The Triton

Cruising Grounds

Indonesia’s clear water opens world of new fish

Ocelot’s anchorages in Raja Ampat are all recorded in (in the “Indonesia – Maluku” region), including depths, bottom, shelter directions and other info. “To say that all of Raja Ampat has deep anchorages is false,” Jon Hacking writes. “We’ve found some very nice sandy spots.”

The following comes from the blog about the cruising adventures of the Hacking family aboard their 48-foot catamaran S/V Ocelot. They have been cruising Southeast Asia for the past five years.

21 October 2014, Fam Island, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

False clown anemonefish shelter in their anemone.  PHOTO by SUE HACKING

False clown anemonefish shelter in their anemone.  PHOTO by SUE HACKING

We’re currently anchored off Fam Island, one of the few anchorages in Raja Ampat that’s only 30 feet deep over clear sand (most anchorages here are deep or coral covered).

This place is really beautiful. As I write this (late afternoon) the setting sun is casting glowing orange light on the bright green palms ashore. Waves play gently with the soft sand beach. The water is swimming‑pool clear and so warm that we can stay in indefinitely. Colorful parrots fly between the trees, squawking continuously as they always do. There are no people around and not even any lights at night except the stars.

23 November 2014, Misool Island, Raja Ampat

The anchorages here are generally much deeper than we like. We carry 260 feet (80m) of anchor chain and we prefer to have a 5:1 scope when anchoring. But on Nov. 16, we had to anchor in 130 feet (40m). Luckily, the winds have been gentle, so much so that we’ve had to motor much of the time, so Ocelot didn’t drag.

For the past several days Ocelot has been sitting on a mooring next to the Misool Eco Resort.  The folks at the resort are friendly and happy to fill our scuba tanks, so we’ve been diving most days. The islands here have fringing coral reefs that drop down in vertical walls, which makes for wonderful diving. Visibility underwater has been about 60-100 feet (20-30m).

A young hawksbill turtle dives to the coral seafloor.  PHOTO by SUE HACKING

A young hawksbill turtle dives to the coral seafloor.  PHOTO by SUE HACKING

Diving here is challenging because the currents can be strong and can change suddenly. I find at least two new (to us) fish species per snorkel or dive. One new interest are the tiny but colorful nudibranchs, but they’re difficult to spot as they look like blobs on the already colorful corals.

When we’re not diving, we’re snorkeling on the shallower reefs, between the islands and the drop-offs. We’ve seen vast fields of hard and soft corals in all colors — reds, greens, dark purple with electric blue tips, yellows, browns, you name it. Clouds of fish surround us, staying just out of arm’s reach. We’ve seen schools of giant bump-head parrotfish, sharks, rays, groupers, venomous lionfish, turtles, trevally, wrass, vividly colorful angelfish and butterflyfish (some brilliant purple with bright orange accents), lots of anemone with their attendant anemone fish, huge schools of fusiliers with their electric-blue striped bodies and bright yellow tails, elegant Moorish idols with their ridiculously long dorsal fins, lobsters, the list goes on and on.

Misool Eco Resort has leased many of the surrounding islands and waters from the local villages, and made them no-fishing, no-take zones. They’ve contributed to educating the locals about the damaging effects of bombing the reefs (still a common practice in Indonesia, as well as much of Southeast Asia). Many subsistence fishermen have now built modest “home-stay” cottages over the pristine waters. They’re starting to appreciate the benefits of preserving their reefs.

Calvin, who runs the diving operation at the resort, is also the founder of the Misool Manta Project. Manta rays are huge filter feeders but are being slaughtered for their filter racks, which get sold to the Chinese medicine market for $250 each. His project (and others) have been instrumental in pushing through legislation to ban hunting Manta rays in Indonesia.

25 December 2014, Gam Island, Raja Ampat

It is early Christmas morning and Ocelot floats in a mangrove‑rimmed bay with wavelets lapping against our hulls. Overhead, the stars wink lazily through the pre‑dawn mist, and beneath us the fish must be stirring for the silence is broken by crisp splashes that create phosphorescent sparkles.

Soft corals like this red gorgonian sea fan flourish in Raja Ampat’s swift currents. PHOTO by SUE HACKING

Soft corals like this red gorgonian sea fan flourish in Raja Ampat’s swift currents. PHOTO by SUE HACKING

We’re surrounded by the bright masthead lights of the six other cruising boats that have congregated for the holidays. We left Sorong Dec. 20, motor‑sailing (there’s not much wind) across the roaring Dampier Strait to the protected bays between Gam and Yanggelo. Hilly, forested Yanggelo Island is home to hornbills, cockatoos, herons, kingfishers, parrots and hundreds of birds whose liquid songs serenaded us throughout the day. We and two other cruising boats tied ourselves to mangrove trees over 90 feet of clear warm water. Each day we spent 4‑5 hours snorkeling in three distinct marine habitats.

In the fast‑flowing passage between Gam and Yanggelo, we drifted above the shadowed shapes of large groupers, snappers and barracudas. Large rays flew beneath us, and on the bottom lurked black crocodile flatheads and moray eels.

The shallow coastal shelf was festooned in green, yellow and blue hard corals garlanded with sea fans and bright red, orange and violet balls of soft corals. Amongst these darted the brilliant reef fish creating an ever‑changing scene of color and motion. We watched two reef octopuses change from smooth white to mottled red and spiky black and white as they sought to camouflage themselves against the reef. Between the feathery arms of yellow and red crinoids, spirals of Christmas tree worms bedecked the brain corals, and sometimes we were lucky enough to spot patterned shapes of purple, blue, pink and black nudibranchs.

At high tide we poked into the amazing world of the blue water mangroves. Red tree roots stabbed into the ocean, and shimmering green leaves made bright reflections overhead. In this sheltered water, white goatfish patrolled while blue‑eyed cardinal‑fish and spikey‑finned gobies lurked between the roots. On the undisturbed silty sea floor upside-down jellyfish undulated, and shrimp gobies and their commensal shrimp poked cautiously from their burrows. Banded sea kraits nosed into the corals and wrapped themselves gracefully around the mangrove roots.

My daily count of new fish species soared to at least five per dive and the fish ID books are filled with notations. What a Christmas present.

Sue Hacking is a writer based on her 48-foot catamaran Ocelot. She has been sailing the world with her husband and children since December 2001. This is their second stint in Southeast Asia, where they have been cruising since 2009. To read more about their travels, visit Comments on this story are welcome at


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