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Indonesia’s Alor Island Dive Odyssey: Aboard the Liveaboard Arenui

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Arenui luxury liveaboard
Arenui Luxury Liveaboard on the sea
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Scuba Diver North America Editor Walt Stearns makes a memorable passage through the Flores Island group on the Arenui luxury liveaboard.

Did you know?

Alor is the largest island in the Alor Archipelago and is one of the 92 officially listed outlying islands of Indonesia. It is located at the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands that runs through southeastern Indonesia, which from the west include such islands as Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, and Flores.

Dive Trip Aboard the Arenui

Comet fish
Comet fish

It was day six of a nine-day trip aboard the dive liveaboard Arenui, and we were back for a night dive at a site inside Kalabahi Bay, on the western end of Indonesia’s Alor Island. As we prepared to roll over the side, we could hear the local village Imam call the faithful to prayer – hence the inspiration for the dive site’s name – the Mucky Mosque.

false clown fish
False clown fish

Mucky Mosque Dive Site

corner section of a reef
corner section of a reef

We dropped onto a seabed of dark sand, rounded river stones and scattered corals, following a steep slope to a depth of 27m. Because this site was located right off the beach of the local village there was also a wide assortment of man-made debris, from tin cans and discarded tyres to tattered shirts and pants. While far from scenic, this dive offered its own rewards. In a way, we divers could be called the faithful of a different sort, as we had come to the Mucky Mosque in search of unique experiences and rare treasures.

Rare Marine Life Discoveries

Arenui 1
Coral

Fifteen minutes into the dive, one of Arenui’s dive guides, Ronald, put me on my second paddle-flap scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) of the trip – this rather handsome fellow had a deep, somewhat burnt orange, colouration. At the start of this trip, I was promised there would be Rhinopias. Two days earlier we’d found two of these Holy Grails of rare reef fish, an orange-hued paddle-flap (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) scorpionfish seen during an early morning dive, followed by a lavender lacy scorpionfish (Rhinopias aphanes) discovered that evening on a nearby site. And in now, the Mucky Mosque was living up to its reputation. Before the dive was over, we tallied up a few bobtailed squids along with one pygmy squid, a large Spanish dancer, and a second paddle-flap Rhinopias.

schools of fusiliers, triggerfish, surgeonfish and jacks
Schools of Fusiliers, Triggerfish, Surgeonfish and Jacks

The Arenui: A Boutique Liveaboard

Finding four Rhinopias was just one of the highlights of diving in Alor. And making these dives from the Arenui made the trip all the more pleasurable.The team at Arenui describes the boat as a ‘boutique liveaboard’. After spending time on board, I think of it as a floating work of art.

Did you know?

Diving here is bliss, for you will encounter pristine coral reefs and fascinating creatures of the deep. Here divers will be indulged with the appearance of whales, sharks, mola-mola or sunfish, manta rays, and various other underwater creatures.

The Arenui’s Distinctive Design and Craftsmanship

At 43 metres in overall length, the Arenui has the look of the twin-mast Phinisi-rigged sailing ships once commonly found throughout Indonesia. Minus her regal bowsprit, the Arenui’s actual hull length is about 30 metres, with a copious nine metre beam and a displacement of close to 300 tons. This substantial vessel is constructed with over 12 different kinds of hardwood, and 75 percent of this material was reclaimed from older wooden ships. The carpentry throughout – from the below-deck cabins to the sundeck – is magnificent and rock solid. The Arenui may look like a sailboat, but she’s not. The sails are purely for show. Arenui’s main propulsion is a single 440hp Mitsubishi diesel, providing her with a top cruising speed of eight to 10 knots.

Luxurious Accommodations and Amenities

The lavish salon within the Arenui
The lavish salon within the Arenui

The Arenui’s interior showcases rich floor-to-ceiling woodwork that creates a warm, soothing interior atmosphere. Polished brass handles, drawer pulls, and latches on cabinetry and doors complement the look, while portions of the walls are inlaid with eye-catching, intricate carvings depicting various scenes of Ramayana, which is an important part of the Hindu faith. Guest accommodations include four upper-deck and four below-deck cabins named after various Indonesian deities and cultural references. The upper deck cabins have large windows, while the below deck cabins have two small port holes.

Spacious and Comfortable Below-Deck Cabins

Below deck cabins of Arenui
Below deck cabins

Staying in one of the below-deck cabins was an immense surprise, as it was one of the largest boat cabins I have seen. In addition to a queen-sized bed, there is a second single twin bed plus a vanity with a stone sink basin. All this with plenty of room to move about. The ensuite shower features both a rain showerhead and an additional handheld shower head. If you are looking to cut weight from your luggage, all cabins are supplied with a pleasant body wash, shampoo and conditioner in the shower, and a hair dryer.

Attention to Detail and Onboard Services

Similar attention to the small details extended to all aspects of the onboard experience, and the Arenui even provides guests with a complimentary 30-minute massage during the trip. Laundry service is offered for a small fee, so you can get the clothes you wore during on your long flight to Indonesia back clean for the flight home. While it might be a dive yacht in some of the most-remote regions of Indonesia, you will find you are not completely off the grid, as Arenui is equipped with a satellite phone, though the $5 USD per minute fee would probably deter long conversations. That said, mobile phone service is available while on board in a surprising number of places in Alor and Komodo.

Did you know?

The Arenui began life in July 2007. The main hull was crafted from ironwood by over 50 local craftsmen in South Sulawesi. The structure of the boat was completed in Java and Bali.

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago

red lion fish
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Red lion fish

Trips aboard the Arenui begin at East Nusa Tenggara Island in the Flores Island Group.

From this central starting point, the vessel cruises either west toward Komodo or east to the islands of Adonara, Lembata, Marisa and Alor. Distances between these islands are significant, so Arenui generally reserves those crossings for nighttime to avoid interfering with the daily schedule of three daytime dives and one night dive. My time aboard took us on the eastern route.

Dive Itinerary and Equipment

The Arenui at anchor during sunset
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The Arenui at anchor during sunset

Arenui’s dive itinerary includes three 60-minute day dives and one night dive at 5.30pm, which is after sunset in this region. Diving is done from two six-metre skiffs powered by twin outboard motors. In addition to standard aluminum 80cf tanks, the dive locker has a few 62s and 100s on hand. The boat utilizes two Bower compressors with a membrane system, so the choice is air or 32 percent nitrox. Given the number and duration of each dive, paying the extra US$200 fee for nitrox is well worth it.

Underwater Landscapes and Seascapes

Vertical face of reta wall
Vertical face of reta wall

Underwater seascapes in this region typically feature slopes laden with hard corals that drop to depths from the surface to depths below 30m, or short slopes that transition to walls beginning at 9m-18m. Inside smaller bays, the bottom terrain almost always follows a steep grade downward much like Mucky Mosque, the site mentioned earlier.

Healthy grove of staghorn coral
Healthy grove of staghorn coral

This article was originally published in Scuba Diver ANZ #53.

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