Liveaboard. Indonesia. Ondina.

As most countries around the world seem to have already passed the peak of the recent pandemic, we all prepare to adapt to what has been named “the new normal”, where higher standards of safety and hygiene will be followed in order maintain the levels of protection required after this health crisis.

Together with the liveaboard association of Indonesia and other sectors of tourism such as hotels and restaurants, we have been discussing the measures that will have to be implemented, as part of a general plan of guidelines and standards of procedure to be adhered to by everybody involved in the tourism industry in Indonesia.

For that purpose, we are creating a set of procedures following the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), Divers Alert Network (DAN), PADI, and local health authorities. All our crew members will adhere to the latest guidance and hygiene protocols and will be well trained to handle any potential situations that may occur. 

Stop coronavirus. Liveaboard.Indonesia.Ondina

The set of guidelines are divided into three sectors: Crew, Boat and Guests, and are treated separately, although several points apply to more than one sector, such as:

  1. Minimize contact with other guests and crew not within your family/friend group, avoid handshaking, no touching, and respect physical distancing when possible. 
  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  1. Avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, and mouth), as contaminated hands may transfer the virus to your body through these openings.
  1. When sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue and immediately dispose of the tissue in an appropriate place.
  1. Use hand sanitiser in common areas. Hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol based.
  1. Self-monitor your health condition. Immediately report any fever, cough, or difficulty breathing to the Cruise Director. Face masks can limit the transmission of the virus to others if you are sick or showing symptoms.

In regards to the crew, standard procedures include – but are not limited to – the following points:

  1. Minimize contact to fellow crew members only and keep 1 m distance if contact with the crew from other boats is necessary.
  1. To prevent crew infection between cruises, the crew must stay on board as much as possible and must have permission of the Captain and/or Cruise Director to go on shore. They must adhere to all health and hygiene guidance while on land.
  1. Crew should avoid touching guest’s diving or snorkelling equipment wherever possible, excluding dive tanks.
  1. Dive and snorkel equipment should be loaded on board speedboats when it’s already assembled. 
  1. Rental equipment will be disinfected after use, at the end of every cruise.
  1. Make sure distancing rules are respected also when divers enter and exit the water. That will probably involve smaller groups and more trips with the tenders.
  1. Staff handling materials, equipment and dive tanks must practice hand washing and disinfection of high-touch areas including dive tanks and fill stations. All those carrying out refilling operations must follow correct hygiene procedures by washing hands.
  1. Personal hygiene and physical distancing procedures should also be observed in gas refill areas. Only authorized people will be allowed to be near compressors.
  1. Particular care is required when using alcohol-based disinfectants, including hydroalcoholic hand solutions. A small percentage of alcohol, a highly volatile and flammable substance even at relatively low temperatures, can cause fire or explosion. Avoid direct or indirect contact with equipment, cylinders, and filling hoses used for oxygen-enriched air. Wherever possible, it is preferable to use simple soap and water to clean hands.
Stop coronavirus. Liveaboard. Indonesia. Ondina

Next are aspects concerning the boat. We will adhere to preventive hygiene measures to minimize the risk of contamination on board. These have been drafted as follows:

  1. Health, hygiene and safety notices specific to Covid-19 prevention will be displayed onboard. These notices will be created by the Association of Liveaboards and distributed to all members (samplers are displayed here).
  1. Common areas will be disinfected, in particular tables, door handles and hand railings.
  1. Proper handwashing facilities are provided in cabins and hand sanitizer will be available onboard, especially in common areas.
  1. Meal service will be provided in a safe and hygienic manner.
  1. Guest’s dive and snorkel equipment will be transported and stored in individual baskets/areas marked with guest’s number.
  1. Avoid washing dive or snorkel equipment in one big rinse tank.
  1. Ensure high hygiene standards are adhered to when cleaning the boat for the next group of guests.

And last, we will ensure that guests are given an extra, detailed briefing about the procedures regarding Covid-19. We will also ask our guests to comply with the following procedures:

  1. Guests must handle their own personal belongings, including scuba or snorkeling equipment.
  1. Whenever possible, guests are encouraged to bring their own diving or snorkeling equipment.
  1. Guests must wash or sanitize their hands after touching their dive or snorkel equipment.
  1. Guests should avoid taking any unnecessary material on board the speedboats that is not needed for safety reasons or in-water operations.
  1. Guests should preferably use defogging products (provided by us) to defog their mask, the use of saliva is discouraged.
  1. After a dive or snorkel guests must not use buckets to rinse masks, but rinse them in open water instead.
  1. Guests must look after their own masks, placing them in their own designated baskets.
  1. Luggage might be sprayed with a mild disinfectant upon arrival on board.

Note that this is just a draft and that we will continue to monitor the situation closely and keeping you updated with the latest implementations and protocols.

A couple of points that are worth mentioning are: Indonesia has not been affected by the Corona Virus as other countries have, particularly Europe and the US, and we haven’t experienced a major health crisis derived from it.


Also, the experience of a liveaboard cruise is a form of isolation in itself; once we make sure that both crew and guests are healthy (we believe guests will have to take a test before traveling, and we are considering testing our crew between every cruise as well), we only need to make sure to avoid contact with any other people during the length of the cruise. We are discussing a protocol for the times we go ashore on land tours (as in Komodo National Park or the treks to the bird of paradise), to avoid running into other groups of guests and crews.

The bottom line is we will do our utmost best to provide our guests with a very safe and healthy stay on board; we will keep updating this communication regularly in the hopes of providing a safe environment for you to come and spend an enjoyable journey in your next well-deserved holidays. Meanwhile, stay safe and stay strong.

Covid-19, Indonesia and The Best Diving in the World.

As the effects of the pandemic continue to unfold around the world, we wish all of you are faring the storm with strength. We hope that you and yours are healthy, and that you find the inner power to cope with these difficult times at all levels. This is a real tests to our resilience, but we will get through the other side stronger and better. 

From our side, here in Indonesia we are somewhat fortunate not to have experienced a major health drama, at least until this day. Maybe because of the weather (some claim the virus doesn’t live well in heat and humidity), or maybe we have already been exposed earlier and gone through some sort of herd-immunity process, but for some, almost mysterious reason, we are being spared the hardships Europe and the US are experiencing these days. Our hearts are out to all our friends and families affected by this terrible health crisis.

