Charter Journal

SEVEN NIGHTS IN RAJA AMPAT

By: March 1, 2017 No Comments
 

Onboard a Tiger Blue Cabin Cruise

A few times per year, some yachts will offer cabin cruises for adventurous couples or single travelers who want to experience a charter without bearing the cost of the entire boat.

Group sizes range from 2-14 guests and itineraries cater to divers and non-divers alike. As an alternative to a private charter without a larger group, a cabin cruise can be the next best alternative for exploring Indonesia’s most remote regions.

Fixed itineraries are available in Raja Ampat and Komodo, and in between seasons when repositioning through rarely visited islands in the Banda Sea.

To give readers a sense of what a week is like on a cabin cruise aboard Tiger Blue, I’ve included some notes below on a trip we completed in February 2017, accompanied with photos from along the route.

 

Getting to Raja Ampat

For domestic travel in Indonesia, Garuda is the top choice for its new planes and the most generous weight allowances for dive and photography gear.

My adventure starts in Bali, where I take an evening departure to Makassar, spending the night at the airport hotel before taking a connecting flight to Sorong, the bustling port town on the edge of Raja Ampat.

My flight lands in Sorong at 0630. Indra, Tiger Blue’s Cruise Director, is waiting for me holding a sign with a blue tiger on it. I can spot his smile from behind some people in front of me, and wave hello.

After a quick ride through Sorong and a dinghy ride from the jetty, we board Tiger Blue and are greeted by the smiley crew with welcome drinks and cool towels. It feels great to be so kindly welcomed after a long trip. I feel instantly at home.

First Impressions and Meeting Fellow Passengers

It’s clear from the moment one steps on board Tiger Blue that she is a solid wood boat built for adventures at sea. The devil is in the details and I quickly notice that her crew ensures friendly, attentive service in everything they do.

I’m told I’ll be sharing the boat with two British couples and an American single traveler.

One of the British couples is already onboard, and we exchange stories over coffee on the large table on the main deck. The benches are upholstered with comfortable cushions and it’s easy to see ourselves enjoying many a meal at this table over the course of the next week.

We enjoy breakfast at our own pace as we wait for the rest of the guests to arrive by 9AM.

One British couple are both in their 50s with grown kids and have never taken a trip like this before. The British man admits he’s not much of a boat person, but he and his wife thought they would try something new.

The other British couple arrives and it turns out they are newlyweds on their honeymoon. The single American traveler has just finished graduate school and is traveling solo around the world before starting work full-time in just over two weeks.

Our newly acquainted group sits around the dining table, talking about why we’ve decided to come on this cruise and our expectations for the journey. As we share our excitement for the adventure ahead, I get the feeling that we are all going to remain friends long after this cruise is over.

 

Setting Course for Our First Destination

Once everyone is onboard, the crew raises anchor and we set course for about six hours of cruising to our first mooring. This stretch gives everyone a chance to relax, unwind, sleep after traveling, and enjoy the scenery as we venture out to the islands.

Our first lunch onboard sets the tone for the heavenly food we will experience over the next week. The chefs serve a fresh seafood salad made with ingredients sourced from local fisherman. For dessert, we share a savory watermelon and marvel at how good everything tastes on board.

We reach our first destination, Mioskon Island, near sunset. It’s too late to do our check dive, but we jump in to snorkel and in the clear, turquoise water see an incredible variety of fish. The British man who is admittedly not accustomed to snorkeling is amazed at the variety of colors and fish.

After returning to Tiger Blue we have time to freshen up before dinner, then we gather around the table and enjoy sharing stories late into the evening. Slowly the group dissipates to the cabins below for a good night’s sleep.

The night is spent anchored in front of Mioskon, in position for the next day’s activities.

 

First Full Day Onboard

At sunrise, the sky and sea are a muted blue-grey with vague touches of yellow peeking through. I’ve decided to rise for every sunrise onboard, optimistic I’ll catch a magnificent show of colors at first light.

It feels good to be up early and I still have Internet service on my phone, so it’s a good chance to catch up with some work before we lose service for a few days in the northern region of the park. The Internet is available in Sorong and in a few limited areas in the park near the larger villages, although if your boat does not provide satellite Internet, it’s best to give up on the idea of having Internet for the duration of the charter.

