THAT’S LIFE!..........ON A LIVEABOARD
“Would you like to come diving with me to Komodo Island on a liveaboard?”, I asked my two daughters, Megan who is 22, and Camilla who is 19. This was a loaded question. I knew they had both, from a very young age, had an ambition to see Komodo Dragons, after seeing a Steve Urwin program about them. I also knew that neither of them liked boats particularly, even though they were avid divers, and both suffered from sea sickness!
I was going on a 6 night trip, a combination of two 3 night trips, the first of which was a manta research expedition for Andrea Marshall, in the northern dive sites of Komodo, the other diving the southern parts of Komodo and Rinca Islands. I had been on three liveaboard trips before, which I had enjoyed immensely. For my daughters, however, this would be a first!
Surprisingly, they both jumped at the chance, the need to see the dragons and to dive, greater than the discomfort of feeling ill. They weren’t even put off by me telling them this wouldn’t be an ultra luxurious hotel-like boat, but more a little rough and ready. For two girls very fashion and hygiene conscious, this would be the ultimate test!
Having travelled to many places in Indonesia before, the topography and geology of the Komodo Islands intrigued and surprised me. Barren,
sand coloured islands dotted with a few trees, carpeted by dry scrub, rising out of a blue, bubbling cauldron of sea met us as we arrived on the island of Flores, gateway to the Komodo National Park, after our flights with Singapore Airlines to Bali then on with Wings Air. We were to meet at the liveaboard’s dive centre on the island, Wicked Diving, who not only offered liveaboard trips, but also day diving and courses. As we made our way to the harbour from the dive centre, we could see many small fishing boats and several larger pirate looking boats. One of these, the Jaya, was to be our home for the next 6 nights.
Approaching the boat from a dingy, the piratical look was further exaggerated by a stuffed pirate toy tied to the bow sprit. A 28m sailing schooner, the Jaya, looked as if it had sailed straight out of the “Pirates of the Caribbean”. I could see the slightly worried frowns on the faces of my daughters, and also of the other 8 guests, guessing that my face reflected the same emotion. Was this boat really big enough and safe enough to take us around an area famed for not only it’s dragon, but also it’s currents?
Now, for those of you who haven’t been on a liveaboard, bear with me! I could teach you an important lesson here! For those of you who have had the delight of diving from a liveaboard, you may know the secret pleasures we had in store for us.
As we warily climbed on board, huge false smiles on everyones lips, our first surprise awaited us in the form of the main deck.
Not huge in size, but well equipped with tables, chairs and beanbags, we all settled in for a boat briefing and orientation. At the words, “only three toilets/showers onboard’, everyone looked at each other then back at our trip director, then back at each other again. Whispers of ‘I thought my cabin was ensuite!’ echoed around the deck. Remembering back to the blurb about the trip, I realised details were very sketchy on the actual boat, with the main focus being on the dive sites and the islands themselves. Uh oh! I quickly calculated - 11 guests, 8 crew members and 2 divemaster trainees - this was going to be interesting!
I had paid a single supplement to be in my own cabin, and, as I was the only one with underwater camera equipment, was given ‘the master suite’, a 6 ft by 5 ft cabin with a shelf, as opposed to a 6 ft by 5 ft cabin without a shelf, or a twin or triple bunked cabin without shelves! Luckily for me, my cabin, and the one adjacent, were the only ones at the stern of the boat, along with two of the three toilet/showers. The rest of the cabins were at the bow, separated by the kitchen, engine room and captain’s station.
For my daughters, on the other hand, I had paid for a twin cabin. Since they had not shared a room with each other for several years, being confined in a tiny cabin together was going to be a challenging experience. When they were shown down to their cabin, they found a third bed. ‘Who is that bed for?”, Megan asked jokingly. “Actually, it is for one of the divemaster trainees - a young guy from Sweden”, replied the trip director. Expecting an outburst of disgust and embarrassment, I was astonished to see both daughters grinning from ear to ear! Well, that is young adults for you - they don’t want to share with another girl, even their sister, but a boy is a completely different matter! Happy days!
