Liveaboard: Diving in Indonesia Aboard the Komodo Dancer

A train of four giant mantas charges overhead, and it’s not a freak encounter. The site’s full name is Manta Alley, but superstition has local guides simply calling it the Alley lest the wonders fail to appear, which is rare. Right now, 15 of them — each roughly 12 feet across — are winging laps around Langkoi Rock, a craggy pinnacle of the south side of Komodo, the Indonesian island best known among nondivers for dragons. As for the mantas, they’re here when cold water is, pushing in plankton. And the action is nonstop.

Being in the shadow of beings so large and powerful is humbling. It’s why Noh Atta Abola, steering mate of the M/V Komodo Dancer, is kneeling on the sand, arms overhead. He can’t help the visceral gesture of awe.

The big stuff, from mantas to mola mola, is just part of the reason experienced divers consider Indonesia — and this luxury vessel — the trip of a lifetime. It’s a reward best appreciated after countless hours logged over reefs, learning to identify enough fish species to appreciate the record-setting biodiversity of this underwater Amazon. Moreover, participants need skills honed for the sometimes challenging conditions, from down-currents to drift dives ending in open water.

The 10-day voyage I’ve just begun starts on the island of Flores, 36 hours by boat if traveling nonstop to the end point of Bali, itself a destination most lengthen their trips to experience. Before I embarked, I had wanted to revel in the magic of the place, devoting a week to touring the incense-heavy temples —local myth alleges Bali has a thousand.

The dive trip will be a whirlwind. The itinerary promises a parade of wonders so large it’ll take work to keep pace, and so small it’s a hunt to acknowledge their presence. I imagine it’ll feel much like standing before the ornate temple altars — like what Abola experienced today: a feeling of awe so overwhelming you can’t help but be brought to your knees.


It’s just after sunset, and Rob Morgan-Grenville is briefing us on a site called Circus, supposedly one of the trip’s best night dives. But after he uses the words sand, rock and coral rubble, I debate tugging on a damp wetsuit.

“It’s not the pretty corals we’ve been seeing all week,” Morgan-Grenville admits, referring to sites like Crystal Rock, where every inch of coral is alive, supporting anthias and schools of rainbow runners so thick they obscure any divers among them in the water column.

But muck diving is one of the main attractions of Indonesia. The only possible reason to skip it is a cold Bintang beer — unlimited for guests. But the stocked fridge will wait, so I opt in.

We start by hunting stargazers. Earlier, guide Gede Merta had shown pictures: The fish buries itself in the muck. Only its face — bug eyes and a frowning underbite of corn-kernel teeth — is visible.

I find nothing but broken coral bits until he shakes his dive light, commandeering our attention. Then he aims a wire pointer at the black sand.

The alien is no bigger than a baseball. It’s a lesson repeated when Merta points out a bobtail squid, no bigger than a bumblebee. I think it’s a juvenile till later that night, when we gather in the salon to pore over the Reef Creatures book.

Turns out, bobtail squid are no bigger than golf balls, making their sparkling iridescence somehow more magical.

And so the next few days and nights pass, muck diving at sites such as Fuzzy Bottom of Sumbawa Island. We’re treated to encounters with algae octopuses, dragon sea moths, spiny devilfsh and Bobbitt worms — all of which we truly only appreciate when Merta shows us those pages. And he would know. On the book’s credit page, Merta is listed among eight dive guides whom authors Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach thank for helping them locate the critters.One thing not mentioned in the book: Merta has even discovered a few species.


It’s the last day of the dive trip, and Merta and Morgan-Grenville can’t seem to agree. We’re at Gili Tepekong, an island of the southeast coast of Bali — and just hours from where the yacht will harbor for the final night. This area is known for mola mola, aka ocean sunfish, but the season for seeing them extends only from roughly June to October. Right now, it’s April.

“It’s too early — we don’t have a prayer,” Morgan-Grenville tells us, not wanting to get our hopes up.

“They’re there,” says Merta.

And now, at 78 feet under the surface, Morgan-Grenville is gesturing wildly with his free hand, flashing a thumb up, while gripping his camera with the other.

We all fin deeper, and there, at 100 feet, is a mola mola, glowing white as the moon. Its apple-size eye follows us, its tiny mouth pursed in a pucker.

As I stare at it, and it stares back, I have to laugh. In a way, I’m not surprised. This is Bali, the land of a thousand temples and a population dedicated to its gods. With so much devotion, it’d be wrong not to expect at least a few miracles.


