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October 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Indonesian Liveaboard Update

what boats are coming, going, disappointing and enchanting

from the October, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Theres been upheaval within the Indonesian liveaboard community during the past 18 months. As many divers know, some of the worlds most biodiverse underwater sites are now being dived in the Raja Ampat islands, just west of Papua (formerly called Irian Jaya), so Western Indonesia continues to attract attention with the recent arrival of quality liveaboards.

The Aggressor fleet pulled their venerable Truk Aggressor from that popular Micronesia atoll and relocated it to Sulawesi in 2005. The North Sulawesi Aggressor draws mixed reviews, mostly due to the preponderance of muck diving with little else offered to divers not content to stare into a macro lens for a week (see the travel review in our February 2007 issue). You need to stick close to a guide, but they were very good at finding things, says Undercurrent subscriber Ralph Baker (Las Vegas, NV), who went on the Aggressor last August. Also, you must wait your turn and give everyone a chance to see the fish. That works for very small groups, not so well otherwise.

Peter Hughes will launch a massive new vessel to begin service there and in a wider operating sphere starting this April. The Paradise Dancer is still under construction but ultimately will measure 180 feet in length to be one of the largest liveaboards in the world. It will feature cabins that are 60 percent larger than competitors, and a luxury suite called Master and Commander will set a new standard of luxury. Paradise Dancer will accommodate 18 passengers for 11-night itineraries. (www.peterhughesdiving.com)

Peter Hughes’ Paradise Dancer will be
one of the world’s largest liveaboards

Worth noting is the departure of the Adventure Komodo diesel catamaran made popular by divemaster Larry Smith. Tragically, Smith passed away last March and things went swiftly downhill for the vessel after that. As we reported in the June 2007 issue, customers were initially advised that it would be business as usual only to find out the vessel had been sold with no replacement. Its Australian owner Steve Jacobs played rope-a-dope for months with individuals and group leaders trying in vain to recover their deposits and pre-paid trips. Only after litigation was threatened did the refunds finally materialize.

Another operation did an abrupt turnabout when ownership changed. The popular Kararu Dive Voyages had an excellent reputation thanks to owner Tony Rhodes who helped refine Komodo Islands service. He then expanded to other regions including Raja Ampat, the Banda Islands and the infamous Gunung Api, home to thousands of free-swimming sea snakes. Rhodes made a bold decision to acquire a Norwegian commercial ship called Voyager, with plans to extensively renovate it and replace his wooden Pinisi-style motorsailer with the twin-diesel steel ship. But he got into disagreements with his two partners, finally opting to sell out to them in April 2006, and now concentrates on developing tourist properties and resorts in Bali. The ship was never properly refit, had a long list of mechanical and operational failures, and finally was retired in June.

Kararu re-introduced the Voyager as a chartered motorsailer, but Undercurrent reader Steven Levin (Arlington, VA), who sailed on it last August, says things have not improved. The bathroom area was smelly and moldy, and hot water was unavailable most of the time. Cabin lighting is poor. Because the compressors are at the front, exhaust drifts over the entire boat. The food was marginal, and hot breakfasts were cooked hours before being served.

Two new liveaboards provide some good news. The Seven Seas started operation in 2006 and is nearly the size of the upcoming Paradise Dancer, housing up to 20 divers. Reports from divers have been excellent and renowned IMAX filmmaker Howard Hall selected it as his base for a lengthy upcoming film project expedition in the fall of 2008. One of the owners is a nephew of Australian dive pioneers Valerie and Ron Taylor so its pedigree is well established. Veteran captain Stewart Esposito, formerly of the Aggressor fleet, is aboard from fall to spring and brings with him a wealth of experience and an engaging personality. E-mail Seven Seas partner Jos Pet at sevenseasexpeditions@gmail.com. (www.sevenseas.net)

The newest startup comes from an experienced couple that used to run the diving operation at Kararu. Alberto Rieja and Olga Spoelstra spent three years honing their expertise with Tony Rhodes. They teamed up with Spanish nautical engineer Txus Reiriz to build the 120-foot Seahorse, a comfortable ship in the Pinisi motorsailer style, that recently began service. Seahorse has six standard cabins with twin beds, two deluxe cabins with queen beds and an extra twin berth, and a grand master cabin with a king bed and single that can serve as a couch. The deluxe and master cabins have their own television/DVD systems. All cabins have private heads and showers en suite.

One reader report suggests caution. Michael Bode (Braunschweig, Germany ) went on the Seahorse last April for a dive trip led by renowned guide Graham Abbott and while he enjoyed the trip, he was not impressed with the crew. They were fighting among themselves, and there was a lot of fluctuation -- people left all the time and replacements couldnt be found. The chef left with us in Sorong. At Triton Bay, the skipper realized he didnt have enough fuel to reach all the dive sites Abbott had scheduled so we were forced to skip all the first-class sites in the area. Hopefully, these problems were resolved after the maiden voyages. For more details, e-mail olgaalberto@hotmail.com. (www.indocruises.com)

The Ocean Rover, Fantasea Divers boat currently cruising Thailand and Myanmar, is coming to North Sulawesi next summer. Fantasea Divers Jeroen Deknatel got an offer he couldnt refuse from some Indonesia-based dive operators that plans to move it to Manado. Starting June 28, the Ocean Rover will cruise to Lembeh Strait, the Sangihe Archipelago and Raja Ampat. Deknatel says he will stay with the boat until the new owners are comfortable in their new role. (www.ocean-rover.com)

---- Ben Davison

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