Rebreather diver on Magnifica, a spectacular wall dive at Wakatobi
photo by Walt Stearns

Silence on the Reefs

Published March 5, 2014 in Diving, Rebreather Diving, Underwater Photography, Underwater Videography

“Overall, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect environment. You don’t have to dive a rebreather to experience all the wonderful attractions of Wakatobi, but having these systems can add yet another layer to your enjoyment of this magnificent ecosystem.”
Craig Willemsen, owner, Silent Word Diving

Rebreather diving at Wakatobi dive resort

Wakatobi's house reef is ideal for rebreather diving. Divers have the option to go on an extended CCR dive mere steps away from the resort's villas and bungalows.    photo by Walt Stearns
Wakatobi’s house reef is ideal for rebreather diving. Divers have the option to enjoy extended CCR dives mere steps away from the beach fronting the resort’s villas and bungalows.
photo by Walt Stearns

When rebreather divers cite the many benefits their equipment provides, ease of travel is rarely on that list. It’s not just getting the gear on an airplane and to the boat that poses challenges, it’s also the added demands on the dive operator. To accommodate the closed-circuit crowd, a resort has to stock absorbent medium, oxygen fills, supply cylinders and bailout tanks, all administrated by a staff that understands the protocols and altered dive profiles a rebreather creates. Diving itineraries may also need to be modified to accommodate the typically longer bottom times closed circuit rebreather (CCR) diving provides.

A select few dive resorts are now catering to the needs of closed-circuit divers, and Wakatobi is at the head of this list. Here, rebreather divers are provided not only the support structure their equipment requires, but also enjoy a marine environment that is ideally suited to maximizing the in-water benefits of rebreathers.

Divers enjoy the silence and a long dive on Wakatobi's house reef.  photo by Steve Miller
Rebreather divers enjoy the silence and a long dive on Wakatobi’s house reef.
Photo by Steve Miller 

Wakatobi’s closed-circuit rebreather diving program was launched in 2006, when resort founder Lorenz Mäder purchased his first AP Evolution CCR and invested in the systems needed to support this system. The dive shop was equipped with gas booster pumps, and stocked with Sofnolime absorbent, two- and three-liter supply tanks in both steel and aluminum, and an assortment of off board bailout tanks and regulators. The resort’s oxygen supply was increased, and helium stocks were added for CCR trimix diving.

Dive protocols were also created to accommodate the potentially longer dive times that CCR diving allows. There are at least three certified Advanced Gas blenders among the staff. Depending on scheduling, it may be possible to pair CCR divers with a dive guide who is also CCR qualified. If not, dive plans are created that will allow CCR divers to enjoy extended bottom times, while dive guides on open circuit equipment split their guide services into two shifts, or bring extra Gas with an Advanced Nitrox setup.

To facilitate their diving activity, the Silent World dive group was provided with their own boat, which allowed them to make longer dives without keeping open-circuit divers waiting. photo by Warren Baverstock
To facilitate their diving activity, the Silent World dive group was provided with their own boat, which allowed them to make longer dives without keeping open-circuit divers waiting.
Photo by Warren Baverstock 

CCR groups are assigned their own boat to get the silent diving experience and enjoy the full freedom the technology allows. Currently, the resort maintains ample supplies of Sofnolime 797 (8-12 mesh) and N2050 (4-8 mesh) to support up to 15 CCR divers at all times, and even larger groups can be accommodated with advanced notice. Cartridge absorbent can also be provided given sufficient lead time to ensure shipping.

photo Walt Stearns
Because many of Wakatobi’s reefs come within mere feet of the surface, what might
be considered a safety or deco stop at other places becomes an extended hangout
on the light-filled shallows.    Photo by Walt Stearns 


CCR diving is also available aboard Wakatobi’s liveaboard dive yacht, the Pelagian, based on the diver’s experience level and the specifics of the trip. Because diving activity on Pelagian is conducted from the ship’s tenders, diving a rebreather from these smaller boats requires a higher degree of fitness and comfort with the equipment than would be the case aboard the resort’s large day boats. In addition, because gear space aboard the tenders is limited on trips when the Pelagian is filled to capacity, CCR diving at such time would be limited to a single off-board configuration rather than the more complex rigging needed to stage extended decompression or trimix dives. For more about diving from Pelagian dive yacht, read recent posts.

CCR divers traveling to Wakatobi should be certified on the equipment they bring. The resort is not currently geared to providing “rebreather experience” dives or basic training on CCR equipment, and visiting groups are not allowed to perform their own classes, as the instructing would require an Indonesian permit. The dive center stocks spare parts for AP Diving CCRs, but divers diving other brands will need to carry any spares they feel necessary. A better option for those seeking to begin or enhance their CCR skills would be to complete an entry-level course (no deco, air diluent, 30m max depth) pre-trip and then collect hours on the unit during a Wakatobi holiday. While at the resort, divers trained on AP Divers CCRs could also engage Lorenz as a private instructor, and complete a second-level course (deco, air diluents, 45m max depth).

Craig Willemsen, the owner of Silent World Diving in Bellevue, Washington, has led several rebreather trips to Wakatobi. “Many on the last trip were diving the KISS Sport or the Orca Spirit, and a couple had Evolutions,” he says. “Most of the group packed all their gear in a carry on and two regular 50-pound checked bags, or in the case of the Evolutions, 70 pounds. There’s really no problem traveling with a rebreather if you pack things correctly.” Willemsen’s next group trip to Wakatobi, scheduled for May 2014, will include about 15 rebreather divers in addition to OC divers.

