Text and photography
by Tony Karacsonyi
Tony Karacsonyi takes us on a dive adventure on the new 40m S/Y Philippine Siren, to the Komodo Islands – a real life Jurassic Park in Indonesia, where the crew go onto ‘dragon watch’ to ward off hungry Komodo dragons which sometimes climb aboard, joining guests for breakfast. Skipper Frank Van Der Linde and his crew have had to push a few off the stern.

One evening, Franks partner, Rung, went ashore to see the Komodo National Park rangers about port clearance. The paperwork done with the harbormaster, she asked the rangers ‘What should I do if I see a dragon? ‘Run’, they replied. Four stairs down from the rest room, Rung was staring head-on at a Komodo dragon. She jumped onto a bench top, then a chair. As the dragon reached the chair, she jumped onto a tabletop. The dragon leapt from each to each, and Rung screamed as loud as she could … ‘HELP, HELP, HELP’. Two minutes later a man came out with a long forked stick, and held the dragon back. She had 500m to run - screaming ‘FRANK, FRANK, FRANK’ all the way. Frank thought she had been mauled, but Rung gasped she was only chased, like in the movie Aliens.

I first became interested in the Komodo Islands, granted UNESCO World Heritage Site Status in 1991, when I was diving in Indonesia’s Spice Islands. I asked a lady named Marlene, who had dived widely in Asia. ‘What is the best dive you have ever had’? She pondered briefly and said ‘Cannibal Rock. It’s the best dive on the planet!’ I quickly slotted it into my ‘must do – best places’ list.

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Some months later, Skipper Frank Van Der Linde called with news there was room on his new 40m yacht, the S/Y Philippine Siren, and it was sailing to Komodo. I was soon flying to Bima, near Flores.

We were now loading 16 adventurers onto the S/Y Philippine Siren, together with food, crew and most importantly – copious amounts of beer for ten days. ‘If you can drink all the beer I have on board in ten days, I’ll shout you a free trip’ says Frank. With two girls from Switzerland, a Belgian family, British family, two New Yorkers, a Bavarian and two guys from Tokyo and Philippines, we were in for good times.


This ridge between Rinca Island and Nusa Kode Island in the southern Komodo’s, rises from 30m plus deep ocean waters to 3m of the surface, and it is only 100m from shore. The reef constantly swept by currents, is absolutely covered in crinoids, nudibranchs, tubastrea coral, anthias, grey frogfish, blue, mauve, yellow and orange anemones, sea apples, crocodile fish, and hundreds of juvenile yellow sea cucumbers.

Cannibal Rock is a macro photographer’s paradise, and you will want to keep going back for more. In any one patch there are starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones, sea fans and all the rare critters – pygmy seahorses, commensal shrimps, gobies, frogfish and amphipods. My advice is to do several dives here with the 60 mm macro lens – and perhaps some super-macro for the blue amphipods. I cannot help but rave about this super-rich dive. Yellow Wall near Cannibal Rock is also a magnificent dive, with a wall covered in yellow soft corals.

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The mere mention of this site conjures a big blast, and this is exactly what this dive delivers – near the end, but there a whole lot more to it. Shot Gun is a pass between two islands named Gilli Lawa Laut and Gilli Lawa Darat. Where the pass narrows and the seafloor shallows, divers get shot-gunned – or more like ‘shot-putted’ up and over the reef at great speed. It is a lofty sensation as you are picked up by the current, thrown upward, then spat out into deeper water on the other side.

Divers are dropped in well out front of the pass, and start by drifting slowly over white sand and bommies covered in vibrant soft corals. This is a prime spot for wide-angle pics where you have soft corals in the foreground, and divers with blue water behind. Why, you could fill a stock photo library with colorful underwater pics from this place. Frank spotted a black frogfish in this area. As the current picks up and the pass converges, you end up in a spot where there are two channels going off to the left.

Here the walls are covered in sponges and there are fish everywhere – black snappers, trevally, drummer and nurse sharks. It’s like fish soup!


