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Beware the dragons - Indonesia 2002 Print

Bali Trip - 19th January - 4th February 2002

by Digs Somogyi

The trip was organized by Dave Fletcher (Dr.Dave), and I got involved when I saw it advertised on the NDG mailing list. The original idea was to spend two weeks in the Java Sea hunting for previously undived wrecks. A few emails later and I had decided to join the trip.


The trip was based on the MV Empress, skippered and owned by Vidar the Viking. Vidar has been running boats in Indonesia for at least the last 13 years, and is himself an extremely experienced diver. Empress is around 40 years old. She is a homely boat, comfortable but not plush. Accommodation is for up to 15 divers in four cabins. There are two showers and two heads, one of which is a "proper" loo and the other a sea toilet. The most impressive feature of the boat, apart from the cooking, is the nice little lift on the back. No more ladders...Vidar was disappointed when we told him about the dive charter fleet in Weymouth. He had hoped he was the first with a lift.

So after much anticipation and a fair bit of confusion the day finally arrived. A six hour delay at Gatwick on the way out didn't bode well, but all credit to Garuda, they still managed to get us to Bali without an overnight stop and a lost day. My companions on the trip came mostly from Guildford and surrounding BSAC clubs, with the exception of Sam, who had also come via an internet advert of the spaces. Most had been on Empress before, but for 3 or 4 of us this was our first trip. I had bumped into Sam on a UKRS trip the previous November, but never met any of the others.

We arrived at Denpassar airport around 10pm Sunday night to be met by Vidar and travel by taxi to the marina and crash out on the boat. Monday morning dawned hot and muggy. This is the tail end of the rainy season in Bali, and it's still hot (30 degrees) and humid. The weather in the Java sea was not promising and the decision was made to head south towards Komodo and Flores instead. We still had a couple of possibilities for wreck hunts and several wrecks already known to Vidar in the area, but the major hunt was off. However, most of us still had twin twelve (ish) ali cylinders, about half of which were manifolded. I don't know the brand of the manifolds, but mine was as easy to shut down as an MDE.


Over the twelve days on the boat we managed 3 dives per day except day one and the middle day off. We spent that day off at a nature reserve on Komodo gawping at the komodo dragons and frazzling under 30 degrees and sun.

All in all, an excellent trip, if not what I had expected. One of the best points was that we had no one telling is what we could or couldn't do. Vidar does not have a PADI DM on board, and it's up to each diver to decide whether or not to dive and what depth to do. I spent most of the trip solo, just me and my camera. Run times, as you will see, were long enough to fully explore the sites, if not to get anywhere close to making full use of the twin sets we had. I averaged 150 bar on surfacing, from fills of 210-220 in the twin cylinders.

The Dives

1- Nusa Penida Max Depth 24.1M / Run Time 60mins

A fairly quick drift dive and a chance for Dr Dave to check me out :). As I was to discover, currents in this area have a habit of changing direction at no notice and for no apparent reason. Half way through this drift we suddenly pulled an about turn! Getting in the water was like getting in a warm bath...luvverly.

The drift was over a variety of coral bommies. Lots of small fish life, a few large grouper and parrot fish and the highlight of this trip was a very big cuttle fish (a good couple of feet long) who seemed as interested in watching us as we were in watching him. Needless to say I had elected not to take the camera on this check out dive :(

I'm absolutely no good at estimating viz once it gets over about two metres, but the water was clear and I'll hazard a guess at 20M.

02- Mata Point - South Batu Lumbung Max Depth 25.3 / Run Time 56mins

A wall dive off a sandstone Island. Dropped down a sheer wall to a ledge at about 25M. Lots of schooling fish, large clown triggerfish and lots of smaller triggers. A couple of barracuda, and then two banded sea snakes. The first about 2M long, the second about 3M. Lots of current and surge direction changes, at times it felt like being inside a washing machine. In fact the periodic circular motions almost made me sea sick!

Viz was variable due to large amounts of plankton in the water.

