I have a confession to make: I've never been a big fan of liveaboards. Mostly because my only experience of them has been on very basic versions - think shared shower over a toilet-type situations. So I decided it was about time I experienced liveaboard diving as it should be done and headed out to Cenderawasih in West Papua to join the Damai I. And I can confirm that I am now officially a convert. Here's why…
The Damai is a beautiful wooden boat and it's not just the aesthetics that please; great facilities, spacious cabins, ensuite bathrooms (goodbye shared shower over a toilet) and service that is always one step ahead. Every imaginable detail was thought of, from helping you into your wetsuit to handing you a hot chocolate and wrapping you up in a towel at the end of a dive. I was truly spoilt.
To the Diving
Cenderawasih Bay itself is very interesting too, not to mention beautiful, and relatively undiscovered with only a handful of boats gracing the waters here. It's also one of the only places in the world that actually allows you to dive with whale sharks, rather than just snorkel with them. For over a hundred years fishermen have been feeding the whale sharks within the bay, mainly to make sure they don't damage their nets but it is also believed that the whale sharks bring good luck. Throughout the night, fishermen use bright lights to attract fish in to large nets which sit beneath a 'began' (floating platform), which also attracts the whale sharks, who feast on any small fish that slip through the net.
Whale Shark Negotiations
The reliable presence of whale sharks in Cendrawasih is a real draw for divers and ,in order to dive with them, a chief negotiator is sent to speak to the fishermen about the number of whale sharks, the number of fish and to negotiate a price for the day. A deal is made before finally the villagers are consulted (and bargained with) as they 'own' the bay. Once the all clear has been given you don't need to drop down too far as the whale sharks come right to the surface to feed. To keep them around and interested a lovely smelling 'fish soup' (made using ground fish) is tossed into the water. This tactic is to prevent the whale sharks from getting too full and leaving, instead they continue to graze somewhat lazily throughout the day. The whale sharks are noticably very friendly and inquisitive but they're also slightly simple-minded and will mistake your bubbles for food (which just provides a great close up opportunity)!
Being alone in the water with four whale sharks is right up there as one of my top dive experiences, and to be able to do it while staying aboard the luxurious Damai made it extra special. The experience it provided underwater is yet to be matched and the bar for liveaboards has truly been set!