Saturday, March 15, 2014



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.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dinner for the Ageing

Here we are at The Natural resturant in the Old City in Phuket. This resturant is amazing and has built up a cult following because of its very unusual decor and ambience.......but mainly because of its packed and original menu.

Maybe you can see some of the items on this menu....the prices are in Thai Baht with about 50 Baht to the £1 at the moment which shows that most dieshes are £3

 Some more items in the Fish Range and amazingly good.
 Jai is showing off her coconuts....I was trying to get a shot of the very pretty girls sitting behind her but they kept blocking each other out. Bugga!
 The Natural Resturant is so called because of its abundance of foliage......a wonderful place to enjoy the best of Thai food and just a short wander to the reclaimed part of the City with its colourful Sino-Chinese architecture and small bars with some very impressive live music.
Here's Jai and Terri Bex who is staying for three weeks. Terri is from Weymouth. Her husband, Dave, is one of the commercila bass fishermen...he wanted to come but reckoned he couldn't stand the long flights without being able to have a fag! See the curses of smoking????

Friday, March 7, 2014

The RBFC 2014 Classic

This is where it all the Rawai Fishing Club HQ with a beer or two and enjoying the stunning views across Rawai and of the outlying islands.

 Rawai is at the southern end of Phuket and contains the Sea Gypsy Village where we go for our famous fresh seafood feasts!

The Rawai Beach Fishing Club's 2014 Classic boat fishing competition took place on 25th to 27th February. 20 boats with teams of four took part with fishing centred around (but three miles offshore) of the Similan Islands Lat 8.30N and 97.40E.

The boats travelled overnight from several mainland ports ready to start gathering offshore on the 25th (here's four of the Game Boats milling about) for the 0800 start gun. Competitors were allowed to fish non-stop until 1600 on the 27th if they so wished. This meant that the event was very much a 'Liveaboard' event as the boats were so far offshore. Boats that could not accommodate their anglers in this way used the 'Mother Boat' M.V. Phoenix which was stationed close to the shelter of Similan Island Number 4 and where Nok, Phoenix's brilliant Thai chef, conjured up amazing dinners for the 30 of us onboard.

 I know you readers don't know these lads (well, you may know one of them) but these men are all part of our great angling brotherhood and so it's just nice to see the fish they caught and to dleight in their success.

There were some excellent Giant Trevelly caught with the best weighing in at 16.3kg as caught by Anton Arefiev from Russia who fished aboard 'Zoom Zoom' in the Ardent Angler team.
 Wahoo to 12.8kg, Barracuda to 7.1kg and King Mackerel to 7.5kg all featured along with Dorado to 8.2kg, Trevally to 16.5kg and tuna to 10.4kg.
 Happy lads with some hard fighting game fish.....
                                                      One of the participating Game Boats
And here's our friend George Blacksmith. George is from Airdrie, Scotland and is a regular angler out of Weymouth having fished with me aboard the Rebel on a 5 day Channel Island trip last year. George is a very experienced angler and just loves to fish...he's also great fun to have around so it was an unexpected pleasure to discover he was participating. Here's George with a 10kg wahoo which set the standard on Day One.

George also set the pace in the Dorado category with a very nice 4.6kg dorado which was beaten later in the event.

 Monody Anderson from South Africa (but working and living in Phuket) with the 'other species' category winner with his 12.3kg bullhead grouper. Monody's team, KP, fished aboard Chok Taranee and won several species categories with a methodically successful approach to each different type of fish. although the big points are taken by the billfish, Monody's team took first equal place with the Autralian team Fish Darwin fishing aboard Sangtom, by deliberately targetting the 'lesser' fish but catching enough of them to equal the billfish scores with 110 points.
 Another nice dorado of 8.2kg.................taking first place in the Dorado section for 'The Snoodles'..
 King Mackerel...wouldn't it be great if our mackerel went this big.
And another cracking G.T of 15.8kg.

Best marlin measured 167cm and the best sailfish came to 203cm.

Next year's event will be in early March 2015. the event is open to all. if any of you chaps out there fancied entering or even getting a team together as part of a holiday over here that you are guaranteed to enjoy...then let me know and I can set up communications with the organisers for you.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Diving at Racha Yai and Racha Noi

Scubacats weekly dive programme allows a visit to the two islands of Racha Yai and Racha Noi which are 2 hour steam south west of Chalong. We left at 0800 and settled down to enjoy the breakfast on offer and have the opportunity to meet other divers and our dive guides for the day. The choppy conditions resuted in our first dive taking place within a sheltered bay off Racha Yai where the sea was deep blue and crystal clear. Here's Jeffrey from Bristol dropping down to 18mtr.

                           Heath from Southampton and Dave from Dublin (in the background).
 As always there were man different species of colourful fish to photograph....and the brightness of the sun coming through the water certainly helps with getting your photo's.
 Lionfish are always photogenically obliging....just advisable not to get to close to them as they pack a hefty poisonous punch completley out of proportion to their diminutive size.

Here's a very tiny but brightly coloured Moray Eel poking out of its coral surroundings...funny blue mouth, eh?
 There were plenty of mantis shrimp all over the dive sites and clear of cover which is unsual. They certainy weren't bothered about us lot and seemed happy to pose for me!
 We saw quite a few moray eels of varying sizes. This one is a Giant Moray...and it WAS pretty big with its body coiling around its coal home. They get quite stroppy when you poke one of their coiled bits...never mind tho' as Jeffery was the most likely to get bitten in this instance.
 All three dives featured a dazzling array of soft and hard's pretty mind boggling seeing all the different colours, shaps n sizes down there.
                        You might be able to see this little crab poking out from under its shell
                       Big areas of low lying coral were a main feature of the Racha Noi dive.
The Racha seabed features areas of brlliantly white soft sand which show up the fish colours to their best.

The three dive day programme brings us back to Chalong Harbour at pm. Apart from our three one hour dives we were treated to a constant supply of soft drinks, fruits and Thai lunch. There was an endless supply of toast and various spreads.

 The dive companies do look after you very well. They can do this because of the amount of staff every boat has. Unemployment in Thailand is officially given at 0.3% (I don' tbelieve that for a second) which means there are many more people than necessay doing a job that just one or two people could do. On the dive boat the Captain is just that...the Captain. You do not see him. He is in his wheel house doing what a Captain should do....captaining the boat! He has at least 3 boat boys running around doing all the crew type stuff. Then there is the cook.....and his helper. Then there are the dive company people...the dive guides, the photographer, the trip co-ordinator...and then there are a few of us, the customers!! We are often in the minority....and thus we are spoilt rotton.

Th dive boats are rarely full. Diving is expensive here. It used to be cheap in Thailand. Nothing is cheap now and Phuket is expensive by the rest of Thailand standards. A typical 3 dive day out is £80 which is a lot of money especially if you would like to do a few dives during your holiday here. This is why we doa lot of shore! And several Longtail Boat days which work out at £15 each for two fives.

But nothing can beat the offshore dive sites and best of all are the Similan Islands. We are due to go there on Sunday for a 5 day liveaboard trip. Jai is depressed because she cannot come because of her injuries but at least she has two lady customers also staying so she will have some company.