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Dive Review of Tambora in
Indonesia/Lembeh, Ambon

Tambora, Oct, 2013,

by ann mcgrath, VA, US (Sr. Contributor Sr. Contributor 24 reports with 14 Helpful votes). Report 7201 has 2 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

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

Accommodations 2 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 3 stars Environmental Sensitivity 2 stars
Dive Operation 1 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 1 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments The Good:
The cabins are large with lots of storage. No bunk beds. There is enough space under each bed to store long suitcases, all your clothes, and PFDs. In the cabins below, there is a large piece of furniture for clothes, and a smaller cabinet and a desk. There is also space next to the beds for little stuff, even a small compartment. There are lots of plugs on the boat and in the cabins for charging, if you have adapters. The bathrooms are good size.

The skiffs are large, and padded! There is plenty of room for each diver, and the padding makes it very comfortable. (The ladders are short, though.)

The diving in Lembeh is generally excellent. There are tons of critters, and schools of bait fish, shrimp fish, Banggai and pajama cardinal fish, and other interesting stuff. You will find ghost pipefish and octopus often, and many unusual fish, nudibranchs and other critters. You may have to dive in some trash, but there is great stuff everywhere.

The staff. Some know your name the first day, and will do almost everything for you. There is a staff member to get you a drink, one to get your towel (the one with your name on it), one to hang up your wetsuit, etc. the three dive masters are good and will find good stuff. But keep your eyes open, because we also found a lot of good stuff.

There is an on-demand water heater in the bathroom, so you'll always have hot water, even if the pressure isn't great.

If you like white rice, you'll be in heaven. There is plenty of it at lunch and dinner! The food is good and plentiful. There is an early breakfast of fruit, toast and cereal before the first dive. You order "second" breakfast before the first dive, which is a traditional western breakfast, including eggs, pancakes, and some Indonesian noodle and rice dishes. Lunch is after the second dive, served family style. Dinner is usually after the night dive (7:30 or 8). There is a snack after the third dive, and usually tea after all the dives. You can get coffee, tea, juice and soft drinks at any time. There is Bintang beer available also. Fresh fruit as always available.

Most things are labeled with your name: deck towels, water bottles on the skiffs, your gear basket, Your gear and your camera.

One couple got very sick, probably due to something they picked up in Bali, and the boat owner was very good about getting them in touch with DAN, and helping arrange an air ambulance out. We had to head to Ambon earlier than planned, and lost a couple of dives, but it all worked out.

The Bad:

They don't have a check-in system in the skiffs or the Tambora, so you just have to make sure everyone gets back on board.

There is a terrible mold smell in the cabins, bring an air purifier! There are very few places to put your bathroom items,. Do not drink water from the faucets!! I recommend not even using that water for brushing your teeth. It's full of bacteria, and caused me to spend 24 hours in bed (and the bathroom), and lose two days of diving. The bed linens also had a bad smell, so I used a shirt over the pillow. Bring water purification drops, and a Brita water bottle us a good idea. Also bring something for diarrhea, most people had that at various times throughout the cruise. I also recommend taking a parasite treatment, like Herbs of Light parasite blend.

Although there is a designated area in the back of the boat for smoking, the crew smokes everywhere. I even smelled cigarette smoke in the cabin during the night, not sure where it was coming from. Another reason for an air purifier.

Unlike every other live aboard I've been on, they don't wake you up in the morning, so be sure to set an alarm!

There are plastic bags hanging from the ceiling in the cabins, in case the boat leaks. (The reason we got for this is that it's a wood boat, and you just never know when it will leak.). Some portholes leak, which means your bed will be wet. Notice under each porthole there are dried sea water drops.

The dive masters want everyone to get in the water at the same time. This means that if the boat driver takes too long to get you your camera, the group will have started without you, especially in current, and you may have to find them. This happened to me, so our trip leader stayed on the skiff to help get the cameras to us after that. Some dive masters are much better than others. I found the owner's wife to be great at spotting things, better than the dive master sometimes! Some dive masters terrorize the animals to show them to you, so be sure to ask them not to do that.

