Misool - Southern Raja Ampat

Before coming to Misool, Matt on SV Perry emailed the Eco Resort to get information on any available moorings.  The response was friendly, but unfortunately, our time in Misool would coincide with their busy season.  The resort was at full capacity, and due to their conservation efforts, they would also be responsible for coordinating the number of divers visiting on the numerous dive liveaboard boats in the area.  Each night at 5:30 pm, someone from the resort makes a call out on VHF channel 16 to each liveaboard to find out which dives their guests will be doing the following day and at what times.  In an effort to protect the reefs and limit the diver traffic, the resort only allows 16 divers on one site at a time.  Of course, talking and comprehending a foreign language via radio is always more challenging than an in-person conversation where we can use gestures to communicate.  I’m sure the radio operator from the resort struggled just as much to understand us as we did him, but somehow we were able to convey our proposed diving schedule in our limited Bahasa Indonesia.

Field Trip has been an infirmary for the past two weeks.  We must’ve picked up a flu bug in Sorong before we left, because the kids and Mark have had horrible head colds, coughs, and fever since.  Wadded up kleenexes litter beds and tables, looking like the aftermath of some tissue snowball fight.  Gingerly, I’ve picked them up, put them in the trash, then rushed to the sink to wash my hands with antibacterial soap.   Somehow, amid the mucous madness, I have avoided the plague so far.  I’m not sure what I’ve done to keep the germs at bay - daily zinc, morning cups of steaming ginger root tea, daily dives to escape the sick bay - but something has worked!  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that nothing rears its ugly head in me as the rest of the crew are finally on the mend.

Thankfully, SV Perry was around so that Mark’s illness didn’t prevent me from enjoying some superb diving.  (I know, a devoted wife would be at his bedside serving him chicken noodle soup and cooling his brow with a damp towel, but...)  We dove Whale Rock twice, the second time Mark was able to clear his ears and join us.  Here are my notes:

“Whale Rock near Misool Eco Resort.  I think this is the most gorgeous dive I have ever done… ever.  There were sea fans everywhere (still couldn’t find a pygmy seahorse!), every color of soft coral and sponge imaginable, huge barrel sponges, fish galore, and absolutely stunning scenery.  At one point when I spotted a cleaner shrimp, Mark tried to find a place to put his reef hook so that he could get a photo, but the wall was covered in so much life, that he couldn’t find a place!  Dive two - other side of Whale Rock due to strong currents at Nudi Rock.  I was looking forward to the same wow factor as this morning’s dive, but it wasn’t quite as good.  The best part of the dive was at the far point when we were coming up - a stunning pinnacle blooming with vibrant soft corals.  This is a must-do dive spot!”

Boo Windows was our next dive.  Here’s what I wrote in my dive diary:

“Boo Windows, Misool.  We did back-to-back dives today due to the fact that the site was 3 miles from our anchorage.  In the morning we dove the Windows, and the afternoon - Boo Point.  This dive started as quite a scramble.  We geared up, dropped in, and descended as quickly as possible so that the current wouldn’t pull us over the reef before we could hook in.  It was all happening so fast, but everyone found a spot to hook in and hang for a bit in the current.  Surprisingly not too fishy there.  Then, we let go and got behind the reef where current subsided and WOW!  Protruding plates of rock to hide behind and find all sorts of life.  The end of the dive was Mark’s favorite, with huge sheets of vertical rock covered with corals!  Our second dive after a brief interval - Boo Point.  Gorgeous wall and ridge with many moray eels and cleaner shrimp, bump head parrotfish that got CLOSE, fire dart fish, dragonet (p. 282) and Blue Blanquillo (p. 288), pair of Bluestreak Goby (p. 332), lots of blue striped fang blennies hiding in tiny holes (343), ringed pipefish (429), a hairy shrimp (139), and a new nudibranch with red spots on black and frilly wings (Nembrotha p. 302).”