Tender Diving. All sites are accessed by tenders, facilitating drift diving and access to offshore pinnacles.

Local Flavor. The lunch buffet is a highlight, when the chef prepares spiced fish cakes, vegetable curries, beef satays, banana fritters and more.

Komodo Dragons. During much of the trip, no other boats are in sight. When Komodo Dancer moors of its namesake island, visiting these killers is as easy as a dinghy ride.

Day Excursions. Take time for optional land- based excursions, including a pink beach without a soul on it.

Stay for Ubud. Add a day or two to explore Ubud in Bali’s interior. You’ll tour temples, including one of the most famous,the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, home to 600 macaques.


When to Go

M/V Komodo Dancer devotes most of the year to seven- and 10-day treks between Bali and Labuan Bajo, on the west coast of Flores. In October and November, itineraries travel between Flores and Alor, giving guests the chance to dive with whales, plus muck critters like wonderpus, blue-ringed and starry-night octopuses.

Dive Conditions

The southern region has greener waters with temperatures ranging from 72 to 77 degrees; it’s where manta sightings are much more frequent. The northern region sees visibility of 100 feet or more, and water temperatures around 82 degrees are standard.


The 124-foot Komodo Dancer accommodates 16 guests in eight staterooms: two owner suites, two cabins with full-size beds, and the rest with bunk beds.

Price Tag

Rates start at $2,700 for seven nights, double occupancy. Deluxe and master suites are also available. Nitrox upgrades cost $100 for seven days, and $150 for 10 days.

Click here for more information on bucket-list liveaboard adventures, and make sure to check out special discount pricing for a trip aboard Komodo Dancer

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Dive Hacks: Expert Tips for Liveaboard Adventures

Savvy divers know that liveaboards are the ultimate way to travel for maximum water time and major pampering. These floating palaces of dive lust cruise some of the most exotic and prolific regions on the planet, putting their guests into the best possible conditions at optimal times for mind-blowing encounters. When your plush stateroom and gourmet meals are bobbing gently above a world-class dive site, a vacation doesn’t get much easier. All that’s required is to roll out of bed and into your wetsuit, because your gear is already assembled and waiting for you, attached to a full cylinder. Consider enjoying this scenario for seven to 10 days in a row, and the fantasy that is liveaboard diving comes into clear and wonderful focus.

All of this bliss comes at a price, however. This method of travel represents a significant investment, one that frequently cashes out at a more expensive price tag than a land-based alternative. And because you’re typically isolated from civilization, it pays to come prepared with a highly tuned game plan, the right equipment and a few tricks to which only liveaboard veterans are privy. To even the playing field for every diver, I asked Lauren Hill, the New Zealand-born captain of the Aggressor Fleet’s Cayman Aggressor IV, for her expert advice. A veteran of six years at the helm and a half-dozen more as an instructor and guide, Hill is one of the most customer-focused liveaboard hosts I’ve ever encountered; her advice can help you make the most of your luxury-travel investment.


Diving from a liveaboard means that, more often than not, you’ll be anchored in a prime spot that day boats can take considerable time to reach. And captains know how to maximize local conditions to serve up the best spots on any given day. Advantage: you. So make the most of the opportunity by rising with the sun and being there when the reef comes to life. Piloting the CAIV gives Hill early-bird entry to some of her favorite sites in the Caymans: “Nancy’s Cup of Tea on Little Cayman as a dawn dive is always a ‘wow’ dive when the reef is waking up around you and the reef sharks come in close to check us out.”


Without the pressure land-based operators have to get their guests in the water and back on a schedule, liveaboard divers have the ultimate luxury of time. Whether you’re diving from the yacht or by tender, the relaxed schedule can take some getting used to. “As all our dives are from the mothership, there is no need to take of on a mission swimming 2 miles away underwater,” says Hill. “All our dives are right under the boat, so our guests can slow down and smell the roses — and relax.”


The glorious isolation of being on a yacht far out at sea is a fantasy many of us share. But it can quickly turn into a nightmare when equipment malfunctions and you can’t hit the local dive store for that key part or replacement piece. “A big mistake our divers make is not testing their gear after having it serviced,” Hill says. “First dive of the week, and we have free-flowing this and malfunctioning that and the cry of, ‘But I just had it serviced.’ Go for a couple of local dives at home before your trip, even if it’s just in the pool.” You can’t always count on the boat staff to have a particular part, so a well-stocked save-a-dive kit is a must.

