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Published: November 7th 2017
We boarded on Oct 26 to Nov 6 for 10 days of diving in New Britain Island located in North East Papua New Guinea.
The 73ft MV Febrina was built in 1972 and has been operating Kimbe Bay since 1991. My first thought was that it was an old boat but it was refitted in 2010. The dive deck was fitted with a camera table that was way too small to accommodate more than 6 large cameras at best. A charging station with 110V to 220V outlets for recharging batteries was located on a separate shelf. Also in the saloon there where plenty of outlets for everyone to charge their electronics. There is always hot water in the showers with good pressure, ice-cold AC in the cabins and saloon areas. Nitrox is available promptly and the mix is consistently between 30 and 32. The freezers and refrigerators stow food for 12 guest and 9 crew for 10 days with no problem. The cabins are small, clean and comfy and never bad odors. So I would say first highlight: no major complaints for a 26 year old boat.
Second highlight is that for the entire 26 years of MV FeBrena
operating, she has been run by capt/owner Alan Raabe. Over two decades of experience in Kimbe Bay waters, weather, dive sites, locals, divers and the boat itself. Priceless. They have organized a system with the local villages to be allowed to dive certain areas in exchange of payment and villagers also agreed not to fish those areas. It works out great. Moorings were set and reefs are kept in the best conditions. It was interesting to hear stories of negotiation with some of the villages which ended up not allowing permission to dive so now the boat just doesn’t go there. Having said that, if you worry about getting boarded by pirates at night and stealing you camera gear from deck…don’t. The only visitors we got were village children in wooden cones that brought us fresh grown spinach, papayas and coconuts.
MV FeBrina harbors at Walindi Diving Resort although they are independent operations. The dive trips start at end at their dock in Walindi. The diving area covers Kimbe Bay, Witu Islands, and Fathers Reef..
Prices include accommodation, all meals, warm towels after the dives 😊 , laundry, tanks, weights, belts, DM services. Not included: Nitrox, Environment fees,
airfares, bar drinks (2 glasses of wine are complimentary with dinner) , tips. They accept Kina, US$, AU$, Euro or Credit Card. Very Convenient.
No Malaria mosquitos on the boat. Malaria is a BIG problem and the locals are used to getting it recurrently. It’s as normal as the flu would be for us and they even keep working. The engineer on the boat got it the previous trip and he continued his tasks. So by all means, don’t forget your pills at home. Make sure you take them to play safe. The resort has large areas of standing water next to MV Febrina's dock.
There is no Wifi onboard and spotty WiFi at Walindi (The WiFi at Walindi gets turned off with the generator at 11pm). I bought a 3 gig Digicel Sim Card for about US$30 at arrival at the airport that worked pretty much everywhere in Kimbe Bay. So I was able to message my family and even send some photos through the whats up app. The hotspot on my phone also worked with the sim.
The crew was great, very good English spoken and always ready to assist you with a smile.
The chef went to a culinary school in Rabaul and her food was traditional French style, Italian and Asian. We even had Duck breast one night. The best meal was her Scotch Filet marinated in Papaya and Red Wine. She made fresh bread every day. Her desserts where my favorites. You can never go wrong with the classics: Chocolate mouse, Almond Peachy Pie, Chocolate roll, Profiteroles with Chocolate liquor sauce and Pavlova with a sauce to dream for.
Josie the Dive Instructor has been on MV Febrina for 16 years. She acts like a course director and does everything on the boat. She makes sure everything runs smoothly between captain, divers and crew. Also negotiates the diving fees with the villagers and makes sure they get their fees in the bank accounts. In addition, she leads the divers around the sites, collects payments, communicates schedules, dive briefings and helps in all areas. To me, she is the heart of MV FeBrena.
DM “Digger” has been on the boat for 27 years…he gets his nickname for a reason. He knows the critters and their habitats. He will point out the small stuff. He also drives the boat, sets the
moorings, feeds the sharks and understands photography. In my ideal world, there should be one Digger per photographer…
Captain. Definitely a character who kept us entertained. So what if he has a beer or a glass of wine. So what if every thing he says starts with “F”. He is a sea dog and as I mentioned before I value his knowledge and experience. Never once felt unsafe under his command.
As for the interior girls and deck crew: everything was in great conditions at all times. I don’t know at what time they took breaks. All I can say is that they will put any crew in the yachting industry to shame.
The water temperature was about 86F (30C) which was quite hot for my 5mm. The dive sites are mostly pinnacles or very deep walls with large colorful fans, coral and sponges. A couple of the pinnacles were stunningly healthy and full of fish. And the last dive at Susan Gulley had a very interesting school of small silver fish. Some sites were completely covered with hard coral. Visibility was ok but not crystal clear, and current was mild but constant. I think I counted 3
macro dives sites: Tuare Island, Peer reef next to the Crater (Mandarine fish there but very small and shy) and Restorf.
Being a macro photographer the dives sites are not what I would choose to dive if I could choose. I would rather stay at Restorf Dive Site for all 10 days…(Someone should actually build a dive shack in that Island!)
Although since I am just blogging about the highlights my favorite experience was swimming with the biggest school of barracuda I have ever seen at Bradford Shoal. Our plan was to take a photograph of me swimming inside the circle of barracudas but I was a little shy getting in and they suddenly surrounded both of us photographer and me. So we just hovered there mid water inside a thick wall of barracudas that swam gently around us. The experienced ended when the rest of the divers charged at the school trying to take photos. And my second favorite experience was interacting with a super friendly turtle. Actually there were 4-sites with 1 friendly turtle each: Killibob’s Knob, Jackies Knob, Jayne’s Gully and Leslies Knob. I think we did 2 dives on each. They get under you
and your camera while you are photographing something the same way that a cat gets on you computer when you are trying to work. So much fun and so cute. I just decided to stop trying to do anything and watch them bother every body I had a huge laugh. What an amazing encounter.
We fed the silver tip sharks. That was cool for about 10 min but after that I wandered around turning rocks looking for critters. I guess if I had a wide angle on I would have more fun with the sharks.
As far as the critters there was an assortment from Hairy shrimps mostly with eggs, Pipehorse, Denise pigmy seahorse, nudis, crabs, octos, blennies, eels…all the usual subjects. I like to capture critters I haven’t photographed or seen before. I only saw one nudi I haven’t seen before. I am sure the critters are there, overall MV FeBrina is just not macro photographer oriented. The dive operation is more “follow the guide swim around the reef” kind of thing. Not the way we dive as our dive buddies know lol. Anyway, I was very happy to photograph one of my favorite nudis, a Bornella
Anguilla. I had seen it once before in Alor, Indonesia under a flying current dive and couldn’t take a photo. This time the conditions were not as tough but still under current, the nudi looked like holding on in a rollercoaster ride but I still managed to get a shot. My second favorite to photograph was a pair of mated jacks displaying mating colors. One turns dark and the other one turns light. There was a school of jacks on the reef and all the sudden they paired up and flashed the colors. What a cool distinctive behavior to witness. Not all of them paired up. Maybe not all of them are mature enough to mate I don’t know.
It was a great experience and we both feel that Kimbe Bay is over-hyped and we are happy we can scratch if off the list. I appreciate the opportunity immensely. If you like pretty pinnacle diving and swim around behind a guide by all means go for it. But if you are like me… spend your money somewhere else.
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