The dirty harbour of Sorong lays behind us. It’s a relieve. Not half a day later, we already dive into the endless silence of jungle surrounded bays full of birds, sweet smells and foreign sounds and screams. All around the Soggy Paws the dark shadows of reefs shimmer in the depths of crystal clear water. The impressions make fun of the clishee filled dreams of tropical beaches and jungles in western minds. Everything is so much more beautiful than I had ever envisioned.
But I’m pointing out highlights again, let us rather start at the beginning.
Delays and other illnesses
Expectedly, the first day began with a series of delays – must be some sort of tropical illness, I reckon, the “delayitis major” maybe?!?
Anyhow, originally, we had planned to leave Sorong already in the early morning. But because the wooden planks we needed for grounding the yacht hadn’t found their way on the deck yet, we had to wait. Moreover, we discovered that during the night someone had stolen the gas tank for the dinghy. Therefore, instead of enjoying our breakfast and heading for a simple wait for the wood, we had to fix a new tank first. But thanks to Dave’s excessive stock of spare parts, which are distributed over the holds and hatches of the entire ship (e.g. “Oi Dave, I need a wrench, where can I find one? – Lower shelf, top left hatch, in the starboard toilette!”). The tank was fixed up quickly. Eventually, also the planks reached the deck and without further ado, we were heading towards the countless islets of jungle overgrown limestone – Raja Ampat.
Very fortunately and against the weather prediction, we could switch of the engines after not even half an hours ride. Up to 25 knots of wind allowed us to rush through the foaming waves with up to 8 knots over ground. The trip record.
A bay of dreaming
As a land based being, you learn a lot during sailing passages, even as a land-based diver. Such a 44 foot catamaran doesn’t move by itself. There are sheets to haul close, main sails to fly and a jib that needs reefing, a little more, a little less. Always with the aim to arrive at your destination before dawn – a voluntary race against the sun.
And what a destination it was, a bay packed to capacity with life. The jungle was embraced us from three sides. A narrow valley with a tiny river that ended in an even smaller outlet. In this estuary I discovered a fish that I baptised, blasphemously: the Jesus-Fish – a small mudskipper that can walk on water.
Just a little further to the left, the bay harbours the remains of a collapsing wooden hut on stilts. The centre piece of this Gaugin like painting are three palm trees, picturesquely placed between a flood of jungle greens, coral white beach and the turquoise shimmering bay. Above the Wipfel fly screaming cockatoos and heavy laden hornbills.
Together ridiculously cheesy and stunningly beautiful.
Plankton and fireflies
Before we could rest in our bunks, we still had to place a high water mark in order to add a little predictability to the planned beaching of “Soggy Paws” the next morning. Such endeavours usually lead to further discoveries. While we were looking for a suitable place to attach our mark, we found the nightly bay to be filled with bioluminescent plankton, glowing in the wake of our dinghy. You could spot a swimmer by the trail of glowing plankton without actually seeing the person itself. Revealing stars of a liquid sky.
By far the most magical observation of the evening was yet to come. Sitting on deck, enjoying the well chilled and deserved sundowner while our eyes swept over the hills of thick jungle in the fading light, we spotted three trees with illuminated crowns. First, we couldn’t believe our eyes, but as the light faded more and more, and the darkness fell upon the bay, it became clear. The trees were filled with fireflies. Three fully grown trees, harbouring thousands of fireflies. Speechlessness spread.
We were not quite sure what was going on in these trees, but as a biologist I reckon it was something rather kinky. In any case, the waves of pulsing light that closely resembled excessive American type Christmas decoration, left no doubt about fireflies having a blast. The sheer number of animals was breathtaking. How else would it be possible to recognise the silhouette of an entire tree from a distance of 300 to 400 metres. Unbelievable… and unfortuately just as impossible to photograph.
Well, so our first day in the wind ended with a cold beer in our hands and in view of thousands of dancing fireflies. Good omen? Accepted!