We also found a small camera store.
They had the 77mm UV and CPL filters Paul had been trying to find for over 4 months (after breaking them during the waterfall walk at Sangihe in Epsiode 30).
Lisa brought him a great camera backpack for his birthday.

That arvo we caught up with Simon and Nick off the sailing cat Skimpy.
Simon is an Aussie and we first met him in The Solomons 2 years ago so it was great to finally catch up again.
They had brought Paul a birthday cake which was pretty cool.
(Note the message on the cake – a bit of Skimpy humour)

That night we went into town to have dinner at one of the local eating out places.
It was a big set-up with many individual stores to choose from.
We like squid and went to one that is well known for their excellent squid dishes.
The food was fantastic, cheap and a lot of fun.

Like us, Simon was having engine issues. Paul and Simon jumped on bikes with our broken alternator and Simon’s starter motor & exhaust manifold and tried to get them repaired.
Simon speaks fluent Bahasa (Indonesian) so it helped a lot.

They found the problem with our alternator which was the windings.
 3 days and A$130 later we had it back installed and working.
It was a little un-nerving not being able to run the engine with the continuing storms just in case we did have a problem and had to move.

The last day in Sorong was fantastic.
We were up early to have a look at the fish being unloaded at the markets.

We spied some kids playing soccer on the way out to hire some bikes for the morning.

We hired bikes and had a large list of supplies to get.
Things like spark plugs, antibiotics, Raja dive permits, etc…
The drivers of the bikes were fantastic and in 3 hours we had all the items on the list crossed off.  Yippeee

They dropped us at Immigration and 45 minutes later we walked out having only had to pay Rp900 000 which is what we paid in Tobelo.
It’s normally Rp700 000 so overall we were very happy.

After a week in Sorong we took off – fully fuelled, reprovisioned, repaired, medicines and spare parts re-stocked, visas & permits done and ready to go.

With such a positive experience at the Sorong Immigration we decided to press our luck and do another 30 day loop around central Raja Ampat before returning to Sorong for a final 30 day Visa.

The wind was up a little as we exited the harbour and we were able to sail for half of the 45nm trip before the wind dropped out. Half was certainly better than nothing and it also gave the sails a chance to dry and air after the arvo storms.

We played chicken with a large ferry as we exited the channel and last port marker.

Central Raja Ampat

Gam Island
First stop on the return trip to central Raja Ampat was the large island of Gam.
There was a typhoon further north and our friends in Micronesia were getting some incredible waves.

Special thanks to Adam A for this amazing shot of our friend Matt R
somewhere in the  Nth Pacific....

There was a chance it might bring some larger swell and rain to the Raja area so with no surf spots close by we opted for a location protected from the north and Gam was the best option.

Lisa had found an area filled with small rock islands and we took a punt that we might be able to tie-in there or possibly anchor.

The area was very tight with no way to anchor safely with 360 swing so instead we tied fore and aft into the limestone rocks.

The surrounding area was amazing with loads of little coves, bays and rock islands.

At dusk what little wind there was would drop out and make for amazing reflection shots.

Our first dive at Gam was called Batu Lima (which translates to Five Rocks).
The fish life was amazing with loads of baitfish and as we sat hiding in the soft coral gardens, we had large GT’s, Blue Lined Trevally, Red Bass and unusually Coral Trout & big Mangrove Jacks circling overhead and smashing into the bait fish.
Unfortunately the viz was terrible and the water very green.

After 1 hour we ended up in the shallows and swam up to the base of the 5 rocks which were only 2-5m deep. It was great with lots of caves, gutters and canyons filled with soft corals, fish and Nudibranchs.
We spent another hour in this shallow area exploring.

We took the RIB across to the large island of Waigeo and the small village of Tapokreng.
We wanted to meet a local guide named Benny and organise a guided trip the following day.
He showed us around his small but very clean village.

The community built a great over-the-water walkway around a rocky headland that linked both sides of the village.

Bird Safari

No trip to Papua is complete without attempting to see the region’s most iconic inhabitants – The Birds of Paradise (BOP).
There are 29 species and they are scattered all over the large continent.

In the Birds Head region of West Papua there are 2 prevalent species, the Red Bird of Paradise and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise.
We had organised with Benny to do an expedition to hopefully see both.

