Finally I have found my way to the very peak of Dive in Style experiences. Having visited so many places and so many boats over the past 10 years, diving in Raja Ampat and on board Si Datu Bua, finally I made it to the absolute top, the very Everest of what I had dreamed about when I set out to try and marry the very best diving with as much comfort as possible. Some of you may know of Silolona, reports on which appear in both issues of Dive in Style, and Si Datu Bua is her younger sister. The owner who whilst American, lives and breathes Indonesia, carved these boats out of the jungles of the Far East and married traditional boat building skills with the latest technology to create this tiny but remarkable fleet.
The most beautiful boat for liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat
Si Datu Bua (SDB) is smaller than Silolona and builds on what was learnt, and whilst the differences are small, it is impossible to say SDB is better, she is just different. The main difference is in size. Sleeping just six in three cabins, (eight is possible if parents wanted to share with their child), there is no need for a sort of Germanic rush to bag the best cabin as there simply isn't one. There are three. I say that because all three cabins are as good as one another and we could not decide which to choose. Marrying LED lighting with carved Balinese headboards, electric heads (loos) with air conditioning, Indonesian artefacts with Frette linen, all the cabins are stylishly luxurious.
There is a good sized air conditioned dining and sitting area for those rainy days and then there is the outside space where you spend virtually all your waking hours. The centre piece is the shaded dining area and two cushion strewn day beds, and then acres of deck space on two levels with more loungers to bask reptilian like after diving.
But the best seats in the house are right at the bow of the boat where there are two double day beds set in the prow where you can lie as Indonesia glides past. You can even sleep here under the stars. Not good enough? Then drop down into the bow netting where you are suspended, seemingly precariously, mere feet over the bow wave with every possibility of being joined by playful dolphins. The stern areas are really given over to diving, but if you are not diving then there are yet more day beds.
Si Datu Bua is home to no less than three tenders, so you are always just with your partner and Divemaster, and whilst you have all these areas to play with, somehow the crew of no less than 14 fits in elsewhere. And it the crew that really make the experience so special.
Impeccable service throughout
From the moment you arrive to be greeted by Ricks and Youda on Ukulele and guitar, backed by the rest of the crew, you know this is going to be special. Yes, they must do it for every charter, but you never get that impression, they make you feel that you are special, the exception, and they are glad to see you. I think it is merely an extension of the natural generous hospitality of the Indonesians.
They anticipate every wish or indeed thought you may have. Back from a dive, the first thing that greets you at the top of the gantry is Ricks with a tray of whatever drink he knows you were dreaming off. Telepathically, he knows if you are desperate for a warming hot chocolate or a cool San Pelligrino and local (truly yummy) Passion fruit juice. You drop your wet suit and willing hands evaporate it as you stand under the hot outside shower and then cover yourself in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of freshly laundered soft towels.
Off to the bow and it could be time for your main breakfast (a smaller pre-breakfast breakfast of freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate, fresh orange and watermelon juice is served pre the first dive) of soft scrambled eggs, tomatoes, banana pancakes or whatever you may desire, or indeed lunch cooked by the inexhaustibly creative Youda and with a different place setting every day! It could be Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Indian, Thai, whatever region he has selected as the gourmet experience will be reflected in the table setting. It is all fabulous and the best boat food I have been lucky enough to enjoy. This is taken to extremes.
On our last night, the entire crew were dressed in traditional Balinese costume, the mast bedecked with fresh flowers (where did they appear from in the middle of nowhere?), Balinese black and white umbrellas and then more songs from the crew. Normally I don't have much time for this sort of entertainment but here it is great, delivered with warmth and laughter-the crew just seem to enjoy themselves. And that is just on board. I haven't mentioned the unreal beach BBQ in the middle of nowhere with Thai style candle powered balloons soaring into the inky black sky, most of a beach lit by literally hundreds of candles, midnight snorkelling in clear 3ft waters with six or more Shovel Nose Rays, watching green turtles lay their eggs on a starlit beach or finally, a personal want, seeing the stunning Birds of Paradise go about their outrageous courtship dance and then even mating. You have to pinch yourself.
If I was a condemned man, and rather than being given whatever last meal I wanted, I could choose one last dive holiday, there is no doubt this would be it. I have not mentioned the diving in Raja Ampat yet and will do that in the next shorter blog, but suffice it to say it was, apologies for invoking that much overused Americanism, 'awesome'. We had dived the North before and that is sensational but then the South seems somehow even more intense.
Have you been liveaboard diving in Raja Ampat? Post a comment here to tell us about it? Or if you want to go, contact us today!