Each time we return from a dive, I whip out our trusty reef identification guides specifically for the ‘Tropical Pacific’ (INSERT LINK TO AMAZON TO BUY THESE BOOKS).  While diving, I usually pinpoint one or two new critters that are unknown to me.  I try to take mental notes of unusual features or colors and put them into a category.  For example, on this last dive, I noticed a pair of fish I’d never seen before.  Their body shape reminded me of the gobies I’d identified before, so I mentally put them in that category.  Then I saw that their bodies were milky white and their heads a bright, milky yellow with a blue line under each eye.  When I got back on board, I started flipping through the goby section of the identification guide until I spotted a fish that perfectly fit the coloring and markings I’d seen - the aptly named Bluestreak Goby - which interestingly enough showed a photo of a pair of the fish rather than an individual, just like I’d seen.  I jotted a note in the guide - the place and date - for future reference.

One creature I have been searching for is the pygmy seahorse.  In Raja Ampat, there are said to be at least 3 different types, barely visible within the massive gorgonian sea fans that line the reefs here.  Friends have said that only when an experienced dive guide pointed them out, could they see the teeny, camouflaged critters.  I have spent countless moments underwater inspecting the veins of the fans to no avail.  Oh well, can’t say I didn’t try!

We stopped in three general areas of Misool.  In all three of them, we had to tie multiple lines to shore in order to secure the boat.  The areas were simply too deep to allow for sufficient swing room AND the Misool Eco Resort has set strict, conservation-minded regulations that prohibit anchoring in depths less than 40 meters.  We had stern tied quite a few times, but this would be our first experience with securing ourselves solely with lines to shore.  Once we’d done it a few times, we found a system that worked for us.  Before anything, we’d measure the distance between islands on SAS Planet, to ensure we had enough line and would decide which direction the boat should face to be closest to facing into the dominant wind.  During squalls the wind comes from any direction, but we try to tie up so that the wind is not pushing abeam (straight on our side) where we have the most windage.  Once we’ve got a plan mapped out on the charts, we set to work.

Mark and Elizabeth would hop in the dinghy when we neared our proposed anchorage (is it still called that when there’s not an actual anchor being dropped?) and scout out places to tie lines.  Occasionally, sturdy loops of rope had already been placed there by other liveaboards, so after thorough inspection, we might opt to tie to those.  If no loops had been left, Mark would find a good holding (preferably a tunnel through the rock that he could loop through) and wrap the line twice around the rock outcropping or the sturdy tree trunk.  He’d then make a sort of bridle, wrapping another two wraps of line around a nearby spot, too, as a fail-safe.  Elizabeth’s job at this point is to keep the dinghy from getting punctured on the sharp rocky wall.

Meanwhile, Michael and I would have been holding the boat in a wide open area - me at the helm and him on reef watch.  When Mark calls on the VHF that they’re ready, I would carefully motor into position and Michael would grab the first line from Mark and tie it off as Elizabeth motored the dinghy within reach of the boat.

Once that first line is secured, I hold position using both engines while Mark and Elizabeth get the other lines tied up in succession.  Often, these areas are 100+ meters apart, so multiple lines may need to be tied together using bowline looped knots.  Mark ties while Elizabeth drives.  Usually, we will tie 3-4 lines to shore from various points on the boat like a spider web to hold us in place if the wind happens to come from various angles.  When all lines are secured, we make small adjustments to tighten the lines and even out the load.  We make sure not to secure the line to the boat using a loop on the cleat.  If you need to release it while it is under load, it is impossible to get the slack needed to pull the loop up and around the cleat.  We always tie an easily releasable, but very secure cleat hitch.  

I must admit, I don’t sleep as well in these scenarios as I do when we’re anchored in a wide, shallow bay where our anchor digs deep into a sandy bottom.  Tying to shore means you’re close enough to shore to actually run a line there.  That’s close.  That doesn’t leave a lot of reaction time.  True, the islands do block some of the wind in certain directions, but it never fails that a storm will come through where we least expected it and set us all on edge.  These anchorages are tight, but offer some gorgeous surrounding scenery and a symphony of bird songs each morning at sunrise.   The steep islands and deep waters are what make for such beautiful diving.  By taking precautions and tying securely, we were able to enjoy all the underwater wonder that Misool has to offer.


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