WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME DIVING with me to Komodo Island – on a liveaboard” I asked my two daughters, Megan (22) and Camilla (19).
This was a loaded question. I knew they had both nursed an ambition to see Komodo dragons, ever since seeing a Steve Irwin programme on them when they were very young. I also knew that neither of them liked boats particularly, even though they were avid divers, and both suffered from sea-sickness!
I was going on a combination of two three-night trips, the first being a manta research expedition for Andrea Marshall, in the northern dive sites of Komodo, the other diving the southern parts of Komodo and Rinca Islands.
I had enjoyed my previous three liveaboards immensely, but for my daughters this would be a first.
Surprisingly, they both jumped at the chance, the need to see the dragons and dive outweighing the discomfort of feeling ill. They weren’t even put off when I told them that this wouldn’t be an ultra-luxurious hotel-like boat, but more than a little rough and ready. For two very fashion- and hygiene-conscious girls, this would be the ultimate test.

HAVING TRAVELLED TO MANY PLACES in Indonesia before, the topography
and geology of the Komodo Islands intrigued and surprised me. Barren, sand-coloured islands dotted with a few trees, carpeted by dry scrub, rising out of a blue, bubbling cauldron of sea met us as we arrived on the island of Flores, gateway to the Komodo National Park.
We were to meet at the liveaboard’s dive centre on the island, Wicked Diving. This not only offered liveaboard trips but also day-diving and courses. Making our way to the harbour from the dive centre, we could see many small fishing-boats and several larger piratic-looking boats.
One of these, the Jaya, would be our temporary home.
Approaching the boat from a dinghy, the buccaneering look was reinforced by a stuffed pirate toy tied to the bowsprit.
A sailing schooner, the Jaya looked to have come straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
I could see slightly worried frowns on the faces of my daughters, and also of the other eight guests, and guessed that my face reflected the same emotion.
Was Jaya really big and safe enough to take us around an area famed not only for its dragons, but for its currents
As we warily climbed aboard, huge false smiles on everyone’s lips, our first surprise awaited us in the form of the main deck – not huge, but well equipped with tables, chairs and beanbags.
We settled in for a boat briefing and orientation. At the words “only three toilets/showers on board” everyone looked at each other, then back at our trip director, then back at each other again. Whispers of “I thought my cabin was en suite!” echoed around the deck.
Remembering back to the blurb, I realised that details of the boat itself had been sketchy, the focus being on the dive sites and the islands. Uh oh! Eleven guests, eight crew and two divemaster trainees – this should be interesting!
I had paid a single supplement for my own cabin and, as I was the only one with underwater camera equipment, was given “the master suite”, a 6 x 5ft cabin with a shelf, as opposed to a 6 x 5ft cabin without a shelf, or a twin- or triple-bunked cabin without shelves!
Luckily my cabin, and the one next door, were the only ones at the stern, along with two of the three toilet/ showers. The rest of the cabins were at the bow, separated by the kitchen, engine-room and captain’s station.

I HAD PAID FOR A TWIN CABIN for my daughters. They had not shared a room with each other for several years, so being confined in a tiny cabin together would be a challenging experience.
In their cabin they found a third bed. “Who is that for” asked Megan jokingly. “Actually, it is for one of the divemaster trainees – a young guy from Sweden,” replied the trip director.
Expecting an outburst of disgust and embarrassment, I was astonished to see both daughters grinning from ear to ear.
Well, that’s young adults for you – they don’t want to share with another girl, even their sister, but a boy is a different matter. Happy days!
We quickly unpacked – a matter of putting our cases under our bunks and unzipping them, as there was no room to take anything out and no shelves or drawers to put anything on or in, apart from the one shelf for my camera.
We met on the main deck as we set sail. I had arranged prescription sea-sickness tablets for the girls, but as we skimmed across the glassy water, I felt they probably wouldn’t be needed.
The Komodo Islands National Park was formed in 1980 to protect the dragons. It is situated between Sumbawa and Flores Island in Indonesia, and covers an area of 700sq miles.
In 1986 the park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, to protect both its terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
The park includes one of the richest marine environments in the world and has more than 1000 species of fish, 260 species of reef-building coral and 70 species of sponge. Mantas, dugongs, sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles call it home.
Currents are a huge feature of diving around the islands, we learnt, because the area lies where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. There is a 30mm difference in their respective heights.
As the incoming tide from the Pacific enters the channels between the islands, the water is pushed up and over the Indian Ocean’s, causing upwellings, rip tides, down- and up-currents, swirling washing-machine currents, and crazy high-speed currents, reaching more than 9 knots!

