Maiden Voyage in the Palaun Islands
The luxury liveaboard dive vessel, the Palau Siren arrived in Palau on September 22nd of 2012 after a long journey from Bira, Indonesia, where her keel was laid more than 18 months prior. Since our arrival here in Palau, it has been the mission of my crew to get the newest addition to the Worldwide Dive and Sails fleet in to top condition to accept passengers on board for the maiden voyage on October 30th, 2012. With a lot of hard work, determination and the help of the crew of the Palau Siren’s local partner, Sam’s Tours, she was ready for full service ahead of schedule.
As the final day approached all the crew from Sam’s and the Palau Siren were anxious to get things under way and show the people of Palau the latest luxury liveaboard in all her glory. To say we weren’t nervous would be misleading. Much effort has gone in to this project for several years now and the moment of truth was about to take place.
The guests arrived from locales all over the world such as Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina and the UK. They were given the grand tour of their new home for the next 10 days and to my relief, many expressed great satisfaction at the many creature comforts the Palau Siren had to offer, including hard wood finished staterooms, marble inlaid bathrooms, individual air conditioning units and a brand new “in-float” entertainment system complete with a large selection of movies, music and books to choose from. The fact that the Siren had a fully stocked bar didn’t disappoint anyone either.
Without wasting any time, all the divers began setting up their equipment on the custom made dive deck each with personal wooden storage lockers in preparation for the next days diving activities to commence. Regulators were checked, camera O-rings lubed and dive masks defogged before all turned in after having a beverage or two from the Palau Siren’s beer tap loaded with the local ales from Palau’s only brewery, the Red Rooster Brewing Company.
The next morning, breakfast was served; briefings given and the dive boats 29’ long skiffs, powered with a pair of 115hp Yamaha outboards, were loaded up and readied to introduce the world class diving of Palau to the new arrivals. The Siren left her home mooring in front of Sam’s Tours early that AM and made a very short journey in to Malakal Harbor and dropped anchor in a very scenic location and began loading divers on to the skiffs. Having a pair of high-speed dive boats rather than just one is a luxury many of our competitors do not have. This enables us to split our 16 divers in two groups for a more private dive experience for all. To add to the luxury, each skiff has it’s own local driver and dive guide to service them.
The first days dives were kept simple but yet exciting, in order for everyone to get ‘their feet wet’ and warm up for the more challenging dives to come. ‘Jakes’ Seaplane, Short Drop Off and Chandelier Cave were first up. The seaplane is a remnant of WWII when the Japanese occupied the islands and used their ideal harbors as refuge to conduct their military campaigns from. The seaplane apparently, sunk at anchor and is fully intact and sits in a mere 18 meters of water. Short Drop Off is the closest reef dive site from the town of Koror and rarely disappoints a new arrival to Palau. Chandelier Cave is more of a cavern than a proper cave. With it’s shallow depths it can be a lot of fun to penetrate within and explore.
After the days diving was over all sat down and sampled the food of the skilled chefs in the galley and enjoyed a hearty meal. Cocktails, bottles of wine and beer flowed smoothly while all sunk deep in their seats with all senses fully sated.
Day two found the Palau Siren venturing north to the famed West Passage and Devil Fish City to try our luck at Manta Ray encounters that these sites are renown for. Although, all the diving was well received by the divers, no Manta’s had been found. However, the stunning coral gardens at the dive site, Sunken Bridge were consolation for the no show of the shy Manta’s.
For the next seven days the Palau Siren zigzagged her way south to Ulong Channel, Ngerchung, Mercherer and Ulachong anchorages, finally ending up at the famed, German Channel. Numerous amazing dives were experienced along the way. Schools of spawning red snapper, black tip and gray reef sharks, beautiful coral walls, anemone’s, green sea turtles and of course Manta Rays.
If there is any critter that causes more excitement and draws more divers to Palau it is the graceful Manta. With their huge wingspans of over 12 feet and their skills at underwater ballet, the Manta will find a soft spot in even the coarsest of humans. Needless to say, the group from the maiden voyage of the Palau Siren had their share of these gentle giants of the ocean.
It was at German Channel where most got a front row of up to six Mantas feeding at dusk on an incoming tide. I for one was in the water on one of the dives and even though I have seen Mantas many times before, I had a level excitement like a kid on the last day of school before summer.
With the amazing subject matter before me, I did manage to land a few decent photos but I aim to have many more as the weeks and months progress for me here in Palau. In North Carolina, it was the sand tiger shark that most interested me. Here in Palau, I can see that it will be the Manta that will get my shutter moving.
Toward the end of the week one dive boat managed to experience a rare gray reef shark mating ritual off of the island of Peleliu in the south of Palau. More than 100 sharks were witnessed with many of the females sporting fresh wounds from the males that latch on to them during mating. The sharks seemed to be oblivious to the presence of divers in the water and came within arms reach at many moments. Unfortunately for me, I was on the boat tending to my duties here and did not manage to get this all on film, but many of my divers on board did get some money shots.
In addition to great diving, most on board took part in the land based tour of the island of Peleliu where a horrific battle was fought in WWII between the advancing US marines and the defending Japanese troops who were dug in deep in a labyrinth of cave systems. The battle was bloody and carried on for over a month with high casualties. The men who survived this battle would say it was the worst of war.
On the final day of the tour, the pair of Palau Siren dive skiffs hit a few more dive sites with our guests in the southern area of Palau before trekking back to home base in Malakal Harbor. All on board were fully gratified by the gourmet food and world class diving at their disposal for the last nine days.
I did want to take a moment to thank my crew for an amazing job well done. I have never before had such a hard working, loyal group on board any vessel. I for one see great things in the future for the Palau Siren, her crew and passengers in the coming years if our success can be based on the great feedback received after our first trip.
The charter came to an end with the start of the last evening barbecue on the back deck. Juicy tender beef tenderloins, chicken and an assortment of savory foods were dished up and washed down with a cold beer and glass of wine by all while a toast was made by the owner, Frank Van der Wilde in honor of the maiden voyage of the Palau Siren. I can’t speak for my crew, but I know I was very proud of what we all accomplished at this moment and I look forward to many more amazing dive excursions in the future.