Meanwhile, we continue to do our best, one day at the time, to protect our team and the boats here, in wait for better times when we will be able to meet again and sail away to new adventures.

By the time the borders were closing around the world, Ondina had four cruises left of the season, all fully booked. The last of these trips was meant to bring her from Sorong to Bitung, diving through Raja Ampat, Halmahera and Lembeh. After that, she was set for her annual maintenance break and dry dock scheduled for May-June. Since we couldn’t do these trips, we decided to relocate her to Kendari, in Southeast Sulawesi, a protected natural harbour and much safer anchorage for a long lay. After sailing the 600 nautical miles that separate the two ports in four days with crew only, we are now taking care of the boat and the engineers are currently overhauling the gensets and offboard engines of the tenders, in preparation for the next season. Some members of the crew have been sent home to spend time with their families, until we are able to reunite and get back to work.

Oceanic, on the other hand, had just finished her refurbishing works in Bali at the end of February, and was ready to hit the road (or the oceans) for the new season. The first cruise started in Bali and ended in Labuanbajo, Flores, through Nusa Penida, Moyo-Satonda, Sangiang and the National Park of Komodo. Once in Labuanbajo, when the crisis started, we decided that the best thing to do was to bring her back to Bali, where she has been laid since mid-March in Serangan, another safe natural harbour, the most protected anchorage in Bali. Part of the crew is looking after her whilst anchored and the remaining crew has reunited with their kin. 

So far everybody is safe here, no-one from our team here has experienced any health issues, nor any relative or friend has had them either. On the other hand, the tourism industry throughout Indonesia – specially in Bali, Komodo, Raja Ampat and other famous tourist destinations – is being hit hard because of the lack of visitors. Thankfully, Indonesians are resilient people, and apart from the efforts the local government is making to support the small survival economies, people’s best asset is – as it tends to be the case, their families and friends back on the villages. Where before people employed in tourism supported their relatives with the higher income they were making, they now find solace in returning to their villages of origin, and some even reengage on agricultural or fishing jobs to get through these hard times. Like anywhere else in the world, this crisis is bringing forth the best in people, and charity, cooperation and support of communities in distress is being carried out in a daily basis throughout the country.

And as for the foreigners in the company, we keep working from home, preparing new routes, improving our website, discussing better itineraries, making presentations to provide clearer briefings on board, and discussing ways to serve you better once we can leave this nightmare behind and you can come back for a well-deserved holiday. 

One day we will find ourselves again sipping a drink on the deck of the boat at sunset, breathing the fresh tropical air after a great diving day and some rewarding land tour, and we will recall this times of hardship as a thing from the past. Until then, stay safe, stay strong, and trust that this will end sometime, hopefully soon.

The Best Diving in the World.

Our #1 Asset and our #2 Advantage – How We Dive!

The majority of our guests travel a really long way to dive with us, and they do that to experience some of the very best diving in the world. 

Many have dived with us before and liked the overall experience, while many others hear about us through word of mouth. And from time to time, people turn up simply because our schedules have worked for them or they like the way we price our packages.

All of which tells us that our reputation is strong, and we think of that reputation as our #1 asset and something we have worked really hard to establish and maintain. Plus in many ways, after our crews and the systems that support them, our reputation is also our #2 advantage – here’s why…

How We Dive

The places we dive in Indonesia are some of the most vibrant and biodiverse underwater locations in the world. The marine life and seascapes to be seen there are just simply amazing.

And the reason for that biodiversity are the incredible currents that sweep through the Indonesian archipelago, rich in nutrients from the deep oceanic basins to the north, and laden with the eggs and larvae of the area’s marine life.

Those currents are basically the life-force of the Indonesian archipelago and the greater Coral Triangle. But (and there’s always a but), they are also strong and potentially dangerous, so how we dive in them is incredibly important to the overall safety and comfort of our guests.

When Ricard Buxo arrived in Indonesia in late 1999, he brought with him 5 years of experience of the Red Sea working in German-run operations. His plan was to replicate what he had learned there, as it had been both safe and efficient. But the Red Sea did not have the strong and difficult to predict tidal currents of the archipelago, or the potential for dangerous downdrafts. Similarly, there are no monsoonal weather patterns in the Red Sea or the rapidly changing conditions of Indonesia, where the same site can look different within hours!

A Highly Evolved System…

Ondina’s first full year of operation was in 2002. It was a steep learning curve and we owe a sincere debt of gratitude to those true explorers who were our guests that year – virtually all of them being highly experienced divers wanting to explore the remote corners of Indonesia.

For it was their feedback and comments, overlaid on Ricard’s first-hand operational experience in the Red Sea, that allowed us to develop our system of diving. 

We have made minor adjustments and tweaks to it over the years based on additional guest feedback, and as we have introduced new technology such as nitrox, but the basic points gleaned that first year have really stood the test of time. So much so that we have never had an accident in our 20 years of operation – something we are incredibly proud of!

But we are also equally proud of our flexibility around the needs of our guests, whether they are new divers, highly experienced dives, keen photographers, big fish junkies or critter lovers. We know one size does not fit all, so we strive to adapt to the situation, while staying within the overall safety envelope that is essential to dive Indonesia.

How We Do It

  • We know the sites really well and our crew system makes sure that first-hand knowledge is made available when new Cruise Directors join our team.
  • While we know those sites well, we also know how unpredictable conditions are and how rapidly things can change, so we always check the site before we allow guests to dive. 
  • That means sending either the Cruise Director, or their backup, down on to the site to check the strength and direction of the current underwater, as it is not always the same as the surface current.
  • The check provides us with a real-time indicator of what the currents are doing and allows the surface support crew to be in the right place as divers start to surface.
  • We always have enough dive crew in the water with the divers to monitor and help if there is a problem, with a maximum ratio of 4-5 divers per guide.
  • We always have two tenders in the water and always keep one on top of the site while there are divers underwater, so divers never surface without a tender being nearby to pick them up – this is possibly one of the most frequently and positively commented upon aspects of how we dive!
  • Our dive and surface crews are trained to be very vigilant… We call this “proactive monitoring” so that we can identify potential problems early.

