The weather has been in the news lately. Between earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, fires, tornadoes and so forth, everyone has been affected by the unpredictable nature of the planet’s weather. I can’t remember whether it is supposed to be a La Niña or El Niño year, but out here in Indonesia the weather has been very erratic, except in its unwavering atrociousness.
The water along the southern coast of the archipelago has been so unseasonably cold that several boats just blew off diving some of the better critter spots near Pantar Island. In Papua, it has rained steadily throughout the “dry” season. Visibility was off everywhere due to surge, waves, and storms. In early April we were supposed to meet our liveaboard in Ambon, and then cross the Banda Sea to Raja Ampat. But things were so bad out there that we had to reroute and only dive in Raja Ampat, which has decent protection in just about any weather. When you hear about waves several meters high and winds blowing a gale, you don’t second guess the captain. You just go with his judgment even if it means that you’ll disappoint a few clients, miss a few dives. There are things we can do something about, and there are things that we can’t fix. Weather, water temperature, and visibility come to mind.
We weren’t the only people trying to cross the Banda Sea a few weeks ago. There was a small boat with just six guests that was trying to move southeast between Banda and Alor. Even though the captain was instructed not to leave harbor, the guests raised such a fuss about not being able to dive where they had planned, that the crew chanced it. This boat ended up drifting far from its intended arrival port and finally had to make port in another country. We heard that the everyone including the guests on board were imprisoned because they did not have the proper entry papers, nor did they have documentation from their embarkation port.
If the weather does not cooperate during a dive trip everyone suffers. The crew works exceedingly hard to make things comfortable and to offer as many dives as possible. Think about the cooks (the toughest job on any boat) who have to spend hours in a boiling hot galley, preparing meals that no one is likely to eat if the seas are really rough. The group leaders will probably be out a bit of profit because they bought several rounds of drinks to soothe their unhappy clients. The guests are mostly miserable because this is their vacation, they paid a lot of money to dive, and their expectations have not been met. If this trend (climate change, anyone?) continues, we might need an “unseasonable weather” clause on future release forms.
Under the most adverse conditions, most crews and guests pull together and cooperate as best they can. A blown out trip can result in a good group bonding experience, but not always. There was the time we were on a liveaboard in Vanuatu. Two days out of Port Vila a cyclone moved in and we were forced to seek shelter in the nearest, safest bay. For two days the storm rampaged through the islands while the guests and crew argued among themselves. The cruise directors made their nasty marital problems all too public, two of the most outspoken guests declared undying hatred toward each other, and we ran out of beer and videos within 48 hours. By the middle of the third day, Burt and I were so fed up we put on tanks and pulled ourselves down the anchor chain. There we rested in blessed solitude, hearing only the sounds of our own breathing while the storm continued to rage overhead.