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thesmoothdome
08-04-2008, 11:19
Star Dancer
After our stay at Loloata, we headed back to the airport and checked in for our flight to Rabaul to board the Star Dancer. While waiting in the terminal, we ran into Capt. Bert, the crazy captain of the Sun Dancer when we were in Belize last year, and his wife Deborah. It turns out that Bert had managed to wrangle up 8 other folks to accompany him way around the world to dive PNG, so after introductions, we boarded our flight to Rabaul.

Upon arrival we were met by a long legged UK beauty named Cat who would serve as one of dive masters for the next 9 days. After we had a lunch and a few beers at a resort where the Star Dancer moors on her trips to Rabaul, we were loaded into a skiff and taken to the Star Dancer which sat just off shore.

My initial impression of the Star Dancer was that maybe Peter Hughes should have dry docked and put a million dollars into her rather than the Sun Dancer last September. The boat looked worn with fading paint, the covering over the sun deck missing, and some of the outer panels at the water line bowed out (I’m not a boat guy, so I’m not sure what these are actually called).

The cabins were pure Dancer Fleet. Our master cabin had a queen bed, a closet and a full bath, including a bathtub. As is typical, there wasn’t a lot of extra room, but spaciousness isn’t really a concern on a liveaboard. Amazingly, if you stepped out of the room for a minute, the bed made itself. I’m not sure how this was accomplished, but I swear my bed was made at least 5 times a day. I was afraid that I’d wake up and find myself stuck under the covers because someone didn’t notice that I was actually in it.

Unfortunately, six of the passengers lost their luggage enroute to PNG. Not surprisingly, it happened during their US legs (really…I don’t have an Air Niugini slam here). To compound the problem, the Star Dancer didn’t have enough extra gear in Rabaul to outfit those who were missing theirs so it was decided that we’d steam directly to Walindi, where we were due to complete the trip, pick up extra gear and dive Kimbe Bay until the missing luggage arrived. Bert was quick to point out that while captain on various boats, he made sure that he carried at least 10 sets of gear onboard because this stuff happens all the time.

After dinner that evening, Josie, our hostess and extraordinary dive master, outlined our next 7 days of diving:

6:15am Dive Briefing
6:30am Dive
8:00am Breakfast
9:15 Dive Briefing (if needed)
9:30 Dive
11:15 Dive Briefing (if needed)
11:30 Dive
1:00pm Lunch
3:15pm Dive Briefing
3:30pm Dive
6:30pm Night Dive
8:00pm Dinner

Of course, this was is everything went according to plan, which already it hadn’t. The 6:30 dive on our first day of diving was already scrubbed because we’d still be heading to Walindi early the next morning. Most of the folks who had just arrived from the States didn’t really seem to mind.

We stayed in Kimbe Bay for the next two days, making 4 dives on Sunday and 5 on Monday. Well, I made 5 on Monday. Monday evening, I was the only one who chose to make the night dive. I’m sure the less than stellar visibility played a role in other people’s thought process, but I’m also sure that a lot of it was that jet lag was finally beginning to take its toll on some. Dive Master Martin and I entered the water in relatively calm conditions. About 30 minutes into the dive, the surge picked up big time. It became next to impossible to hover over a macro subject and shoot a steady picture. I tried...and tried. Suddenly I heard a loud POP. My first thought was that the unlikely had happened and that Martin or I had blown an O-ring. No bubbles from my rig. Martin swims up. No bubbles from his rig. He starts motioning that we need to ascend….NOW. I nod and we head for the mooring line which is near by. Once it came into view, I knew what the sound was. The mooring line had snapped about 10 feet up from the mooring itself. Martin, in his mid 20s and rock solid starts beating feet down current where we assume the boat will be heading. Me, 41, 20lbs overweight and carrying a 20lb D-SLR rig follow the light Martin is carrying. I see Martin surface, swim to where he is, surface and between the 3-4 swells that have come up since we decended, see the chase boat being launched from the Star Dancer. Within a minute, it’s there. I hand my camera in, strip my gear off and pull myself in to the skiff. No harm, no foul. Martin and I are smiling and laughing about it. I’m glad that the rest of the passengers stayed behind because it made the pick up easier for the crew. I know that they had a few stressful moments when they realized what had happened, but Captain Alan had and Dive Master Josie had things well in hand almost immediately. Personally, I’d rather have swam back to the boat. Something about ego and pride, but I highly doubt I could have caught up J. Major props for the professional response.