At some ungodly hour the alarm went off and the clock was flashing the time - 2am, and the date -  Friday the 13th
Hmmm hope that’s not a bad omen…

By 2:45am we were packed and in the RIB for the 3nm run to Benny’s house.
At 3:15am we had Benny and his brother in the RIB and heading for another area further east of the village.
From there it took us almost 90 minutes to hike high up into the interior to the first location for the Red BOP.

At dawn the birds started to congregate in the large tree above.
It was very difficult for photography looking straight up with a large 500mm lens and very low light conditions making for slow shutter speeds.

Then the males (with the long tail whips) started to display for the females.

As the sun came up it bathed the birds in light making for faster shutter speeds and better colour.

If the males were lucky they would mate with the females
- or at least get a kiss!!!

The Wilson’s BOP was a further 30 minute steep walk into the Interior.
We had to be fast as all the action stops by 9am.

The Wilson’s BOP location was a lot different as Benny had made a hide and we had to be very quiet and look & photograph through the small holes in the hide.

Hanging in the hide…

The male Wilson’s BOP in that location had a small clearing in a gully it used for displaying to females.
To bring to bird down to the ground, Benny would get leaves and put them over the clearing.
Benny could mimic the bird call perfectly and would call the male bird back into the area thinking there was a female about.
The bird would then eventually come down out of the trees and clean his little clearing up by tossing the leaves aside.

Photography was really hard.
The bird wouldn’t come close, rarely stayed still and with very low light Paul had the ISO and Exposure Values pushed to the limit to achieve a better shutter speed.
Paul didn’t get the shots he was wanting but we still got a really good look with the binoculars.

The trek home was downhill but it was a super hot day and we were wrecked by the time we got back to the RIB at 11:30am.
Overall it was an awesome experience and something a bit unique.
We were able to see & hear both types of birds so mission accomplished!! We also saw many other birds on our walk – hornbills, eclectus parrots, rainbow lorikeets, cockatoos, many types of pigeons, kookaburras and even a couple of wild pigs…

The next day was Valentine’s Day (a stark contrast from Friday the 13th…) and we had grand plans to have a picnic on a small rock island beach near Lorelei but we were still stuffed from the last 5 days of go go go, so we had an onboard relax, scuba tank fill, clothes wash and cooking day.
With all the yummy food supplies onboard we made Vanilla Slice, Vege Lasagne, Chicken Parmigiana, and an Avocado salad. YUM!!!

The weather report had a new tropical low in the Torres Straight south of us and the typhoon north of us in Micronesia.
We were in the middle with amazing weather – sunny, no wind & no swell.
It was perfect for diving but damn hot onboard particularly trying to sleep at night.

We pushed our luck and started doing some of the dives south of us in the Dampier Straight.
We never thought we would be able to dive them as they are exposed and a long way from the larger islands and any anchorages.
From Lorelei they were between 5nm and 8nm away but conditions were flat so we went for it.

We read the dive briefs for the 6 locations and decided that Mioskon sounded the most attractive to us and the tides were perfect to do it early in the mornings so we dived it first.

The fish life was just amazing and certainly one of the fishiest dives we have ever done. Not stacks of pelagics and sharks but tonnes of baitfish, small critters and reef fish both large & small.

One arvo we had our first visitors to our protected little bay.
It was a group of ladies with a long boat packed with fresh vegies straight from their garden. Not sure if they were going too or coming from the markets but either way we took advantage of the “home delivery” and brought a stack of fresh greens and a big bunch of Bananas.

We had a second dive on Batu Lima but this time we did it in the late
arvo to get the hunting trevally and reef fish in action and hopefully
some better viz.
It still wasn’t good but at least it was not green like the first time.

We also tried to do Blue Magic which was a further 1nm south of
We arrived at 8am to find 5 live aboards hovering close by and 2
resort boats as well. From the amount of tenders we guessed
about 60 divers were in the water at once.
We hovered over their bubbles and looked down to find dirty water and
very little fish life which is what the spot is well known for.

We quickly aborted and headed back to Mioskon and found only 4
other divers off one small boat. Perfect!!
The dive was brilliant and better than the first one with good viz and
more reef fish although not as many baitfish.