At Crystal Rock near Gilli Lawa Laut, I swam up to the head of the current, where it first hits the two bommies. There are fusiliers being hunted in a small cave, and every big reef fish wants in on the action. There are giant trevally – big black ones, giant Maori wrasse, and a super-sized moray eel. There are Giant Trevally hunting fusiliers mid-water also. Our divers spot clown triggerfish, eagle rays, white-tip sharks and bull sharks. The trick with Crystal Rock is to swim to where the current hits the rock first – that’s where the action is!

Castle Rock, also at Gilli Lawa Laut, is one of Frank’s favourite dives. Here, giant trevally and blue-finned trevally hunt blue fusiliers, as do the big-eye trevally. On the reef there are emperor angelfish, surgeonfish and white-tip reef sharks. The bommy is about 4m on top and drops to 25-30m all around.


Bima Bay reminded me of that magical muck dive at Ambon dubbed the ‘Twilight Zone’. On the sandy slope of Bima Bay, there were gaudy fire urchins with Coleman shrimp and zebra crabs, cuttlefish, yellow seahorses, big flatheads, wolf eel, cockatoo waspfish and a sea moth. The rare and unusual critter list goes on, with yellow ornate ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, pipefish, spider crabs, transparent shrimps with white spots, and Ambon scorpionfish. In one small area there is an orange frogfish, black frogfish and spotted moray eel. John Tucker from Tokyo and I, wrote up a quick critter list - over 21 rare and unusual critters in a single dive - a muck diver’s paradise!


Do you remember the scene from the Hollywood movie King Kong, where the expedition ship first sights the island where Kong Kong lives - Sangeang Island fits the bill perfectly with black lava flows and jungle sides. There are three sizzling dive sites named Tecno Reef, The Estuary and Hot Rock, at this active volcano.

At Tecno Reef, hot water and bubbles trickle from vents on a black sand slope and the coral bommies are home to white leaf fish, gobies, bubble coral shrimps, panda clownfish, and four yellow ghost pipefish living on black coral. The Estuary produced ornate ghost pipefish, xeno crabs, blade shrimp, yellow pipefish on black coral, juvenile ‘warty frogfish’, yellow leaf fish, painted frogfish – yellow/red in colour, and pygmy seahorse.

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On a night dive in ten metres of water, we spotted mimic octopus, spiky devilfish, sponge crab, flounders, moray eel and a stunning dragonet with gold eyes – a macro photographer’s delight. The Lighthouse at Gilli Lawa Laut is a drift dive with black snappers, many giant trevally and emperor angelfish – ‘galactic’ as my Italian dive buddy Fabio describes them.


This dive site is aptly named as the tiny island has a hole through it above water. The current absolutely rages around it. The RIB’s drop us off in the island’s lee, where we are sandwiched by the current on both sides. At 20 – 25m, there are big napoleon wrasse, giant trevally and three white-tip reef sharks. We finish in the shallows where a gang of giant trevally are hunting fusiliers. This is a good dive to see big marine animals, but do not wander off to the sides, or you will get swept away like the other reef fish, doing about 20 knots.


Pink Beach is at Pantai Merah near the Komodo National Park. It is one of the best dives for wide-angle photography, with bommies at 25m covered in crinoids and reef fish. Helmet gurnards spread their lovely pectoral fins over the sand, making for great photography.

The Alley’ on the south tip of Komodo Island is famous for manta rays which regularly visit the cleaning station. At first you will see one, then two, three, four - something fantastic! The best moment was when we had had four manta rays approaching – in two pairs. Bring your wide-angle kit for this adrenaline pumping dive.

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The crew were on dragon watch as soon as we arrived at Rinca Island, as the dragons obsessed with the smell of breakfast on the boat, have been known to swim and climb aboard the yacht. The crew takes some ‘fruit and vegetables’ to the island for the macaque monkeys and wild boar. The wild boar and monkeys arrive first, and as the day warms up – the dragons make an appearance. We counted four dragons on the beach – some were fighting and pair was mating.

One of the dragons followed Rung who was walking on the shore. Everyone got some great shots except Tommy who complained that Rung’s bottom kept getting in the way of his photos. Frank fell in the water trying to get the RIB off the reef, and meanwhile the dragon was getting closer - in the water. The wild boar and macaque monkeys made a quick getaway - and we did too!