The skiffs have no shade. The boat rides to dive sites can be long, so bring a hat. If the boat owner is diving with you, he'll be the last person ready, so you'll be waiting for him. He will also often lead the group into the current, and there is a lot of current in that part of the world. Bring a reef hook, a safety sausage, and a loud signaling device, like a DiveAlert.

The skiff will probably not be there when you surface. They don't follow the divers' bubbles, unlike any other operation I've seen. That means you may be waiting on the surface for a while. Stay with a dive master, and bring a safety sausage.

For some unknown reason, the ship sometimes dropped anchor far away from the dive sites, making for long skiff rides. Luckily, our trip leader has captained many live-a boards, and convinced the owner to move the ship closer to the sites.

In Lembeh, there are a lot of dive operators now. The only time you'll have your choice of dive sites is early in the morning (7:30 or earlier). There is a limit of 15 divers per dive site, so we often had to choose an alternate site. We dove the same site two or three times, only because it was the only one available at that time.

The layout on the Tambora is poor for divers. There is no dive deck. The tanks are stored along the port aisle. There is a small room for gear storage and rinse tanks, which is at the opposite end of the boat from where wetsuits are hung to dry. Dive briefings are done outside, or in the salon if the weather is bad. But no wet dive gear inside, so that would be a dilemma.

The stairs are extremely steep and far apart, like a ladder, difficult to climb. The floors are all slippery! I found them safer when I had booties on. At least two of us fell in the gear area, where it is particularly treacherous. Always hold on to something there!

Speaking of the gear and camera area ... It is a very small area. There is room for two people in the camera room at a time, and counter space for about five set ups. There is another counter in the gear room for the rest of the cameras. The gear room has a plastic bin with each diver's name on it, but only space for about three divers at a time. The rinse tanks are here, so you'll take turns rinsing your gear. There is plenty of room on the sun deck for rinse tanks, there should be at least two more there.

The boat, a monohull, moves a lot with water movement, and the crossings can be ugly, with cabinet doors banging and the room chair sliding around. The boat was just out of dry dock on our trip, so long crossings were also very loud, with all the wood noise. It was LOUD. Even at anchor, the boat will move a lot in small swells.

I asked ahead if I could get a salad with lunch and dinner, and they said no (salad comes with dinner only). They refused my request for vegan food when I asked ahead. Once on the boat, we asked each day (two of us) for modified dinners, with larger salads and entrees with no animal products. We got a larger salad only once, and some meals I was very limited, but they did do a lot of vegetarian dishes with tofu and eggs. It's mostly Indonesian food, which was better than the western food they offered (spaghetti and pizza, which was more like a calzone). Sometimes I could eat the soup at dinner, and sometimes we chose not to, because of ingredients. Soup is always puréed, like potato or pumpkin. There is always rice, so lunch, and even dinner, for me was often rice and the vegetable dish.

Dinner is late, even when there is no night dive: 7:30 or later.

There is never mention of what we should do in case of emergency. There are two ways out from the cabins, so one or both of those are the obvious way out. Know how to get out in the dark.

Check that all your gear is on the skiff before it leaves the ship. They were pretty good about this, but as time went on, some pieces of gear were left. My fins and weights were sitting on the ship one dive, totally forgotten for no reason, and I had to mention it to two people to get them on the skiff. My weight belt was on the other skiff once also.

When it's time to leave, a skiff will take you and your luggage. In Ambon, this wasn't a good thing. First, the crew put towels down for us to sit on, but that meant we couldn't see the tank holes! At least person stepped in a hole, and was lucky not to break an ankle or a leg. They tried a beach landing, but the boat was too heavy. We ended up tying up to one of the working boats in the harbor and climbing up on tires to get on that old boat (lots of holes in the deck), then onto the "pier".