Hill advises that “having backup equipment if you own an unusual brand, for example, or a spare battery for your flashlight that regular batteries don’t fit,” can help liveaboard guests avoid missing dives when disaster strikes. “And photographers should pack backup fiber-optic cables and strobe connectors, and a backup SD card or hard drive too.”


With the availability of up to five dives per day, liveaboard guests can rack up serious bottom time, but they can also chill themselves to the verge of hypothermia — even in tropical waters. Being mindful of your internal body temperature can be the difference between performing at your best and shivering in discomfort.

“I always encourage guests to get completely dry and changed between dives,” Hill says. “Your core temp will warm up faster, and you will probably stay warmer and enjoy the next dive even more.”


You’ll be on board with the same group of strangers for an extended period. Even though a common love of diving is a great icebreaker, Hill has seen enough good and bad chemistry experiments to pick up a few best practices. “There are a few key ways to make friends or just get along when you are on a yacht for a week or more,” she says. “In your cabin and on the dive deck, keep your belongings, equipment, and diving and photo gear all in your space. Don’t be that guy or gal who takes over the cabin or the dive deck with all of your worldly possessions.”

Hill’s final piece of advice: “Try not to be a know-it-all,” she says. “It’s great that you are enthusiastic and you have all of this knowledge to share, but don’t force it upon your fellow divers — you’ll only drive them away. Move around the group, sitting with different people at mealtimes, and just be social. Best of all, just relax, bring a sense of humor and enjoy the ride.”


Capt. Lauren Hill’s recommended scuba accessories and common household items to make the most of your liveaboard trip.

A GOOD FLASHLIGHT Think small, bright and rechargeable (or with plenty of extra batteries).

SURFACE-MARKER BUOY Make sure you never dive without one.

TWO OR THREE SWIMSUITS So you’ll always have a dry one.

BATTERIES Bring backups for your computer, camera and everything else that uses them.

SUNSCREEN Nothing is worse than getting fried your first day on board, then suffering the rest of the week
when you strap your BC on sunburned shoulders.

SEASICKNESS MEDS Be proactive about taking them, because when it’s too late, it’s too late.

CONDITIONER Girls or guys with long hair, not all boats supply it (your hair will appreciate it).

PRESENTS FOR THE CAPTAIN AND CREW Bring (and leave on the boat) DVDs of new movies and TV series, books, magazines, etc. The crew will love you.

Click here for liveaboard dive deals and for some of our favorite liveaboard destinations!

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Working on a Liveaboard: Pros and Cons

For many PADI Pros, the thought of working on a liveaboard is a dream opportunity. Maybe you’ve already toyed with the idea or started applying for that once-in-a-lifetime position, imagining endless expanses of sea and the fascinating dive sites that … Continue reading

The post Working on a Liveaboard: Pros and Cons appeared first on PADIProsEurope.

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Celebrate 26 Years – Save $800 on Okeanos Aggressor and Wind Dancer, Cocos Island!

Okeanos Aggressor/Wind Dancer

Celebrate 26 Years

Celebrate 26 Years – Save $800 Cocos Island! Book and deposit on a new reservation starting July 7, 2015 for travel to Cocos Island from December 9, 2015 – January 6, 2016 an…

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Party Like a Pirate aboard the Blackbeard’s Bahamas Sailboat

Instructor Eitan Newman is perched behind Sea Explorer’s wheel, dressed in what looks like the top half of a Left Shark costume.

“In case you don’t see any other sharks,” he offers, before beginning his briefing on a highlight of Blackbeard’s Bahamas adventures: lunch with the sharks at a site of the foot of Eleuthera called Split Coral Head.

Newman need not have worried. Before we even splash in, one brand-new diver is nervously peering over the side, hollering, “There are sharks down there!”

Blackbeard Bahamas Shark Diving

Alex Bean

Caribbean reef sharks circle the “chumsicle”, as Blackbeard’s divers eagerly look on.

