An expedition is somewhat defined as a journey undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war. A Diving Expedition is just that plus a little extra ’mayonnaise’ on the side. Our vessel, the Jaya, a phinisi schooner, is peculiarly precious, outwardly individual and pretty damn gusty. With 12 guests aboard for fifteen days, slaughtering 3000 nautical miles, 3 different seas and a whole lot of rummykub, it was unanimous, we have all been a part of a very special expedition. Not only because of the huge mammals we have seen, nor the weird and wacky places we have visited but together we have a collective appreciation of the journey and the company in which we shared it with.
Day 1 - Exploring BiraPre-trip planning meeting in Bira, Sulawesi
Beginning in south western Sulewesi, in the quaint town of Bira, we spent the first day via be-mo (think tonka truck meets mini van) exploring the birthplace of the Jaya, Tanah Biru. Here we were lucky enough to witness the local men building, painting, shaping and unloading the schooners. Tanah Biru is a pretty spectacular place with its’ long white beach lined with 15 or so boats of all at different stages, different sizes and for different uses. The locals work hard and can be seen busy working on their schooner, taking refuge in the shallows of the Flores Sea to cool off. Picturesque.
Dinner at the Captains houseAfter a morning spent discovering our Jaya’s roots, it was only fitting to accept the offer of our Captain Ahmed and his wife for lunch at his home in the hills behind Bira. A banquet of tasty Sulewesi treats splayed out before us, we eat our fill before heading back into our be-mo for afternoon beers at the infinite pool inside Biras’ ’plush’ hotel for the afternoon. A bold red sun sets before us, our conversations converge to one - We all know we are to embark on an unknown adventure.
Day 2 - Diving BiraWaking up to delicious eggs and pancakes we finalise our dive groups and equipment ready for a day underwater. Bira’s fringing reefs, with 25m visibility was perfect for a check dive and also getting acquainted with the abundant marine life this malay archipelago has to offer. Martyn, a Wicked guide for team ’scatter-bout’ eyes were on the prowl spotting a pair of leaf scorpion fish first off. Hitting some current later in the day at ’fish market’, saw us encounter some curious black-tip sharks and giant trevally’s. At the stroke of midnight, settled on board and thankful for a high tide, the Jaya slowly reverses from the harbour. Ahead, beckoning us, the sky shatters as shimmering lightning splinters into the open ocean. Infuriating lilac thunders through the angry clouds casting a deep hue above the horizon. The moon, steady and resilient holds in place in the tumultuous sky, never faltering, guiding us forward on our adventure.
Day 3 - Diving Pulau SelayerPlanning and ThinkingWaking up the the slow roll of the boat, we slowly, one by one emerge from our cabins. During the night we had sailed south then south east and would continue to travel for the rest of the day with two dive stops at Pulau Selayer. Pulau (island) Selayer lies in the Celebes sea, off the coast of Cape Bira, South Sulawesi. The islands rugged exterior plunges deep into the ocean to a depth of 200m. An energetic drift dive we find the moderate current bringing schools of snappers, fusiliers and red tooth triggers into a flustered frenzy, whilst the odd white tip shark roamed the 30m mark. Yes Steve and Martyn, it was "blato gonna be gansta".
Day 4 - Diving Batu AtaDay 4 began at Batu Ata; An island google doesn’t even know exists. Batu Ata lies north east of Pulau Selayer, isolated in the Banda Sea. We eat breakfast concocting stories of tetradactyl swarms, and megaladon madness unfolding upon the Island before us.
A 3 dive day - Ricky’s secret. A basic map, no expectations and a simple briefing from Ricky - "Jump in, keep the wall on your right shoulder", - we blindly jump into Ricky’s Wall. Sucking every last drop from our tanks we spent 60 minutes in an underwater wonderland. An endless wall falls crookedly beneath us and the rich diversity of soft and hard corals ooze from every crevice. Rich purple barrel sponges, some easily 7ft protrude from the colourful garden wall. Upon a closer look, tiny iridescent pink hairy squat lobsters scuttle between the heavy ridges. Whip corals vie for attention poking out in every direction hiding their gobies within their tentacles. The suns rays penetrate so deeply into the endless indigo waters that the underwater spectacle is even brighter. Orange Denise Pigmy Seahorses cling to their gorgonian coral mansions for cover from our avid photographers and Steve’s eagle eyes. Individual purple, green and white leaf scorpion fish sway gently upon corals. Endless variety of varieties. Nudibrachs, flatworms, two thirds of an ornate ghost pipefish, shrimps and more shrimps, crabs eating crabs… a spectacular days diving. A ’mighty fine dive!’.
Each and every person on the board learnt quite early on that we had a self-proclaimed journalist on board. Phil, from the UK was in constant search for that next interview. He captured the daily grind on the Jaya well, the best and the worst. If there was something happening you can be sure Phil’s steady cam was rolling, never missing a single beat. Always up for asking the hard questions Phil’s interviews and post dive de-briefs were a hit as he always seemed to have a crowd around his computer after diner to watch all the daily happenings on board the Jaya.
The morning routine was regimented by what we call the ’morning low down’ between Phil and Barb. Never a morning passed without the jolly "Good morning Barb". "Good morning Phil" and nor would we have wanted it to. His interview toys filled out his room which consisted of a steady cam for the up close and personal interviews, perfect for minimising the wobbling background, an underwater go pro attached to what can only be described as a UFO dock, perfect for capturing the weird and wonderful plankton and his 3rd go pro attached to a quadcopter which can give us a bird eye view from above. Any angle, Phil has it covered.
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Wicked Diving Expeditions