The Tambora purchased our domestic flights out of Ambon. If you can, be sure to get them yourself. When I arrived at the airport, my ticket was for a date two months earlier! I didn't notice the error, and neither did my trip leader when he forwarded me the e-ticket. All the flights to Manado were full that day, so I had to get a ticket on a different airline to Singapore, so I'd make my connections. The Tambora now has to reimburse me for the two tickets I couldn't use. Stay tuned...

The Ugly:
The boat manager/owner. His rules are strict and arbitrary. When you first arrive, he will lecture for at least an hour. He does not want to deviate from the way he does things, because "that's the way we do it." We did get him to start earlier one day, so we could get the dive site we wanted, and would have more time between dives. In Lembeh, you have to get to your site early, or there will be two+ dive boats on it.

One "rule" of the owner's is that dives are at 8, 11, 3 and 6:30. He claims everyone does that. (That was news to all of us.)

On several dives, the owner took us INTO a stiff current, and we needed to stay together, so we burned through our air quickly and for no reason. That was actually dangerous, and several of us feared for our safety. Take a reef hook, and wear gloves. When asked once why he led the group into current, in the opposite direction he said we would go, he said he didn't. So, follow the dive masters, not the owner. Also, his idea of "no current" doesn't fit with anyone else's.

The Unusual:
The owner and his wife have their one year old baby on board. He is a sweetie, and is not in the way at all, but I've never seen that before. The wife and baby are only on board two months of the year. The owner seems to favor the well being of his crew over the comfort of the passengers.

Choose another dive operation. If you want to dive Lembeh, stay at KBR resort. Everyone in Lembeh dives the same sites, and KBR is extremely comfortable. You can also choose when and what to eat, use the pool and get a massage! For diving Ambon, there are good land based dive operations that dive the same spots, and again, you will be more comfortable. The diving in Ambon isn't what it used to be, so you may not see much. Recommend spending most of your time at Laha Pier, and there's almost no need to go deeper than 35 feet. But that was better than some of the dive sites elsewhere on the cruise! If you are going for a critter hunt in muck, just stay in Lembeh at KBR.

Bring an experienced live-aboard captain with you if possible! Although Tambora has been running for four years, they are making a lot of rookie mistakes. The owner will listen to someone more experienced
Websites Tambora   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving [Unspecified]
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy Seas calm, choppy, surge
Water Temp 80-82°F / 27-28°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 20-50 Ft/ 6-15 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions One hour was enforced on most dives
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles None Whales None
Corals 3 stars Tropical Fish 3 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 1 stars
Large Pelagics 1 stars