The two furthest dive sites were just too far to do as single dives so
we got up early, packed a picnic lunch and took off for a full days
We made the 7nm run down to Mike’s Point for our morning dive.
Mike’s Point has an interesting history.
During WW2 the Americans flew over it and thought it was a camouflaged Japanese Ship so they aerial bombed the hell out of it.
Well it didn’t sink but many large chunks of rock were blown away from the main rock island.
Today the deeper rocks have become bommies packed full of colourful corals and fish and the ones in the shallows have created underwater channels between them and the main island.

When we got there the current was howling so we tied off the back of the island and waited for it to subside on the turn of the tide.

Lisa doing a current check before putting the scuba gear on

The viz was terrible and it was like being in an underwater snow storm with lots of particles.
That combined with an overcast day meant it was dark and gloomy down deep. At 25-30m it was like a night dive!!!
The upside was the amazing amount of fish life hanging in the current off the point.

Coming back up along the pressure face was great with loads of small bait fish hovering around the coral.

The shallows had lots of Batfish and some beautiful soft corals in only 2-3m of water.

For lunch we headed the 3nm back to the island of Frewin Bonda.
As we rounded the tip of the island we saw the liveaboard Lambo anchored so we dropped in to say hi to the local crew and our friend Alex who is the manager/trip director.

We had a lunch break on a small isolated beach which was very picturesque.

For the arvo dive we dived the pass at Frewin Bonda.
There was no dive brief for this spot so we did 40minutes one way and then 40 minutes back the other.
We were so glad we did as they were very different.
The first section was a sloping reef with colourful corals and lots of bait fish.

The second section was a vertical wall which is rare for Raja Ampat.
It had amazing Black Coral Trees filled with glass fish, lots of Gorgonian Fans and even some caves.

Lisa found a cave with a ledge at the back that was filled with tiny unusual shrimp.
Lisa took the photos of the shrimp while Paul took the photo of Lisa taking the photos…

Back up in the shallows we took some shots looking up with the soft corals and trees overhead.

After an amazing 1 week at our little protected anchorage we took of north to the next location – Kabui Pass
It was great to be able to dive the exposed sites in The Dampier Straight and certainly an unexpected bonus.
We travelled over 55nm in 6 days in our RIB.

The Kabui Pass

The Kabui Pass is an iconic dive and scenic location in Central Raja.
The shallow pass links the east and west sides of Gam Island and the Dampier Straight.
The locals use it regularly to transit and it can be navigated by a yacht or smaller liveaboard on the higher tides however it is very tight and the current very strong.
It is a picturesque and stunning location.

The day we left it looked overcast but it was only 9nm to the Kabui Pass anchorage. As we got 2nm away it started to pour with rain and viz was down to less than 50m. We had no choice but to drop the engine revs back and drift along until it passed.

As the rain cleared we entered the rock islands.
We went past an unusual village with high stilted houses and a large copra processing area.

We anchored in a beautiful protected bay with a labyrinth of small rock islands, mirror flat water, mangrove lined channels and shallow coral areas.
When the rain cleared later in the day we went to explore around the rock islands and into the Kabui Pass.

We found the bat cave about half way through the pass.

We only did one day of diving in the area but it was so shallow that we were able to explore a few different locations on a single tank.
Like most mangrove lined passes the viz was low and green but it was still a fun day.
On the dives in the pass Lisa concentrated on the macro critters down a little deeper while Paul stayed near the surface looking for the soft corals so he could get some reflection, half/half and tree overhang shots.
The limited green viz, dark overhangs and strong currents certainly made photography a challenge.
The Titan Triggerfish were not at all friendly and Lisa found a new use for her pointer stick after one particularly nasty fish chewed a big chunk out of her camera arm float.

In the afternoon we looked for some spots around the rock islands in the bay as the current in the pass was too strong for diving.
We managed to tie our RIB in under an overhang on the low tide using the porous rocks on the roof to put the anchor line through.
When the sun came out it put shafts of light down though the water.

While Paul played in the shallows Lisa was again down deeper and found a stack of small unusual critters and in particular, lots of shrimp in the fans and soft corals.

For us to leave to go to Yanggeffo we had to take Lorelei through the Kabui Pass.
With it being very shallow and Lorelei’s deep keel, the only option was to go though on a spring high tide.
The problem was the high tide was at 6am and just a little too early to have enough light to see the coral bottom so we waited until 7am.
Paul decided to sit in the crow’s nest both to be the lookout and take photos.