03- Japanese Patrol Boat - NW Lombok Max Depth 43M / Run time 40 mins

Fabulous viz meant that we could see the wreck from about 20M on the shot line. I have never seen so many lion fish, this wreck swarms with them. I was so intent on taking pictures I almost put my hand on a scorpion fish too. The wreck sits on sand about 1 mile from shore. There are large shoals of batfish which are quite content to buzz you as you sit the shot line. The wreck has also been colonised by large amounts of soft corals.

04- Japanese Patrol Boat - NW Lombok Max Depth 42.4M / Run time 38 mins

More of the same. A bit of a pull to get down the shot this time, but no noticeable current on the bottom.

05- Gili Trewangan - Max Depth 10.3M / Run time 53 mins

The first night dive of the trip. Not in a particularly inspiring place. Much of the coral here is dead, and it looks a bit lit a barren waste ground. However once the sun went down properly some fish life came out to play. Most noticeable a turtle, an absolutely gorgeous hermit crab and a star puffer.

I hadn't bothered to charge my torch, so ended up doing a fair bit of this dive in the dark. Back up torch wouldn't play either....typical Digs and torches.

06- Pulau Sulat - NE Lombok - Max Depth 33.5M / Run time 49 mins

Another drift over a variety of coral bommies and table corals. Many smaller fish and very pretty stuff but no large stuff this time.

07- Sumbawa Serengit - NE Lombok - Max Depth 29.5M / Run time 54 mins

Similar drift dive. By this time I was establishing a reputation for NOT seeing the sharks that everyone else seemed to find with no trouble :( I did see the water spout on the surface as we were traveling to the next site tho :)

08- Japanese Tug - Saleh Strait - Max Depth 25.6M / Run time 50 mins

Visible from the top of the shot line. this wreck lies at the edge of a steep but not sheer drop off. This dive was at dusk. The main body of the wreck is intact with some subsidence, the wheelhouse still visible. To one side lie an old jeep, a tractor of some kind and various other bits of unidentified mechanical items. The wheel house is inhabited by schools of small fish. There was a VERY large moray living in one of the vehicles.

09- NE side Sangian Island - Max Depth 33.5M / Run time 53 mins

Sangian is a volcanic island and we dropped onto this lava based reef just offshore. The first thing you see is columns of bubbles rising from the black sand. Effectively you swim through a curtain of these little streams across to the main volcanic outcrop. There were lots of nudibranchs, much soft coral and many eroded lava bridges. Saw some clown fish in anemones, and some large wrasse at a cleaning station. Also saw my first octopus of the trip.

10- Banta Island - Max Depth 33.5M / Run time 56 mins

A 30M wall with variable currents, including the washing machine effect again!

11- Labuhan Langoi - Max Depth 25.7M / Run time 50 mins

This started as a snorkel attempt to see Manta. This resulted primarily in some fun jelly fish stings and no Manta sighting for me, although some of the others saw them. A tough surface swim back to the boat against the current. Almost as soon as I got back on the boat, the Manta were seen on the surface again, so I kitted up and jumped back in. For once I decided to follow Colin who had seemed to develop the "eye" for sharks so far this trip. The viz was the poorest so far at about 10M. The dive was around a rocky island, with lost of boulders and dead ends. Saw my first shark, a white tip about 1.5m. Lots of groups (big ones) and a blue moray. We surfaces around the wrong side of the island and had to wait for about 1/2 hour before the boat came and found us...ooops! I was only following him guv, honest!

12- Pinnacle - SW Komodo - Max Depth 29.8M / Run time 60 mins

Nice rock reef which seems to contain a nursery for trigger fish as there were many of varying sizes. First porcupine fish of the trip, and the first time I looked closely enough to see porcelain crabs in the corals.

13- Pinnacle - Max Depth 43.6M / Run time 41 mins

A fabulous pinnacle dive....three turtles, black tips, white tips, morays, large groupers, lobsters etc camera of course

14- Wall Dive - Max Depth 42.1M / Run time 62 mins

Another attractive dive but the only moment of note was being buzzed by huge tuna!