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

Subject Matter 3 stars Boat Facilities 2 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 2 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments There is room for two people in the camera room at a time, and counter space for about five set ups. There is another counter in the gear room for the rest of the cameras. Crew will put your camera gear in the rinse tank, and probably leave it there.
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Report currently has 2 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Oct 23, 2013 09:39 EST  
I forgot to mention the dynamite fishing. There was evidence of it in most places, and we even heard it while underwater, which is quite frightening!
By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Oct 23, 2013 09:41 EST  
Bring with you: lots of probiotics, you'll need them; ear drops; nasal rinse kit; DiveAlert; anti-diarrhea meds; nausea meds; gas treatment; Bonine or your sea sickness med of choice; water purification drops; snacks, in case the food doesn't suit you; safety sausage; extra vest or hood; parasite treatment; long pointer; reef hook; alarm clock; enema kit; coconut oil (a natural antibacterial, anti fungal that is good internally and externally). I also recommend bringing wheatgrass and blue green algae tablets, because the chlorophyll is great for eliminating unhealthy bacteria.
By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Oct 30, 2013 08:21 EST  
It turns out the bacteria on the boat is GIARDIA! I can't stress enough how unsanitary and downright unsafe this boat is.
By Tim Rock in GU, US at Nov 05, 2013 21:14 EST  
I hate to say this, but this "review" (hatchet job) seems to come from someone who wants her hand held every minute and didn't get it. Is this her first time in Indonesia? Who even thinks of drinking tap water in Indo, much less on a ship? Also - "Unlike every other live aboard I've been on, they don't wake you up in the morning, so be sure to set an alarm!" What???? Go back to an Aggressor. This just smacks of inexperience and bitterness. Sorry. I got very little but disgust from this diatribe.
By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Nov 06, 2013 08:49 EST  
Hi Tim! If you look at previous reviews of Tambora, they are exactly the same. I am absolutely *not* a person who wants their hand held, but nice try. And no, I've been to Indonesia several times. We didn't *drink* the water on the boat, but it was not even safe to brush teeth with. Hope that helps.
By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Nov 06, 2013 09:10 EST  
Hi Tim! If you look at the other reviews of Tambora, they are mostly exactly the same. Everyone on the boat agreed. We didn't drink the "tap water", we were infected with giardia just by brushing our teeth with it, and possibly by eating fruits and vegetables. I've been to Indonesia several times, and if you look at my previous reports, you will see I have good things to say about the area. I am an assistant instructor with almost 1000 dives, so "inexperience" doesn't apply, and I'm not bitter in the least. Nor do I need my "hand held", but I was disappointed by Tambora. So was everyone else.
By Tim Rock in GU, US at Nov 07, 2013 05:50 EST  
Since the Captain is out at sea and can't get to internet, he asked a friend of mine to send this reply for him. My friend isn't an Undercurrent subscriber, so he sent it to me. The response from Tambora: To: Undercurrent Magazine Date: Nov. 2, 2013 Attn: Ben Davidson, editor Re: Tambora Live Aboard Review Dear Mr. Davidson, Recently Undercurrent published an article by a correspondent named Ann McGrath who was recently on one of our trips (Oct 6 –18, 2013 - Lembeh, Halmahera, Obi Ambon). I regret that your writer did not enjoy her time with us as we strive to make everyone’s dive holiday with us the best experience we can possibly offer. I would like to offer some insight into our actions. I hope that you will see, after reading my responses, we acted in the interest of expedience, safety and practicality. This cruise started in Lembeh and ended in Ambon. As much as we would like to be able to, we cannot control Mother Nature and this trip had two subsequent rough crossings, with 6 to 8 foot (2.0-2.5m) swells coming from starboard. This does not affect vessel safety. If we thought it would, we would not travel. However, the Tambora is an Indonesian phinisi like most Indonesian live aboards. This style of vessel, as well any other boat of similar size, tonnage and draft that I am aware of, rolls when hit by a beam sea with waves of this size. The Tambora being a wooden boat, the wood squeaks, sometimes quite nosily, and hence few people, including my crew, got a good night’s sleep during these two crossing nights. There is very little that could have been done about that I am afraid, other than not sailing at all. Also, when seas are rough, we anchor the boat in the lee of an island rather than standing off an unprotected dive site. A priority is getting people safely from the vessel into the dive tenders and back again. This is a major safety measure we take. Safety cannot be ensured with the vessel rolling and the tenders moving up and down along the side of the vessel. As a result, the tender boat rides to and from a given dive site can become longer than usual, and the sea at the dive site is choppy making even the tender boat rides a little uncomfortable. Again, the only way to prevent this would be not to dive at all. We