Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Diving Recap

Wow...it's over. Lots and lots of diving, and it's done. So let's look back at what we've done:

43 dives, and I think Jan and I were the only ones who did them all. I spent nearly 52 hours under water, or an average of about an hour and twelve minutes for each dive. And Jan averaged about 7 minutes more per dive, which adds up to almost a full five extra hours under water over the two weeks. Amazing!

I guess we're kinda seriously waterlogged by now. But it's OK. A few days ago I was concerned that my ears weren't going to be happy with a dive trip this long, but they seem to have made it through just fine.

So, short summary is that we've done more diving on this single trip than we've ever done at one take before. Was it worth it?

I guess the obvious answer is, "Duh." I can't believe we'd have spent that much time if we weren't enjoying the dives. Although I have to say, we did a night dive the other night that was just dismal. Even the cruise director called it "crappy." And we were still down about an hour. So I guess it's plausible that we might have done a huge amount of mediocre diving, especially having traveled halfway around the world to do so.

Fact is, Raja Ampat and the surrounding area are amazing. I have never seen the sheer variety of corals and colors as we observed here. Just spectacular. And fish! Large numbers of fishes, big schools, great variety, and so on. And the reefs were quite healthy and robust.

Even in those cases where we didn't have spectacular conditions, such as the last few days in the north where the visibility was murky, we saw some great stuff (and could tell that in good conditions, it would be truly awesome).

Looking back, I realize I haven't said much about the dive boat. We sailed on the Archipelago Adventurer II, of the Archipelago Fleet. And I believe the cabin shown in the little slide show on the page is the cabin we actually stayed in. I have to admit to having some mixed feelings about the operation. I can break it down into three separate areas: the diver operation, the business, and the boat itself.

The dive operation is top-notch. The dive guides are terrific (especially Ali and Made), they know the sites and conditions very well. The tenders, tender crews, and deck crew are great. We had some issues with the management of the operation--how they chose sites or limited dive times--but that didn't mar the diving itself. The cruise directors are relatively new on the job, and this is their first time running a liveaboard.

On the business side, I was really impressed with Archipelago Fleet. They arranged all our domestic transfers and lodgings, and all that worked very smoothly. I don't think we could have managed all that by ourselves. It was particularly helpful to have locals there to negotiate all our baggage transfers and fees at the airports. This was all a cut above what I've experienced with other dive companies.

Lastly, the boat itself. The website describes it as "newly constructed," but frankly, it's a bit run down (and I'm told it's going into dry dock in June for some much-needed repairs). The public areas are nice. Both of the dining salons (one of which is used as the camera and TV room) are pleasant, and the dining deck outside the upper dining salon is lovely. The sun deck has no covering, so it's really a SUN deck. Really, it's too hot up there most of the time, so we ended up either indoors or at least under cover on a lower deck. Several of the cabins leaked when it rained. Some of the fixtures and finishing in the cabins were in less-than-perfect repair.

Overall, then, I'm a little conflicted. On the whole, I liked the dive operation and the boat crew and the business operations. On the other hand, the boat itself isn't really up to the standard of other "luxury" liveaboards we've been on.

So Raja Ampat gets a big thumbs-up for the diving. Archipelago Fleet really impressed me as a company and overall operation. I have real reservations about the Archipelago Adventurer II, though. So I would certainly consider going back, but would want to see that the boat had gotten some real upgrades. There are other boats operating in the area, and I would have to look at them, too.

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