When we got into the narrow section the current was already flying with us, and swirling around on the bends.
Lisa had to keep the power up to have steerage which meant we were going really fast.
She had Lorelei sliding into and around the corners like she was racing a drift car – the only problem is Lorelei has no brakes and her 63ft length & 28 tonnes of steel made for some exhilarating moments sliding close to the coral reef edge, mangroves and rock walls.

Paul was very impressed by Lisa’s helming skills and we just had to get over the shallowest section which was the sand/coral delta at the end.
We didn’t have much water under the keel but we got through just fine.

We were going to motor down between Gam Island and the small island of Palau Pef but we found a large pearl farm there with hundreds of floats scattered through the area so we had to go the long way around.
As we were going past the resort the fishing reel screamed off and 5 minutes later we landed a perfect eating size Spanish Mackerel.
Ironically it was using the Sebille lure and in the same spot that we got the double hook up on the Big Eye Tuna 3-4 weeks prior.

We arrived safe and sound in the mangrove lined Yanggefo Channel and tied bow and stern into a small protected bay halfway through the channel.
Lorelei’s stern was very close to the reef and mangroves but we were very secure.

We had been warned by many boats about a large 5m long crocodile that was being a bit of a nuisance in the channel so we had to be a little careful when setting the lines and diving.
A snorkeler had been attacked here 2 years ago so they are well known in the area.
The German yacht La Gitana was also in the bay and we caught up with fellow cruisers Volker (VK) and Michelle that night onboard Lorelei.

We decided to have a day off diving and instead loaded the free-dive/snorkelling gear into the RIB and spent most of the day with
VK & Michelle snorkelling the entrance to the channel and the outer
reef walls.
We were hoping to see either a Crocodile or a Dugong as we had heard a few yachts had seen one while snorkelling only 1 month prior.
We didn’t see either but had a great few hours exploring the area.

We left via the north end of the channel but after snorkelling more than half way around the small Yanggefo Island, we decided to come in through the southern entrance.
We spent a while in the mangroves exploring and Paul found a great area with mangroves, an old leaf house and some nice shallow coral to get a good half/half picture.

Early the next morning La Gitana took off after a 1 hour mission to clear a large fishing net that was wrapped around their anchor.
They were heading to Penemu which was also our next location so it was great for them to check it out before us and hopefully we’ll see them there in a few days time.

The day was overcast, calm with flat seas, no wind and best of all – not a liveaboard in sight, so we braved it and went out to dive an open water reef called Mayhem.
The brief in the guide book said this can be a “high voltage” dive and for us that was a major understatement.
It was just incredible with the most amount fish we have ever seen on a single dive. There were literally millions of fish in loosely formed schools hanging on the pressure face from the surface down to 30m.
The best wide angle lens could not even begin to capture the feeling of being completely encapsulated by fish 360 degrees around and above & below. SUPER AMAZING!!!!
The fish were a little wary though and it was difficult to get right up close to the schools for photos.
It was certainly the best dive we had done so far in Indonesia and one of the best of our whole trip.

Below are 3 photos of the same Gorgonian Fan taken only about 15 seconds apart.
And yet each photo has a different school of fish in the background.

We weren’t going to dive in the arvo but with the glassy conditions, great viz and a flood tide we decided to do Citrus Ridge at the entrance to the Yanggefo Channel.
The current was flying in so we took one of our kayaks and tied it into the mangroves inside the pass and took the RIB outside to start the drift dive.
It was like a mirror outside making for some great reflections on the surface.

We had to do a bluewater crossing to get to the ridge in the centre of the channel and drift along it in a fast current all the way inside the channel.
The soft corals in the channel are some of the most colourful in all of Raja.

Up in the shallows the current was flying along the wall and the soft corals were being blown sideways!!

We finished the drift at the kayak and Lisa waited in the shallows while Paul paddled the kayak back out to RIB to collect it and then Lisa.

That night back on Lorelei we were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves.
We had safely managed to dive two difficult spots that were world class dives.
We did not see another boat the entire day which was unusual for this popular location.
The only problem was it poured rain on dusk and into the evening so we couldn’t fill the scuba tanks for the next day.