prefer to err on the side of safety. For accuracy, one (not some) porthole on the starboard side developed a small leak at a gasket. A minimal amount of water came in through the gasket. This was also due to the wave size at the crossings. The porthole did not leak at any other time nor did anyone else’s. Yes, I do an extensive briefing on the first day when guests arrive. This briefing covers essential topics that are important for everyone’s well-being. It is not intended as a “lecture” but as valuable information to make the trip as pleasant and stress-free as possible. The briefing includes safety aboard, vessel layout and orientation, cabin features, daily routines and dive organization. During the briefing, I inform our guests that tap water is safe for tooth brushing, but that drinking it is not recommended. There are drinking water bottles in each cabin and places to get safe water to fill the bottles with. I am not aware of anyone actually drinking water from the tap, If so, this would be the exact opposite of what is being instructed in the briefing. Listening to the briefing at the beginning of the trip alleviates many potential problems. For whatever reason, it appears your correspondent did not hear some of these points. We are always happy to answer any questions our guests have, even if it means repeating something we have covered in the introduction. If in doubt, guests are encouraged to ask. Over the course of the cruise and on different days, four people went down with diarrhea; I am not sure what was the source of this. Other guests and all of the crew were not affected. There are no bugs or bacteria on the boat. Myself and my family and crew live on this ship 24/7. We strive to keep it a clean and healthy environment. As I write this, we have just finished the next leg of our trip, which was Ambon to Maumere. All guests and crew experienced no health problems of any sort. What had caused the people on the previous cruise to contract diarrhea remains mystery. Nothing similar had ever happened before leaving me to wonder how they had contracted this and from where? All cabins were cleaned and inspected before guest arrival, as well as cleaned daily. Linens were changed over the course of the cruise. There is no mold smell in the cabins and your correspondent did not mention this during the cruise. If she had, we surely would have investigated. We just arrived in Maumere, All cabins were used again on this trip. There is no mold or any other smell. Yes, we have plastic in a few cabins in locations where ceiling leaks previously occurred. These are in place as safeguards. We can never be 100% sure that there will be no leak developing at some stage. During this cruise, there was no leak, and on the subsequent cruise we just finished in Maumere, there was no leak either. Still, we keep the plastic sheets in place, as a safeguard against a potential leak in the future. They might not be aesthetically pleasing to see, but they work. Yes, our dive tenders have no shade; I am unaware of any liveaboard that has dive tenders with a shade. The dive tenders stay on the dive site all the time during the dive (they don’t go back and forth to the main boat). The drivers know the direction that we follow. They will pick people up at the end of the dive. Typically, the waiting time for the dive tender to come and pick a guest up is less than one minute. If people spread out into different directions over the course of a dive, and hence surface in different locations, it may take longer since the boat will need to go back and forth between the divers to pick everybody up. There was one dive during Ms. McGrath’s cruise where the current changed on us 20 minutes into the dive and we had no choice but to abort. There were a few dives with current, and people are supposed to back roll and get down fast or else they will drift off and miss the spot. We try to hand the camera gear as safely and quickly as possible. The majority of our dives are not strong current dives, however. On most days, our regular dive times are 8:00, 11:00, 15:00 and 18:30. I find nothing unusual about this. Yes, Lembeh area was very busy. Thus, we all had to share dive sites. Putting more things into perspective would invariably entail an even more lengthy response. Suffice it to say I am saddened this guest did not have the experience she and I would both have hoped for. I am most certainly not in the business of torturing guests. Myself, my family and my entire crew work very hard every trip to make sure our guests get the best trip possible. We are a floating wooden hotel and dive shop often working in very remote parts of Indonesia and we do the best we can with the resources we have. I take every suggestion and criticism seriously and Ms. McGrath’s review falls into that category. I do not know her live aboard background or past experience in Indonesia, but whether novice to Indo diving or experienced pro, we strive to do our best to make each member of the group satisfied within the limits of safety and common sense. I will state that we have a lot of happy guests who leave the ship after one of our trips and we have many repeat customers. I do hope those facts are also taken into account by people considering us as a diving experience. Uwe Günther President & Cruise Director TAMBORA DIVE CRUISES
By report author: ann mcgrath in VA, US at Nov 03, 2015 10:31 EST  
Fascinating, if not entirely truthful, response. Thanks for posting!
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