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Dive Review of SMY Ondina in
Indonesia/Raja Ampat

SMY Ondina, Nov, 2005,

by Mike Oelrich, VA, USA . Report 2359.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Hawaii, All over the Caribbean, Galapagos, Socorro, Australia
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy, cloudy Seas calm, choppy, currents
Water Temp 78 to 84 Fahrenheit Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 50 to 100 Feet

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Basically none -- but stay within the limits of courtesy and common sense. Ddive as many times as you want, subject to the limits of schedule, current and your computer's algorithm. First drink = last dive.
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? N/A

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 5 stars
Small Critters 5 stars Large Fish 2 stars
Large Pelagics 1 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities 5 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 5 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments Large covered, padded, camera table that reaches all the way across the stern with a "roll-down" shade that affords protection from direct sunlight and some protection from rain blowing in. Baskets in shelves under the table. Two dedicated rinse tanks adjacent to the camera table with hinged lids that double as benches when closed. Crew is very experienced in assisting with camera gear. Compressed air for drying equipment. Cubbies in the "dive locker" with power outlets for chargers -- bring your own power strip (220V!) if you want more than one outlet.

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity N/A
Dive Operation 5 stars Shore Diving 1 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ N/A
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments Trip was booked with Deb Fugitt of City Seahorse, Inc. -- my third trip with her. This was billed as a dedicated photo charter, though non-photographers were welcome, with limited participation (total number of guests reduced by two (once you included Deb and her partner Tony) from the normal boat load). Deb took care of all the arrangements including transfers, overnights, etc., and helped me set up a pre-trip trip to Lembeh Resort. The charter originated from and ended up in Sorong. Flights back and forth via Manado and Singapore to the U.S. east coast.

The Ondina is a traditional Indonesian pinisi-style vessel. Though it has sails, they were only unfurled on the last day as a photo op for the guests. The boat is about 30m long and is fairly wide for a boat of that length. The boat is made from hardwood and is clean and very well maintained (the boat goes through a refit each year during the rainy season). There are 8 comfortable cabins with the "standard" single-over-queen arrangement. Each cabin has its own air conditioning unit. En-suite bath in each cabin and ample storage space for both clothes (in a large deck-to-ce cabinet) and luggage (under the bed).

The excellent meals, are served in a large air conditioned salon. On our trip the fare tended to be more traditional food (which Deb requests for her charters and which is, admittedly, what I prefer) with the occasional European dish thrown in. It is my understanding that the regular fare tends to favor the opposite combination. Vegetarians are easily accommodated if they make their preference known ahead of time. Soft drinks are free with meals and available for a fee at other times. There is a charge for beer. There is a sundeck on the top with a tarp for shade (if necessary) and the available massages are done there. The boat also has a well-stocked first aid room with its own bed, oxygen and assorted supplies.

Upon arrival, guests select a station in the "dive locker", a large room near the stern. Separate room for hanging/rinsing wetsuits. Set your gear up on a tank and it stays there for the duration of the trip. A basket under your station holds your fins/mask/etc. When it is time to dive, the crew loads your tank/BC and your camera onto zodiacs and you proceed down stairs on either side of the boat to board a zodiac. All diving was done from the zodiacs with a standard backroll entry. The boat operators were very adept at working together to keep track of guests and ferry them back and forth from the boat. No Nitrox on our charter, but it should available starting in 2006.

The diving in Raja Ampat, the area of Indonesia around the northern tip of Papua, is some of the best I've ever experienced. Though there are not a lot of "monster fish", the sheer abundance of other fish more than makes up for it. Most diving was done in moderate to slightly strong current as that is what brings out the soft corals and the fish. The zodiac drivers, especially Michael, were adept at judging the current and dropping divers in exactly the right place to hit the sweet spot on the reef. Deb, who has been diving there for many years, was careful to help select the right time and place to dive and if conditions were not optimal, she would request that the boat proceed a short distance to a better spot. The current, soft corals and abundant reef fish make for nice wide angle photo opportunities and the majority of my dives were done with a wide angle lens. Schools of barracuda, jacks, and unicornfish were common and the occasional large school of silversides was sometimes thick enough to blot out the sun. While big-animal action was sparse, there were a few turtles, wobbegongs, the occasional flight of rays and rarely, a black tip reef shark. The area is also home to small epaulet sharks. On one night "exploratory" muck dive, the only "bad" dive of the trip, one of these small sharks was a welcome sight as I didn't see much else.

In addition to wide angle opportunities, there are plenty of chances to do macro work. One site, "Waterlogged", was particlularly good -- in one spot there, one can find orange, yellow and "plucked chicken" pygmy seahorses in fans within a span of 50 feet. Another fan contains pink pygs at 15fsw and I found a few more at 80fsw. In addition to the pygmies, which can actually be found all over Raja Ampat, the site had an abundance of interesting nudibranchs (including the infamous "solar powered" variety, which I'd never seen before), small cuttlefish, fire urchins with resident Coleman shrimp, sea cucumbers with commensal crabs and one lucky fellow spent about twenty minutes following a blue-ringed ocotopus around after the rest of us had surfaced.

Raja Ampat also offers the chance to do some "mangrove-style" diving and we were able to partake at a place called "The Passage", which is a narrow shallow channel between islands. The tides sweep through the center of the channel so most diving is done along the sides in protected eddys. Photographers are treated to soft corals growing on fallen logs just below the surface with overhanging trees (and if you time it right, the sun) above. Archerfish and halfbeaks are a nice change of pace from the usual reef fish. The Passage also has good critters and on this trip there were several neat green and black Lamellarids (akin to large cowries) out and about.

All in all, an excellent trip. I highly recommend Raja Ampat, the Ondina and City Seahorse, Inc.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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