Komodo dragons have bacteria in their saliva that is quite toxic. Their normal hunting tactic is to bite an animal, like a deer or buffalo, and if they cant bring it down then and there, they will eat it a few days later, when it has succumbed to infection. A park ranger was bitten and taken to hospital, where he spent two weeks fighting the infection.

Komodo dragons live on five islands in central Indonesia, to the west of Flores. Komodo and Rinca Islands form the Komodo National Park. Known locally as ‘ora’ they are the world’s largest lizards weighing up to 166kgs, and growing to three metres in length, with teeth 2.5cms long. Be careful near these well-equipped carnivores.


The S/Y Philippine Siren is very similar to the S/Y Siren, also part of the Worldwide Dive and Sail fleet of liveaboard yachts, but is just bigger and better. With many years of skippering the Siren, Frank Van der Linde and his partners have refined the Philippine Siren,
to the magnificent yacht it is. The Philippine Siren is 46m long x 10m wide, and sports seven ‘Phinisi gaff-rigged’ sails. Frank had the yacht built in Sulawesi, with his father.

The space onboard is very functional and this makes being on the yacht a real pleasure. There is a circular open-air dining room at the stern, which is the most used part of the yacht – for eating, drinking and socializing. There is a very spacious lounge area with a lounge suite and a 47-inch flat screen for viewing videos and digital camera images. Digital photographers can upload their pics in their rooms and send them to the main server connected to the 47-inch flat screen in the saloon.

There are camera benches on the front deck, and a camera bench in the saloon with lights overhead. There are strobe charging points in the saloon and several in every room. There are 16 bunks in 8 rooms, and 14 crew including two PADI dive instructors.

The instructors provide enriched air NITROX “free” to all certified NITROX divers. If you are not certified yet, you can do this, and other PADI courses on board. There are two fast RIB’s for diving, and there is waterskiing and kayaking.

The food – sometimes Thai, is superb. Most dinners are self serve – bistro style, with up to six different dishes, and desert. All beer and soft drinks are free of extra charge, but if you drink alcohol, it is no more diving for that day.

The yacht not under sale, it is powered by a 600hp Nissan motor, although Frank loves getting the sails. There is a great sense of excitement when the crew hoists the sails. The agility, with which the crew scale the masts and pull the sails out, must be seen to be believed. It was a grand time sailing among the Komodo Islands, on the home run to Bima. Sangeang Is Volcano reminded me of the awesome volcanoes of the Galapagos.

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The three-year-old S/Y Siren has also been doing the Komodo circuit, and will be heading to the Andaman Islands for two months, and onto Layang Layang Is off Borneo.

The Siren Fleet of Worldwide Dive and Sail is one of the biggest and best in South-East Asia, and will offering 14 different destinations – Similan Islands – Thailand, Burma – the Mergui Archipelago, Andaman Islands via Port Blair, Komodo Islands, Lembeh Strait/Bunaken/ Banga, and Halmahera – Indonesia. Then there is Raja Ampat – using the S/Y Mandarin Siren. In Raja Ampat, two boats will be doing ten-day trips and seven day trips, heading north and south. The S/Y Philippine Siren has four different trips running around the Philippines, being the first and only luxury live aboard in that region.

The prehistoric Komodo Islands, with active volcanoes, super-sized dragons, raging currents and coral reef teeming with bizarre marine life, is one of the world’s most exciting diving destinations.

Contact; ‘Worldwide Dive and Sail’;
USA; -1- 866-258-6398.
ASIA; +66 76383819
UK & EUROPE; +44 (0) 208 099 2230.

October to May – but seas can be rough from January to March.

Fly with any airline to Bali, then Bima with say Merpati Airlines. Worldwide Dive and Sail can book your internal flights.

Check your airline’s excess baggage rules, as you can get stung quite badly with excess baggage charges. The water can be cool (18 – 22 degrees) in southern Komodo, so take a 5mm wetsuit.

If stopping over in Bali for a few days, there are a myriad of hotels, ranging from Au$20/ night to Au$200/ night.
About AU$40 will find you a clean room.

Use malaria medication. Dengue Fever is common in Bali. Check with your GP re’ tropical diseases.

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