Three Basic Rules

Taking guests to some of most remote parts of Indonesia so that they can experience the incredible underwater world of the archipelago is one of those things that is much easier said than done… A huge amount of support, training and logistics goes in to making it all happen – but that all goes on in the background and it’s our job to make it all appear completely seamless to our guests.

We believe we do a really good job of that, and the high number of “repeaters” is our primary indicator of success. Feedback from those repeaters tells us they really like how we operate, how flexible we are, how safe we are, and basically how good we are!

They also tell us they like our three basic rules which are logical and make common sense:

  • Do not break coral or harass marine life
  • Do not dive deeper than 40 metres
  • Always come back with gas in your tank

What this all means to you is that you can be sure that if you book a trip on either of our boats you will experience some of the very best diving in the world, you will do that safely and we will do everything possible to ensure you truly enjoy your experience!

Our #1 Advantage! The crews of ours boats Ondina and Oceanic.

There are many things we are proud of with our operation in Indonesia, but without doubt it is the crews of our boats Ondina and Oceanic, together with the behind the scenes support, that are top of the list.

Our guests travel to Indonesia from all over the world and they come to experience some of the very best diving in the world. They also arrive with expectations that they will dive safely, be well fed, looked after while they are with us and listened to if they have a problem.

Crew Ondina- Liveaboard Indonesia
Crew S.M.Y Ondina

Our crews are responsible to fulfil those expectations, and the behind the scenes support is responsible to make sure the crews have what they need, when they need it.

Straightforward right? Well, relatively so, if you are doing something like that in a metropolitan area in a first world country. Much less so when you are operating in remote areas of a developing country, where the rules and regulations seem to change by the month!

So… how do we do what we do? And how do we do it in a manner that is efficient and consistent? The answer to those questions are the leaders of our business. We have decided to devote the first newsletter of 2020 to them, so that you know a bit more about the people looking after you when you come to Indonesia for a trip on Ondina or Oceanic.

Ricard Buxó. Liveaboard Indonesia.

Ricard Buxo – If you have been reading the earlier newsletters you probably feel that you already know Ricard, because he was the guy who started it all 20 years ago and still leads the business to this day. Ricard is a proud Catalan from Barcelona whose first career was in the Spanish construction industry as a technical draftsman. Unfortunately, when the building boom associated with the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics came to an end, times were hard, and Ric decided to pursue his dreams and moved to the Egyptian Red Sea in 1993.

For 5 years Ric worked with some of the best liveaboard operators in both the northern and southern areas of the Red Sea, learning first-hand what it takes to run a successful operation.

Then in 1999 Ric got an offer he just could not refuse – go to Indonesia, supervise the construction of one of the very first custom built liveaboard dive boats in the country and then take that platform and build it in to a successful business. Minor issues such as never having been to Indonesia before and not speaking the language were all “challenges” that could be surmounted along the way… And, indeed that is exactly what happened.

Xavi Garcia. Liveaboard Indonesia.

Xavi Garcia – Another proud Catalan from Barcelona, Xavi joined the team in 2013 as the Cruise Director of Ondina after having worked as an instructor in Bali for a year and in Costa Rica and Thailand prior to that.

As time went by it became very obvious that his engineering and organization skills were equally as good as his diving ones. Xavi is very hands-on, totally committed to our operations and simply knows intuitively how to get things done – an invaluable skill-set in a country like Indonesia, where few things are straightforward and linear in nature. Xavi played a key role when we were looking for our second boat and it was his inspection of Oceanic, when we found it, that convinced us to buy and refurbish is completely – which Xavi also organized and supervised.

So in 2016 Ric appointed Xavi as his deputy. Since then Xavi has been the driving force with all the behind the scenes support that keeps Ondina, and now Oceanic, in such great shape and supplied with what they need. Each year Xavi organizes and then supervises the major annual maintenance we do on both boats, when they are taken out of service and put in drydock. Done properly, the annual maintenance will keep both Ondina and Oceanic performing well for the following season.

Fede Moreno. Liveaboard Indonesia.

Fede Moreno – Another Catalan… but this time from Sant Feliu de Guíxols in the province of Girona at the heart of Costa Brava, in northeast Spain. Fede joined our team in 2018, taking over from Xavi as the Cruise Director of Ondina, and bringing with him over 10 years’ experience in the diving industry, mainly in various parts of Spain together with multiple assignments in Thailand.

A natural organizer and leader, Fede has made many refinements and improvements to Ondina since taking over, and he enjoys the reputation of probably being the very best Cruise Director we have ever had – he is that good!

The Indonesian crew of Ondina love working for Fede because he has gone out of his way to organize rosters and flexible working arrangements for them that both allow the boat to operate efficiently and maximise the time they can spend with their families. Fede is also an accomplished underwater photographer and contributes many of his images to our Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Borja Garcia. Liveaboard Indonesia.

Borja Garcia – The newest member of our leadership team who has just taken over as the Cruise Director of Oceanic. Borja came to us after spending several years on liveaboards in Burma’s Mergui archipelago and Thailand’s Surin and Similan Islands, and we are very happy to have such an experienced addition on the team.

How It Works – There are two fundamentally important elements to how our team operates in Indonesia. The first is getting the right people, with the right skill-sets, attitude and aptitude. For example, when Ricard arrived in South Sulawesi all those years ago, he had to deal with an incredible mixture of complex issues – technically, logistically and cultural. But, because he was the right person for the assignment, he got on with the tasks in hand and established our business. 

The second is sufficient overlap of resources, and by having both Ric and Xavi based in Bali providing the vital behind the scenes support and because they are both experienced Cruise Directors, we can cover any gaps and maintain the quality of our operation! When Fede joined us we were able to use Ricard and Xavi to take turns supporting him on Ondina as he found his feet and took the reins. Now that we have Borja on the team, we can use that same overlap to get him up to full speed on the routes he will cover on Oceanic.

Crew Oceanic. Liveaboard Indonesia.
Crew M.Y Oceanic.