With the luggage finally arriving, we steam for Fathers Reef during the evening. Even though I manage to drop a 4lb weight on my little toe and break it on Tuesday and come down with a fast moving flu causing me to shiver, shake and sleep through the last two dives and dinner on Wednesday, the 4 days at Fathers were the best diving I’ve ever done, seen, read about or dreamed about. Every dive we’d ask “macro or wide angle” only to be told by Josie that it’s “macro or wide angle.” The only easy choices were on the dives when bait box was set out.

On 3 separate dives, usually the 2nd dive at a location, one of the DMs would carry a bait box down and tie it down in certain areas. Within minutes, grey reef sharks, white tips and silver tips would appear from the depths. Interestingly, there was no direct feeding going on. Rather, the bait box would be placed and if a fish managed to get shaken out, then it was score one for the shark. Once others got bored with the show, I’d slide out from the edges and park myself underneath the bait box, snapping pictures and just relishing my time with these magnificent creatures.

Too soon, it was time to start heading back to Walindi. Rather than chance the bad weather that was coming, Captain Alan chose to cancel the mid morning dive and steam back to the shelters of Kimbe Bay. While not a popular decision among the divers, who are we to question Alan Raabe?

For those who don’t know Alan’s history, he pretty much discovered the reefs in PNG. He’s been an owner/captain there for the last two and decades and was instrumental in the discovery and naming of many of the reefs out there. He’s captained the Star Dancer and FeBrina for the likes of industry giants Howard Hall and Jean-Michael Cousteau. I’ll admit it. I was in awe of the man and his reputation, but even with the limited time I spent with him, I quickly discovered and thoroughly enjoyed his quirky, I’ve been at sea my whole life demeanor.

Probably the wild part of the trip was our dolphin snorkeling adventure. As we steamed along, DM Josie briefed us as to what we were to do. With just mask, snorkel and fins we were to jump into the water when told to. We were to stay in a single group. When Josie yelled, we were to put our faces into the water. Oh…did I mention that Alan would be driving the 120 foot Star Dancer directly towards us?

Here’s this huge boat steaming towards you. You put your face in the water and dolphin are just cruising along in front of the bow. The boat passes by, loops around and again comes towards you. Again, the dolphin are playing in front of the bow. With my 10-17mm WA mounted on my camera (and dragging my strobes along), I snapped picture after picture. On one occasion, probably the one that yielded the best picture, I pulled my head out of my viewfinder in just enough time to avoid being run over by the boat. All I saw was boat. I was able to kick myself away, using the boat itself for propulsion. What a trip!

Here’s some details you might actually want to know:

Water temp: 86 degrees. It’s winter down there, but damn close to the equator so this doesn’t change much.

Visibility: Kimbe Bay 40-50 feet; Fathers 100+

Nitrox: On board with 32% fills.

Best features: More hard coral than I’ve seen. Fish and critters everywhere!

Food: Breakfast: continental at 6:00am , cooked to order at 8:00am ; Lunch: buffet; Dinner: set 4 course menu

They use lots of palm oil in their cooking. Plan on going through a lot of immodium if you’re sensitive to it like my wife and I both were.

Alcohol: Free and plentiful.

DM’s: Some of the best I’ve seen. Even when I went off by myself, they’d find me to show me critters. If they didn’t find me, I’d get yelled at for what not getting pictures of what they found. Thank you Joe, Martin, Cat and Josie! You guys and girls are the best!!

Tomorrow - The Highlands of PNG (our time to off gas)

Daved
08-04-2008, 11:34
Excellent trip report! Excellent photos! Thanks for posting!

Travelnsj
08-04-2008, 11:40
WOW....you had a great time....Loved the part where the mooring snapped, glad they responded immediately.

Now we need to get you to Raja Ampat and Palau so you can compare!

FailedExistence
08-04-2008, 12:04
Great trip report and amazing pictures! Makes me want to buy a housing for my SLR but they are so much money, and I am certain I would end up flooding it my first dive out or something.

thesmoothdome
08-04-2008, 12:14
Great trip report and amazing pictures! Makes me want to buy a housing for my SLR but they are so much money, and I am certain I would end up flooding it my first dive out or something.

