A Taste of Paradise – Friwin, Gam and Penumu Islands, Raja Ampat

Our destination is Penumu Island, 30 NM east of Waisai, where we’re keen to do some diving. But there’s no need to rush – there’s plenty of great places to explore on the way.

Friwin Island looking west
The jetty at Friwin Island

Our first stop is Friwin Island, a picturesque little place with plenty of space to anchor off the jetty.  Most anchorages in Raja Ampat are deep, we’re told this is relatively ‘shallow’ at 25 metres! The only problem is that the current rushes through here at pace, so the only way to have a swim is to hang on to the dolphin line at the back of the boat. It’s a bit like being in a spa or a wave pool. 

Hang on Bruce!

We take the dinghies round the corner to the little island of Friwinbonda and drift snorkel the west wall – sadly there’s a lot of garbage in the water and the visibility isn’t great, but there’s an extraordinary number of fish feeding in the current and some pretty corals.

Our next stop is beautiful Besir Bay on the south side of Gam Island. Another reasonably straightforward anchorage with manageable depths.

Dead calm at Besir Bay
complete with gorgeous sunset

The bay is huge, with limestone karst inlets and islands and we have fun zooming around exploring in the dinghies. We find some inland lakes that remind us of the ‘hongs’ in Thailand. Here’s a little clip of our adventures (not very good quality, but you get the idea)…


We take the iPad with us, hoping to use our tracks if we come back again but our Navionic charts are useless here. Take a look at our track to see how badly out of whack the charts are -I  promise we never once hit the rocks!

hahaha – look at that track! Not going to trust these charts, never ever!

The water is crystal clear and there’s a surprising amount of coral and fish life here, even deep inside the bay.

hello Nemo!

The currents in the Dampier Strait are very strong, so it pays to time your passages with the tides – they ebb west and flood east. If you get it wrong you could be going nowhere fast with up to 4 knots of current against you.  To get to Penumu we need to pick our time carefully and it pays off – we shoot along in the current and in no time are at the anchorage on the east side of the island.

Jams and Sarabande already tied up in the inlet at Penumu

This one is a bit more of a challenge and it’s too deep to put an anchor down (58 metres!) so it’s our first experience of tying up to the rock walls. While in Sorong we bought 2 x 100 metre lengths of floating line and now it comes in handy. The other two boats are old hands at this, so they help us take our lines ashore. We also have lengths of wire rope and shackles to prevent chafing in case we need to tie off to the rocks or trees, but conveniently there are already loops of line on the cliff face left by other boats that we can use.  It feels kind of weird, but it’s secure and snug enough.

Our bow line to the rocks (we later change this so it leads through our bow roller to the windlass)
And another one leading from our aft cleat to the rock wall behind us

We have a great few days here exploring the local dive sites, each seemingly more breathtaking than the last. Diving is quite challenging here because of the currents – most dives are ‘drift’ dives so we either have to tow our dinghy with us, or take turns with the other boats. Wes on “Sarabande” prefers to free dive and is a keen spearfisherman, so he often volunteers to mind our dinghies for us.  We’re still getting used to the new Sealife camera and lights and we have a lot to learn, but it certainly has the potential to take good footage if only the camera operators can get up to speed!

Oriental sweetlips posing for the camera
stunning colours of yellow crinoid and purple coral
We almost didn’t see this moray eel, he’s well camouflaged.
such a diversity of soft and hard corals
A cute little puffer fish
crinoids on gorgonian fan coral
colourful crinoid

We have a lay-day from diving and take the dinghies to the lagoon on Penumu known as “Little Wayag” because of it’s resemblance to the famous island further north of here. It’s a popular tourist spot and you need to pay to do the walk to the top of the island but it’s worth it – the views are gorgeous. 

The lagoon at Penumu
The pay station at the lagoon. It cost us $5 per person
Fancy looking dock to tie up to
Gorgeous view from the top

We finish our excursion with sundowners on the dock, where our Kiwi friends are hoping to get enough internet to listen to the rugby semi-finals. No luck unfortunately, but it’s a lovely evening watching the manta rays feeding near the jetty. We could get used to this.

Sundowners on the dock at Penumu with the crews of Jams and Sarabande

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