What this all means to you is that you can be sure that if you book a trip on either of our boats you will experience some of the very best diving in the world and you will do that safely, you will be well fed, you will be looked after while you are with us and you will be listened to if you have a problem!

More Exciting News from the Archipelago – Derawan!

After nearly 20 years of operation across the eastern half of the vast Indonesian archipelago we are incredibly proud of the routes we pioneered. Many of the sites we found have become famous for their incredible biodiversity and are an absolute delight to dive to this day. In fact most of our staff probably know those sites better than they do their own gardens! But time moves on and many of our valued long-term and repeat customers have also dived those sites several times with us and are looking for something new…

Operational flexibility to explore is somewhat limited when you only have one boat and a pre-arranged trip schedule to meet. Which is one of the many reasons we were so excited by the possibilities that opened up for us when we introduced our second boat the MY Oceanic.

With Oceanic now firmly established in the south of the archipelago and SMY Ondina concentrating on our northern routes, we now have the flexibility to investigate new locations to add to our existing routes.

Follow the Currents

The best diving in the world. Derawan 1

There are roughly 18,000 islands in Indonesia, the country covers an area of almost 2.000 km2 and takes nearly 8 hours to fly across it from west to east! That’s an awful lot of potential places to dive… So where to start and the answer to that question lies with the Indonesian Throughflow, the largest volume of moving water in the world.

As the Throughflow approaches the north-east of Indonesia it sucks up the incredibly rich nutrients from the deep-water offshore basins in the Pacific, and distributes them as it moves through the eastern half of the archipelago.

Effectively it is the life-source for the amazing underwater of Indonesia and how Ricard Buxo knew where to start when he first started exploring the archipelago all those years ago!

So… if you want to explore further afield, the first thing to do is follow the currents of the Indonesian Throughflow and see where they touch land.


The best diving in the world. Derawan 3

Raja Ampat, Halmahera and North Sulawesi are the first points of contact as the Throughflow enters the archipelago, while Komodo and the Lesser Sunda islands are where it leaves. But the western edge of its incredible influence is the huge island of Borneo – the largest island in Asia and the third largest in the world, with the northern quarter of the island forming part of Malaysia and the rest belonging to Indonesia, where it is known as Kalimantan.

Rich in natural resources and densely covered in rainforest, Kalimantan has much to offer the adventurous land traveller. But it is the east coast of Kalimantan that caught our attention because that is where the Throughflow touches land…

Derawan – The Diving

The best diving in the world. Derawan 5

The best diving on the north-east coast of Kalimantan is in an area generally referred to as the Derawan group– which consists of a group of 31 islands, the largest of which is Derawan itself. Those islands sit along the edge of the continental shelf about 50 kms from the coast of Kalimantan, at roughly the same latitude as Manado and the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. In between Derawan and North Sulawesi is the Makassar Strait, with its 4.500 mts deep basins. The incredible combination of the shallow continental shelf and its massive river deltas, nearby deep waters and the rich waters of the Indonesian Throughflow are why the diving is so good!

The main dive sites are concentrated around the islands of Derawan, Maratua, Sangalaki and Kakaban and they offer what we are calling the “Big 5” of whale sharks, manta rays, hammerhead, thresher and grey reef sharks. Plus there are incredibly photogenic schools of 1000+ big eye jacks and barracuda, lots and lots of turtles, good hard and soft corals and plenty of fish in general – as well as more than enough macro sites for those who also like the smaller creatures of the sea!

Derawan – The Logistics

The best diving in the world. Derawan 6

Ricard spent a couple of weeks in the area earlier this year checking out the diving and the logistics associated with basing Ondina there, and what he saw convinced us to add Derawan to our itineraries for 2021. The towns of Tarakan and Berau are the two options for getting our guests on board Ondina, and we are still working the details on how to make the trips as comfortable as possible for our guests, but Ondina will be based in the area between June and August of 2021, the very best time of year for optimum diving conditions. 

Derawan – The Dry Side

Interestingly, there is also a lot to see on land – both on the islands and on Kalimantan, starting with the well-known jellyfish lake on Kakaban Island. Then there is an established turtle rookery on Sangalaki, with regular releases of baby turtles every week. On both Kakaban and Maratua there are large natural swimming pools in the forest, which can be accessed from the beach at high tide. 

Plus the local population on the islands are descended from either the famed Bugis of Sulawesi or the Bajau, the renowned sea gypsies of the Philippines-Malaysia-Indonesia region, and they are very both welcoming and hospitable people. 

Back on the mainland there is a large mangrove park in the town of Tarakan (one of our starting points) that has a variety of local wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, and our 8-day cruises can be combined with an 3-day extensions to the natural reserve of Tanjung Putting, where you sail up the river on a local boat to see orangutans both in their natural environment and on the reserve where they rangers care for the orphans and displaced individuals.

Thus, we are proud to announce our new Derawan route, an interesting addition to our already consolidated ones. More information on the details of this exciting new destination will be available soon.

Stay tuned, we have even more exciting news coming soon!

Exciting News from the Archipelago – The Other Komodo!

After almost 20 years exploring the incredible archipelago that is Indonesia, you would think that we have probably seen it all, but discovering what Komodo had kept hidden is very exciting news! It is really quite ironic though, because Komodo National Park was one of the first regions that he explored on the SMY Ondina way back in 2001, soon after it was launched. Liveaboard dive boats were few and far between back then, and we were instrumental in establishing the enduring tradition that Komodo should only be dived between June and September, during the dry season, when the wind blows from the south-east across the archipelago, making it difficult to operate in other areas of Indonesia.

The other Komodo. Dive in Indonesia.

Komodo – The Dry Season

Those south-easterly winds can make life on a liveaboard quite uncomfortable for the guests, as diving exposed sites in many areas of Indonesia can become very challenging. Komodo on the other hand, with its incredible topography and its many islands, reefs and bays, offers multiple places to shelter from the wind, with good diving all around,  all within a few hours of sailing, so there are many options to see what the area has to offer.

