Kimbe Bay, New Britain Island; July 28 - August 3, 2014

Our week on the MV FeBrina, diving the incredible reefs of Kimbe Bay, went all too quickly. It's a slogan across the industry that the routine on a liveaboard dive boat is "dive-eat-sleep-repeat," and that was certainly true on FeBrina, with an emphasis on dive! We spent up to five hours each day underwater, never tiring of the lush reefs and busy fish action. While we didn't see anything underwater we haven't seen at least once somewhere before, the combination of 82-degree water, superb visibility, easy diving, and consistently pristine reefs just teeming with fish -- not to mention plenty of sharks and other pelagics -- seems to be the hallmark of Papua New Guinea diving.

Thanks to a combination of savings, birthday gifts, and bit of borrowing, Tim is finally outfitted with an underwater DSLR camera setup (photo 1), and the conditions were perfect for its first trip. Photos 2-4 give a preview of what's to come when his photo collection is assembled. (We had a huge scare just before the boat embarked, when Tim discovered that the strobes he'd bought on the used market were missing critical seals. Thankfully, the staff at Walindi Resort dropped everything to search their workshop and come to his rescue.) As usual, Jennifer took underwater snapshots with her compact camera in a plastic box; her photos 5-10 give an idea of the scenery.

The FeBrina has been in operation as a liveaboard dive boat since 1991, with a single owner & skipper Alan Raabe; Alan has rarely missed a trip in 23 years. The crew are all PNG locals, and some have been on the boat almost as long as Alan -- truly remarkable in an industry where crew typically last no more than a year or two. Clearly, Alan is doing something right, and it shows across the entire operation: The schedule runs like clockwork, the dive guides are enormously experienced, and the cooks turned out unending delicious meals and snacks. The boat's not large or luxurious, but the cabins are very comfortable, and the salon and dive deck are set up so people never seem to be in each other's way. More importantly, everything works, from the air conditioning to the toilets to the Nitrox compressor. Even five-star luxury boats tend to have various breakdowns at sea; we'll take flawless operation over luxury any day.

Winter in PNG -- as it is now since we're south of the equator -- is the dry season. Before we arrived there had been a spell of unseasonable rain, and the FeBrina trip prior to ours was also plagued by winds and rough seas. Our first day out we thought we might be due for the same, but by day two the weather cleared, and we had no rain and mostly smooth seas for the rest of the trip. Kimbe Bay is ringed by volcanoes, some of them smoking, which makes for a surreal backdrop; photo 11. (We eventually learned that most of the dive sites are seamounts along the rim of an extinct underwater caldera.) Along the way, we were treated to stunning sunsets (photo 12), and a visit from local villagers (photos 4 & 13).

On those rare occasions we weren't diving, eating, or sleeping, we filled our time with reading, editing photos, playing card games, or in Emily's case, writing a computer program to play cards so she wouldn't have to! Emily also has been extraordinarily conscientious about staying in shape for her upcoming running season. Not to be foiled by life at sea, she brought along an Aquajogger and waterproof cover for her iPhone, dutifully "running" daily laps around the boat (photo 14), while listening to music.

A big unknown, and potentially significant factor, on a week-long boat trip with a small number of passengers is, of course, the other passengers. Our fellow divers on this trip were:
  • A French couple in their late 50's (we'd guess). Nice enough, but their weak English coupled with our even weaker French meant communication was sparse.
  • Three 60-something guys from Nebraska, wives at home. Two of them opened a dive shop after retirement that's become one of the biggest in the nation; the third is a well-to-do farmer and loyal customer.
  • Two Canadian brothers in their early 30's (we'd guess). One had just finished up his honeymoon in Bali, where his bride was staying on for a yoga course.
To a one, the other passengers were extremely well-traveled, long-time divers. If there was anything to complain about, it was the lack of unexpected conversation or hints of intrigue among them. Everyone was on the boat with a single mission: dive-eat-sleep-repeat. We certainly weren't let down.

Next: The second half of our time in PNG takes us from under the ocean to the mountains and tribes of the highlands. Stay tuned.

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