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February 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 33, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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KM Blue Manta, the Banda Sea, Forgotten Islands, Alor

a thousand miles of pristine Indonesian diving

from the February, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Indeed, the Banda Sea and the Forgotten Islands have an air of mystery to them, enough to lure me to sign up for a one-way 1000-mile westward journey from Ambon to Maumere, aboard the luxurious Blue Manta, a 142-foot (43m) steel-hulled liveaboard powered by twin engines. However, it would only be after an arduous 32-hour trip to Jakarta, where I napped at my airport hotel before my overnight flight to Ambon.

Blue Manta is equipped for open ocean voyagesAfter being picked up midmorning and delivered to the boat, we had an early lunch and checkout dive. Sure, I was exhausted, but my adrenaline kicked in! Ferreting out treasures among trash in the muck was an exciting challenge. Two blue and yellow ribbon eels contrasted brightly with the sand. Snowflake, yellowhead, and fimbriated morays partially emerged from recesses. A psychedelic-colored stonefish swam in a graceful arc from a rock to the sand. A two-foot juvenile pinnate spadefish brightened the area. It was quite the checkout dive.

Even so, a few divers grumbled. A month before, Blue Manta switched its departure from Saumlaki to Ambon. Some divers had to change their tickets, at no minor expense and inconvenience. While they would be reimbursed for additional costs, no one enjoys reworking complicated flight plans at the last minute.

I had joined 18 other experienced divers for the 12-day/11-night cruise. The Blue Manta's interior and the 14, 200 sq. foot cabins convey a modern, bare-bones design, without nods to Indonesia culture and art. (It's owned by a Singapore businessman.) The galley, dining room, lounge, and a few cabins fill out the main deck. The deck below has cabins, outdoor dining, and bar, and additional cabins are below decks. Mine, on the main deck, had two large windows (below-deck cabins have portholes), efficient air conditioning, plenty of storage, a safe, even a desk with a chair, and a sizable head. The upper deck, mostly covered, is for kicking back. As you might imagine, she's an expensive boat; I paid $6650, including a 10 percent single supplement.

Indonesia Dive MapFrenchman Cedric Lesenechal, the cruise director, dive instructor, and go-to guy for questions, guided my assigned group of four (a couple from France and an American woman), the standard guide-to-diver ratio. Before each dive, he showed us the location on Google Earth, and then cleverly constructed the reef with Kleenex boxes, saltshakers, and ketchup bottles, which he covered with towels to emulate the topography. At the dive site, when we were ready to backroll off the dinghy, he would say, "Go in, and come back." We all did. Every time. Underwater, his superb hand directions made his intentions clear; if we encountered a current, he would signal, "What do we want to do? Go around the corner and face it, or return how we had come?"...

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