As those winds blow, they stir up the shallow waters around the rugged southern coasts of both Komodo and Rinca islands, which means that the visibility in those areas actually reduces during the dry season. In addition to that, the south-easterlies bring cold water from the south, so the combination of poor visibility, frequent swells and decidedly chilly temperatures make most liveaboards abandon the southern part of Komodo and head to the north, where the conditions are just the opposite.

And so, the tradition was established that from June to September each year, the northern areas of Komodo National Park are the best places for a liveaboard to operate. After which the boats migrate north up through the Banda Sea towards Raja Ampat.

The Other Komodo – What Changed?

The other Komodo with SMY Ondina. Liveaboard.

It really is quite simple… If you only have one boat, you have no choice but to go where the conditions will probably be best, which is exactly what we did when Ondina’s routes were first established. We explained about those traditional routes and why they were the best choice in the last post. So you are probably wondering how we discovered what we are calling the “other Komodo” and the answer is that we now have our second boat, the M.Y. Oceanic.

After we retrofitted Oceanic, we decided to base her in the south of Indonesia and keep Ondina in the north so that we could fully explore both of those regions in-depth all year-round. What we have discovered from doing that has greatly exceeded all of our initial expectations and that’s why we are so excited!

The Other Komodo – Spectacular Diving!

As we explored southern Komodo we realised that during the wet season (December to March) the conditions are almost the complete opposite of those in the dry season… While the north becomes colder, greener and quite choppy, the south enjoys warmer, calmer waters with an average of 25 mts plus visibility! Several of the well-known sites take are transformed from great dives into spectacular ones. Plus, our extended exploration, where we have been the only boat there, has allowed us to discover many new and equally spectacular sites.

Basically, we have discovered something of great value – a new and exciting route within an old established one. The other side of a well-known destination that offers a whole new world of opportunities within the boundaries of the famous national park.

The Other Komodo – Spectacular Scenery!

The other Komodo, Dive in indonesia.

The islands of Komodo National Park are as spectacular above water as they are below, and offer tremendous photo-opportunities for photographers who also enjoy making great terrestrial images. The shapes, landscapes, bays and beaches of the islands are incredibly photogenic, particularly so when photographed with a drone.

But… in the dry season the land is arid and brown! Come the wet season however and the rain completely transforms the landscape, creating incredible, almost unique vistas and photo-opportunities!

The Other Komodo – Special Offers for Pioneers!

In December 2018 we began our first wet season operating in Komodo National Park and started by diving the sites we knew well from the dry season. The first exploratory cruises were done with just a handful of friends, because of the uncertainty around what we would find. It was an expensive thing to do, but we considered it as an overall investment in our future.

International dive travel has grown exponentially since we launched Ondina in 2001 and there are now many options for the traveling diver. We knew we needed to offer new and exciting locations, but we had to do it safely and well.

The return we have realized on that investment has really been quite something, as we are now able to offer something few others can, and it all begins soon when we kick off the wet season in Komodo National Park this month!

But the “Other Komodo” is just the first of the exciting news… there is more to come from the north. For now though we want to make a special offer to you, our loyal and repeat customers, to come and see what we have found in the south of Komodo! 

If you have dived Komodo before and know the famous sites there you will be amazed at the difference and just how incredible the “Other Komodo” is.

If you have never dived there before though you will be in for an amazing experience because what we have discovered raises the bar to a whole new level!

If you want to enjoy the privilege of diving alone in this well known destination, be the first to book a trip to “the other Komodo” click here to check availability.


It had been quite an adventure… Ricard Buxo had spent almost 12 months living among the legendary boat builders of southern Sulawesi, supervising the construction of SMY Ondina, while learning Bahasa Indonesia and the animistic traditions, rituals and legends of the Bugis.

By mid-2001 Ondina had been successfully launched and was now afloat with the fit-out of all the cabins and topside infrastructure proceeding well. Ricard was hiring and training the first crew and soon it would be time to sail – but to where? 

The newly built Ondina was about to join a very small and quite exclusive club of just a handful of boats operating in Indonesia, catering for foreign tourists. And, of them only a couple were dedicated to scuba diving, while the rest offered a combination of snorkelling, land tours and the occasional dive… 

Indonesia is a vast archipelago of over 16,000 islands, occupying an area the size or Europe or US, and across that huge area, back in 2001 scuba diving was in its infancy. There was virtually no public domain information available on where to dive and what the associated hazards might be, and only a few people to ask – if, of course, you could locate them… You could say that it was a quite challenging situation!

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago – Start with the Known!

Word of mouth was that there was good diving to be had in the Lesser Sundas, along the southern edge of the archipelago, and Wakatobi, in southeast Sulawesi, so Ricard targeted both these areas for the first trips. Marketed mainly in Europe as exploratory trips, the combined allure of the newly built Pinisi style Ondina, together with the prospect of discovering new areas in a remote part of Indonesia, caught the eye of adventurous divers. And so, the first intrepid divers arrived to experience the underwater wonders of Indonesia onboard the Ondina!

These were tough times for us, nevertheless because of all the happenings around the first few years after the launching of Ondina, but they were also a unique opportunity, as those divers who did join us were true adventurers who really wanted to explore, and so together we were able to discover some of the very best dive spots in Komodo, Alor and Wakatobi. Plus, we had the whole area almost to ourselves…

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago – Continue with the Unknown

As we progressed through 2002 and 2003, our thoughts were on where we should take Ondina next and most importantly… when we should make that move.

The 16,000+ islands of the archipelago straddle the equator and are very much subject to monsoonal trade winds – which are generally quite predictable. Blowing from the southeast from May till September and then from the northwest in December through to March. 

While strong, those winds rarely, if ever, develop into typhoons and their predictability was what the Bugis seafarers of south Sulawesi based their trade routes upon. Sailing east from Sulawesi in their Pinisi boats with the north-westerlies, the Bugis traded with the islands along the bottom of the archipelago on the way. And then returned through the islands of the north with the south-easterlies – a journey that required making the long crossing of the Banda Sea, the most exposed of all inner seas of Indonesia.

