There was a playful glint in Arief’s eyes as the speedboat tender left M/Y Latitude far behind on the last day of our one month cruising adventure.
"Watch this," said the Asia Pacific Superyachts dive guide, beaming, "I'm going to give our young guests the snorkeling experience of a lifetime."
The guests referred to, two 12-year olds, a 15-year old and the adults, were friends with the owners. City slickers who have spent most of their time in the Middle East - far away from the aquatic paradise of Indonesia's Raja Ampat.
Arief knew of a secret spot and with this in mind, he insisted the tender's tracker and chart plotter were turned off and directions to the crew were made only with hand gestures and non-verbal cues.
Captain Jimmy Blee and the kids on the tender leaving M/Y Latitude
After 30 minutes hurtling along on a mirror-smooth sea, we were starting to get a little skeptical of the ‘secret’ spot. Then, just as the tender tight turned past one of the iconic limestone pinnacles, a great expanse of calm, flat ocean opened up before us, facing the open sea beyond.
"My friends swim in this area", Arief explained, "Now let’s get geared up for snorkeling". The captive audience duly complied, excitedly asking, "What lives here, Arief?".
"What you are going to see today, kids, is the biggest fish in the ocean: the whale shark!"
I don’t know whose faces dropped from excitement to panic the quickest, the children's or the adults'. "Whattttttt? We are not swimming with sharks, Arief, and not with any as big as whales!" exclaimed the kids.
Arief smiled and said, "Don't worry, kids, whale sharks are wonderful, gentle creatures with no teeth. They pose no danger to you at all". The adults, looking sheepish, seemed to also be reassured by this information. Arief then gave a very thorough briefing of protocols of snorkeling with whale sharks, emphasising the key rules of not touching or crowding these magnificent creatures.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at the location, one of these majestic creatures suddenly surfaced right next to the tender. "Let's go guys," and before we knew it Arief was in the water. The teenage boy and the girls splashed in after him, with the adults lowering themselves in behind.
The thing about diving with whale sharks in the wild is that no description can do them justice. Their pure size and grace in the water has to be seen to be believed. Up close, the detail of their dappled markings and colouration is simply beautiful. The one in view seemed to know exactly where our snorkelers were at all times and stayed far enough away to keep them at ease, but close enough to give them a spectacular underwater viewing session.
We ended up staying in the sea for over an hour as the beautiful creature glided through the water around us, mouth open like a huge pool vacuum cleaner, sucking in by the gallon the nutrient rich waters of Raja Ampat.
Afterwards, as we sped back to the mother ship, the chatter from everyone, especially the kids, was at a crescendo above the sounds of the high-powered engines. All were in agreement, this was by far the most amazing snorkeling trip experience they had ever experienced.
Arief sat smiling contentedly to himself on the back deck knowing his job for the day was done. It will be hard for him to find something for his guests tomorrow that can reach these heights, but knowing Arief as we do, I am sure he will come up with something.
Authors Note: This is the first of a series of location stories from the recent Raja Ampat cruising trip on vessel M/Y Latitude hosted and organised by Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia. All information and photos are supplied with the permission of the vessel Owner. **Photos copyright Captain Jimmy Blee, APS, not for reuse.