15- Wall Dive - Max Depth 24.1M / Run time 59 mins

Dropped straight down over a black tip and then saw a couple more. I got so involved trying to get a macro shot of a nudi that I almost missed a white tip than came past my shoulder about a meter away. I blame Dr Dave and Warren for corrupting me to nudi hunting. A very pretty wall spoilt again by the amount of particles in the water.

16- Boulder Dive - Max Depth 27.1M / Run time 35 mins

Lots of interesting swims under boulders and through gaps, but also lots of significant sawtoothing which proved too much for my beleaguered ears. Did I mention I've had a cold since about dive 4??

17- Pinnacle - Max Depth 62.8M / Run time 54 mins

This is a pinnacle where we hoped we might find a wreck. Supposedly last dived by Cousteau and Co on the way through. A strong surface current and loads of plankton in the first 40M, but beautifully clear after 60M. Too dark for photography, but absolutely no need for a torch to see. The water was absolutely still and crystal clear, or at least that's what my brain was telling me. This is the deepest I have been on air, and I was very cautious not to overstay my bottom time and to monitor both gas and d-timer. After about 5 or 6 mins looking for the wreck and admiring the scenery I slowly headed up. I used pyle stops on the ascent but on reaching 8M decided that the surge was way too heavy and stopped there to complete my 11mins of remaining stops, which took 30 mins to clear. Most of that was spent horizontal holding onto various rocks for dear life. I didn't blob off cause the skipper was not expecting to pick us up from all over the shop.

18- Pinnacle - Max Depth 26.2M / Run time 49 mins

The only time I get a good view of a sting ray, asleep on the bottom and the damn camera isn't working. Nothing else to recommend this dive.

19- Japanese Cruiser - Max Depth 5.6M / Run time 35 mins

Night dive on this well broken up cruiser in about 5M of water. I saw the biggest Moray I think I have ever seen. After watching him hiss at me for a few minutes I trolled off and found one of our videographers. He promptly blinded the poor thing with his portable sun, and after several minutes got bored and decided to give it a stroke. The moray took exception to this and shot out of it's nice comfy hole. The only problem was, I was were it wanted to go. I have this vision of a bloody great moray heading straight for me just as..guess what, my torch packed up again. I was left in the dark, aware there was a moray cruising somewhere around and too scared to move!. Other than that it was a fine wreck with lots of sea life.

20- Pinnacle - Max Depth 30.8M / Run Time 60 mins

Pleasant dive, general bimble not a huge amount of big stuff apart from a stone fish I almost sat on.

21- Pinnacle - Max Depth 43.6M / Run Time 47 mins

As usual on the dive where there is something out of the ordinary to see, I didn't have the camera. Excellent viz at 43M with virtually no current. I spent about 5 mins following a hug porcupine fish around and then started working my way up the pinnacle. Having got to about 15M and pretty much decided to call it a day I spotted a large purple mass pulsating on a scree ledge. On further investigation it turned out to be a pair of octopus doing what shouldn't be done in public. After about 5 mins they separated and it appeared that the one on top (well, more wrapped completely around the other one) had been about 3 times the size of the smaller. The smaller one swam (?) down the slope a bit and one of my fellow divers decided to try and grab it. This resulted in me getting a faceful of ink....thanks Westy. By all accounts, 10 mins later they were at it again.....take note boys!

22- Dynamite Rock - Max Depth 37.8M / Run Time 53 mins

Poor viz for this area. After a gentle poddle around the bases of this wall, I was cruising along in around 20M minding my own business when I heard and almighty bang followed closely by sounds of boat engines revving. It took me a few seconds to work out that someone had just dropped a bomb in the water. This is an illegal fishing method used, involving a beer bottle, some fertiliser and sugar and some kind of detonator. It was impossible to tell where the bang had come from, and I debated surfacing, but figured I was actually safer staying where I was. The next 10 mins or so where fairly nervous times, with ringing ears spent mostly looking up to see if I could locate a boat above me. I continued the dive, heading away from where I thought the bang might have come from, and about 5 mins later came across a yellow hose heading down to about 30M below me. Attached to the end of the hose was a local lad in cut down jeans with a second stage in mouth. He was rummaging around under some rocks. Not sure if he would appreciate an audience, I took a couple of quick photos and moved swiftly on. When I eventually surfaced, two of our party were back on the boat, having been in close proximity to the source of the bang. Apparently they had surfaced between the two boats involved in the fishing. Luckily neither were hurt but they did look a bit shaken! I think the fishermen got the shock of their lives too.