Naw, they're not that hard to keep water tight. I did have some difficulties getting my 8" dome port on correctly and found water in the dome on 2 seperate occassions during the test dunk in the camera bucket. No damage done though since I was right there and watching it.

I did bring a spare camera body with me because I was worried about flooding issues. I also took out insurance on the entire rig, just in case it was damaged, lost in transit, or flooded.

chinacat46
08-04-2008, 12:47
Well I'll compare since I've been to Milne Bay and Fathers as well as Raja and Palau. Raja WINS!

Did you dive Krak-a-fat? That was my favorite in Milne Bay. Thousands of jacks and almost as many barracudas.

Travelnsj
08-04-2008, 13:03
Thanks....saved me a few $$,$$$$ and an LOB trip. If I did not get seasick walking in rain....what adventures I would have!

chinacat46
08-04-2008, 13:11
Both Kimbe Bay and Milne Bay in PNG can be done from resorts and both have great diving. So go any way.

Jenn
08-04-2008, 15:54
Wow looks like you had a great time. Great report and pictures. Can't wait till I can get out there.

Travelnsj
08-09-2008, 19:47
Terry when is the next installment?

thesmoothdome
08-10-2008, 13:52
Terry when is the next installment?

Sorry. I got enthralled with the slide show I was creating and just haven't gotten around to finishing the last two reports. It's finally finished, so I'll get to the reports when I get home this evening. Promise.

In the mean time, I'd love some feedback on the slide show. Be warned though, it's about 20 minutes long. Tough to break a month of travel down to even 20 minutes.

It's at Photodex Corporation - Online Content Sharing (http://www.photodex.com/sharing/viewalbum.html?bm=166979)

Travelnsj
08-10-2008, 16:15
Terry...I may be doing something wrong. But Photodex required a download and all I can get is the South Pacific 2008 shark picture and it will not forward or back. Suggestions?

thesmoothdome
08-11-2008, 00:15
Terry...I may be doing something wrong. But Photodex required a download and all I can get is the South Pacific 2008 shark picture and it will not forward or back. Suggestions?


I apologize for the download. I hate that. I guess I already had it installed as I didn't have to download anything.

You should be able to just click on the picture of the shark and the show starts...unless you're using the apple safari browser. I can only open it with internet explorer.

On a side note, I love the Safari browser. It blows IE7 away.

Travelnsj
08-11-2008, 11:35
Finally figured it out...had to hit the Pause button then it started to move...LOL

Great pics....thought Fiji might have more action. I like the one where the Villagers come out in there dress....and there is a Yamaha Keyboard...get rid of that pic...LOL....great slide show.

chinacat46
08-11-2008, 13:00
I enjoyed your slide show. Brought back a few memories. Particularly liked the twin spot gobbie and the boxer crab. Enjoyed the photos on flickr as well even if you did have a flatworm marked as a nudi.

thesmoothdome
08-11-2008, 16:35
I enjoyed your slide show. Brought back a few memories. Particularly liked the twin spot gobbie and the boxer crab. Enjoyed the photos on flickr as well even if you did have a flatworm marked as a nudi.

Bah.. which one? *Edit* Cancel that, I found it /Edit

I'm still struggling with the Goroka report. Been working on it for a while this morning, but I'm still struggling to find a focus for the writing. Might be a day or two more.

Looks like it's going to be the Cayman Aggressor for next summer's trip. Gonna miss the South Pacific. Hopefully we'll get back there in 2010.

thesmoothdome
08-11-2008, 16:40
Finally figured it out...had to hit the Pause button then it started to move...LOL

Great pics....thought Fiji might have more action. I like the one where the Villagers come out in there dress....and there is a Yamaha Keyboard...get rid of that pic...LOL....great slide show.


Fish definitely were nervous in Fiji. Our taxi driver explained that they still practice a lot of dynamite fishing, so I think I'd be a little nervous too. I also made the mistake of focusing on wide angle when I should have stuck with macro, so I was a little thin in terms of shots.

The Yamaha keyboard was a crack up. The village doesn't have any electricity, so they powered the keyboard off of a small motorcycle battery so the Jungle Boys had music to dance to.

Travelnsj
08-11-2008, 16:43
Looks like it's going to be the Cayman Aggressor for next summer's trip. Gonna miss the South Pacific. Hopefully we'll get back there in 2010.

