Monday, 6 April 2015

Episode 35 Indonesia - Southern Raja Ampat to Ambon

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

For Episode 34 we had spent a fun month exploring and diving Central Raja Ampat.
At the end of the episode we had a fantastic 5 days at Batanta Island doing some world class muck diving.

Our location for this Episode of the blog

Our route through Southern Raja Ampat for this Episode of the blog.


Reluctantly we had to leave the amazing black sand muck diving to head back to Sorong for our final 30 day visa renewal.
We left Batanta Island at 5am on a beautiful morning which became a very hot day for the full day motor to Sorong Harbour.

It was so much easier at Sorong the second time around.
We knew where to anchor, where to leave the dingy, had fuel and bike riders lined up and knew where all the major shops & official places were in town.
The best thing though was the dive liveaboard Lambo was anchored right next to us so our friend Alex and the local crew kept an eye on our boat while we were not onboard.

The downside was the terrible weather and like the last time in Sorong one month ago we had some wild storms on dusk.

South of the town is a large gas plant.
When the low lying storm clouds passed overhead the gas flare from the plant would light up the underside of the clouds which looked amazing.

This time it was windy and rough in the harbour during the day making it impossible for Paul to complete the list of annual servicing that was required.
So we decided to have 4 full-on days onshore and get in and out of Sorong as fast as we could.

We hired our favourite local riders Ekie and Paltjay for 2 days to help.
We felt really safe riding around town with these guys.
It’s amazing how much they could carry and still ride safely.

Going past “Saga” the best shopping centre in Sorong

We took the boys out to a restaurant for lunch which for them was a special treat.

During our time in Central Raja we started having minor issues with our scuba tank valves and after talking to Alex from Lambo, we found out there was an engineering place in town that specialised in scuba compressor repairs, tank hydros, etc. It is run by an Aussie and after visiting the workshop we were confident they would do a good job so we asked them to service our valves and hydro the 4 tanks. Boy were we wrong about doing a good job but more on that later….
Ekie and Paltjay carried the 4 tanks and us there on the bikes!!

Early in the morning we would head into the local fish and F&V markets which started at 7am at the local wharf.

Lisa buying “Cumi Cumi” (pronounced Chumie Chumie) or fresh squid

This smiling happy man lugged this cart back and forth from the wharf to the markets many times each morning loaded with fish and ice –
and with bare feet……

Tonnes and tonnes of small fish drying – the smell was terrible!!!

Once again Immigration and Customs were no problem and both offices were very helpful.
We were asked to pay Rp1.2mil this time for our visa but negotiated down to Rp900 000 as that was what we paid last time.

On the last day we had everything done including fuel so we decided to be tourists for the day and have some fun around town with Ekie and Paltjay.

Batik material and clothing is very popular in the region and we went to a fantastic shop called Aneka Batik which sold batik items but also had hundreds of different rolls of material in different prints and colours.
Paul (who does all the sewing onboard) was very excited with the quality and price and we decided on a range of designs to make new interior cushions and table cloths for Lorelei.
Paul also brought an amazing batik shirt.

From Lorelei’s anchorage we could see a large Chinese Pagoda up on a hill so we asked the boys if they would take us to have a look at it.

The view from the Pagoda looking back over the town and harbour

Just before sunset we went up to the stone hill lookout which looks down over both sides of the town – the harbour and back towards the interior.

That’s some very high density living on the water’s edge

Looking back inland towards the West Papuan ranges

That night we went out for dinner with Ekie and Paltjay at a local eating place which has excellent food and our favourite Cumi Cumi dishes.

Our time in Sorong also coincided with the Bali 9 ringleaders pending executions.
Boy if you thought it was a big issue back home in Australia, you should have been over here. It was major news and was broadcast round the clock on many Indonesian TV networks.
Every time we went into a restaurant, bank or government agency it was on the TV.

To head south to Misool from Sorong we had to transit the 40nm long Kabra Bemoek Straight that separates the West Papuan mainland and the large island of Salawati.
It has a large tidal flow of up to 4 knots so it’s best to go with it for maximum speed.
With a late departure we only planned on transiting half on the first day and half the next day but it was spring tides and the current was flying so we transited the entire channel in around 5 hours.
We anchored in a glassy flat little mangrove lined side inlet for 2 days and Paul completed all the servicing on our main engine, gearbox, generator, scuba compressor and outboard motor.
Lisa made lots of yummy treats including some cakes and slices.