23- Drift Dive - Max Depth 21.3M / Run Time 53 mins

This started out as a nice fast drift dive over a sand bottom spotted with coral bommies. Everything went fine until I ended up in a shallow (5M) gully. One minute I was watching the way the sand appeared to trickle between the rocks as the surge moved in and out, next minute I was in the middle of a full blown sand storm. The surge picked me up and there was no way to fight it. I looked ahead, and saw a flat rock wall looming, a couple of seconds before I was slammed face first into it with the full force of the surge. The resulting impact put quite a few nicks in the casing of my MM11EX. It took what felt like forever to right myself and then a huge fight to get out of the gully and back into deep enough water to swim under the surge. I debated surfacing, but to be honest I didn't fancy my chance of not getting smashed to bits on the rocks. This is one of the few dives where I have to admit to actually being scared. I hate shallow water!

24- Wall Dive - Max Depth 36.3M / Run Time 59 mins

Cracking dive in crystal clear water. Saw a large cuttle fish, pointed out to me by Dr Dave (I think), and this time I had the camera. Shortly afterwards I caught a few shots of a blue puffer asleep inside a bucket coral on the wall. Shortly after this we found some lovely swim throughs full of fish. If I didn't screw up the camera completely I hope to have some atmospheric diver silhouette type shots. Some of the thermoclines on this dive felt positively freezing, but were probably still 23-25 degrees.

25- Drift Dive - Max Depth 37.8M / Run Time 49 mins

Fast drift dive over an area of coral bommies and much devastated coral. Lost sight of the others early on. Towards the end they saw a sun fish....guess who didn't!

26- Sailing Clipper - Max Depth 9.1M / Run Time 41 mins

Just as I dropped into the water there was a sea eagle perched on the mast of this 100+ year old wreck. The mast stands proud of the surface at all tides. This was low water and the surge was kicking up much sand, so viz was poor, but then there wasn't that much to see anyway. There is quite a lock of the wreck remaining in terms of decking, winches etc, but because of it's location there wasn't that much life on it, and no big stuff at all.

27- Reef Dive - Max Depth 18.9M / Run Time 67 mins

What a dive to finish the trip on. Over the side into crystal clear water and what a vista of plate corals and bommies spread out before me. As I swam into the first large clearing there was a school of small cuttle fish (6 inches long?) darting around mid water. Some appeared to be mating, or was it fighting. After I'd done looking at them, I was buzzed by a decent sized black tip and as soon as he had gone I spotted a turtle. I swam after the turtle and he let me keep pace for a while, so I have high hopes of my first decent picture of the front end instead of the rear end. Contentedly swam around as much of this coral plateau as I could, then with a 60 min run time I decided I had better use up the film and call it a day. Of course immediately I had snapped the last picture, the turtle came back!. He looked almost as if he had a beard, from about 3 metres away. But I wonder if what he had was fishing line or something hanging in a ball at the side of his mouth. He hung there lazily for about 5 mins and then swam off. I surfaced from this dive with real reluctance.

To Summarize my feeling on this trip:

It's a damn long way to go (30 hours traveling each way).

It's a great boat to dive from.

The reefs and walls are very attractive, but it's a shame about the scarcity of large pelagics.

The owner of the shop in Jakarta Airport that openly displays BIG shark fins for sale should be put up against a wall and shot.

I'd love to do another trip, but this time I'd like to get to do the wreck hunt we had hoped for, so maybe a more predictable time of year for the weather.

My thanks to Dr Dave, Vidar and the crew of the Empress.

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