The trip got off to an startling start as one of our fellow passengers on the 45 minute journey from Bali to Bima threatened to burn down the plane; luckily he turned out to be a loony rather than a terrorist. On arrival at the tiny airport in Bima we were met by our two Divemasters, Herry & Sebastian, and shepherded onto the waiting bus provided by our hosts Grand Komodo Tours and Travel. From Bima we took a 90 minute bus journey across Sumbawa to our departure port of Sape. Sumbawa is a noticeably less developed island than Bali. The towns are small and dusty, and the houses basic. Our journey - lengthened by a 30 minute road closure due to Friday prayers ' took us past salt farms, and elaborate wooden fish traps dotted around the bay. After passing across thickly forested centre of the island we arrived in Sape itself around 2.30pm.
We boarded our vessel 'Tarata' and immediately set sail towards the islands around Komodo National Park. All fours vessels in the Grand Komodo livaboard fleet are Indonesian Bugis style wooden boats. In fact we had a chance to try two boats on the one trip due to engine failure on the first day. This cloud turned into the silver lining of an upgrade to the noticeably more spacious 'Temukira'. The boat was in good condition, including the electrics, and the crew kept it clean throughout the trip. There was air-con in the cabins and a back-up compressor on board. Bugis boats are built for these waters and they handled the conditions well. With the sails unfurled, and the wooden bow crashing through the waves, it was an impressive sight.
The diving crew were first class. Tanks were always ready in time for diving, we always received a complete briefing, and the chase-boat was always there when we surfaced. The Divemasters were helpful throughout and both of them had good eyes for spotting interesting marine life. The rest of the crew too were unfailingly helpful.
The first dive of the day, around 4.30pm, was typical of what was to come; healthy corals, moderate to strong currents, big pelagics, plenty of reef fish and a good numbers and variety of nudibranch and other macro critters. On this first dive at Gili Banta we came across several 1m plus Wahoo (Spanish Mackerels?), around eight moray eels including two White-eyed morays sharing the same hole, a reef octopus, nudibranch Nembrotha purpureolineolata, Nembrotha chamberlaini, and Coriocella sp. and the bright yellow Cucumariidae, Pentacta lutea. We surfaced to a beautiful pink skyline of rugged islands and volcanoes.
The first night dive too was fascinating, with the highlight being a lengthy life and death struggle between a Banded Moray and a Devil Scorpionfish. The outcome was the Scorpionfish ending up as dinner for the Moray; swallowed whole in one large gulp. It was an unforgettable encounter, every moment taking place in the full glare of our flashlights.
A detailed account of the next seven days diving will have to be left to somebody who logs dives more carefully than I do. Suffice to say the diving around Komodo National Park is world-class. In addition too the reef fishes and pelagics there are plenty of turtles, plenty of White-tips, and fine healthy reefs full of life, with some beautiful coral gardens. Among the highlights were 'Manta Alley' with an impressive fly-by of around eight Manta, the biggest of which must have had a span of around 3m; 'Pillar Steens' with its steep walls and swinthroughs; 'Cannibal Rock' with two Giant Frogfish, a smaller yellow Frogfish and a sleeping juvenile Tawny Nurse Shark. Just four of us chose to dive 'The Boulders' one night and were rewarded with two Demon Stingers (a.k.a. 'Bearded Ghoul' or 'Spiny Devilfish', known as one of the most venomous fishes there is) and the unforgettable site of a huge sleeping Napolean Wrasse! 'Current City' was a group favourite ' the gusting currents bringing in huge Jacks and Giant Trevally, three White-tips, a big Napolean Wrasse and three cute but terrified juvenile White-tips desperately trying to hide under a small table coral. The steep walls at this site were absolutely coral covered making it almost impossible to find even a single finger hold. 'GPS Point', perhaps the most talked-about site in the area disappointed a little until we came across three White-tips aggressively hunting in formation.
Complaints on the trip were few. It was however generally agreed that the food was poor, with the vegetarian option being especially poor. Personally I don't believe one chase boat with a single engine is enough, especially for our group of 12 divers plus Divemasters. I wonder what would have happened if the single engine on our single chase boat had broken down as all 14 of us had surfaced in a current somewhere inaccessible to the mother ship.
This being a Kapalselam group trip every member of the party was already known to at least one member. This protected us from the possibility of finding ourselves cooped up in a confined space with some irritating wanker. Everybody got along fine. The weather and sea condition was excellent throughout, though with a strong wind blowing for much of the trip.
A visit to Komodo wouldn't be complete without a trip to see the Dragons. Half our group elected to miss a dive for the chance to see these famous reptiles; unfortunately our noisy crashing and chattering through the jungle scared everything within ten kilometers of us, and the only Dragons we saw were the old, fat half tame ones at the rangers' lodge. We did see quite a few Stags though and some wild boar.
Overall it was an excellent trip; the diving, the guides, the rest of the crew, the boats themselves, and the fellow divers made it so.