Balbulol Island, Misool

We took off for the last 45nm run across to Misool (the southern-most island of “The Four Kings”)
 It started nice but after a few hours the storms rolled in and the swell was hitting Lorelei sideways making for a wet and rolly trip.
The upside was we were flying along with the current assistance and averaged over 8 knots for the crossing.

Another storm front about to go over Lorelei

The islands of Misool on the horizon – and another storm front…

As we were a few miles from Misool a storm was just going over so we brought down the sails and slowed down until the storm passed and we had enough light to see the reefs as we weaved though the rock islands to get into the anchorage at Balbulol.

 An aerial view of the rock islands of SE Misool

There are virtually no places around Balbulol to anchor as the bays and inlets are over 40m deep so Lisa held Lorelei in position in the bay while Paul ran the lines to the shore with the kayak.
The rocks were razor sharp and we had to use wire and shackles to secure the main lines from Lorelei to the shore for both the bow and stern.

The anchorage was stunning with high cliffs all around and fringing coral around the edges.

Looking Forward (north)

Looking Aft (south)

A stunning Balbulol Sunrise from our anchorage (east)

With the overcast weather and storms we decided to leave diving for a few days and went kayaking instead.
We kayaked right around the first island which took over 5 hours and had a few snorkels in between.
Every bay was just amazing and we would come around the corner and just go “WOW” each time marvelling at the stunning rock formations.

Note Lisa’s kayak looking tiny under the huge cliffs

We found some fantastic caves and under-cuts in the rocks

Can you spot Lisa and her kayak in this photo???

The water was 50cm deep around the mangroves but it looks dry

In some of the small internal bays the water was very green

When we decided to start diving Paul went to fill the empty tanks which have just been serviced and the first repaired valve starting leaking air out badly. He tried the 2nd and the same problem. Then the 3rd and the 4th.
We took them off the cylinders and took them apart to find the most atrocious repair job. They had completely destroyed the o-ring seats on the metal spindles and the new o-rings were already chewed out.
We were horrified that such a dodgy job had been done to such an important piece of life supporting equipment.
To top it off they had obviously not been double checked before
re-assembling or tested. We were livid!!
Paul has worked in the scuba industry for many years and never seen anything like it before.
We emailed and SMS’d the company but not much was done.
Thank goodness we had 2 old spare valves that enabled us to at least do a single dive before having to refill the tanks but double dives (2 dives each in a day outing requiring 4 tanks) were out of the question.
The frustrating thing is the valves were working fine prior to the repair. The handles were just slipping a little on the spindles and it was time for a service.
So DO NOT get any scuba work or repairs done at Eon Engineering in Sorong.

For our first Misool dive we ventured out a few miles to some small isolated rock islands to dive a site called Love Potion No.9.
It had poured rain all morning, cleared up just as we went for the dive and rained again with some violent squalls all arvo.
With good luck more than good management we were able to dive during the only 2 hours of sunlight and calm weather for the day.

The soft corals on the dive site were amazing and colourful but the viz was terrible and less than 10m in some spots.

This photo was taken at only 5 meters depth

The next day we were not so lucky with the weather.
It was Friday the 13th so what did we expect.…
(Although we had a Fri 13th last month too and it was a fantastic day with the Birds of Paradise tour - See Episode 34)
We headed out to dive with reasonable weather and we checked 3 sites but they were all very exposed and we could see a big storm on the horizon.
Sure enough 20 minutes later it hit with very rough conditions so we anchored behind the biggest rock island which was sheltering the Love Potion dive site.
We sat and watched the 2 exposed liveaboards anchored nearby.
The large Phinisi’s were dragging their anchors as the squalls hit them.
They ended up some distance away from their divers.
 We dived Love Potion No.9 again but this time a different section that had less smaller soft corals and more Gorgonian Fans and Black Coral Trees.
The viz was slightly better but still not too good.

It was pretty ugly that afternoon and night with some very heavy sideways rain and strong wind gusts which were hitting Lorelei side on.
We just hoped the lines and tie-off rocks would all hold as they were under a lot of load.