No kidding. By the time our entire complement of 21 divers is arrayed on the sand beneath our 65-foot sailboat, eight to 10 Caribbean reef sharks are circling. This ain’t their first rodeo — they know what’s coming. Like an underwater New Year’s ball-drop, a large chumsicle begins its stately descent down the line, guided by a now more appropriately outfitted Newman. The sharks are beautiful, gliding through clear water and long shafts of sunlight, a serene yet still awe-inspiring scene — that is until one hooks a tooth in the frozen chum, and all heck breaks loose. It’s only a momentary frenzy, but it gets everybody’s adrenaline up, sharks and humans, before the experience concludes with a free-for-all hunt for shark teeth, the only thing you’re allowed to take with you from this pristine underwater realm.

Blackbeard’s sloops aren’t like most liveaboards. The 55-ton sailboats have berths for up to 22 divers and five crew. This is boat camping. Primitive boat camping — to say that quarters are close is to say that the Sistine Chapel has a pretty nice ceiling. But the food is fantastic, plentiful and delicious — it’s like Mom came camping too! — and the young crew, while professional and task-oriented, is friendly and fun- loving. The weeklong dive party is great for solo or younger divers, or the young at heart: Our trip included wannabe buccaneers from 12 to 70-something, from grizzled dive vets to families just getting certified.

Blackbeard’s slogan is “Twice the fun … half the cost,” and that’s literally true: Two luxury liveaboards ply the same sites you will, except those divers are paying more than twice as much to submerge at lovely spots like Monolith, of Eleuthera. Its namesake is a sweet little pinnacle at 80 feet or so, a perfect Cleopatra’s Needle perched at the edge of one of the Bahamas’ trademark plunging walls, easy to circle round and round until you’ve covered every inch. Zigzag back up toward an eel garden on the sand — stalking them is good pirate practice — or fin across a coral gulch and watch the wall recede beneath you.

Sunny, relaxing, easy-peasy — that pretty much describes the diving in Exuma Sound and of southern Eleuthera. Intriguing terrain beckons everywhere, from room-size coral heads like Tunnel Rock, pocked with swim-throughs wide enough for giant loggerhead turtles to join you, to lovely little bommies at Lobster No Lobster, southeast of Nassau, that unfold for your inspection like the petals of a flower. Reefs are cut through with sand channels that sometimes run right of the wall and into the abyss, as at Cut Through City, or lead to secret small caves, as at Madison Avenue.

That’s the Blackbeard’s twist: low rent, big payoff. You’re diving the same sites as those luxe liveaboards, three to four times a day, but you’ll be berthed in dorm-style bunks, where you can neither sit up nor perhaps fully stretch out. The food’s great, but you’ll be balancing your plate on your knees, wherever you can find on deck to perch. (No one said the pirate life was easy.)

But it’s more than that. You might feel closer to the sea and sky — and stars — on a sailboat than you ever have, which makes for unforgettable moments, like when someone hollers, “Fish on!” and everybody rushes the stern in time to see a flash of aqua running along the port side.

It’s a mahi. Our jubilation is premature — after a brief struggle, the fish slips the line and gets away at the last second. Five minutes later some- body yells, “Pilot whales!” There’s a whole pod on our stern as we start to make the four-hour crossing from the Exumas to Eleuthera; they don’t stick around either. “We’re being teased,” says first mate Chris Lawrenson.

On another evening we’re gifted with the elusive green flash at sunset — just a tiny emerald nugget, but it was there. Forty-five minutes later a glowing orange moon rises over the bow, where divers cluster in small groups, laughing and talking softly, enjoying the rum punch that flows freely once the day’s dives are done. A beach bonfire near Cape Eleuthera on our only port night turns into the best party I’ve been to in years. And nobody wanted to go home after the final night’s bash with the crew at a Nassau bar with an unreal house band — “the best dive of the week,” said one graybeard.

A pirate’s life indeed.


The Bahamas is a year-round dive destination; Blackbeard’s itineraries are weather-dependent, so you may dive any of dozens of sites off Nassau, the northern Exumas or southern Eleuthera.

Water temps range from 72 to 77°F in January, when a 5 mm might not be too heavy, to 81 to 85°F July to September, when a bathing suit will suffice.

Blackbeard’s Cruises ( operates two 65- foot sloops, Sea Explorer and Morning Star; each has 18 dorm-style bunks. Weeklong cruises include all meals and beverages (alcoholic and non) and up to 19 dives per week, fewer if weather permits extras like a run down to Staniel Cay to snorkel the beautiful Thunderball Grotto, featured in the James Bond movie of the same name, or to visit the famous swimming pigs of nearby Big Major Cay.

It’s $979 per week per person, not including port fees and crew tip.

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