In 2003 we decided to follow that Bugis tradition and, with a huge leap of faith, did our first crossing of the Banda Sea in October, during the break between the monsoonal seasons, when seas are at their calmest. The 1.000 nautical mile journey across 4 different inner seas took 14 days, and saw Ondina sail from Maumere in Flores, to Sorong in Raja Ampat. And so it was that we began operating in Raja Ampat from November through to March each year, an area of the archipelago that has captivated us from the very start and we are incredibly proud of the pioneering work we have done there!

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago – Follow the Bugis…

All ships need their quality down-time so that annual maintenance and problems can be fully resolved. Typically this is done in a dry-dock, so that the hull can be inspected and repaired if necessary, followed by a 5-week maintenance period to make the ship ready for the year ahead.

Traditionally Ondina comes back “home” to south Sulawesi each year for her annual period of maintenance, so again we followed the path of the Bugis seafarers from Raja Ampat and West Papua to Sulawesi in April, when the seas are typically calmest, a yearly journey that allowed us to learn where the best diving is in Halmahera, Lembeh, Togian and the Banggai. And as the maintenance works were finished, we would start another season again in Komodo.

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago – Setting the Standard!

Since 2003, when we did our first Banda Sea crossing and started operating in Raja Ampat, we followed the same overall pattern initiated that year and fully established in 2004. Basically this was annual maintenance in Sulawesi during May, then down to Komodo for June, July and August. Then head east to Alor for September, followed by October in the Banda Sea and Ambon.

November through to March was dedicated to Raja Ampat, with some incursions to Cenderawasih and Triton Bay, and then we headed west to Sulawesi through Halmahera in April for the annual dry-dock. We followed this routine for 14 years, as it was a very logical way to dive all of the best areas of the archipelago in accordance to weather patterns. Interestingly, as other boats started operating in Indonesia, we saw them copy what we had established… And it all makes perfect sense – if you only have one boat. But that all changed for us in 2017, with the acquisition of Oceanic. Now we were finally able to do things significantly different!

Exploring the Indonesian Archipelago – Setting the New Standard!

The basic premise to our customers is that we want to show them the best diving Indonesia has it offer, and our basic promise to those same customers is that we will do that comfortably and safely. That was why we followed the same routes around Indonesia for such a long time, but with our new boat Oceanic we now have some very significant options to do things differently, while still providing the very highest levels of safety and comfort.

So our decision has been that Ondina is now based in West Papua, in the north of Indonesia, to cover Raja Ampat, Ambon, Triton Bay, the Banda Island and Cenderawasih, while Oceanic covers the south portion of the archipelago, from Komodo to Alor and the Forgotten Islands. By being based in these areas we are now able to explore the diving in what would have previously been considered as the “off-season” – something we find incredibly ironic given that we helped establish those seasons…

We are finding some incredible diving by doing this. In the next newsletter we will share what we have discovered.

As they say… watch this space!

Exploring the Archipelago – Even further…

Big ideas are often the most successful ones though they usually come with the risk that they are just too bold and will not work. And then, of course, there is the additional risk of things happening that are completely out of your control!

So it happened when our first boat the SMY Ondina was launched back in October 2001 – just 30 days after the devastating terrorist attacks in New York. The 9/11 attacks were followed by several other significant events – not the least of which were the Bali bombings in 2002, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the incredible devastation in Aceh from the 2004 tsunami.

Things were not easy. It seemed like every year there was some kind of natural or man-made catastrophe sent to test our resolution. But we had faith in what we were doing with Ondina and, as word spread about the amazing diving along the archipelago, more people made the journey to Indonesia to dive with us. It really is a source of great pride for us that we were among a very small group of pioneering liveaboard operators that explored and opened up the vast Indonesian archipelago for international dive travellers…

Stability Arrives…

Around 2006 we began to feel increasingly confident that we had overcome the worst of the storms that hit us in our first five years of operation. Our occupancy rates were increasing nicely, and the pioneering nature of what we had done in those years had led to easier logistics in the ports we visited as shops and services developed to service our needs.

Perhaps the thing we are most proud of is the high number of guests who come back time after time on board the Ondina. We call these people our “dear repeaters” and always reward them with special rates and addittional discounts on their trips. Repeat business is a very clear sign to us that we are doing things right with the boat, where we go, how we dive, and how we care for our guest when they are with us. Most of our repeaters have done around 4-5 trips with us. We even have some “super repeaters” who are well into doubling those figures and now they sometimes charter the whole boat and bring a party of friends with them!!


After every single cruise, we seek feedback from every guest who joins us and their comments and ratings on our services allow us to make continuous adjustments and improvements within our operation. The feedback from our repeaters is particularly valuable as they have experienced how we do what we do in different locations and have typically developed a deep understanding of how it all works.

As our business grew and our occupancy rates remained constantly high, we started to get feedback about alternative routes. We saw this as a very positive input though logistically difficult with just one boat. So in early 2016 we started to consider adding a second boat as a sister ship to Ondina, which would give us the flexibility to explore and offer alternative routes to our guests and specially to our dear repeaters.

The Second Boat…

Adding a second boat, when you have a well-established first one with a great reputation and loyal followers should be, in principal, a great idea. But get it wrong and you can do significant damage to everything you have worked so hard to achieve! We thought long and hard about how to go about it and it came down to two options – either we build from scratch another Ondina or we find a suitable boat and convert it to our very specific needs.

Replicating the Ondina seemed to us too challenging at those specific moments in terms of time and resources so we finally decided to go for option B and the search began for a suitable boat that we could turn into a great diving liveaboard boat.

Enter Xavi Garcia and Oceanic

Xavi Garcia, who had joined our team in Indonesia in 2014, greatly contrinute with the search for the right second boat and finally he found the Oceanic – a 28m boat that had been built in Kalimantan around 2012 for spear-fishing expeditions.

There were some really key points about the Oceanic that convinced us to invest in it. Firstly, she was built using the best timbers for a boat, a type of Indonesian wood calledulin. She also had an excellent main engine that was similar to Ondina’s, good gensets and installations, plus the overall design, layout and an open deck suitable to be turned into a spacious dive deck. Yes, she was ready to be suited the way we like. On the negative side, the interior had been finished in plywood and the general atmosphere was poor but we knew we could fix all that and the decision to invest was made!

