Oct 16, 2012

Seven Skies Wreck, 12-14 Oct 2012

Our much loved Divemaster couple: Michael and Melanie Smith were back from their pilgrimage in Northern Spain to expertly guide our divers this weekend. Additionally, another important member of the White Manta family attended with his own family: Chris Phillips. His nieces; Emily and Jessica took the PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses, respectively. Chris & Maria Phillips also brought along their young son: Zacharias; he and his carer Brenda were non-divers along with Katharina Hegi, mother of the Hegi family including husband Martin, and son & daughter; Oliver and Julia. They were each to attain their Advanced Open Water certificate. It was quite a family affair!

After everyone had arrived at TMFT and boarded MV White Manta we sailed to Nongsa Point marina in Batam to clear immigration to Indonesia. I never know exactly how long the process to take, but since we had 35 visas on arrival to be processed I was prepared for a bit of a wait. Having arrived at about 7pm we eventually cleared at 9.30pm. We set sail directly for the Seven Skies and hoped that we would not arrive there too late.

Friday night was a raucous affair. We had a large group of British Divers: Alistair White & Jacqueline Hancock; Ben Blunsden & Lorna Cairney; Mike Hammond and John Roe. Tony Goldsmith, also a Brit, took care of this group and they looked to be having a good time with plenty of laughs along the way. Lorna & Ben were to achieve their Enriched Air Nitrox certification during the weekend.

Thomas Knudsen brought along his friend, Jakob Berghold along for his first trip on the new White Manta. Jakob has been on our other vessels in the past, and it was nice to see him again. Rolf van den Bosch, Henrik Sanglen, Lilian Tan and Anthony Pang joined Thomas' group.

There were also some new faces joining White Manta for the first time I believe. Ernst Bahns (friend of Daniel Boettcher), Marion & Pierre Dietz, Mathea & Guillaume and also Josiah Tan and Mok Ming Chi joining us from Big Bubble. John and Liz Dunn were also joining us for the first time at the recommendation of John's friend and colleague and our DM: Brian Clarke. Liz was also doing her training to become a PADI Advanced Open Water diver.

Waking up early on Saturday I was heartened to see that we would arrive at Seven Skies about 10am. That meant that after tying a rope to the wreck we would realistically expect to get our divers in the water for about 10.30am. This was dutifully achieved with White Manta favourites Peter Schermaul and Frederique Champvillard leading the way. Peter, Fred, and Sherlynn Choi were joining this trip for some fun diving and to celebrate our very own White Manta DM's hen party: Hsin Sheng. Eric Hauser and Hannah Li; friends of Peter; joined in the celebrations. We breakfasted before diving, which would have helped soak up some alcohol from the previous night. It made for a lazy morning with a later than usual wake-up call and a bit of Chugger, Chugger, Chugger...Chuggington in the saloon. Thanks Zach ;)

The visibility at the Seven Skies was excellent, but there was a bit of prevailing current which would make the dive quite tricky for the inexperienced divers. Therefore, these divers did not leave the rope on the first dive, which turned out to be quite a bubbly affair perhaps more than the copious quantities of Champagne consumed during the Hen Party!.

Emily Henderson and I conducted our first Open Water training dive on the rope tied to the Seven Skies wreck during the divers' surface interval. This was technically Open Water dive 2 for Emily as she had earlier conducted Discover Scuba Dives in Fiji. We conducted a number of skills on the rope, which Emily completed with aplomb.

The second dive allowed us to introduce a staggered entry between 1-1.30pm. The current had abated quite a bit and divers were able to explore the wreck more thoroughly. There were schools of Barracudas and Tunas rifling about the funnel, as well as the regular diver smitten Batfish.

Damar Pinnacle nearby was the choice for the next dive. Still a bit of prevailing current remained. I took the Hegi family with me for this dive along with Emily and Jessica. These 'new' divers really impressed me as they looked really quite comfortable in the current. The visibility was again very good. Small aggreagations of whip corals and the soft coral blemished boulder faces were lovely. Lots of small fish rose from their coral and anemone homes to take a peek at the attractively attired divers from White Manta, who always sport the latest trendy, illuminous green, yellow and orange neoprenes so to be clearly seen in the water, attract marine life and make a statement at the same time. Apparently some divers witnessed a small school of mobulas during this dive. There were lots of yellow-back fusiliers trying not to clash with our divers and small stuff: crinoid squat shrimps (Mike Smith).

During the divers' surface interval, Emily and I took the opportunity to do another Open Water training dive, since she would not be able to do the night dive. Easiest student I have ever taught, really like a fish to water. I believe that this level of composure exacted by Emily helped us witness the Black-tip reef shark and a school of five bumphead parrotfish. Well done Emily!

Night dive on the fringing coral reef of Damar was super. Jessica's first night dive - she found a squid and a giant moray eel. There were some unusual smaller moray eels discovered wriggling their way amongst the corals populating larger bommies. I found a harlequin shrimp. This is a rare find on any divesite, not least Damar, therefore I was keen to share with other divers if possible. I struggled to find many divers in close proximity but was able to attract the attention of Michael Smith who was made up with the discovery of such a special, and of course, small critter. He, in turn, wanted to share this special find with other divers and after some effort, got their attention - only to lose the shrimp! Haha.

Overnight sail to the Igara. Michael Smith and I tied on. I must remember to wrist mount Michael Smith in future, he worked out where the bow was whilst I twisted and turned in confusion at the compass readings. A bit embarrassing since the visibility was the best we have witnessed at the Igara wreck all season. We were not far away but since we sensed there was a bit of life to the current we tied on so the rope would stretch across the beam of the ship. Tying on here (at the bow end) enables experienced divers to explore the forecastle, those that want to dive deeper can visit the bulbous bow and navigate the large cracks that opened up in the first hold as the ship sank and it allows the lesser experienced divers to restrict their depth and enjoy the rich marine life of the deck particularly at the stern end.

Divers sometimes find large stingrays resting on the sand around the wreck, those staying on the deck enjoyed lots of fishes feeding on the nutrients being passed their way by the brisk current. There are lots and lots of damselfishes, snappers and fusiliers. Batfishes swim on their sides near-to the wreck to attract small blue streak cleaner wrasses to feast on parasitic organism in their gills and scales. Some of the batfishes appear to have open curiosity of divers and follow you about the wreck. They also enjoy the company of a dive guide! Jessica and Emily made a batfish friend on our dive, a sign of competent divers; batfish don't follow any fool!

The second dive of the Igara witnessed an increase in the prevailing current. Divers needed to be extra vigilant of their air consumption and not stray too far away from the entry exit line. Jessica and I did a bit of navigation on the deck, aided by the outline of the holds to ensure early success, but still quite challenging since the raised sides of the cargo holds and ship’s hull only offered mild shelter from the current if we kept close to the deck.

The Igara deck is littered with corals, particularly tubestera corals, have attached to the remaining iron ore spilled from the several salvage operations on the wreck. At the time of sinking; the Igara wreck was the largest insurance loss in maritime history. If you're looking to take a souvenir home with you it's hard to find a piece without this dark green coral specimen.

After ascending from the last dive there was the usual activity of gear rinsing on White Manta's spacious dive deck. We all had a great weekend, energised by the food and diving, satiated by the unique experience on our quality vessel and relaxed with plenty of sleep, massage and sun-worship up on deck.

I've a feeling we will see you all again soon. Don't be too long. We will miss you!