The next day it rained, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained….
It was non-stop for over 36 hours however we weren’t really too concerned.
We had been going hardcore for over 2 months and every day we would flake into bed stuffed and say “we’ll just get through this bit then slow down a little at the next location.”
Well those that know us would laugh at that thought and we never did stop to rest and we were really tired, so at least it forced us to slow down for a while.
Paul was bored by mid afternoon and was walking around inside looking for things to do…..and driving Lisa nuts!!!
It could’ve been worse – we downloaded the weather that night only to find out Vanuatu was being pounded by a severe category 5 cyclone.
We knew a few yachts in the general area and were hoping they were all OK.

By 10pm the rain and wind had stopped.
We went outside and where amazed to find the entire surface of the glassy bay covered in 2.5m long thin fluro white tracks that were growing at one end in unusual shapes and fading at the other end.
We shined a powerful light into the water and the tracks disappeared and there was nothing there. Turned the lights off again, gave our eyes time to adjust and there they were.   Very weird!!!

The next day the sun was out but it was still a little windy with lumpy swell so we dropped the kayaks in for a long paddle around the adjoining island.
There were incredible rock formations with the highlight being a series of bee-hive style rock spires in a small shallow protected bay with high rock cliffs nearly 360 degrees all around.
It’s the most stunning formations we have ever paddled around in the kayaks.

We found shot aerial shots of the place on the net.

We found loads of Pitcher Plants all along the rock faces

Lisa had a swim while Paul climbed higher for a better photo…of course

The view from our lunch break stop

When the weather subsided we took off diving again and headed out to another local Balbulol dive site called Pet Rock. We chose this one because it still had a rock island to anchor behind which gave us protection from the bouncy wind vs. tide conditions.
It turned into a 90 minute marathon as we swam right around the rock and found 2 great underwater pinnacles 30m off the main island.


Wagmab Island, Misool

After a 6 days of exploring the Balbulol region, we decided to explore further west with the RIB and ventured 4nm to Wagmab.
We took a shortcut over some shallow coral near Lorelei’s anchorage.

The first spot we tried was a small rock island called macro rock which was in the middle of a current affected pass between 2 main islands.
We anchored on a ridge in the lee of the rock and there wasn’t much current so we jumped in for the dive.

As soon as we dropped off the ridge the current was flying against us.
We slowly finned into it and found some amazing overhangs, caves and swim thru’s full of fish and stunning soft corals.
The dive was amazing and it took us 60 minutes to swim up to the turn-around point and only 8 minutes to drift back to our RIB.
It was super hard to take photos and we spent more than half the dive hooked in with our reef hooks.
As it turns out there are not many macro critters that would dare hang out in the strong current so we are unsure why the name Macro Rock.
Nevertheless it was one of the best dives we have done in Raja.

After the dive we headed into the bays of Wagmab Island to have a look at another possible tie-in anchorage for Lorelei.
We found a great one but decided it was easier to leave Lorelei safely at Balbulol and just bring the RIB up each day for the 3 or 4 dives in the area.

We had heard of a Jellyfish lake in the area and the night before we searched on Google Earth for any possible inland lakes around the Wagmab area that may be the one.
One really stood out to us and it was right near the anchorage area so we ventured into the shallow bay to have a look.
We thought we would have to climb over a ridge and down into the lake.

Up in the corner of the bay we found a small inlet that was overgrown with trees so we couldn’t see it on Google Earth.
We were able to paddle the RIB through the shallow passage and into the lake.
And on the surface there they were, all the Jellyfish. Yippee!!!

The one downside of the lake having an opening was it was perfect crocodile terrain (and very similar to the lake in Palau where we swam with and photographed a crocodile – See Episode 29) so we were very conscious that we may see one during our 1 hour in the water.
Whilst there was not nearly as many Jellyfish as the Palau Jellyfish Lake, it was still a lot of fun and they were a different species with longer tentacles.

Note the reflection of the jellyfish on the surface in this photo

Lisa didn’t have her new camera in Palau so this was her first experience to photograph them. She had to concentrate on the smaller ones with the 60mm macro lens and got some fantastic photos.