CCR Diving
Daily diving acitivty is a smooth process for CCR divers at
Wakatobi, Willemsen says. The dive staff “understand the
equipment and the profiles, and several  are avid closed-
circuit divers themselves,” he says.  Photo by Walt Stearns


A dedicated area in the dive center enables CCR divers to work on their systems pre and post dive as necessary.    Photo by Walt Stearns
A dedicated area in the dive center enables CCR divers to work on their systems pre and post dive as necessary.  Photo by Walt Stearns 

Daily diving activity is a smooth process for CCR divers at Wakatobi, Willemsen says. “The dive staff at Wakatobi is very rebreather savvy. They understand the equipment and the profiles, and several of them are avid closed-circuit divers themselves.” To facilitate their diving activity, the Silent World dive group was provided with their own boat, which allowed them to make longer dives without keeping open-circuit divers waiting.

Cornucopia is a site rebreather divers will often combine as a drift with the site Magnifica. for an extended dive lasting anywhere from  90 minutes to over two hours.  photo by Warren Baverstock
Cornucopia is a site rebreather divers will often combine as a drift with the site Magnifica. This offers an extended dive lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to over two hours.
Photo by Warren Baverstock 

“Our last group was all about the quality of bottom time, not just the quantity,” Willemsen says. “We typically stayed down longer on each dive, but we made fewer dives each day.” Instead of the five-dive-a-day schedule that some guests employ, the rebreather group usually made three dives a day, each lasting anywhere from 90 minutes to more than two hours. Profiles typically began with a visit to the deeper portions of the reef at 130 to 150 feet, with ascents that skirted decompression while taking advantage of the fixed PO2 gas mixtures rebreathers provide, he says. Because Wakatobi’s reefs come within mere feet of the surface, what might be considered a safety or deco stop at other places becomes an extended hangout on the light-filled shallows atop Wataktobi’s protected reefs.

Many of the group’s extended time dives were conducted as long drifts over two sites, connecting what would otherwise be two separate dives. Among these connections were Fan 38 East and West, from Galaxy to Fan Garden, Cornucopia and Magnifica together, and the entire length of Roma.

Diving "silent," or without bubbles, often enables the divers to get closer to marine life such as this reef manta.  photo by Wayne MacWilliams
Diving “silent,” or without bubbles, means CCR divers are sometimes more apt for closer encounters with marine life such as this dwarf manta, or mobula, which soar in to Wakatobi’s reefs from the blue.  Photo by Wayne MacWilliams

“In the end, we probably racked up a bit more bottom time than the open-circuit guests, but that wasn’t the big payoff,” Willemsen says. “One of the best things about diving a rebreather is the silence. We had a smaller group that was really squared away underwater, and we were able to spend more time with any given subject without worrying about gas duration or decompression obligations.” This combination of silence and time allowed the group to not just see the fish, but to enjoy the luxury of extra time and the silence needed to truly become familiar with the intricacies of life on the reef.

Fan 38 West, shown here, is often combined with Fan 38 East, for a relaxing, picturesque extended dive.  photo by Mark Snyder
Fan 38 West, shown here, is often combined with Fan 38 East, for a relaxing, picturesque extended dive.  Photo by Dr. Claus Meyer.

About half of the divers in the Silent World groups are photographers, says Willemsen, and those without a camera often become spotters for the photographers. The Wakatobi staff is legendary for their ability to find rare and reclusive animals. Open circuit guides work with CCR groups in a support capacity when requested, but do not limit profiles or enforce any sort of arbitrary bottom time limits.

Sponges on wall house reef Wakatobi-photo walt stearns
CCR divers can be dropped up current of the resort, allowing for a nice long drift along the edge of the wall, ending back to the resort.  Photo by Walt Stearns 

House Reef is ideal for CCR diving
CCR can also provide some remarkably long bottom times when diving in the shallower waters of the resort’s renowned House Reef.  Divers can easily access the House Reef day or night (monitored from 6 am to 10 pm) by wading in from the beach right in front of the resort, or by using the ladder off the jetty. Taxi boats are also available during daylight hours to drop divers up current, allowing for a nice long drift along the edge of the wall, ending back to the resort.

On the House Reef, CCR divers are asked to follow the same basic protocols as open-circuit scuba divers – either go with a buddy (also on CCR) or have a CCR instructor or solo diver qualification. Currents on the House Reef can range from mild to fairly wild during rising and falling tides. Wakatobi’s dive center recommends for dives longer than two hours that CCR divers tow a small surface marker to show their position. This allows the staff to monitor the divers’ location, since there are no bubbles, and ensure that they are not drifting too far away.

Wakatobi reef shallows_Walt Stearns
Wakatobi’s House Reef is indeed a special place to dive, and a safe haven for a variety of colorful reef fish, bluespotted stingrays, blue-ringed octopus, clownfish and frogfish to name a few. Photo by Walt Stearns

According to Lorenz, the shallower depths of the House Reef, combined with the constant PO2 advantages of CCR, make it possible to do very long dives safely. In theory, you could spend up to 10 hours exploring the reef shallows, depending on the diver’s personal metabolism and equipment configuration. Lorenz has personally made dives of six hours, ending it there because, “well, then I got hungry.”

The warmth and clarity of the water further enhances the enjoyment of extended-duration dives at Wakatobi, Willemsen says. “Overall, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect environment. You don’t have to dive a rebreather to experience all the wonderful attractions of Wakatobi, but having these systems can add yet another layer to your enjoyment of this magnificent ecosystem.”

For more information about Wakatobi’s rebreather diving program, or to plan a trip, contact the Wakatobi team at: office@wakatobi.com. Or visit www.wakatobi.com and click on Contact Us to complete a quick trip inquiry.

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