A week on a Raja Ampat diving liveaboard

What an incredible week we just spent living on the Blue Manta, a diving liveaboard that is currently sailing the waters of Raja Ampat, from the Dampier Strait to Misool and back.

A pod of at least two dozen spinner dolphins accompanying our sail to Dampier Strait

Life underwater there is so rich, teeming with enormous schools of fish that is heartening to see. Many dives, we were swarmed by darting anchovies and glass fishes that occasionally coalesced themselves into large balls to counter the prowling schools of jacks and snappers. Schools of large batfish cut placidly through these, and the schools of butterfly fish, juvenile triggerfish, juvenile snappers and blue and yellow fusiliers. At times, we were quite content to swim away from our close inspection of the sea walls for nudibranches, lobsters, shrimps, and pygmy seahorses to just revel in the busyness.

We were so lucky to luxuriate in the rich environs underwater

Then there were the mantas. We were lucky to spot them on several occasions, both the reef and ocean mantas. Enormous beasts that span up to 7 meters, they would come into the reef from the deep, to get cleaned by the eager butterfly fish. At Manta Ridge in Dampier Strait, we tied ourselves down to the reef with reef hooks and stayed almost the entirety of our dive to marvel at these majestic creatures regally gliding their way through and around the strong currents.

Admiring the graceful waltzes of the manta rays

In the deepening darkness when we descended for the night dives, we were usually rewarded with the sight of hunters prowling. Black tip reef sharks, swimming moray eels, stingrays, octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish. The crabs and lobsters would come out of their hiding nooks too, and the polypops would be unfurled in their splendid glory, feasting on the plankton. We also spotted the shy walking shark, endemic to Raja Ampat waters.

Some scenes from our night dives

One of my favorite highlights was ascending to the surface after our exciting night dives, to see the black sky filled with twinkling stars. Out in those waters, with no light pollution for hundreds of miles, save the warm cheery lights of our boat, the stars twinkled as brightly as they did in Australia (a sight I dearly miss in Singapore). I loved these quiet moments where we gently bobbed in the flat waters, soaking in the beauty of the night, before our trusty boat crew puttered up in their small boats to take us back to steaming mugs of hot chocolate and piping hot dinners.

Above water, in between the dives, we enjoyed little naps or chatted with the other divers. It’s always fun to swap dive tales with fellow enthusiasts, and get tips for new destinations to visit. This trip, we had many avid photographers and videographers on board, most decked out with unwieldy and heavy gear that they really put through the grind. It was inspiring to see their work, and to enjoy the gorgeous images of life underwater that they captured.

Our cruise director also found time for us to do a few land excursions – one where we spent a sweaty 20 minutes climbing the steep slopes to the viewing platform to see “Love Lake”, another where we visited Little Juliet Bay in Misool to see baby black tip reef sharks swimming in the shallows, and another to visit a quiet group of rock islands rising in the middle of the seas to form breathtaking lagoons.

Life above water in Raja Ampat

A swim through the mangroves in Dampier Strait

After a frustrating start with my camera underwater, where I had to get used to the settings all over again after not having touched it for almost two years, I gradually got more comfortable with the camera and strobe. So much so that I think I’m at the point where it makes sense to invest in another strobe light and a wide angle wet lens. (Lol, the little excuses we give ourselves for the acquisition of more gear.)

Some of the many types of nudibranches we spotted

Dani, our dive guide
A photo Dani took of me underwater – I felt a little like Moses, parting the sea of glass fish

Love the rich biodiversity underwater

Our dive sites

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Underwater in the Adriatic Sea

We are just back from a gloriously relaxing holiday in Croatia and Singapore. In Croatia, we spent an entire week aboard the Vranjak I, a thoughtfully and sturdily appointed dive vessel.

Our lives on the boat were unhurried and chill: Wake up at 545am for the sunrise, wait impatiently for the bakeries to open to fill our burek cravings, watch the early morning glow on the island towns as the captain starts the engine and throttle out the port. Enjoy a warm cuppa on the couches on the bow deck of our vessel while soaking up the warmth of the morning rays. Squeeze into our wetsuits and plunge into startling clear waters for our first dive of the day. Lunch and siesta in the sun before the next dive. Dock at the next island, and explore its cobblestone streets and alleys in the golden evening light. Eat on board our boat, snap blue hour pictures, grab a dessert and aperitif on land after. Crash into bed after for a long and deep sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Our divemaster, Tommo, repeatedly stressed that we were blessed with the most beneficent weather. Think flat, glassy waters and blue cloudless days. Apparently, the week before we boarded, the divers had to content with gusty winds and waves 10 feet high. And indeed, the weather the days after we disembarked was alternately windy and stormy too.