When we scouted around the Wagmab area for the dive sites we found the GPS co-ordinates for the premier dive “Farondi Cave” to be wrong in the dive guide book. So with a little research we cross referenced the lat and longs with the google earth images of the island and the dive brief in the book and we found that if we swapped 2 GPS numbers around it put us in a better position on the island.
Sure enough on our return trip the new marks were spot on and we had found it. We did a quick snorkel first just to confirm we were right.
The rough honeycomb texture on the rock wall looked awesome
Note the small gap of light between the rocks and the water surface

The Farondi Cave is a quirky dive with a natural arch on the surface and a large cave below starting at 10m and exiting at 35m.

Paul loves taking panoramic photos and stitching them together.
This is his first ever underwater panoramic!! It took a few shots to get the exposure, angles (hard with the 10mm fish eye lens) and Lisa’s position right – all in 2 knots of current…
It was under the rock ledge and the lack of sunlight for a consistent exposure helped a lot.

The cave had some fantastic rock formations including some huge tubular rock outcrops.

Paul found another small opening inside the main cave at 32m that opened into a labyrinth of tunnels and caves which we explored.

Once we exited the cave we swam along the wall for 30 minutes and found a second huge cave.
Inside we saw another group of divers from the only liveaboard in the area. The group and the dive guide were shocked to see us as our RIB was hidden in another bay on the island and they thought they were the only divers for miles.

Nampale, NW Misool

When the west winds finally dropped we took off from Balbulol for the 70nm run west to Nampale on the NW corner of Misool.
It was just a little too long for a one day trip so we motored 60nm to a small but very protected mangrove inlet on the main island’s west coast.

On the way we past scores of the large Bagans (Indonesian fishing boats). They have powerful lights and attract the bait fish schools at night which they catch in huge nets.
It was early morning and as they hauled in their nets, we could see dolphins and many birds circling the Bagans looking for an easy feed.

We had to transit through a series of islands before entering the open water.
We picked a pass to go through but when we got there the entire bay and pass was filled with 1000’s of floats from a pearl farm so we had divert around them.

We passed a small village near the farm that in our view had a little quality imbalance of religious centre versus housing.

The anchorage was very protected thankfully because that night and the next day we were pounded by storm after storm with heavy rain, and strong wind gusts from all directions prior to the storms.

When the weather subsided we took off towards The Bluewater Mangroves which were on an island 8nm off the NW tip of the main island.

The Blue Water Mangroves is one of the planets most unusual dive sites.
Normally mangroves are a murky and silty place but not so here.
They lie just off the 200 fathom line and the daily tides bring in crystal clear water from the oceanic troughs.
The mangroves are full of brilliant soft corals attached to the mangrove roots and the area is abundant with fish and invertebrates.  
The mangrove channels are also well known crocodile habitats and many have been sighted here.
A diver was attacked (and survived) by a large croc in 2009.

We spoke to a few locals in longboats who came to say hello and they all indicated that there were large crocs around at the present time.

Paul was itching to get in the water with the camera and was on a mission for 2 things – a few good mangrove/soft coral shots and a Crocodile photo.
The hunt was on….

The first time in the water was in the afternoon and the wind had chopped up the surface a little in the mangrove passes making the soft coral/mangrove reflection shots less than ideal but some still turned out ok.
The viz was ok but had the ever present green tinge to it.

A great barrel sponge in only 2m of water

The next morning the viz was better on the flood tide but the wind had also kicked-in early despite the 8am in-water start for us.
It wasn’t super windy but just enough to ripple the surface making for less than ideal reflection shots – again.
We spent hours in the water and exploring many areas.
We were a little shocked when we returned to find it was after 3pm.
This time Lisa took her camera and took some interesting photos of the smaller fish and coral.

The only crocodile we saw – a Crocodile Fish…

We never thought we’d see an Anemone with Clownfish in 1m of water.

Day 3 at the Blue Water Mangroves and Paul was up early and had the cameras assembled ready to go.
However by the time we had downloaded the weather and spoke to 3 other yachts on the HF radio (one 150nm north, one 300nm south and one 400nm west) we found they all had similar reports of disturbed weather approaching and for us more storms and possibly southerly winds.

