A Pioneer Live-Aboard Vessel: Part One

Published 30 November 2017   


The Evening Star II at anchor.

“The Evening Star II” arrived to Labuan Bajo Flores around 20 years ago in the late 1990’s to offer its services. The captain, Mark Heighes arrived in Bali to let everyone know that his live aboard dive operation was now open and ready for action in what was to become Komodo National Park.

Written by: Duncan Murray Kirk

Shane Sweeney a Bali expat artist was on Mark’s list; they had sailed together to Irian Jaya with Dr Lawrence Blair’s expedition with the Mick Jagger party the previous season. Mark offered Shane and his entourage basic mate’s rates to take the trip and be the advanced party; He needed guinea pigs to be used to work out and model an itinerary for “future tourists”.

“Mate! What shall we do with them? It can’t be ALL diving; we have to find some land treks or something else for them to do,” Shane called, “Hey join our traveling circus and come along on a boat trip to Flores and Komodo, an adventure at mate’s rates or nearly nothing, free diving too; come on Muz I’ll put you and Beni down?” “Sure” and we found ourselves bouncing on the hump in the runway; landing at Labuan Bajo airport Flores and soon aboard an aluminum tender heading out to where The Evening Star was anchored.


A Komodo Dragon consuming a deer whole.

The vessel was Philippine built for the West Australian Education Department. It was delivered to them in Perth; where the height of the mast was stopping its entry into port so they cut off the mast at the deck.


Komodo Village Life.

Can you believe our educators are so clueless? I can’t! Myself, Benita and Shane plus ten others, found ourselves on a well-appointed and charming vessel dodging the whirlpools as we set sail metaphorically (by motor) for Pink Rocks and a good anchorage point off Komodo Island.

Komodo village was a simple affair with a small jetty and set back stilted houses; ragged undernourished children and adults greeted us with dusty hands, great lizards mainly laying around and occasionally wandering seemingly aimlessly flicking threateningly their double pronged forked tongues; tasting the air. It’s a new sensation to be down the food chain in the presence of real danger. It keeps you on your toes.


Heading for a trek to Pink Rocks.

The Komodo wrangling guides wore kaki and brown shirts and pants with impressive steel toed climbing boots and held long sticks with a v point, sharpened to around the size of the average Komodo’s eye distance apart, their weapon of control over the stinking reptiles. The dragon’s breath is toxic as is their spittle rumoured to carry a hormonal virus that rots the flesh and gives off a terrible stenching odour that all Komodo dragons immediately desire; not much gets away from the Komodo dragon.


Heading for a trek to Pink Rocks.

We sailed around Komodo, Rinca and Flores languishing for ten days discovering new dive spots, pearl beds and beach hideaways and wading up the crystal clear rivers exploring the nearly deserted islands.


Ocean from above Pink Rocks.

The deer, fireflies and birds, the green jungle, wild orchids and mosses, the turquoise and phosphorescence of waters and bright tropical fish all took their toll energizing the body and emboldening the spirit to entertain ever more curiosity and enquiry into the great mysteries of nature. These are the things that the thinking man’s mind faces on the edge of wilderness.
Many have experienced a serene kind of awe when seeing a manta ray circling them in the blue water or witnessed an octopus change into a fish and then into a piece of coral; Alien masters of disguise they are with unknown genetics! It’s a whole other universe down there.


Rain Cloud over Nothern Sumbawa.

End of Part One

Duncan Murray Kirk
Longtime Bali resident and the writer of Bali Sustainable Visions (Abbeville Press) and In the spirit of Bali (Assouline) plus the Author of Adventure thriller The Rollo Trilogy and The Wetiko Killers.

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