Dive! Dive! Dive!

Trip Start Jan 15, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Bajo Dive Club
What I did
Bajo Dive Club

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, September 6, 2012

Komodo.  It's one of those places whose very name bears a sense of myth and mystery.  Here be dragons, ferocious, venomous beasts.  The islands are legendary amongst divers, mentioned in the same breath as Sipadan, Pulau, Raja Ampat.  And we were going there.  I was like a child on Christmas Eve and woke up hourly, my mind abuzz with fish and exotic creatures.  We were ready well before our dive boat arrived.  Excursions like dive trips are often made or ruined by the people you end up travelling with.  We had the good fortune to be assigned to an excellent dive master, Martin, and a wonderful small group of fellow divers. 

Our first dive was just outside the park.  It was supposed to be relatively straightforward checkout dive which would give Martin a sense of our abilities so that he could begin to plan our next few dive days.  The Komodo area is known for its stiff and changeable currents.  It is possible to learn to dive here, but to get the most out of the area its best to be experienced and competant.  I didn't expect too much from the first site, Sabayur Kacil.  However, it was a pretty dive with lots of interesting things to see. 

The first treasure I found was a frogfish.  This little beastie is probably even weirder than the name suggests.  They are ambush predators who camouflage themselves almost perfectly as a lumpy sponge or algae-covered rock.  They wait til a small tasty thing swims by, and then engulf it whole in their enormous upturned mouths.  The frogfish's body shape is irregular and they are able to slowly change colour in order to better meld their appearance with their surroundings.  Their pectoral fins have evolved to look like webbed hands, which the fish can use to walk, perch or hold on to its chosen lurking place.  Some species even have a lure, which may look like a shrimp or a whisp of algae and is used to entice prey closer.  They were high on my 'hope to see' list for Komodo and I was delighted to spot one.

This site was evidently favoured by masters of disguise, and we must have had our eagle eyes working well as we found two leaf scorpionfish, one yellow and one black.  Their long, tall dorsal fins formed mohicans that a punk rocker would be proud of.  Moray eels peered from holes, cuttlefish skulked under overhangs and just before our safety stop an enormous cowtail stingray with a disc spanning almost two meters rose off from the bottom and sped off. 

Martin was happy with us all, and decided that our second dive would be at Karang Macassar, otherwise known as Manta Point.  This was a drift dive with a rocky bottom and occasional bommies.  The mantis shrimps, regal tangs and large unicornfish were neat to see, but as the site's name suggests, we were here hoping to see manta rays.    

The dive was our first experience of the currents which Komodo had in store for us.  Mostly we went with them, but occasionally needed to swim across them briefly.  This was hard work and a good way of sucking down air pretty quickly.  We were rewarded by a manta ray sweeping past, although it didn't linger.  We surfaced after over an hour of manta hunting, and relaxed on deck whilst the boat crew prepared to move to the final dive site of the day.  The boat started vomiting noxious black smoke, and had to be shut down.  Jim must have felt a certain degree of relief that for once the boat maintainance issue was not his problem, and we contented ourselves with watching passing dolphins and drinking tea whilst the crew worked.  The engine was not happy and so we limped back to Sabayur Kecil in the hope that the dive company owner would meet us there and fix the problem.

Our third dive of the day was meant to be an afternoon dive, but due to the delay caused by the sickly boat, Martin declared a night dive instead.  We made our giant strides, unsure of what we would find below.  Martin had not dived this site at night before.  The result was a dive which had us reaching for the invertebrate ID books on our return.  Enormous red hermit crabs and flamboyant feather stars shared space with huge pink Spanish dancers, one of which displayed its ruffles as it undulated through the water column.  Decorator crabs adorned their shells with sponges and tiny anemones, and white nudibranches slowly crawled across coral heads, their bodies covered in loopy tendrils which made them look like a pile of anaemic spaghetti.   Although I was disappointed to miss the baby reef shark Jim spotted, I was fairly excited by the bizarrely-shaped sponge snail, a black lump of an invertebrate which sports a row of tubular extrusions along its body to mimic the ascidians it eats.  The burgundy plurobranch looked like a mobile, upside-down funnel.  This sea snail carried its shell inside its body and had a large cylindrical siphon on its back, which gave it the funnel-like appearance.  An irridescent squid came to investigate us on our safety stop and curiously followed us to the surface, its body shimmering with colours in the torch light.  The rest of the evening was spent pouring over invertebrate guides on Martin's laptop, and Jim rolled his eyes and despaired of us all (as I would imagine most of my readers are doing now). 

Before bed, we sat on the foredeck whilst the crew rattled away with the reluctant engine.  Marina spotted the first shooting star, and many more followed.  Collectively we closed our eyes to wish, eventually leaving Marina to keep vigil as the rest of us drifted off to sleep.  My hope was for an amazing day of diving the next day.  Sometimes wishes come true.  

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