So we quickly packed up and decided to make the 200nm dash south to Ambon where we had to clear out of Indonesia in around 2 weeks time.
It was bitter sweet for Paul – the wind near us was supposed to drop out completely and would have made for glassy reflection photos but we would have to motor the entire way to Ambon – and in rain/stormy conditions.
The decision turned out to be a great one and we sailed for most of the day with current assistance before having to kick the engine on at sunset.

We enjoyed a beautiful night with flat seas, no wind and favourable currents arriving at Ceram Island at 3am.
For 4 hours we had to motor through a deep 4nm wide passage that was filled with unlit fishing boats and squid shacks on floating pontoons.
We both stood in the cockpit (one on either side) with binoculars and tried to spot them in the dark moonless early morning.

These are what the squid shacks looked like at daybreak. In the dark they were near impossible to spot as they had no lights.

We had a great sunrise with a large blue strip through the orange glow making for an unusual photo.

A local ferry we passed at daybreak.

Lisa on the bow as we went through a section with scores of very large (over 6m long) floating logs.

 At 8am we transited the last section which was a very shallow (5m deep) coral passage between two islands. It would cut over 35nm off the trip to Ambon so we were happy to have made it safely through.
With still 61nm to go we figured we would get in about 2 hours after sunset which was not good so we anchored on the south side of the pass near a small village and crashed for the day, electing to start again the next morning at 5am.

Palau Tengah

The next morning was super glassy with no swell and no wind.
We did have the current assistance still and planned to arrive in Ambon city mid afternoon.

Glassy in 1000m depth….

It’s an angel!! Nope – it’s Paul taking selfies on the glassy water surface.

At 10am we were doing the crossing from Ceram Island to the very large Ambon Island when Lisa said there were 3 small islands on the NW tip of Ambon Island that had 2 calm weather anchorages and reports of some excellent diving.
With the conditions it was like a red rag to a bull and 30 minutes later we were dropping the anchor in a pass with screaming current alongside a beautiful small island called Palau Tengah with sea caves and sandy beaches.
We noticed on the beach closest to Lorelei loads of large fish traps and people tending them. One guy was burning or scorching them and many were being loaded onto boats for deployment.

Just as we were dropping the RIB in, a nice local fisherman named Achmed dropped by to say hello and offer us a Green Jobfish.

The people onshore were so friendly and happily showed us the fish traps and tried to feed us too.

The amazing thing about the traps is they are super strong and men were walking on top of them. They were lashed together using natural vines and the only rope used was for the line to deploy and retrieve them.

It was the weekend and whole families were on the little beach after coming across from their Muslim village on the other island. The ladies and young kids were infatuated with Lisa’s blonde hair.

In the arvo we went for a dive. How did we know we were out of Raja Ampat? Because the green tinge was gone and the water was blue. Yippee!!! Finally some good viz. It was so different that we had to change the white balance settings on the cameras.

The current was screaming on the surface but the deeper we went the less it got. The fish life was amazing with loads of bait fish, millions of small blue Oceanic Triggerfish and loads of Spanish cruising through the middle.
We even found a fish trap on the bottom to take photos with.

Lisa found an unusual small crab that was only a few mm's long. 

Just on dusk we explored around the island and had a look at the sea caves and overhanging rock ledges.

We decided the next morning to head out spearfishing instead of diving after seeing so many great eating fish on the previous days scuba dive.
After 3 months of being in the Raja Ampat Marine Park and not being able to spear (except for a quickie on Australia day for a fish dinner) we were itching to get back into it.
We did a few really fast drifts down thru the current filled channels. There was heaps of bait fish offset by the occasional bigger fish.
In 3 drifts we shot 3 fish. Nothing huge but great size eating fish and Paul’s favourite – a Green Jobfish.
We kept 2 and gave one to the very happy local fishermen.

The ever reliable Aimrite 130 Super Venom came through again

As we were cleaning up after spearing, 4 sailing canoes came past Lorelei taking advantage of the afternoon sea breeze.
There is no rudder and they simply steer with a paddle.

The other thing different to Raja was there was no mossies or bugs at night and we enjoyed a great sunset on the foredeck.

