Dive Around The World - Komodo

      By Jim Lyle

This is part two of a three part report on a trip that we took diving around the World. This part describes our trip on the Komodo Dancer in Indonesia.

"Is everyone comfortable?"

"Is everyone ready?"

"On the count of three. One, two, three..."

I leaned backwards over the side of the dive tender and gravity took over as I fell into the warm water. I momentarily surfaced to get my camera and immediately descended to join the dive group. The dive guide got the okay from all the divers before starting down the slope into deeper water. A sandy bottom gave way to rocky patches and then solid reef covered in all sorts of corals: soft, hard, leather, table-top. Above the reef flitted myriads of reef fish in many colors: anthias, anemonefish, triggerfish, and many small, unidentified fish. The angelfish teased the photographers, always staying just out of camera range or dodging under the coral at the last minute just before their portrait could be taken. As the divers floated along the wall in a gentle current, the dive master paused now and then to point out some interesting little critter - nudibranchs, inverts, etc., letting the non-photographers get a look before turning the poor animal over to the cameras. Some of the group chose to go off on their own, finding their own interesting subjects, but I stuck with the dive guide who found nudibranch after nudibranch for me to capture with my camera. We slowly worked our way up slope and after an hour surfaced for the pick up and return to the Komodo Dancer.

I had looked into something to do between our stay on Wakatobi and our trip on the Indian Ocean Explorer. Russell posted a timely trip report on the Komodo Dancer and they had openings on a seven-day trip that fit the bill, so I asked Debbie to book it for us.

A van picked us up at the Nusa Dua Hotel and took us to Benoa Harbor to board the Komodo Dancer. Shortly after everyone was on board, at 9:00 am they departed for the long trip to Komodo Island. We settled in to our cabin, unpacked our dive gear and met the other divers. In addition to the four of us that had come from Wakatobi, there were a group of seven from Seattle, and two single women - a total of thirteen divers.

The Komodo Dancer is a large, wood motor-sailer; they never did put it under any sail, motoring all the way. She has nine staterooms, eight below deck and one on the top deck. Some cabins are fitted with bunk-single beds, and others with queens. The heads are en suite. All cabins have individual A/C that works. The main deck hosts the salon and a large outside seating area where lunch/dinner were eaten. We had some odor issues in our cabin and the shower drains are on the wrong side of the bathroom; other than that, I had no complaints about the boat. Oh, yes, the crew - there were 15 or 17 of them, I lost count, they were wonderfully attentive and friendly. Sebastian, the steward, was especially helpful.

Mantis shrimp

The eyes of the mantis

Water temps - the water temperatures in the west were in the low eighties and never got below 78 degrees, even in the Komodo area. Visibility wasn't great, with thirty-foot the norm. The suspended material in the water gave me fits in trying to take pictures - backscatter, backscatter, and more backscatter. The trick is to just kiss the subject with the edges of the strobes' light-cones. Any light falling on the water between the camera's lens and the subject reflects back as spots on the image - backscatter. Overall, I was disappointed in my results from Komodo. Wide angle was impossible.

Nudibranchs, nudibranchs, nudibranchs! With lower than hoped for visibility, I concentrated on the small stuff. One of the dive guides, Wayan has an unbelievable eye for little critters, finding the most cryptic/camouflaged/hidden little buggers all over the reef. I thought he might be doing it from previous encounters, by looking where he had found them before - nope, this was only his second trip on the Komodo.

The fish life was healthy, despite evidence of dynamite fishing. There were schools of jacks, black snappers, fusiliers, and a zillion anthias in pastel colors. We didn't see many big fish, only one shark and three manta rays. If visibility had only been better..."you should have been here last week." The month of June is supposed to be the best time to dive the area.

After an over-night, twenty-hour trip, the KD put into Satonda Island for a couple of easy check-out dives to get everyone's weight and thermal protection right. Most divers were using 3mm or 5mm wetsuits. Typically, breakfast was at six, we did two morning dives, ate lunch at one o'clock, and dove two dives after lunch. Some fourth dives were night dives completed before dinner, which was served at about eight. Afterwards some of the group stayed up to watch videos, but the old people went to bed immediately after dinner - early to bed, early to rise for tomorrow we must dive.

From Satonda Island, we made our way to Gili Banta, just outside of the Komodo Park for dives at K2, GPS Point, and the Circus. Moving on to Komodo, we dove Cannibal Rock, Yellow Wall, The Alley at Langkoi, Tatawa Besar, Tatawa Kecil, and Spanish Steps. After leaving Komodo, we returned to Bali via Gili Lawah Laut and Satonda before the overnight back to Bali. Ours was a seven-day trip; longer itineraries spend more days at Komodo, where the best diving is located.