The next day started sunny so Paul was up early to fill 4 tanks.
We decided to do Mayhem again in the morning.
This time Lisa did not take a camera and Paul only took a few pics. For most of the dive we just hung in mid water watching the bait fish wiz past us as the big GT’s chased them around.

We came home via the southern channel entrance and stopped in the passage at an area where the soft corals meet the mangroves.
Despite the croc warnings Paul jumped in with the camera for some photos. There were lots of Lionfish in the shallow mangrove roots which he thought was a bit unusual.

We had planned an arvo dive again but this time a drift on the other side of the ridge and pass but it rained all arvo. It didn’t matter as Lisa fell asleep after lunch and didn’t wake up until 5pm…

Arborek Jetty

We had not seen any live aboards for over 2 days which we thought was unusual.
We surmised that if it was quiet here then it may also be that way down at Arborek Island which was 6nm SE from Yanggefo.
So we loaded up the RIB for a trip to dive under the Arborek Jetty.
This was on the top of Paul’s wish list and it certainly did not disappoint.

The locals and kids were very friendly and there were loads of fish around the piers.
Paul spent over 1 hour in the shallows under the pier taking photos.

Paul asked a young Czech guy and a Korean lady if they would pose for him snorkelling under the jetty.
They both gladly accepted.

Meanwhile Lisa explored the bommies on the slope just off the end of the jetty and found stacks of macro subjects.

We found many of these Papaun and Tassled Scorpionfish under the jetty in the rubble. They were feeding on the baitfish and it was awesome to sit and watch them stalk the fish and eat them.

After 6 days at Yanggefo Channel we decided to leave.
The next destination was supposed to be Penamu and Fam Islands.
We spoke to La Gitana and they had a fantastic time there but after researching the dives at that location, it was just more of the same.
The soft corals and schooling fish are amazing but after 4 weeks of diving with them we wanted a change.
The other factor was the anchorage at Penamu was open to the north and we were expecting light north winds and swell.

So we opted for a different location and decided on the black sand muck diving locations on the south side of the large Batanta Island.
Best of all the anchorage was totally protected from the north.

Batanta Island

After a full days motoring we arrived at 4pm to a delightful bay with black sand beaches and very flat conditions.

Over the next 4 days we spent over 11 hours underwater searching for critters on the black sand substrate in the bay we were anchored in and the two bays further to the east.
Ironically it was some of the bluest and best viz we have had in Raja.
Whilst these dive locations are in the guide book, the average tourist to Raja is not interested in muck diving and the place is rarely visited.
The entire SW coastline of Batanta Island is uninhabited and the area is pristine both above and below the water.

We found a stack of amazing critters and a few things we had never seen before.
The highlight was a Wonderpus and 3 Mimic Octopus on one dive.
We had been looking for them for a long time and were a little disappointed not to see them in The Lembeh Straights last year.

Other critters we photographed were Ghost Pipe Fish (2 together in one photo which is rare), Blue Ring Octopus, Frog Fish, Cuttle Fish, Lion Fish, Sea Spiders, Shrimps, Crabs, Juvenile Fish and loads of Nudibranchs.
Of the 2000+ photos we took it was a mission to pick the ones for the blog.

Here are our favourite shots from the dives.

Not that it was a competition, but after we chose the best muck diving pics, we counted them and found we had 21 each which we had a little laugh about.

The dive site in the bay we were anchored was called “Happy Ending” and that’s just what it was for our time in Central Raja Ampat.

Reluctantly we had to leave our glassy and quiet bay to head back to Sorong for our final visa renewal and to tackle the large list of annual servicing chores on Lorelei.

For the entire 3 week loop the alternator and regulator have both worked just fine so fingers crossed they continue to do so....
We have one more month in Indonesia before our first 6 months is up and we must leave the country.

After Sorong we are heading to Southern Raja Ampat and the island of Misool before transiting further south to Ambon where we will clear out and head to Dili in Timor Leste (East Timor) for a few weeks before returning to Indo for the Winter surf season in southern Indo.

So that’s it for another huge issue of our Sailing (more like motoring and diving) adventures.
It’s the most amount of photos we have ever put in a single posting.
Hope you all enjoyed them….

Paul Hogger
Lisa Hogger

Yacht Lorelei

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