Just after sunset a timber longboat with 5 males (grandpa, father and 3 teenage sons) came and deployed a net between Lorelei and the shoreline on the turn of the tide.
They swam the net out in the dark and then ran the boat down current, lit 2 large medieval style open flame torches (just the thing for a timber open boat with a gasoline outboard….) and waved the flame over the water and threw huge rocks into the water trying to scare the fish up current and into the net. It was a long and tedious task for the entire process, particularly in the retrieval of the net.
And all for just a half bucket full of small fish.

We had 2 awesome days there and as it was over a weekend it felt like a great weekend away and entirely different from our 3 months in Raja.
Lovely people (the nicest we have met in Indo), great traditions with the fish traps and fishing techniques, awesome diving viz, fun spearing and no bugs. Perfect….!!!
The only downside was we had leave to get to Ambon.

We took off for the 30nm run into Ambon. The bay into Ambon is huge and 20nm long so most of the time was spent transiting that.
The further in we went the larger the villages got and the more modern the housing.
We saw some huge Mosques on the steep hills and a well known large Christian cross at one shoreline village.

From a distance Ambon looked huge and up close it was massive and by far the biggest city we have been to in Indo.

The shoreline was packed with large modern buildings.

Ambon has been building a large bridge over the harbour linking the 2 sides. It has been under construction for many years…

From there it all went downhill. We went past the bridge up into the large bay for a few miles to where the water is shallow enough to anchor.
It is a popular anchoring area with scores of fishing boats, commercial vessels and many boats on wharves around the shoreline.
It is also a popular yacht anchorage – or was….
As we dropped anchor (where many yachts do and where 2 friends had only weeks prior) we were visited by a large back RIB with men in camo gear & automatic weapons and were told we were not permitted to anchor in the protected bay. We argued the point that it was ridiculous as it is a popular anchorage but they were adamant that the rules have just changed and now yachts must anchor on the other side of the bridge which is deep, exposed and open to swell and bad weather.
We were not happy at all but we received an armed escort out of the harbour so we knew they were very serious.

Ambon Brief History

Up until the 1500’s Ambon was ruled by Ternate with Islam as the religion and being the southernmost island of the original Spice Island group, it was a major spice trading port.
In 1599 the Dutch took over, introduced Christianity and renamed the island Fort Victoria, making it their main spice trade base.
Despite the 1817 uprising, the Dutch rule survived until WWII.
During the war the Japanese made Ambon a major Military HQ and POW camp.
The result was extensive Allied bombing which sadly destroyed the attractive colonial architecture.
After the war it was returned to the Indonesians.
From 1999 to 2002 Ambon was ripped apart by Christian-Muslim violence.
In January 1999 the first wave of attacks started with a large Christian group attacked in the city’s market area. Businesses were destroyed and the city became divided into Christian and Muslim zones.
By late 2001 Ambon was battered and all but destroyed.
During 2002 the violence started to subside and the last significant riots were in 2004.
The occasional provocations still exist between the Army and Police forces but the area is quickly regrowing with a visible economic resurgence.
Sadly during this time of violence the tourism was greatly affected.
The popular Darwin to Ambon yacht rally/race was cancelled and the 3 dive businesses in the area closed their doors.
Fortunately both the yachts and dive tourists have returned with a mostly welcoming community.

Looking down over Ambon

The one main advantage of being in the main harbour was it was close to town and much closer to the dive sites.
Until the bridge is finished, many boats both large and small run back and forth across the harbour to provide an easy link to both sides.
 We were able to  simply flag one of the small passing boats down, grab his phone number and just call any time we needed a lift to shore. His name was Unkie and he lived right in front of where Lorelei was anchored so it was very convenient.
The first time we called him, he took us into shore to his house, we met all the family and neighbours and he spent the morning riding bemo’s around the city and showing us the sites, supermarkets, malls, etc…
It was awesome as meeting everyone onshore also meant we had about 50 people watching over Lorelei when we were away.

For the next 4 days the weather was great and we took advantage of it and rigged up the dive gear and cameras.
Ambon has a large range of diving both inside and outside the bay, however for us the main attraction was the world class muck diving over at Laha near the airport on the other side of the bay.
It meant a 7nm run over in our RIB but the diving was right on the shoreline and easy anchoring.
The main attraction of the area is “The Twilight Zone” which is a stretch of shoreline running for about 1klm and incorporates about 15 dive sites.
There is a small village within this area as well as 2 dive shops and a dive resort.
We were able to contact Blue Rose Divers (who are a local operation and our preferred choice over the European run centres) and used the shop as a base.