The dive guides for this trip were: a pretty, young Frenchwoman, Carine; a young, Balinese man, Wayan; and a garrulous, long haired Brit, Garry. Divers were divided into two groups, the Black Boat and the Red Boat - neither boat was black or red, go figure! The color-challenged tenders were powered by twin-40 hp motors, and manned by a driver and deckhand. All of the dive gear was put on and taken off the boat by the crew and we only had to step aboard with our masks in hand. Entering the water was by back roll. At the end of the dive, we handed up our weight belts, BCDs, and fins before climbing up a metal ladder. Dive sites were near to where the KD was anchored. Both groups dove the same sites, at slightly staggered times. We rarely saw any of the other group underwater.

Nitrox (32%) was available from a membrane system for $150/week or $10/tank. About half the divers used Nitrox. Tanks were all the ubiquitous Al-80s filled to 3100 psi. The dives were limited to one-hour, providing sufficient bottom-time for all but the air hogs. All dives were multilevel, either in a bay or along a wall.

Star gazer

There were sufficient numbers of charging stations (both 110/240 Volt) and room for cameras. No E6 processing was available for the filmosauri among us on this trip, but may be available at other times.

Although the dive tenders carried radios, a situation did arise that caused some concern. One diver got chilled on a night dive and decided to come up early. When she couldn't attract the attention of the dinghy drivers, she chose to swim back to the KD, which was anchored nearby. When the rest of the divers surfaced, there was a great deal of confusion as to where the missing diver was, whether the Black Boat had picked up a Red Boat diver, or what. Of course, all was well once we discovered the missing diver was safe, but a strong current could have made a minor problem into a disaster.

The third day found the KD anchored at Gili Banta, near the Komodo Park. We dove the crater and then GPS Point - touted to be "one of the top ten great dive sites in the World." Currents sweep GPS, located in the channel next to Komodo, around a rocky pinnacle that drops off into the deep on all sides. If the visibility had only been better... a large cuttlefish and a peacock mantis shrimp provided some photographic opportunities. The water was cooler here, about 80 degrees.

We were taken for a land tour on Komodo Island to see the dragons! There were three of them at the ranger station and they played King of the Hill for dominance while the rangers protected the beasts from the tourists...isn't that supposed to be the other way? Most of the group took a two-hour hike and only saw one more dragon, some deer and pigs. Deborah and I opted to return to the boat early, a good choice. Of course we had to run the gauntlet of souvenir sellers on the way - they carve some very nice wooden dragons and will bargain down to very reasonable prices.

The islands around Komodo are barren and arid - they reminded me of Catalina Island during the summer. There were fewer people/fishermen than we had encountered elsewhere. A couple of land excursions were offered for those who wanted to walk a little along the beach.

"Deborah! Dragon on the beach!" At anchor we spotted several more of the big lizards, wild pigs, and herds of deer. A shout of "dragon on the beach" was sure to bring Deborah running.

Garry's Foot -

The dive master, Garry had taken the Black Boat dive group on a couple of vigorous swims into the current and they were grumbling about the forced marches. To get even, they put red food coloring into one of Garry's booties, and green in the other. When Garry took off his bootie after the dive and saw his red foot, the culprits started laughing and rolling on the deck; the look on Garry's face - priceless. Garry was a great sport about the whole thing, but his toenails may take some time to grow out. There was some talk about hairy sole, toedfish, cuticlefish, and moray heels for the rest of the trip.

Sea Apple

That afternoon, we dove Cannibal Rock, in the middle of a crater. Lots of stuff here, sea apples, 78 degree water, but low vis, again. The Alley at Langkoi on Komodo gave us brief glimpses of three manta rays and some really big and aggressive giant trevally.

Food: breakfast to order (eggs, ham, etc.) cereal, etc.; lunch buffet; dinner was served family-style with a mixture of Western/Indonesian food. Snacks were available between dives. The food was filling, but nothing to write home to mother about. Several people had requested special diets and got lots of white rice and fruit - at least they tried. Go on the KD for the diving, not the food. All beverages were included in the price - it was assumed that alcohol waited until the diving was done for the day.

After spending three days at Komodo, we started back for the long journey to Bali, stopping, here and there to dive, with our final dives at the same place we had done our check-out dives on the way to Komodo. The final night's passage was rough, but not too bad for all the tired divers. We bade the rest of the divers, adieu and made our way to the airport for our next adventure.

Click here for Part III: Around the World II - More Adventure - the Indian Ocean Explorer, from Mahe to Aldabra

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