Going to miss the Pacific? if you need a dive buddy....I'm headed back to Raja/Lembeh in Oct. Then for 09 just booked Philippines and Palau and maybe thinking Bonaire or Coz for next Summer...then maybe back to Raja in Oct. and now looking at going back to Fakarava and maybe Bora Bora over the Holidays in 09.....I could use a dive buddy!

thesmoothdome
08-11-2008, 16:50
Looks like it's going to be the Cayman Aggressor for next summer's trip. Gonna miss the South Pacific. Hopefully we'll get back there in 2010.

Going to miss the Pacific? if you need a dive buddy....I'm headed back to Raja/Lembeh in Oct. Then for 09 just booked Philippines and Palau and maybe thinking Bonaire or Coz for next Summer...then maybe back to Raja in Oct. and now looking at going back to Fakarava and maybe Bora Bora over the Holidays in 09.....I could use a dive buddy!

Hell, I'd love to go. If this work thing would just sorta disappear. Unfortunately, I have to go back in a few weeks and I'll be lucky to see even San Diego waters between now and next summer. Of course, the 10 months of long hours allow me to travel, so I guess I'll have to suck it up for another 18 years or so.

chinacat46
08-11-2008, 17:19
The Cayman Aggressor is a nice boat and the diving around Little Cayman is great for the Caribbean. But the Pacific rules and Indonesia is just awesome. If you love PNG you will go nuts in Indonesia. I just hope the Philippines lives up to its advanced billing. Will find out in less then 5 weeks.

Scott I might be up for French Poly next year. Depends on if I'm working and what kinda of vacation time I can talk them into.

Travelnsj
08-11-2008, 17:25
Scott I might be up for French Poly next year. Depends on if I'm working and what kinda of vacation time I can talk them into.

What was that TV program my Big Brother used to watch?...Dobie Gillis...and Manard (Bob denver) would say Wwwooork...LOL...I have to see it before I would believe it.....Lets start planning the trip!

chinacat46
08-11-2008, 17:34
Okay how long we going for? How many places? What is your favorite color?

Travelnsj
08-11-2008, 17:36
Okay how long we going for? How many places? What is your favorite color?

Two weeks, Bora Bora & Fakarava, Blue!

chinacat46
08-11-2008, 18:55
Okay how long we going for? How many places? What is your favorite color?

Two weeks, Bora Bora & Fakarava, Blue!

Kewl I run it past my new boss.

Travelnsj
08-11-2008, 19:32
Okay how long we going for? How many places? What is your favorite color?

Two weeks, Bora Bora & Fakarava, Blue!

Kewl I run it past my new boss.

Yeah like you did when you just got back from a trip and you told your boss you were going to the Galapagos in the next few months....You will get Fired again!!!...LOL

chinacat46
08-11-2008, 19:44
Okay how long we going for? How many places? What is your favorite color?

Two weeks, Bora Bora & Fakarava, Blue!

Kewl I run it past my new boss.

Yeah like you did when you just got back from a trip and you told your boss you were going to the Galapagos in the next few months....You will get Fired again!!!...LOL

I quit. I never got around to telling him. When I hinted I wanted to take time off he told me "this isn't a country club". He did get walked though about 2-3 weeks ago. About 15 months after I left. When I quit I owed them vacation time but they never made me repay it.

Bummer now have more posts then dives :-(

Travelnsj
08-13-2008, 12:04
Bummer now have more posts then dives :-(

Don't they have Quarry's in CO?

chinacat46
08-13-2008, 17:31
Yeah they do but just like you won't dive in CA I won't dive in CO. Why is it you won't dive in CA? You a WWW(warm water wuss)?

Dome if you are having trouble doing the highlands do Fiji first. It's tough writing about non-diving on a diving board.

Travelnsj
08-13-2008, 18:41
Yeah they do but just like you won't dive in CA I won't dive in CO. Why is it you won't dive in CA? You a WWW(warm water wuss)?

Yep a WWW .....But you like the dive count and have gone to places just to get wet.....So I figured.....:smilie40:

chinacat46
08-13-2008, 19:16
The only place I've gone for the dive count was cozy and you recommended it. Bad dude.

Travelnsj
08-13-2008, 20:02
LOl...My Bad:smiley13: