The pickup we had a arranged to take us to the dive shop was late and we sat waiting impatiently bickering and bitching at each other. We didn't have enough credit to call them either (cos Mon had used it all up - which gave Joe more ammunition). The worst bit is, we could have walked to the diveshop (albeit with big fuck off packs) in 10 mins! Eventually almost half an hour after the arranged time, we bit the bullet and went to 7-11 for more credit. We called them and they were like “Oh yes, he has just left” which we took to mean they had forgotten. 30 seconds later the guy pulled up and we were off. We got to the dive shop, stashed our big packs and kept the stuff we needed for the 4 days at sea, or so we thought... We tried on BCDs (buoyancy control devices) and booties and fins and got stuff that fit (and was the right colour for Mon). The equipment was all in great condition, which is always a good sign of a decent operation. We put all our dive gear in a box and then headed round to meet
Equipment all set up and ready to go
One of the Thai boat crew "flat out"
some of the dive guys.
Our friend Spaz (Hannah) had worked on the Manta Queen II (the boat we were on) for a few months earlier in the season so Tom (the tour leader) and Tits (real name Jonathan, the u/w videographer) were expecting us and were both good guys. Tom was a British ex-marine and was the strong silent type but with a good dry sense of humour. Tits was not quite as quiet... In fact he was your archetypal loud American but a wicked laugh and a quality bloke. Tits turned out to be our divemaster too. As he also had to video at the same time he got the “low maintenance” group of 2 divemasters (us) an instructor who was a tiny Thai woman called Eu - pronounced like a cockney saying “who?” and her friend Kim who was a old German guy who had over a hundred dives and tattoos of sharks and fish on him (normally a good sign of an experienced diver) but it turned out that he breathed air like it was going out of fashion (which can lead to rather short dives) and he had to be rescued out of the
Dolphin Head Rock
We decided this rock looked like a dolphin
water after surfacing from most dives. We piled into 2 waiting minivans and were soon at the port. We had seen pictures of the boat but were quite impressed seeing it in person. It was the best looking boat there. Before we were allowed aboard we had to surrender all foot wear for the duration of the trip. As it was a Thai boat there were no shoes allowed on board. We filled a box with flip flops and then all jumped aboard for a welcome briefing with Tom. He told us the boats dos and donts and requested that we did not lock our rooms as there were only a couple of keys on the whole boat. He also gave us diving procedures that would apply to all the 14 dives we would be doing.
After this, Joe realised they did not have any water bottles for the trip. There was free water on the boat from a cooler, but having to refill cups again and again would be tedious so a 750ml bottle was a good idea. He grabbed some cash from he and Mons stash and dashed off to the local shop (another 7-11!), he couldn't
Joe rinses his t-shirt
t had sand all over it as he fell out of the boat when it arrived. Stylish.
find the flip flop box so hobbled off bare footed to buy a couple of bottles of water. While there, he noticed that beer was 30 baht (as opposed to 60 baht on the boat) so he bought 4 cans for that evening. Every penny counts! When he got back Mon and his dive group were setting up their equipment in their allocated spots on the downstairs dive deck downstairs at the back of the boat. We put together all our gear, turned the air on, checked the tank was full and made sure that everything worked so that we were ready to dive first thing in the morning. We then headed upstairs for noodles and beers.
After dinner we headed down to shower and get ready for bed. Joe lay on the bed reading when Mon suddenly screamed “NOOOOOOOOOO!”. Joe jumped up thinking the ship was about to crash or sink or something. But the reality was something much much worse. Mon had forgotten ALL of her clothes. Somehow she had left them in her main pack. Muppet. She only had the pants, bra and dress she was standing in. Luckily she had packed her bikini, boardshorts and
Nice little beach we stopped off at
We had to spend a few hours on the surface between dives, so when we weren't motoring between dive sites, we often got to check out the local beaches
rash vest separately so she would not have to dive in her undies (like when you forgot your PE kit at school, that was well harsh wasn't it..?) Joe let her use his sarong and one of the divemasters lent her a Khao Lak Scuba Adventure t-shirt. As it turned out it was not a problem as most time was spent in bikini or sarong. Saved on the washing when we got back too. We fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat as we chugged away towards the Similan Islands and our first dive site in the morning.
We were woken up at 7.30 the next day for our first dive. Diving from a liveaboard is definitely the way ahead. No effort at all required. Stumble out of bed for a cup of tea and some toast upstairs, then down to the dive deck. Put on equipment, walk 2m with equipment, wait for the ship to blow its horn, then fall into the water. The Thai boat crew were also really helpful and insisted on putting our fins on for us even though we were perfectly capable of doing it ourselves! Once the dive was over you
just handed up your fins, climbed up a ladder, walked 2m with your equipment, took it off and left it and when you came back later for the next dive your tank had been filled and always to 240bar rather than the usual 200bar which meant 20% more dive time!
We wont go into detail about all the dives but will mention anything we think is interesting or exceptional. The Similan Islands are a chain of 9 islands. Sembilan means 9 in Malay and Simlian is a corruption of this. We started off at the Similan Islands spending the first couple of days diving around that area. There with 3 dives during the 1st day, plus a night dive at one of the sites we had already been too. As we were DMs they let us go off just the 2 of us on our own, which is the first time we have done this at night (it was only Mon's 2nd night dive ever and Joe's 3rd). It was a really nice dive, we went down to about 16m and stuck close together as Mon's torch was rubbish. We didn't see anything exceptional, but we saw some big
Dawn is rising
We got woken up at 6am for our 6:30 dive. The sun was rising and it looked like it was gonna be another wonderful day
crabs and noticed that wherever you shone your torch there were many pairs of little red eyes staring back at you which belonged to shrimps, lobsters, crabs and an assortment of other underwater critters. At the end of our dive we were pleased to find dinner waiting for us. 4 dives in a day is a good way to build up and good appetite and we stuffed our faces with the food which was always plentiful. Joe managed half a beer before passing out on the bed with the beer still next to him (which he later spilt all over Mon's stuff when getting ready in the morning).
The next morning it was a 6 o'clock wake up call for a 6.30 dive. We did a deep dive at a sight called Elephant Head Rock which was a site made up of lots of boulders piled up under the water which nearly always means there will be small gaps and channels and Joe's favourites: swim throughs! Swim throughs are gaps in rock or coral (or shipwrecks) which vary from little holes you can just fit through (aka tank scrapers) to massive holes 3 or 4 people can swim through
I think it was a bit too early for Joe.....
arm in arm. These ones were not tight but single file only. Our DM had briefed us on a Leopard Shark down below 30m that we would hopefully see. Leopard sharks are lazy fish and seem to spend most of their time just laying in a sandy patch. I guess they must be nocturnal or something... Just as we caught our first glimpse of the leopard shark Joe's dive computer beeped at him, indicating that it was either time to go up or go into “deco” as it is known. Deco diving means to go outside of your no decompression limits. If you stay within your no decompression limits, you can go straight to the surface without any fear of getting bent (the bends) where as if you go into deco your computer will tell you what your “ceiling” is, the depth you must not go above, and for how long you have to adhere to this ceiling. Deco diving is not something you should strictly do in recreational diving, but it is not at all uncommon amongst more experienced divers such as dive masters, instructors etc and is not dangerous provided you follow your computer. Modern computers are very
Eu said that???
Eu was part of our group and a very good diver
conservative when it comes to the stops they insist on and will keep you well within safe limits. A 5 or 10 year old computer will let you do things that would have a modern one peeing it's pants. The only thing you have to make sure of is that you have the required amount of air to stay down for the length of time required to complete the stops. That is the divers responsibility. Having strayed into deco by the odd minute or two in the past Joe decided to continue and get a proper look at the leopard shark. Mon saw that her computer had done the same and decided to have a quick look then shallow up a bit to try and minimise the amount of deco. As Tits (our DM and the videographer) got closer to the leopard he must have startled it as it chose that moment to swim off into the blue. It is a shame for any divers that got there after us but we were lucky to get a great view as this magnificent fish swam off swing it long tail.
We all checked our computers and started heading back towards
the shallower water to start getting back within our no decompression limits. It was at this point we noticed there was a bit of a current against us and we had to keep swimming against it to make progress, which means your body needs more air to function. Joe started to worry a little bit as he still had around 8 or 9 minutes of deco to complete and it didn't seem to be going down. He still had a decent amount of air but it was going down slightly faster than he would have liked... He made sure Mon had plenty of air (which she did) and made sure she kept close. If push came to shove he would have had to have gone up earlier rather than swimming back towards the shallows and then surfacing which would have meant the little rescue boat coming or a long swim. Any way, it was not necessary as he had sufficient air to make it on his own, although he was a little worried at one point! He came up with about 20 bar which is OK but should have had a little more of a reserve really. It was a
great dive though, and a good introduction to deco diving! We stayed and dived around that area for the rest of the day.
Overnight we were magicked to the nearby island of Koh Bon and our dive guides assured us it was well worth getting in first as it was one of the best sites around for seeing the magnificent Manta Rays, which are extremely rare, and whale sharks - another holy grail of diving - are relatively frequent visitors there too. Whale sharks (which were only officially discovered in 1828) are mysterious creatures with migratory habits which are little understood. Satellite tracking of whale sharks in US waters and also around Asia reveal that whale sharks can travel great thousands of kilometres. Their migrations seem to take years to complete in some cases. A far greater understanding of whale shark should be possible in the future as there are a number of studies of them ongoing around the world but for now divers are just happy to get the occasional glimpse.
We were the first boat there and first in the water. We had a nice dive there and saw a spectacular wall of coral but sadly
This was the group picture that was taken. Mon requested that everyone do a porno pose for the camera.
Mon was wearing this same dress from the first day to the last.....
no “big stuff” aka Mantas and Sharks. After the first dive there we headed off to Richeleu Rock which was absolutely breathtaking. A truly beautiful dive site. Another great place for whale sharks (wasn't our day though) and also home to lots of rare and unusual small stuff like crabs, shrimps, and the illusive Ghost Pipe Fish (Tits, our DM was able to find loads of good stuff for us). But despite all the rarities the thing which stood out was the dive site as a whole there were some really beautiful soft corals and walls and caves. A wicked site. Could happily have done 14 dives just there!!!
After that we started heading back towards base stopping at some more great dive sites along the way. The last dive was a wreck which had been broken up during the 2006 tsunami but was a great dive and a nice way to top off our trip. On the way back we took some group photos and we were soon back in the dock and headed back to Khao Lak to get a room for the night.
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