By Bob Halstead
The Pelagian is one of the World’s legendary liveaboard dive boats. She started life as a luxury private yacht and then operated for many years in the Red Sea as Fantasea 2. Pelagian is still operating, these days from Wakatobi Dive Resort. So, in 2001, when my wife Dinah and I were invited to Indonesia for a cruise on this famous vessel from Bali to Komodo and back, I seized the opportunity and accepted the invitation. I had already heard wonderful stories of Komodo diving from colleagues, so we would be combining a great boat with great diving.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, as our dive guide to Komodo was Larry Smith. Larry was a legend in his own right, and it was an unforgettable experience to dive under his direction. He gave detailed descriptions of the dive sites, conditions, and the critters we were likely to see, telling us everything we needed to know and not boring us with a basic dive course. Even critters I knew intimately took on new life after Larry’s lyrical portrayals, and I could not wait to get in the water and photograph them again with my new insights. Common cleaner shrimp became fascinating after he had taught a local crewmember how to get the shrimp to clean the crew’s teeth!
When I told Larry I had never seen a Torpedo Ray, he personally guided me on a night dive to meet this bizarre fish. To Larry, everything underwater was magical and his enthusiasm contagious. His energy was admirable – five dives a day, and he never missed a dive.
Our diving was wonderful. Larry took us to spectacular sites and, when we reached Komodo, the bounty and colour of the reefs was overwhelming. We also were able to experience the infamous Komodo Dragons. Pelagian was comfortable, the crew and food superb and the diving adventure one of our best ever. Larry and I became friends and I looked forward to diving with him again sometime in the future. Perhaps it would be my turn next to show him some of our spectacular diving in Papua New Guinea.
During this special cruise we all had a huge shock when, just after September 11th, we received messages that he Twin Towers in New York had been attacked and thousands had had their lives cut short.
Getting home proved to be quite a problem as Ansett Airlines went bankrupt while we were away and our flights home were cancelled. But nothing we encountered could cloud our memories of that special cruise with Larry. Alas I never dived with Larry again. Larry became sick with pneumonia and died in March 2007 just 56 years old. So our memory of Pelagian and Larry is especially treasured. I think back on our Pelagian adventure as a highlight of my career and one that reinforces the fact that life is short and that we must make the most of every day, and of every dive, just as Larry did.
Many times I have heard divers complain about visibility or weather or that they did not see very much when, on the very same dive, other divers come up raving about how much they enjoyed themselves. A positive attitude is vital. Make the most of whatever conditions you have and set out to find fascinating fishes and captivating critters.
On one of my best dives, many years before the Pelagian cruise, I decided to find something – anything – on a lone sea fan on an otherwise barren reef. I would have been happy with an allied cowry or a crab but instead found what turned out to be a new species of pygmy sea horse. Unfortunately this was before pygmy sea horses were all the rage and, at the time, I thought it was a juvenile and did not realise it was a new species. But it was new to me anyway, and a thrill. I have the photos and the excitement of my discovery is still with me.
I am glad that Larry never missed a dive and that his enthusiasm never waned. I am sad that the victims of 9/11 were robbed of all the great adventures they were looking forward to.
The lesson is simple. Do not delay. Live life to the full. Enjoy every dive. In this life there are so many great dives, and so little time.