Saturday, March 15, 2014

SIMILAN ISLANDS DIVING

5 DAYS OF DIVING INTO WARM, BLUE, CLEAR SEAS.....What a pleasure!





Sunday 9th March saw us waiting at the head of the lengthy Chalong Pier in Phuket for ScubaCats transport to arrive which would be taking us to their waiting Dive Liveaboard boat and our 70 mile overnight voyage to the Similan Islands in Lat 9 degrees North, 98 degrees East.

By 1900 we were onboard and starting to meet our fellow divers. We were very fortunate to have such a great group of people from Switzerland,  Hawaii, Germany, China, New Zealand  and of course good old UK on the trip. I was sharing a cabin with Amin, a young Indian pilot who was a real pleasure to get to know and who gave me plenty of insights into India and Indian Culture.

Over the next few days I spent a good deal of time talking to Si Si, a young Chinese lady and the product of China's  'One Child' policy. As are many young people in Thailand and I guess most of the Asian Cultures, Si Si was under immense pressure to conform (by returning to and remaining in her banking job) to support her ageing parents and an even more ageing set of Grandparents. She had plans to marry. Her husband would also be from a one child family with equal responsibilities and with an equal number of immediate family to support. So, imagine entering marriage with the instant financial burden of supporting 8 people as well as yourselves! Si Si has worked in Scotland for a few years and understands the comparative freedom we enjoy in the West so it was even harder for her to make the decision to return to her previous life and slip into her expected role....and there was deep resentment there. Not because of her demanding and expectant parents but because of the One Child policy that has resulted in single children having to take on the responsiilties that a number of children in the past would have shared.
 Anyhow, back to the diving. Jeff Whittard and Heath Barnard were on their first ever liveaboard trips. Sadly, Jai could not be with us for fear of reinfecting her wounds in the sea. She is much more philosphical about this dog incident than I would be....but hers is definitely the right way to be and she is very grateful to be alive and not maimed for life.
 Liveaboard trips improve one's diving skills dramatically. Amin, my Indian friend, was managing within just two days to be diving without any weights at all....just using the weight of his scuba tank and exercising good control of his breathing which enabled him to enjoy the extra freedom of 'flying' underwater without the feeling of 'load' that a weight belt inevitably creates.
 Jeff and Heath did not achieve weightlessness but did improve their air use and bouyancy control on a dive by dive basis. It was great to see these noticeable improvements and how the dives became ever longer as less air was being consumed through increased diving skills.
 We dived 4 times a day with the first dive at 0700. The first dive was always the deepest with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th dives maximum depths always being a little bit shallower than the previous dive. The scenery in The Similans and the dive sites to the north heading towards the Surin Islands are wonderful. Fabulous clarity, varied underwater topography and teeming with life, this really is a diver's paradise. Take a look at the photo above....that's Jeff blanked out by a passing shoal of fish.
 Jeff at last managed to overcome his bicycle kick method...a technique guaranteed to chew up your air and leave you going no-where. Note his straight legs!
 We were constantly surrounded by fish. Sometimes there were so many it was impossible to work out where you were in relation to the sea bed, surrounding corals and the surface....a very weird feeling diving through condensed fish soup.

 Diving through the granite boulder scenery and inbetween colourful coral reefs with a sea temperature of 29 degrees is magical. For many UK divers, this is all too easy and does not present much of a diving challenge but for those who enjoy relaxing dives with an abundance of things to look at, then this is the sort of diving to do and, although we are still wearing scuba tanks etc our actual dive equipment was very simple. Some people dive in just shorts and T-Shirt with most opting for a 3mm shortie. Because the 'dive suits' are so light, less weight is required to get you down and therefore a lightweight BCD is more than enough to provide the lift required. So, we are all diving with as little gear as possible....which is another bonus.
 Yep...this is me swimming into a shoal of fish. Once I entered this I had to navigate by compass and current direction. This was one of many massive and densly packed shoals that you simply could not see through.
 Divers perfected the art of sticking their heads into holes with just their nether reqions exposed. Here is Amin, hidden by a cloud of fish, determined to get the perfect nudibranch photo shot.
 Fish, fish and more fish. So many species to see of all shapes, colours and sizes. We were fortunate to see manta ray, shark, big sting rays, Giant Trevelly, barracuda, rainbow runners, morays, nudibranchs, crabs, cuttlefish etc etc.......the list is so long as there really is so much to see that it all becomes overwhelming at times.
 Like many of you, I recall reading Homer's 'The Odyssey' with his many referrals to the sea as the 'fish tumulteous sea'. As The Odyssey was written at the end of the 8th Century, I always wondered what a 'fish tumulteous' sea would have been like. Well, here it is!!!
 Here is a group of us on one of the dives to give an idea of the visibility....pretty amazing, eh?

Inbetween dives most divers were in a state of collapse or fast asleep in their cabins. We rarely saw Jeff, for example. Once he's scoffed as much of the post dive food prepared by the excellent chef onboard as he could, Jeff would disappear to his airconditioned cabin and re-emerge moments before the next dive. Heath (on the right in white T shirt), as can be seen, maintained a watchful and alert eye over the top deck proceedings and was always on hand to offer helpful advice to the less experienced members of our group.

What a great trip. Scubacats is a wonderful dive company and their Similan Island trips are a joy to be involved with. Yesterday we had our final three dives day trip with Scubacat and it was very noticeable to see how easily Jeff and Heath dealt with the strong currents and poor visibility thanks to our dive liveaboard experience.

For those of you who are interested we dived Anita's Reef at Similan Island 5; Koh Bon, Tachai Pinnacle (superb), Richelieu Rock (amazing) Koh Ta Chai, Similan Island 8 (Three Trees) and West of Eden. We dived these sites several times.

Sadly that is the end of our diving now. Over the next 4 days we all return to UK leaving Jai here to manage the house and hand it over to our long term let customers arriving on April 1st. This has been an exceptionally busy four months...I haven't had the time to write as many blog entries as in the past. In fact it has been so busy I have even had to forgo the pleasure of going to my Thai School for the past few weeks.

We are already very busy next winter. In fact I think we are fully booked...but I will check that out on my return. Buying this house was always meant to be just a 5 year adventure. Next season will be our 8th season and it may well be the final one as I feel it is time to move on and have another adventure, maybe in a different part of Thailand or possibly another country. We shall see.

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