Raja Ampat, Mermaid II liveaboard, Jan 2017    

Living, Food and Diving:
This was our second trip to Raja Ampat, and overall, I would rate it equal to the first -- in other words, best overall diving experience that we know of. It has an incredible amount and variety of sea life, from the tiniest of pygmy seahorses and squids to the huge oceanic mantas. The boat Mermaid is pretty well maintained -- we were a total of fifteen divers on this trip, with twenty staff -- and staff who went the extra mile on almost everything (dry towels on the dive deck after every dive, help with the gear and with getting in and out of the RIB's, maintaining the rooms etc.). We had an incident with a burst floor pipe in our room one night, and woke up with around an inch of water on the floor. But they fixed the pipe, and took our bags and clothing out and dried them out, and had two staff working with a floor dryer all the time that we were out diving. Luckily, the flood wasn't bad enough to soak my computer bag (and the computer inside) -- and so nothing was damaged. On another dive, our DM Bob noticed one minute into the dive that Kitty's camera housing had taken in a bit of water; he instantly took the camera back to the RIB and we continued our dive. When we returned, they had opened and dried the housing, dried up the camera, and put the camera in a bowl of rice to pull out any moisture. Again, we were lucky, and after greasing the o-rings, and testing the housing on the next day (with a lead weight inside), we could resume using the rig for the rest of the trip with no incidents. If only the cabins had an extra foot of space, this could be a top notch comfortable boat for diving. In any case, I'd be happy to go on this boat again, e.g. if we do a repeat trip to, say, Alor or Komodo (well, I'd be neutral between the other boat we know, Cheng Ho and this one, but I'd defnitely go if we can get Bob as a DM). Another nice touch about this operator is that at the end of the trip, they gave us soft-copies of a file with all the dive sites, the critter sighted, and also the dive-site maps that were used for the briefings. We also loved the freedom they gave us on dives, once they saw that we are experienced enough; I routinely was way behind our dive group when I was caught up taking photos of something, and then would race to catch up with them ten minutes later (with Kitty hanging on halfway between to keep the connection). They also let us take our time in each dive.. Many dives were longer than an hour, and I think I came up with the tank pretty close to empty on almost every other dive.

The Food
Food pattern was typical of liveaboards: light breakfast - dive - big breakfast - dive - lunch - dive - tea - dive - dinner. The activities room on the top deck had coffee, cookies, chocolate and fresh fruit always. Food selection and taste were excellent. All meals had both western and eastern food choices, and every meal they cooked up one vegan dish (I think this was for Michael, our Aussie ultra-marathon trail runner dive buddy). Lunch and dinner had a salad, chinese style mixed viggies, and at least a couple of meat/fish dishes, soup and rice. And loads of fresh fruit.

Diving conditions were excellent -- very mild or no currents (perhaps this is why we didn't see too many sharks/tuna), and almost always visibility of 20-30m, except perhaps for the last dive at Blue magic, when the oceanic mantas came to hang out with us for almost an hour. The water was uniformly warm at 28-29C, and although we used 3mm suits, some younger divers were diving without any wetsuit at all. All dives were made from the two ribs; typically the site was within a couple of minutes out from where the Mermaid was anchored. There were four groups (each with four/three divers and a DM), so the ribs would make two journeys out, and then would bring people back whenever they finished the dives. Our group was me and Kitty, together with Isye and David, both excellent and experienced divers and great to dive with. Our DM Bob was really amazing -- he knows the dive sites better than anyone, and could spot the tiniest critter almost on demand. He figured ten minutes into the first dive that I like to take my time with macro subjects, and he'd take the others around while I was shooting away happily; he knew that between Kitty and me, we'd find our way back to them in a bit. We skipped a couple of night dives on the trip, making a total of 23 excellent dives:
19 Jan (Fiabacet, Misool): Whale rock, Nudi rock, Yiliet Kecil, Romeo rock
20 Jan (Warakaraket, Misool): Magic mountain, Boo windows, Boo west
21 Jan (Wayil Batan, Misool): Four kings, Wedding cake, Karang Banyangan
22 Jan (Daram, Misool): Warna Berwarna, Andiamo, Two tree island
23 Jan (Penemu, Fam Islands): My reef, Keruo channel, Batu rufus, Keruo
24 Jan (Yangeffo, Dampier Strait): Mangrove ridge, Manta mantra, Sawanderek, Yanbula jetty
24 Jan (Dampier Strait, Raja Ampat): Cape Kri, Blue magic

About the photos

Gear: (ajay) Sony Nex7 with stock 18-55 lens with Subsee +10 wet macro, Sea & Sea YS-01 strobe in slave, Light & motion Sola 800 video light; (kitty) Canon G1x Mark II in Canon WP-DC53 housing + x-Adventurer M2600 video light.