OUR CHECK-OUT DIVE that afternoon was in a fairly quiet spot, Sabayor. A reasonable current with rough-churning spots in places gave us a taste of what was to come.
Marine life assaulted our eyes wherever we looked. After a 40-minute dive in 27° water that feels more like 25° because of the currents, we climbed back on board, and everyone scrambled for the showers.
As girls are prone to do, Megan and Camilla took their time taking off their kit, chatting and faffing around, not realising that the quicker they de-kitted, the faster they could get a shower. They didn’t make that mistake twice.
In fact, after that Megan would rush to the bathroom in her wetsuit, claiming to be desperate for the toilet, when all she wanted was that first few minutes of warm water from the butt that had been heated by the sun. The rest of us had a cold shower!
On the top deck, everyone settled in to have dinner, served buffet-style, all freshly prepared on two tiny gas-rings.
The variety of the food amazed and delighted the girls, especially as Megan eats only fish and chicken, and Camilla is vegetarian. After dinner, board games were brought out, and a very enjoyable couple of hours was spent laughing and joking and getting to know the other passengers and crew over a competitive game of Rummicub.
The lack of Internet, TV, music and other modern entertainment tools was reminiscent of childhood, when simple pleasures were the best.
We all went to our cabins at the ridiculously early time for the girls of 9.30pm and slept like babies, cocooned in silence and darkness, as the boat was moored and the engines and generators were turned off overnight, rocked to sleep by the gentle swell.
Over the next few days, in our search for mantas, we visited several dive sites.
One in particular, Karang Makassar, we dived three times. It is whipped by a crazy current that shoots you along the rubble bottom and finally spits you out on top of a beautiful reef.
Every time we dived there, we saw several manta rays, turtles, and sharks.
On one dive, more than 20 mantas swirled around us, seemingly oblivious to the current. Flying over a reef like that is a real Superman experience!

THE ROUTINE OF WAKING, eating, diving, eating, diving, eating, dozing or sunbathing, diving, eating, diving, eating, sleeping, became so pleasurable and normal that when we returned to land to collect supplies halfway through the trip, and everyone got off the boat to go to a restaurant and check emails, no-one could wait to get back aboard – most of all Megan and Camilla.
They had even got used to the toilet experience and the fact that, on a boat as small as the Jaya, there is no privacy, so every little noise can be heard! I got very used to the sounds from the couple in the cabin next to mine – after all, we were separated only by a distance of about 1.5m and two thin cotton curtains!
My initial thoughts of being lucky my cabin was situated so close to two toilets turned out to be a double-edged sword.
More of the same followed over the final three days of the trip. Incredible diving, mad currents, and the most peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable experience of living on a boat.
And, finally, on the last morning, we trekked on Rinca Island and saw 10 wild Komodo dragons! My girls (and I) can’t wait to go on a liveaboard again.

Jaya, a 23m gaff-rigged ketch, was custom-built in 1999 for diving. Wicked Diving offers three- or six-night trips from Flores Island year round. July and August sees three-night manta expeditions that can be combined in a six-night itinerary and include SSI Manta speciality certification. A three-night Komodo trip costs US $620pp ($1150 for six nights) and a three-night manta expedition $720. The six-night manta/Komodo combo costs $1250. www.wickeddiving.com