The 100 Day Refit

Once that big decision was made Xavi took the lead in planning the refit and worked like a trojan to get it all completed – here is what was done:

  • Oceanic went into dry dock so that everything below the waterline could be inspected and repaired as necessary.
  • The main engine and gensets were completely overhauled.
  • All the decks and superstructures were completely waterproofed.
  • All the interiors were removed and made new with natural woods. To do this we flew in a team of the best boatbuilders from Ara, in South Sulawesi!
  • Completely renewed all plumbing and electrical circuits and fittings.
  • Installed new compressors, nitrox system and a complete filling station.
  • New R.I.B. tenders with 50 hp 4-stroke outboard engines were acquired.
  • Finishing and details to give it the final touch of comfort.

Xavi and Ricard were able to complete the refit in the 100 days that it had been planned for and in January 2017 Oceanic successfully made her maiden cruise from Bali to Komodo!

What This All Means…

Since completing all the work on Oceanic we have also done a major upgrade to Ondina so that both boats are now of the same high standard though we continue to position our rates at the most reasonable in the region. Having two such well-built, highly reliable and extremely functional boats give us the versatility we need to meet the needs identified from all the feedback we have received from our guests and collaborators.

Both Ondina and Oceanic use the proven mother ship concept developed by Ricard to ensure the best and the safest diving wherever we operate. Our crews are both highly trained and very experienced, plus they are led by the best Cruise Directors in Indonesia, assuring that the boat you embark is maintained and properly operated for the area of the Indonesian archipelago you will be diving in!

Our New Routes and Our Greatest Hits!

In upcoming newsletters and posts in our blog we will be telling you more about the new and exciting places we have explored, plus the new routes we are going to add to provide more variety to our actual proposals,what we call our “greatest hits”…Stay tuned, a lot of great work has gone into getting us where we are now and we would love you to enjoy it and become part it in the future!

Building the Nymph of the Deep Seas

SYM Ondina (Liveaboard) Indonesia.

It really was a bold idea… One that was conceived and then nurtured during extensive travels across the vast archipelago that is Indonesia. And much like other great ideas it was quite simple in concept, but required several things to come together in concert for it to become a reality.

The year was 1999 and Enrique Rubio, the founder of our parent company, was over 10 years into his enduring relationship with the enigma that is Indonesia, and his journeys across the country had convinced him that it had tremendous potential for scuba diving tourism.

But the very thing that had helped to create what many consider to be the very best diving in the world was not something to be taken lightly. For, while the Indonesian Throughflow is the very life-blood of the archipelago, it is also an extremely powerful force of nature that has to be understood and worked with.

The Bold Idea…

Enrique’s idea was to take the tried and tested basic design of the traditional Indonesian Pinisi sailing ship and build a customized version that would enable journeys of discovery through the incredible waters of the archipelago in both safety and comfort. Journeys that would allow seasoned travellers to experience the very best that underwater Indonesia has to offer.

And, by doing it on a Pinisi style boat they would be safe on board a modern version of a truly classic design that has proven itself capable of sailing the Indonesian archipelago for centuries. So classic is the design that in December 2017 UNESCO recognised Pinisi boat-building as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity

The Times Were Changing…      

1999 was an extremely important year for Indonesia, for in June of that year the first free elections since 1955 had been held successfully and a whole new era seemed to be upon the country. The previous year had seen the resignation of President Suharto after 31 years as the leader of Indonesia. Only the second person to lead the country since independence in 1945,  Suharto’s New Order had overseen a lot of positive change, but was also renowned for its widespread corruption.

Investing in a local business in Indonesia under the Suharto regime was not something for the feint hearted… but the times really did appear to be changing and it seemed the right time to get started. So, Enrique decided to make a huge leap of faith and pay the deposit to the boat-builders of South Sulawesi.

The Bugis      

South Sulawesi is the home of the Bugis – accomplished seafarers who roamed the seas long before the first Europeans arrived in what was then known as the Malay Archipelago. Equally feared and revered, the Bugis are said to have navigated by the stars as far as Madagascar to the west, China to the north and the top-end of Australia to the south. They carry reputations as adventurers, warriors, slave runners, pirates and are even said to be source of the famous English saying, “watch out, the bogeyman will get you”. In reality they were also astute merchants who used their boats and seafaring skills to trade exotica far and wide.

When the Dutch colonized what we now call Indonesia in the late 1700’s they did so in their European style sailing ships. Over time many of the key features of those European schooners were incorporated into the sailing ships built by the Bugis and eventually the amalgamated design became known as the Pinisi.

The Design      

The first thing Enrique learned when he engaged with the Bugis boat builders was that there is no actual standard for a Pinisi boat and each build is a function of wants, needs, customs and traditions, all of which is discussed with the team that will build the boat. Usually that team revolves around a family clan of shipwrights and carpenters, typically led by a construction manager who is a “haji” – a Muslim who has already completed his pilgrimage to Mecca and therefore commands great respect. Every family builds its own design without plans drawn up, and the knowledge is passed from one generation to the next.

Enter Ricard Buxo…

If ever there was a case of the right person appearing at the right time it was when the paths of Enrique Rubio and Ricard Buxo crossed – courtesy of mutual friends…

Clearly Enrique needed somebody in Tanah Beru, the village in South Sulawesi famed for the skill and craftsmanship of its boat-builders, and where the basic concept had been agreed and deposits paid!

Ricard had just completed five years in the Egyptian Red Sea and was considering what his next adventure might be. He was also intrigued by what he had heard about the waters and the scuba diving in Indonesia, namely that there was more biodiversity than anywhere else on earth. But also, Ricard had trained in architectural design and had a strong interest in boats and building – the stars were aligning…

There were however a few logistic challenges to overcome, as Ricard could not speak a word of Bahasa Indonesia, while nobody in Tanah Beru could speak English, let alone Spanish. But necessity is the mother of invention and Ricard left for South Sulawesi and what would become one of the great adventures of his life, arriving in June 2000, a few months after the keel of the yet unnamed boat was being laid. Some 15 months later the boat was launched and christened Sailing Motor Yacht (SMY) Ondina – the Nymph of the Deep Seas!

