Dewi Nusantara Raja Ampat
By Janet Czapski
At the end of my Lembeh Resort stay, I flew from Manado to Sorong to board the 18-guest Dewi Nusantara for an 11-night cruise around Raja Ampat, Eastern Indonesia's "Four King" region. This area has been highly touted as being the "center of marine biodiversity" with literally hundreds of different fish species identified on a single dive! I haven't been diving in Raja Ampat since 2005 so I was anxious to return to see the effects of the welcomed Raja Ampat Marine Park Reserve area as well as several other areas now being protected with the assistance of Conservation International and Nature Conservancy. I wasn't disappointed and to say that I was truly impressed with the fabulous improvement in the reefs/marine life in the region is an understatement!
Dewi Nusantara has been operating in the RA region for many years and the crew, along with Yan, the head dive guide, is well versed in the region, the best dive sites based on tides and currents and weather conditions. Dewi boasts a crew of 22 plus 4 dive guides for 18 guests! All cabins have ensuite baths with 8 of them being on the lower deck level accessible via a lovely staircase from the enormous salon. The Master Cabin is on the main deck level at the rear of the vessel and stretches the complete width of the boat. It features a king bed, generous seating area, a lovely bathtub, glassed in shower and across the stern picture windows to enjoy the view! The deluxe cabins can be configured with either a king or two twin beds and those cabins have lovely stone showers, toiletries, hairdryers, bathrobes and fluffy white shower towels as well as huge beach towels to use on the sun lounges.
Meals are plentiful and served buffet style at "1st" breakfast and lunch, plated made to order breakfasts after the 1st dive and a daily dinner menu served plated. Weather permitting, dining is done outside on the main deck under a canopy; if it's too windy/rainy meals are moved indoors to the dining area at the rear of the salon. A flat screen tv, numerous fish id books and two comfortable seating areas comprise the rest of the indoor salon. There are two upper deck common areas, one directly in front of the bridge with cushioned lounges under a canopy. The forward sun deck features more sun lounges and two strung hammocks for those sun lovers! The rear top deck serves as the base for the tenders which are winched up during long transits.
Diving is done from 2 tenders with fast outboard motors. Fins are kept on the tenders, BCD's are kept on the tanks and filled from the side of the boat near the tenders (Nitrox is a membrane system so o2 was consistently at 32%). Each diver has an assigned basket to keep their mask/booties/bits and pieces in and those are the only things you need to carry onto the tender. There are two areas to hang wetsuits/hoods/vests. There's a large, well-equipped camera room with a dedicated camera rinse tank. Cameras are rinsed by the crew after they carry them back from the tenders and then they are placed on the floor ready to be worked on or carried back onto the tender for the next dive. All of the crew are experienced camera handlers and they ask your preference about how YOU want YOUR camera handled! Oh yes, one of the unique perks offered by the Dewi crew is a mini head-shoulders-back massage on the dive deck AFTER EVERY DIVE ... heavenly, to say the least!
Five dives are planned per day ... one early in the morning after 1st breakfast; another after 2nd breakfast; one after lunch; one late afternoon and, of course, a night dive unless the boat is under way to a more distant dive location. Speaking of location, this itinerary was Sorong/Sorong so the major areas of Raja Ampat were covered….we made dives around Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati & Misool (an area I had never visited before). Dives sites were walls, bommies, reefs, seamounts, a couple of jetty dives for critters, and channels. Reefs were extremely healthy with numerous schools across the reefs ... overhangs were full of glassfish, cardinal fish and too many small fish to even see into the hollows! We did manta ray dives, channel dives, muck dives and slow critter dives! Barracuda, trevally, black-tip reef sharks, giant manta were seen during the trip as well as several species of pygmy seahorses! We even had a 20' manta cruise by right over the top of one of the divers! Corals, both hard and soft, were prolific and very healthy. Sea fans were enormous and several different varieties boasted between 5-10 pygmy seahorses! Numerous woebegong sharks were sighted as well. To say the reefs were healthy is an understatement. It is a photographer’s paradise ... both wide angle & macro!
The crew of the Dewi is top-notch, from Henrick & Jun in the dining room/salon; our 4 fabulous dive guides of Yan, Risko, Andri & Garry (who served as cruise director as well); the engineers kept the boat/compressors running smoothly and the cooks were fabulous! The crew is friendly but quietly Indonesian -- always smiling and willing to help us learn a new Indonesian word or two.
Most long runs between islands were made during night crossings; we had light winds, some clouds and mostly calm seas but this boat is so huge, you hardly even feel you're moving! We also got the opportunity to visit the Cendana Pearl Farm in Aljui Bay where some serious shopping commenced!
The crew also made sure that there were a couple of land expeditions during the charter....everyone got to walk up to the peak of Penemu Island to take in the panorama stretched out before them; a short beach walk to photograph monitor lizards & the kayaks were brought out several times so guests could take in the local beaches and gorgeous tropical nature of the islands we were diving around.
I had never been in the Misool region before and loved the diving there….the guides found a rare variety of red/white spotted denisii pygmy seahorse there and there were enormous sea fans in the channels and soft coral covered reefs….
I have chartered the boat for April 10-21, 2014 in order to experience again what the region has to offer ... that charter starts in Sorong but will end in Ambon, another critter-heavy, remote, seldom-dove region in Maluku. Come join us for a fabulous journey! I would suggest a few days prior to the flight to Sorong at Maluku Divers in order to acclimate to the time change and make sure your luggage has arrived....let me know if you're interested!
Read the Dewi Telegraph (3.4 MB PDF file) - A special report from the crew of the Dewi Nusantara showing the itinerary of my trip with photos.