After a light breakfast of avocado on toast, the three divers in our group get ready for our first check dive. On every safety compliant charter, the onboard PADI Divemaster or Instructor is required to conduct a check dive to ensure that all guests are capable of diving in a variety of conditions. This step must be taken before embarking on more challenging dives.

Tiger Blue has a western Instructor and an Indonesian Divemaster on board; the ratio is three divers to two underwater guides.

It’s clear why Mioskon is a popular spot for check dives. The easy dive conditions are suitable for all levels whilst the gorgeous reef offers an excellent first impression of to expect in the rest of Raja Ampat.

After returning to the boat, the crew raises the anchor and starts a 1.5 hour cruise to our next anchorage in the bay at Mansour Island.

I’m the only one who wants to dive the reef in front of Yenbuba Island, so Dolvi, the Indonesian Divemaster, and I go for a quick dive, just the two of us. We see a wobbegong shark, two reef sharks, yellow sweetlips, groupers and a mantis shrimp.

Back onboard, I peer into the kitchen to see chefs Fauzi and Rada happily at work with pop music playing in the background. They’re chatting and visibly enjoying their work together. The galley is on the main deck with open door and windows, so it’s well ventilated and more spacious than I’ve seen on other boats this size. Recalling the previous day’s meals, I see that the good vibes in the kitchen clearly translate to what’s served on the table.

Lunch is an artful display of Italian antipasto followed by a heavenly seafood risotto. One of the British passengers who works for an event catering company in London proclaims it’s the best risotto she’s ever had.

After a brief rest, the divers get on the dinghy for a short ride to Cape Kri, one of Raja Ampat’s most notorious dive sites, still on our first full day onboard.

Cape Kri is most famous for a world record spotting of 374 different fish species on the same one-tank dive in 2012 by renowned expert Dr. Gerry Allen. The very definition of biodiversity, Cape Kri’s currents attract schools of barracuda, manta rays, sharks, turtles, all amidst gorgeous coral gardens and sea fans.

After Cape Kri, we return to Tiger Blue and get ready for dinner as the sun sets in the distance. We are spending the night at this anchorage and leaving in the morning.

 

Visiting Arborek Island

I’m up again at sunrise to take a few photos and enjoy the views from the deck.

We leave Mansour Island as the sun is still rising and set a course for Arborek Island, hoping to get a mooring near a favorite manta ray playground.

As we approach Arborek, currents flatten the seas and we snag an anchorage right in front of the picturesque island.

After breakfast, we all board the dinghies and cruise to Manta Ridge where mantas can be seen delicately breaching the ocean’s surface as we drift by. All of us excitedly get in the water to snorkel with them. They pass underneath us in the currents, gracefully flying in the crystal clear turquoise ocean.

When we return to the boat the sun is out and the skies are blue, so I decide to fly the drone from the top deck to get an aerial perspective of Arborek Island.

After lunch, we do what’s called the Arborek Jetty dive literally right in front of this village, rampant with fish and giant clams over a meter wide. As we surface by the jetty pylons, the combination of the pink coral with schools of bright blue and yellow fish is straight out of a nature documentary.

We go for a walk on the island, learning about the Barefoot Conservation organization and get a glimpse of local village life onshore.

Dinner is pumpkin soup followed by a main course of salmon, mashed potatoes, asparagus and dijon sauce, and ending with ginger panacea topped in strawberry sauce.

I’m in heaven and fall asleep thinking about the next day’s adventures.

 

Penemu’s Star Shaped Lagoon

Up again at sunrise, I watch the clouds clear over Arborek Island, but don’t yet get the spectacular display of colors I’ve been waiting for. The crew raises the anchor and sets a course toward Penemu for about two hours of cruising as we have breakfast on deck.

Underway, we watch a short documentary about pygmy seahorses in Raja Ampat and marvel at how amazing the little creatures are. We have two divers onboard who have not yet seen one and make it our mission of the day to find one on the next two dives.

The divers suit up at Melissa’s Garden where we see half a dozen reef sharks and large congregations of fish. I’d say what separates Raja Ampat from Komodo or other regions in Indonesia is the sheer quantity of fish on every dive. Melissa’s Garden itself is an oval-shaped reef adorned with coral garden areas home to critters ideal for macro photography enthusiasts. I’ve seen pygmy seahorses here before, but not this time.