Living with the Bugis

Ricard describes those 15 months as both the most challenging and yet satisfying period of his life, as the Ondina took shape on the beach at Tanah Beru. His five years in Egypt had given him the strong foundation he needed for the total “cultural immersion” he went through living with the Bugis, learning how to communicate with them and ensuring the pivotal details that make Ondina such a great diving platform were implemented.

Ondina was not the first Pinisi boat built for foreigners to carry passengers across the Indonesian archipelago, but it was the first to be crafted as a dedicated liveaboard built specifically for diving, with a dedicated dive deck, camera preparation area and rinse tanks. Thus, diving on Ondina flows in a very natural way, enabling the guests and the crew to prepare and then get into the dive tenders with maximum efficiency. It was Ricard’s Red Sea liveaboard experience and his total synergy with the Bugis that produced such good results.

A Mystical Process…

While Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, it is known for its secular brand of Islam and general religious tolerance, coexisting in relative harmony with other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and Christianity. Many of the racial groups that make up the fabric of its almost 270 m people combine their version of Islam with many historical myths and beliefs, which in many ways helps make the country so interesting.

The Bugis are amongst the most fascinating of those racial groupings, combining Islam with a deeply superstitious nature and animistic traditions, rituals and legends, which have become intertwined with how they build their Pinisi boats. These were among the many things that Ricard had to learn and adjust to as Ondina was built. Perhaps the best way of understanding the validity of all the rituals and ceremonies that went into the building of the Ondina is to consider that the boat actually went into service on the 11th of October, 2001 – 30 days after the devastating terrorist attacks in New York, universally known as 9/11, probably the worst date to start a business in a Muslim country that requires tourists to fly long distances to simply get on board.

And yet here we are, over 18 years later, and the SMY Ondina has established its reputation as probably the best diving platform (we think it is the best…) in Indonesia, and continues to go from strength to strength. Clearly it was a good thing to have the blessings of the Bugis spiritual leaders as Ondina started its journey of adventure and exploration.

The best diving in the world.

the best diving in the world

Indonesia by numbers… A vast country of some 17,000+ islands, strewn along 5.000kms of the equator in South-East Asia and home to more than 260 million people with about 300 distinct native ethnic groups.

A true melting pot with many unique cultures but just two seasons – warm and dry or warm and wet! The Indonesian archipelago is incredibly biodiverse and above water it is second only to Australia in the total number of endemic species that call it home.

Under the water Indonesia is considered by many to have some of the very best scuba diving in the world and diving tourism has grown rapidly over the last 20 or so years, as word spread about what there is to see. 

But less well known is why the archipelago has such amazing marine biodiversity, with scientific studies identifying over 4000 fish species, compared to around 1000 in the Red Sea and 400 in the Caribbean!

The basic answer to that question is really quite simple… the eastern half of the Indonesian archipelago sits at the very epicenter of what marine biologists call the “Coral Triangle” – the region of the world with the greatest recorded marine biodiversity.

Image courtesy of Conservation International.

The Coral Triangle

Its name comes from the roughly triangular area that covers the tropical waters of the eastern parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, plus Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Because of the huge area it covers, the overall biodiversity of the Coral Triangle will take marine biologists many years to fully quantify and, to date, they have concentrated on the known hotspots – but the results have been staggering!

For many years the Red Sea was considered as probably the single most biodiverse marine environment in the world, however scientific studies by both

Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy indicate that the Coral Triangle has at least four times the number of species!

But… you may be wondering quite why this fairly remote part of the world is so incredibly biodiverse and the answer is something called the Indonesian Throughflow.

Image courtesy of Journal of Geophysical Research.

The Indonesian Throughflow

Simply stated, the Indonesian Throughflow is the largest volume of flowing water in the world… So large infact that a special measurement had to be created to allow it to be quantified in a way that makes some degree of sense to non-scientists!

That measurement is called a “Sverdrup” after the Norwegian oceanographer who invented it. One Sverdrup is one million cubic meters per second – which is a lot of water in anybody’s book.

The Indonesian Throughflow is said to transport 15 Sverdrups (or 15 million cubic meters of seawater) every second – but it’s not so much the amount of seawater that holds the key to the biodiversity of the Coral Triangle, it’s what is in that water.

The Throughflow is the basic mechanism by which the eggs and larvae of the Indo-Pacific region marine life are distributed. Plus, as it passes over the deep-water basins of the region it sweeps up the nutrient rich detritus of the sea becoming the veritable life force of the Coral Triangle! 

Points of Contact

Originating in the Pacific Ocean to the north-east of the Coral Triangle, the Indonesian Throughflow is created by the Earth’s rotation and complex equatorial currents.  

It flows south-west, past the southern Philippines, towards the huge island of New Guinea where it splits, with the major portion entering the eastern half of the Indonesian archipelago. While the rest flows down the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea and on to the Solomon Islands

Where those fertile and nutrient rich waters touch land they create biodiversity hotspots. In Indonesia’s north that means Raja Ampat, Halmahera and North Sulawesi, while in the south it is Bali, the Lesser Sunda and “Forgotten” islands.

The Nymph of the Deep Seas

Enrique Rubio, the founder of our parent company is no stranger to Indonesia and has been exploring far and wide across the archipelago for many years seeing first-hand the wonderful diversity of its ecosystems.

In the late 1990’s Enrique was among the very first to recognize the potential of the traditional Indonesian Pinisi sailing ship as a motorized liveaboard dive vessel that could truly explore the waters of the archipelago.

His dream was to build a custom designed Pinisi that could take divers deep into those biodiversity hotspots to see the underwater wonders of the vast Indonesia archipelago.

In the next issue of our newsletter we will tell the full story of how SMY Ondina, the nymph of the deep seas, was built by hand in the land of the Bugis in South Sulawesi!

Want to know more about the Coral Triangle – check out this link to the dedicated site established in conjunction with Conservation International and the WWF. 


Want to know more about the Indonesian Throughflow and diving in Indonesia then check out this link to the dedicated page on Don Silcock’s website Don is an Australian underwater photojournalist based in Bali and regular visitor to both our boats.