We could simply arrive, anchor, go for a dive, return the 200m to the shop, get an air fill and walk down the street for a café lunch, head back, rig up and go diving again. So Simple.
The café had awesome local food and a full main meal with a side dish of yummies and 2 drinks each cost A$7 for the 2 of us.
The café was part of a local ladies house and she had a beautiful garden with some lovely flowers.

The local kids always wanted to stop us and get a photo

On our first day of diving we did Air Manis and Laha No.3 dive sites.

At Air Manis and we saw loads of Sea Horses, Ghost Pipe Fish, Allied Cowries and lots more.

Note the brittle star on the belly of the left Sea Horse.

Laha 3 was right in front of the Blue Rose dive shop. Billy the dive guide was just returning and told us about a Bommie at 20m that was very special so we checked it out.
We were stoked to find at the bommie a Paddle Flap Scorpionfish which are very rare.
We had seen its cousin the Lacey Scorpionfish on the GBR back at home but the Paddle Flap variation was a first for us. Ambon is one of the few places you can see them globally. We also saw Leaf Fish and lots of other cool things.

White Leafy Scorpionfish

Paddle Flap Scorpionfish (Rhinopias)

Spiny Devilfish

Solar Powered Nudibranch – only the 2nd time we have seen them.
Paddle Flap Scorpionfish (Rhinopias)

This is normally all you see of a Ribbon Eel.
We were amazing to find one out free swimming and Lisa managed a quick photo before it disappeared.

We were so excited when we got home. It was a ballistic day and made so easy with Blue Rose’s help and a sit down lunch.
We vowed to do it the next day – and the next, and the next….

Sadly our diving happiness subsided when we got home and jumped on the net to find out about Typhoon Maysak.
We had been following it for days and it was sad to see it decimate Chuuk (Truk Lagoon) but was horrified to find the dive liveaboards which had been washed up onto the reef, were damaged outside but completely destroyed inside from damn locals who looted and vandalised it extensively.
We had a bad experience in Chuuk with a less than desirable village chief and officials at Losap Atoll and it certainly re-enforces to us that they are generally not nice people and no wonder cruising yachts are warned not to visit Chuuk.

Outside – This is what Typhoon Maysak did

Inside – This is what the local people did…..

But we were very saddened to find Maysak had made a direct hit on the remote Islands of Ulithi and Fais just north of Yap. It was a category 5 Super Typhoon and it decimated the area.
Two days later we were thankful to find out that there was no loss of life in Ulithi and Fais. However some very scary stories were starting to emerge.
We had been in the area exactly 1 year prior and it was a very scary thought that it had hit at that time. It was the 3rd Cat 5 Typhoon to form in the NW Pacific this year which is highly unusual.

Typhoon Maysak from space

Special thanks to Brad Holland from Yap for the photos below of Ulithi and Fais Atolls after the typhoon had passed directly over.

That night we went for drinks over to a cat called Cutting Edge owned by an Aussie couple, Peter and Jan, who had arrived the previous day.
They were returning from the Malay/Thai peninsula so we picked their brains about the area.

We dived the next day with 2 very long (1h45m) dives but with a slightly unusual start.
The arvo before we saw 2 large C-130 style military aircraft landing at the airport (which was just behind and parallel to the dive shop and dive sites.
As we were motoring over to the dive area we saw 4 Sukhoi fighter planes take off and went over the horizon. We thought that was pretty cool.

However when we anchored up and were getting ready, 3 more took off and started doing manoeuvres around the bay.
They were flying less than 100m above the airport, city and water and well below the mountain tops.
Each time they went over the city or the airport they would start doing corkscrew style rolls and then a vertical ascent at the end, still doing spins.
It was completely mental!!
There is no way in the world anything like that would ever happen in Australia over such a populated area.

We were anchored at the end of the airport and the noise and vibration as they flew over us was just crazy. Every single local was out of their houses and workplaces all watching the spectacle.
We asked them how often did this happen and they said it was the first time ever with the low level acrobatics.

 An inverted fighter plane  less than 100m above a populated area....

