Flores to Ambon -- 1000 Km Across The Banda Sea, Indonesia

September 5-17, 2006

 

 

 
 

 

Misadventure aboard Ondina: It sounded wonderful: twelve days traveling by traditional Indonesian wooden schooner, from Flores in Nusa Tenggara, scuba diving along the islands of Alor and Wetar, then across the Banda Sea, stopping to dive the remote oceanic reefs of Gunung Api and Lucipara, to the fabled Spice Islands of Banda, ending at Maluku's capitol city Ambon ( just recovering from the aftereffects of terrible violence between local Christian and Muslim groups). An adventure full of natural wonders and historical interests...

However, this voyage was to end up more in the disaster category, full of missed opportunities, and more than once, a longing desire to be put off at the next port! Our trip got off to an inauspicious start when we discovered a large scorpion in our cabin. It was never clear where it originated, but Liza was nearly stung as she was unpacking her backpack on top of our bunk. After corralling it into a bag and tossing it overboard we made a thorough inspection, but the only other scorpions we saw were the multitudinous scorpionfish underwater, visible on every dive.

The first few days were pleasant enough, motoring among the protected islands of Nusa Tenggara, surrounded by volcanoes rising out of the ocean. Then one evening, we heard furious yelling on shore as some of our compatriots were night-diving just offshore from the local village. We could see the blue glow of the divers' lights underwater as a vigorous argument broke out between the gang on shore and our zodiac driver, which continued for the next forty-five minutes. The divers were unaware of the dispute until stones were seen falling through the water. Mike surfaced to see dark figures on shore lobbing large rocks in his direction. Yikes! Fortunately none of our group was injured. We assume they suspected we were messing with their numerous underwater bamboo fish traps.

Later that night we left the shelter of our verdant islands, heading into the open sea for Gunung Api, a volcanic cone rising from the deep ocean 100 miles from the nearest landfall. Soon after drifting off to sleep, we were awakened by the violent heaving of the boat and the deafening sound of creaking wood. As each wave hit us broadside, the Ondina would shudder, each member of the boat's wooden superstructure flexing and sheering in a demonic arrhythmic cacophony. The wind was howling from the southeast and the ocean was alive with three meter swells rolling towards us at nearly ninety degrees to starboard. These conditions were to continue until we reached the port of Ambon four days later. Over time, water worked it's way through the shifting timbers of the deck from the continuous waves we were taking over the bow. By morning, saltwater was raining down from the ceiling onto our bed, soaking our sheets, mattress, and just about everything else in our cabin.

We arrived 7 hours later than predicted at Gunung Api, and managed to anchor in the tiny lee of this small beautiful isolated island. With shifting winds, we had to re-anchor every few hours and were saddened to see on subsequent dives how much reef damage was caused by Ondina's anchor over the course of the day and a half we spent there. The highlight diving of Api was the opportunity to get up close and personal with the (deadly poisonous) sea snakes that are unusually abundant here.

We left our miniature wind-shadow just after dinner. The wind was eerily whistling in the rigging as we resumed our dreadful staggering through rough seas. By this time we were awash with saltwater raining below decks, but did manage to sleep with the aid of pills. By 3pm the following day, Ondina was huddling among the windswept reefs of Lucipara. It soon became obvious that there was no shelter here and we must push on without diving these oceanic coral gems. We had a fateful meeting where we were told it was best if we just skipped the Bandas all together to spend our remaining four days diving the protected waters of Ambon. There was an air of grim resignation as we realized we were not to see the spice islands after all.

The final blow, after another 18 hours of rough weather and hellish rolling in our dripping cabin, was the horrible realization that our dive-mates preferred to dive the low-visibility garbage-filled toxic soup of Ambon harbor (with fishing boats and Indonesian military craft buzzing overhead) rather than the nearby pristine coral reefs. Fortunately we did get one day out our final four to dive the colorful coral walls northwest of Ambon. But by the end of this twelve-day odyssey, we were more than ready to put our Ondina adventure behind us...

 

 

 

Friendly (non-stone-throwing...) local villagers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bamboo fish traps are everywhere on the reef:

subsistence fishing by the local villages.

 
 
 

Maumere, Flores (boat) ► Ambon