INSTRUCTOR JORGE HAD already briefed us that the currents were going to be strong at the Shotgun, probably stronger than anything I had experienced so far.
Anticipating an exciting dive, we were dropped by the two dinghies at the end of a channel between the islands of Gili Lawa Laut and Gili Lawadarat, and immediately descended to the rubble bottom in about 25m.
A relatively mild current carried us gently through the canyon, our eyes wide to spot potential large predators passing through. Besides sharks, manta rays are regular visitors, but for now I was concentrating on the colourful soft corals and impressive seafans, which offered no shortage of wide-angle photographic opportunities.
We reached a large, sheltered sandy-bottomed arena, the Fish Bowl. A group of giant trevally hovered in the exposed current about 10m above us. Just a few metres further on, a dense group of snapper described circles around the arena, swooping overhead as they enjoyed a break from the currents.
After a few minutes we continued towards the Shotgun ridge. We ascended a few metres, and one of our guides was first to “take the ride”, disappearing over the ridge at great speed.
One after another we followed him into the Shotgun, though before I did so I made sure that my current-hook was available, and my large camera-housing attached to my BC.
There was nothing left to do but let go and embrace the ride. I was really flying as I passed over the slope. To get a better feel of the current, we grabbed some dead coral rocks just a few metres behind the slope and held on, hovering.
After a few intense seconds we let go and spent the rest of the dive drifting in 10-15m , passing wonderful coral gardens and fish swarms on our way.
I could see how this dive earned its name. It was indeed like being shot out of the Fish Bowl and into a drift dive.
Not only does the Komodo National Park offer a huge variety of fish and coral species, but a whole range of conditions for pretty much any diver.
Komodo had long featured on my wish-list. Besides the underwater life, I was eager to see the famous Komodo dragons up close. So when I had the chance of a few photographic assignments in Indonesia, it was clear to me and to my partner that somehow we had to make it to the national park.
Numerous reports on the Internet recommended liveaboard trips, because some of the dive-spots in and around the Komodo Islands are challenging to reach with day-boats.
As a photo-journalist who has just completed a postgraduate course in marine biology, I’m not exactly drowning in money, and the cost of liveaboard trips can easily reach into the thousands. But some research led us to the Amalia, a boat built in 2014, operated by Uber Scuba Komodo and in receipt of excellent reviews.
So I wouldn’t be writing about one of those boats that only a minority of divers could imagine paying for.
A few weeks later we were on the ferry from Sumbawa (one of the neighbouring Indonesian islands) heading for the town of Labuan Bajo, the diving heart of Flores and the hub for trips into the Komodo National Park.
Labuan Bajo consists of one main street that stretches along the coast and is crammed with dozens of dive-centres, restaurants and tourist offices. As such, most travellers will find what they need without having to travel long distances.