For our second dive of the day, we are treated with a light current at a site named My Reef. We continue to look for a pygmy seahorse, committed to sighting one for the newly-certified divers onboard. Dolvi finds a Bargibanti pygmy seahorse in a small sea fan and shows it to our group. How he found the tiny, elusive creature will forever remain a mystery to me. We are all excited about the sighting and in awe of Dolvi’s skills.

We take in the scenery over lunch on deck. At this point, our group has bonded so well that we feel like old friends.

After lunch, we get ready for a dinghy ride and light trek to the viewing station of the star-shaped lagoon at Penemu. The karst pinnacles rising from the emerald water are striking and make for the best photo backdrop.

After descending from the viewing platform, we take a dinghy ride through the lagoon and stop for a swim. It doesn’t look real, this combination of little islands jutting from the bright turquoise water. It has to be seen in person to be believed.

We return to Tiger Blue and set course for four hours of cruising to our next stop, Wofoh Island.

 

Wofoh Private Island Paradise

We awake with a view of an idyllic uninhabited island to see the sunrise over the natural bay. If pirates still existed, this is where they might bury treasure. The water is a crystal-clear turquoise hue and the white sand beach stretches along the entire length of the island.

The crew head onshore to construct an open tent and BBQ pit.

Our first dive of the day is at Black Forest where we see the largest variety of sea fans in a veritable underwater forest.

As we return to the boat, we can see the crew has set up a beach club onshore with bean bags and refreshments. We take a few of the ocean kayaks and stand up paddle boards to explore the island. Tiger Blue is anchored close to land and we haven’t seen another boat for an entire day. It’s as if we have this slice of paradise all to ourselves.

Some of the guests try wakeboarding and go for a spin in the donut, an inflatable inner tube dragged behind the dinghy.

I take a walk up and down the picture perfect white sand beach and think to myself how beautiful nature is when undisturbed by human hands.

As the afternoon approaches it’s time for cocktails at our private beach complete with a bar and the beginnings of a bonfire which the crew has been building throughout the day. We gather around the fire on the bean bags as the sun goes down and return to Tiger Blue for dinner onboard.

The crew raises the anchor and we set sail for five hours toward Yangafoe for our next excursion.

 

Anchorages at the Edge of Mangroves and Rainforest

We wake up at Yangafoe anchored by the mangroves where the over-saturated turquoise water looks like it’s been photoshopped.

After a morning dive at Citrus Ridge, we set sail for Mike’s Point and have lunch underway.
Mike’s Point is a more advanced dive that has some current but offers a very interesting topographical underwater landscape with overhangs and giant boulders.

After a short cruise to Yen Besar, we take out the ocean kayaks and go for a paddle at the foot of the rainforest. We can hear the birds in the canopy and it feels like we are a million miles away from civilization.

The Grande Finale

As if the past six days have been building toward a grand crescendo, our final day of diving has been reserved for exploring two of Raja Ampat’s most epic sites: Blue Magic and Sardine.

Sardine Reef, also called Sardine’s or simply Sardine, in the Dampier Strait hosts one of the highest concentrations of fish in the world. The profile resembles an oval-shaped hill that attracts such large schools of fish that they can black out the sun. When we entering the water, the current is light and we see massive swarms of fish as we drift over the oblong reef.

Our second dive at Blue Magic, the last of the trip, starts with a negative entry to about 20 meters. From the blue, we can make out the silhouette of an absolutely massive oceanic manta gliding right toward us with a wingspan of over 6m. The manta flies over our group which pales in comparison. We circle over to the other side and are greeted by a group of four more oceanic mantas dancing and playing in the currents.

Diving finishes by noon to allow 24 hours before our flights the next day.

The last day onboard could not have been more satisfying. It’s as if the entire trip had been a premise for those last two incredible dives.

Our group gathers around the dining table to exchange contact details and a few of us share photos on USB sticks. We’re all sad the trip is coming to a close but glad we got to share this amazing experience together. With the friendships made on board, it’s hard to believe we were all strangers just a week before.

We begin to sail back to Sorong. For the final dinner onboard the chefs bring out a bonafide feast of the most delicious Indonesian and seafood fare. It’s all incredible, and hard to stop eating.

As we reach Sorong, we regain Internet, a sure sign that we’ve returned to the modern world from our trip to the remote islands of Raja Ampat.

While I’m happy to be returning home to family, I’m thrilled that I got to experience a few new areas in Raja Ampat. I’m hugely grateful to the crew on Tiger Blue and look forward to seeing them again soon.

 

TIGER BLUE GALLERY

 

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