We came to realise that Ambon’s muck dive profiles are different to other muck spots we have dived. In Batanta in Raja all the best things were at 10-20m depth. In Ambon it is split. You dive to 35m and explore from 35m to 25m. There is very little from 25m to 10m and then at 10m to 2m it is packed full of interesting critters again. Weird!!
The first dive was a little slow in the depths but was much better in the shallows. Lisa found 3 Leaf Fish and a Giant Black Frogfish that was very difficult to photograph with a macro lens.
Then a fantastic local guide came along from Maluku Dive Resort and saw us taking photos. He took us 10m away and there were 2 Warty Frogfish that we’d never seen before and more Leaf Fish. We were very thankful and so happy.

Lisa’s Giant Black Frogfish Photo – Above and Below left

We dived the same area again in the arvo for some better photos of the Froggies as Paul ran out of air on the 1st dive whilst photographing them. Ooops…
We were happily snapping away when a very big (over2m long) banded sea snake slithered into Paul. It scared the life out of him. He has had a lot of experience in handling large Olive Sea Snakes for SOF guests but it’s generally better to avoid the banded ones as they are considered a little aggressive. We’d never seen a banded one even half the size of this one so it was a real shock.

Brown Frogfish

Red Frogfish

That night we returned the favour with Peter and Jan off Cutting Edge and they picked our brains on the Great Barrier Reef whilst onboard Lorelei.

The next day we concentrated the diving on a point in front of the village as we had heard that there were Harlequin Shrimp located there.
Sure enough we found them and were very excited as it was another first for us.
The shrimp have large powerful nippers that are able to sever off a starfish’s arm which they then drag back to their home to eat.
We were fortunate enough to see 3 with one dragging a Starfish arm complete with a Starfish Shrimp still attached.

Note the Sea Star Shrimp still sitting on the severed Star Fish arm

Not sure if these Cuttlefish were playing, fighting or mating but either way it was great to watch and photograph

Note the Shrimp on the tail of the bottom Morey Eel.

Housing Hitchhiker!!!! The knob is only about 12mm diameter so gives you an idea of how small the fish is…

That night we were invited back to Cutting Edge.
Peter and Jan had Aussie friends John and Sue arrive from Brisbane.
They brought with them a few packets of prime Aussie Steak so we had a fantastic BBQ with some yummy salads and drinks.

For our lasts days diving we went back to get more Shrimp shots and also Rhino Point where there was much less current.

A free swimming Snow Flake Moray Eel

With so many days of unexpected diving we sadly didn’t have time to explore Ambon’s land based sites as much as we would have liked.
We did a few things but the priorities were refuelling, reprovisioning and the clearing out process.

The huge fish sculpture at the main wharf entrance

There was no where onshore to leave our RIB so we flagged down any boat that would pick us up or drop us back.
Lisa onboard a small fishing boat going back to Lorelei

As usual the local market was always a blast.
The waterside markets in Ambon were the largest and most packed we have seen in Indo. Having said that,  the people were always very friendly.

 Taxi anyone???

A huge and beautiful Mosque in the centre of town

On the last day we had the customs officials come and inspect Lorelei before we left the country. Its the only country we've ever heard of that does one on the way out... protecting national treasures and artefacts apparently.
Anyway they were fantastic, spoke great English and even helped us around town.

We also enlisted the help of our local boat driver friend Ankie to help us get some diesel fuel. As we were in the cockpit sorting money Ankie spied our binoculars sitting on the table. We think he knew what they were but didn't know how to use them. His expression of awe when he looked through them was priceless. It was just one of those golden moments and he stood on the deck for several minutes doing 360's looking into the distance.

So that’s it for this Episode of The Hog Blog.
It’s been a slower pace this month compared to our first 5 hectic months in Indonesia.
Our 6 month visa expires on the 12th April so now we must leave Indonesia for a visa/border run.

The plan is to sail SW to Dili in Timor Leste (East Timor) where we will spend around 1 month exploring Timor before returning to Indonesia for the 6 month winter surf season.
We are so looking forward it.
Brilliant waves, some wind to sail and hopefully a little cooler air temp.

Look out for Episode 36 – Timor Leste in around 1 month’s time….

Paul Hogger
Lisa Hogger
Yacht Lorelei


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