Mar 1, 2013

WMT20 24-28 Feb 2013

Our regular DM in Singapore: Glenn Wright, the mighty Springbok; joined this trip as DM and brought along his gorgeous partner: Jill, too. Jill lives and works in Singapore (save the travelling that goes with the job). She is originally from Georgia, USA. It was great to welcome Glenn into the team again, he added both professionalism and enthusiasm as a well seasoned veteran of scuba diving would.

His group consisted Alain, a Parisienne, he was accompanied by his non-diving wife: Lana from Belorussia. Edwin Wild, a Swiss national living in Bangkok, joined us for the first time. He has dived this area many times before and was joined by his lovely non-diving wife: Nok from Nong Khai in Thailand. Completing the group were a couple from Seoul, South Korea, Bono (of U2 fame) and Choi.

My group was an international mix. Travelling alone, from Gothenberg, Sweden was Pontus. David & Robyne had joined us all the way from British Columbia in Canada, they reside near the world famous skiing destination of Whistler. Daniel & Josephine completed our pentet. They are helicopter technicians with the Australian Navy in Sydney.

Hayami was back from her visa run! Yes! Chocolate time again! I love having Hayami on our team, she is universally popular, hard working, and great fun. Hayami and Mike led 2 quartets, 8 in total; from Hong Kong, China. They are: Wai Man (Eric), Lai Fong (Iris), Yuet Ying (La La), and Koon Chi ((Po) (no sorry IDD)). The second quartet consisted: Kit Fong (Dennis), Fiona, Yin Ha (Bonny) and Wing Cheung (Roger).

We spirited a similar schedule to last trip, favouring the area north of the Similan islands, which proved shrewd. The first dive, at West of Eden (#7); was a proper check-out dive. Conditions were not ideal. The skies were overcast. Indeed I believe we even had a brief spell of rain early in the morning. Last trip the currents barely registered on the meter; this trip (in the mornings at least) the water appeared to be moving with gusto, bringing with it some cold water from the deep. Brrrr! Thermoclines!

We started the dive in the area of West of Eden that is sheltered from the current. Healthy coral is spartan there, but we avoided the admiration of other divers, and by the time we ventured to the best area of the divesite, the conditions were good. Ribbon eels were spotted (unlike garden eels), and fusiliers were 'charged' by the icy cold water (about 25oC).

We were lucky to see a large green turtle, from the surface at West of Eden. Turtle sightings continued at Three Trees (#9). The conditions were much better there, good visibility until the deeper, sandy areas.

Photo courtesy of Onanong Kongyuedyao

We continued our assault North to Koh Bon for dive 3. Waters were notably calmer and the skies had cleared. Mike checked the current and reported that there was a manta ray on the ridge. I briefed our divers on how to behave if they saw the gentle giant and off we embarked in hope of seeing it for our own eyes.

The first wave saw the imperious fish, some of the second wave stole a glance. It was not straying close to the divesite, as can be their behaviour sometimes. Mike later reported that MV Orange and Blue of e-dive had pursued the manta ray with vigour and he even received the bird when he politely urged their Divemaster to stop chasing. Very sad.

I took a small party afterwards for some Shark snorkelling, and we saw three large Black-tip reef sharks! Albeit briefly.

Night dive was fantastic, really super stuff. Last trip an octopus was the highlight, this trip a cuttlefish. Champion display from the much loved cephalopod.

We dived once more at Koh Bon in the morning. I love early morning dives on the reef and this was no exception. The usual livery was on display; that is many different species of reef fish amongst the tapestry of healthy hard coral.

Off to Koh Tachai. A couple of dives at the highlight dive spot: Tachai pinnacle. An early move anticipated an empty dive spot, and we were well rewarded. You can count conditions and activity like this on one hand in a season.

There was no manta ray, and the regularly witnessed school of barracuda where also elsewhere, but the dive was fabulous. Visibility was good, barely a current. Divers were treated to schooling blue-fin trevallies, big-eye trevallies, giant trevallies, batfish and oceanic triggerfish; barracudas were seen later too, chevron schooling, and a great barracuda being cleaned. The pinnacle was awash with colour, sugar frosted sea fans of deep purple, yellow, and orange complemented the dendronephthya soft corals of similarly intense scheme. Schooling fusiliers and snappers added further splashes of colour to the divesite palette. A pair of ornate ghost pipefish assumed the cover of the delicate sea whips amongst the coral cafes; one heavily burdened with OGP fry, it looked ready to burst open any minute!

We managed both dives without the attention of divers from other boats. The second dive saw the current pick-up a bit and we rode that current all the way to the Surin Islands for a sunset dive at Torinla pinnacle. This is a regular morning dive for us, but we were eager to try out a new pinnacle in the morning; which promised to be a fishy surprise! Torinla pinnacle was nice; though the bumpheads were not cleaning, we did still find some credible macro: shortnosed pipefish, and peacock mantis shrimp. Robyne found an unusual black coral crab in a rather small ornate black coral sprig, I'd call it a 'bonsai black coral'. If the black coral was small, then the crab was minute! I needed a magnifying glass to see it!

The morning dive of the penultimate day of diving was an experimental affair. Captain Taew had a 'number' up his sleeve and thought we should check it out. We discovered a deep pinnacle of about 23-30m covered in large gorgonian sea fans and lightly dusted with dendronephthya soft coral of purple and white. It was a gorgeous dive, though a little short, owing to it's depth range. No doubt if you are economical with gas consumption and EANx certified this is a great divesite.

2 groups witnessed a 4m marlin at 10m on the way to their safety stop. Thrilling encounter!

Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas.

The most famous divesite in Thailand was up next: Richelieu Rock.

The excitement from the previous dive waned as we approached Richelieu Rock. I was dismayed to discover that there were 8 other boats diving there already, and another close behind us. In all, there were 10 LOBs and 2 speedboat operators. After the first dive some groups reported they had seen very few divers underwater, I believe they were concentrated to one area of the divesite, or perhaps we dovetailed our dive time with the others' surface intervals? I certainly saw a few groups, but not too bad. The prospect was that some boats would leave after their second dive, having started here in the morning.

That prediction proved correct as at least 3 operators, including two of the larger vessels, set course for Koh Tachai just before lunch.

Our third dive was a little marred by strong current and challenging visibility in the falling tide. We had yet to complete a whole dive that did this leviathan of a divesite justice, in my opinion. I rallied my divers for the last dive of the day, eager to prove a point; that the last dive of the day at Richelieu is the best! Only 3 other boats remained and I profer not too many divers between them. It was a glorious dive, we found many of the highlight marine species, highly sought. The happy family was complete as we completed the full set and left Richelieu Rock for Boonsung Wreck, happily satiated.

Congratulations to Daniel & Josephine on becoming PADI Enriched Air Nitrox (EANx) divers, enjoy the rest of your vacation, particularly in Chiang Mai. Upcoming birthday wishes for Robyne (2 March), she and David will celebrate on Koh Payam - have a great day!

Trip report by MV White Manta Cruise Director: Christopher Hutton