We quickly unpacked - a matter of putting our cases under our bunks and unzipping them as there was no room to take anything out and no shelves or drawers to put anything on or in, apart from the one shelf for my camera.
Meeting up on the main deck, we set sail. Wisely, I had arranged prescription sea sickness tablets for the girls before leaving the UK, however, as we skimmed across the glass like water, I felt they probably wouldn’t be needed.
The Komodo Islands National Park was formed in 1980 to protect it’s dragons. It is situated between Sumbawa and Flores Island in Indonesia, and covers an area of 1817km. In 1986 the park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, to protect it’s entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. The park includes one of the richest marine environments in the world and has over 1000 species of fish, 260 species of reef building coral, and 70 species of sponge. Mantas, dugongs, sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles all call it their home.
We were told at the briefing that currents are a huge feature of diving around the islands. This is because the area is located where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet, and there is a 30mm difference in the height of the oceans. As the incoming tide from the Pacific enters the channels between the islands, the water is pushed up and over the Indian ocean, causing upwellings, rip tides, down and up currents, swirling washing machine currents, and crazy high speed currents, reaching over 9 knots!
Our first dive of the trip was to be that afternoon in a fairly quiet spot, Sabayor, for a check out dive. A reasonable current with rough churning spots in places, gave us a taste of what was to come over the next few days. Marine life abounded, assaulting your eyes everywhere you looked. After a fairly short 40 minute dive, in water that, although registers on a dive computer as 27 degrees, feels more like 25 degrees because of the currents, we climbed back on board the Jaya. Everyone, feeling a little cold after their first dive, scrambled for the showers. As girls are prone to do, Megan and Camilla took their time taking off their kit, chatting and faffing around, not realising the quicker they de-kitted, the faster they could get a shower. They didn’t make that mistake twice! In fact, Megan would rush to the bathroom in her wetsuit, claiming she was desperate for the toilet, when, in fact, all she wanted was that first few minutes of warm water from the water butt that had been heated by the sun - the rest of us had a cold shower!
Up on the top deck, everyone settled in to have dinner, served buffet style, all freshly prepared on two tiny gas rings.
The variety of the food amazed and delighted the girls, especially as Megan only eats fish and chicken, and Camilla is a vegetarian. After dinner, board games were brought out, and a very enjoyable couple of hours was spent laughing and joking and getting to know the other passengers and crew over a highly competitive game of ‘Rummicub’. The lack of internet, tv, music and other modern tools of entertainment, was reminiscent of childhood, when simple pleasures were the best. We all went to our cabins, at the ridiculously early time for the girls, of 9.30pm and slept like babies cocooned in complete silence and darkness, as the boat was moored and the engines and generators turned off over night, beingrocked to sleep by the gentle swell of the calm waters.
Over the next few days, in our search for Mantas, we visited several dive sites, one in particular, Karang Makassar, which we dived at three times. The site is whipped by a crazily fast 9 knot current which shoots you along the rubble bottom and finally spits you out on top of a beautiful reefs. Every time we dived, we saw several manta rays, turtles, and sharks. On one dive, over 20 mantas swirled around us, seemingly oblivious to the current. The feeling over flying, weightless and effortlessly over a reef is amazing - a true superman experience!
The routine of waking, eating, diving, eating, diving, eating, dozing or sunbathing, diving, eating, diving, eating, sleeping, became so pleasurable and normal, when we returned back to land to collect supplies half way through the trip, although everyone got off the boat to go to a restaurant and check emails, everyone couldn’t wait to get back on - most of all Megan and Camilla! They had even got used to the toilet experience and the fact that, on a boat as small as the Jaya, there is no privacy, so every little noise can be heard! I got very used to the sounds coming from the couple in the cabin next to mine - after all, we were only separated by a distance of about 1.5m and two thin cotton curtains! My initial thoughts of being lucky my cabin was situated so close to two toilets turned out to be a double edged sword!
More of the same followed over the final three days of the trip. Incredible diving, crazy currents, and the most peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable experience of living on a boat. And, finally, on the last morning, a trek on Rinca Island where we saw 10 wild Komodo Dragons! My girls (and I), can’t wait to go on a liveaboard again!