The diving itself was novel. We’d only previously dove in warm tropical waters, and so weren’t expecting the brisk 62 F / 16 C waters that greeted us when we first plunged in. Although most of our dives were in deep waters (30-45m), visibility was good, and while we spotted no sharks, rays, or turtles, there were plenty of scorpion fish, sea centipedes, octopuses, lobsters, nudibranches, eels, cat shark eggs, and gigantic gorgonian sea fans to catch our interest. We also dove two wreck dives, the Vassilios (1920 Japanese trading vessel that sunk in 1930), and the Teti (1883 ship that also sunk in 1930).

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Diving in Fiji, Clown Fish Edition

The past couple of years, we’ve dove in Hawaii and the Caribbean, and consequently have missed seeing the colorful clown anemone fish. Happily, we had an abundance of them in Fiji, and a few different species (and in different types of anemones) at that!

Glassy waters
The storms were just abating Monday, the first day we plunged in the waters. But by Tuesday, the winds had died down such that the waters were calm, glassy.

Baby nemo
Baby Nemo

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Clown fish

Clown fish

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There’s obviously tons of other colorful fish besides these cute clown anemones of course, including our new favorite wrasse, the bird wrasse.

Bird Wrasse
Bird Wrasse

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Anthias galore

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Scrambled Egg Nudibranch
Scrambled Egg Nudibranch

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Diving the Somosomo Strait, Fiji

Except for one day, we spent the rest of our mornings in Fiji underwater. With over 2300 species of fish and nearly 400 species of corals, every dive was an exciting one.

Before this trip, I wasn’t really a fan of drift diving, because I preferred the opportunity to stick myself in one spot and have the luxury of slowly figuring out the proper exposure and strobe lighting for my subject. But currents are what lends the Somosomo Strait its fame and the title ‘soft coral capital of the world’. And with dive sites so brimming with life at every turn, photography can take a back seat. Half the time, I honestly did not know where to turn my head. From the moment we descended, there were so much to look at. Schooling black and red snappers, jacks, barracudas, big eyed brim, to the tiny thousands of blue chromis, orange and purple anthias. Heaps of corals – soft orange, white, blue, pink, purple polyps, hard stag horn corals, table top corals, fan corals. Beds of anemones with shy clown fish occupants. The odd sleepy white tip reef shark, the rainbow colored parrot fish and trigger fish. Nudibranches in all colors, stripes and patterns. Oy.

I did take photos though, loads of them. And I feel like I’m slowly getting the hang of this underwater photography thingy. If only half the time my camera doesn’t mysteriously reset itself to jpeg mode.

Getting ready for our first dive
Getting ready for our first dive

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Little puffer
This little puffer reminded us of the ubiquitous puffers we saw in Belize

 

Lobsters
Lobsters, always a feast for the eyes

 

Grouper
We saw so many different colored groupers

Anthias galore
Thousands upon thousands of these orange anthias greeted us on every dive

Green turtle
Initially, we lamented about not spotting any turtles. But Julie, owner of Taveuni Ocean Sports explained that wasn’t a bad thing, since turtles fed on algae and these reefs were healthy enough to have minimal algae

Nudibranches
Nudibranches

Eel
Spotted this tiny eel on the night dive

Honey and Tiger Cowris
Honey and Tiger Cowris

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Flying Gurnard
Flying Gurnard

 

Puffer
Puffer trying to hide behind this little twig of a coral

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Golden Tunnel Dive
Golden Tunnel Dive

Blue Ribbon Eel
Blue ribbon eels are a rare sight in Fiji

 

Sea crate
These highly venomous sea crates are a fairly common sight in Fiji. We also saw a baby one climb up our dive boat

 

Scorpion Fish
As a friend so aptly dubbed it, the scorpion fish with the ‘resting bitch face’

 

Green Moray
It wasn’t till our last day of diving that we saw morays. On dive #10 at The Ledge, we saw a giant moray. On dive #11 at Fish Factory, we spotted this green moray and a white mouth

 

White mouth moray
White mouth moray

Octopus
At our safety stop, the surge kept pushing us back and forth over this octopus, so safely ensconed in its hole

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Diving in Maui, Hawaii

After a year on land, we finally made it back underwater, this time in Maui, Hawaii. Over 3 days, we dove 7 dives, all in the Southern part of Maui: St Anthony Wreck, Reef End at Molokini, Molokini Back Wall, Grand Wailea, and Makena Beach Landing. Fun dives, with many turtles (especially the night dive at Makena Beach Landing, where we literally bumped into 17 turtles in the caves!), some sharks, eels and octopuses.

My underwater photography is still very much a work in progress. It was at times a frustrating struggle with the flash. When it got too much, I just turned the camera off so I could properly focus on the moment – diving the incredible underwater topography with all the amazing creatures to behold.
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Dove the St Anthony Wreck site. Not a big area, but it was a good check out dive, with a couple of turtles just chilling on the wreck itself.

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We dove Reef End at the front side of Molokini Crater twice. Both times, I peered under this ledge and was treated to the sight of a half dozen juvenile white tips milling about

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Crab feasting on uni

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Gloomy nudibranch, endemic to Hawaii

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Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻaDSC07003-455-1