Mar 10, 2013

WMT22 6-10 Mar 2013

MV White Manta had another large representative group from Hong Kong for this trip.


MV White Manta had another large representative group from Hong Kong for this trip. The members of Diver Channel included: (in Mike T's group): Lai Kai Ming (Ernest); So Wing Sze (Nero); Lee Kong Ping (Danny); Kwan Fei Pang (Dick); Gin Fu Loi (Mike, leader).

Hayami guided: Ip Tak Yiu (Daniel); Cheng Chung Keung (CK); Lam Yick Keung (George); and Leung Kwok Kei (Jonny).

Heikki was back in his freelance guiding role. He had accompanied us on the last couple of trips, helping out, but without group to take care of. This trip, however, he had a full complement of divers.

Henrik Sanglen from Sweden, but residing in Singapore for the past 4 years; was a returning guest. We previously had the pleasure of Henrik during a weekend trip to Seven Skies last year. Henrik was full of juicy tips for less experienced photographers, which was welcome advice. Spartak and Maria, from Vladivostok in Russia, but residing in their villa on Phuket and Eric-Willem Van Den Berg with partner Emily Chan completed the group. Eric and Emily also reside in Singapore.

Our transient and rather laid back, Englishman; Tristan Bellville, returned to the fold. Dispensing worldly advice from his vast catalogue of experiences; to his group (and anyone else who'd listen): Simon Fung from Guangjong in China, Erik Laurent (from West Australia, but residing in Vientiane, Laos), Evert Nel, from Cape Town in South Africa, and Jasmine & Stuart, our honeymooners from Tasmania in Australia.

My group was a very friendly mix of Aussie's and Yankees. The Aussie's (Australians) were Jess & Barry from Melbourne, Victoria; the Yankees were Sean Todd from Hawaii, USA (currently working in Afghanistan) and Bob & Traci from Colorado, USA (though residing in Shanghai, China).

Thursday, 7th March 2013

Day 1 started at Anita's reef and ended in Koh Bon. We enjoyed a solid check out dive. Most groups visited the huge porous coral head of Hin Muan Daew with its armoury of sea-fans and soft corals. My group witnessed the 'Tuna Wreck' and abundant schools of snappers and a hawksbill turtle.

After breakfast guests enjoyed an energetic climb to the viewpoint at Koh Miang (island 4).

We returned to East of Eden (island 7), for the first time in a couple of years. This divesite has recently been re-opened; it was closed after the coral bleaching of 2009.

I was apprehensive about diving here again. I was fully behind its closure, indeed I thought it was a bit overdue. Over-activity at West of Eden and reluctance to dive a relatively empty site at Deep Six, pushed me to give it a try.

I think we were well rewarded. The blue coral (hard looking, but actually soft) in the south area was still in good health and a pleasant array of small fishes were on display. The deep fan corals were an absolute delight; a veritable forest of giant gorgonian sea-fans.  The highlight of the dive for my divers was a free swimming giant moray eel. I'll come back again next trip I think, but we'll be working in reverse for that one.

Three Trees has been a good spot all season and enables us the shortest onward sail to Koh Bon. We had another great night dive there, with a bit of current, to cap off a very nice first day.

Friday, 8th March 2013

We stayed at Koh Bon overnight, and scheduled 2 dives in the morning. The trick to Koh Bon, like so many of the divesites here, is to avoid the other operators.

We do this, by electing for the upper reef for the first dive, entering the water further up-current than the other operators. It was a glorious morning dive; full of life on the reef. The abundance of small, colourful, reef fish is flabbergasting. Some divers witnessed octopus, shyly retreating into the reef at this time in the season.

It has become a regular affair for me to guide some snorkelers to the shallower areas of the long north shoreline of Koh Bon, in search of reef sharks, snubnose pompano, napoleon wrasse, turtles, jacks and milkfish.

Only Barry and Sean joined me on this occasion, and we enjoyed good exercise; circumnavigating almost half of the island. We did see a young, green turtle and a couple of napoleon wrasse, but sadly no sharks on this jaunt.

We dived immediately after returning to the boat, eager to see if we would be lucky to see manta ray.

We were the last group in the water, and had barely descended until another large operator dropped all of their divers virtually on top of us. They had sailed directly from the Similan Islands and elected to dive before they had done any evaluation of activity and conditions at the divesite.

Our plan was to have a take-it-easy dive, and explore the rich coral area on the steep-to south-side of the ridge and hang-out for a while in the hope of seeing a Manta Ray. Only Sean, Barry & Jess opted for the dive, as Bob & Traci rested. We avoided other divers as much as possible, but quite a din was created by regular rapping of tanks. I believe the first groups from the other boat chased the manta ray away – needlessly swimming against the current breaking over the ridge in pursuit of the gentle giant.

We surfaced at the end of the dive, partially satiated. No manta sighting; other divers would have chased it away if seen, but their over-exertion gave us a nice peaceful end to the dive. Even their last groups surfaced before we did, and about 0.5km from the ridge!

An example of a diver 'chasing' a manta ray

Our next two dives were scheduled for Koh Tachai; the pinnacles there are my favourite divesites. We arrived at slack tide, but by the time we had checked this, and the divers had donned their gear, the current was already picking up!

Bob had a bit of trouble equalising as we descended, so my group stayed by the foot of the line to give him adequate time to join us; lucky for us. Amongst a small school of barracudas and batfish glided a majestic manta ray. I couldn't believe my eyes, it swam northwards, towards the second pinnacle, but we didn't pursue, like many others might; I had more divers yet to come down the line and Tristan's group was about somewhere. Anyhow, we have a policy of no chasing. So we remained still at the foot of the mooring line and let the manta ray return if it wanted to. We loitered fairly close-by the descent line, hoping the manta ray might return; but anyhow, the current was running so fast that not much exploration was possible. After only 23 minutes we were descended on again by the Pawarans; another noisy affair, with their large dive boat churning up the water directly over the dive site. We clocked up a 60 minute dive in strong current at this pinnacle, quite an achievement!

During the surface interval I swam a couple of times from our position down-current of the pinnacle to the mooring line on the west side. It was quite a workout the current showing no signs of relaxing, and perhaps even gaining in strength. On the second swim I stopped to rest at the dive platform of MV Andaman; our former boat boy, Eet, now works on this vessel. I miss him; he was a solid worker. We exchanged a little conversation before I checked for manta ray again.

It would be too dark to wait until the current had subsided completely, so we dived in the hope it would diminish during the dive. Not quite. We had not been in the water for more than 10 minutes, ogling at the mind blowing activity, at close quarters, of all the fish: mostly fusiliers; when last trips' phenomenon returned. Yes, it was the clouds of freezing cold current, ripping into the pinnacle like an inverse, underwater maelstrom. It was a crazy dive, but we enjoyed it. These kinds of conditions are rarely experienced by the average diver, and quite a talking point. It brought with it a frenzy of activity and some welcome breaks of warmer, clear water.

We sailed onto the Surin Islands where we completed our usual morning dive at Torinla pinnacle.

Saturday, 9th March 2013

We awoke to more water movement, running northeast-to-southwest. We used the zodiacs to drop up current and had a lazy descent onto the first rocks and the macro-area. Short-nosed pipefish, short-pouch pygmy pipehorse and peacock mantis shrimp pleased divers before we ventured to shallower rocks with splashes of colour from the five-lined snappers. The best was yet to come: the schools of bumphead parrotfish, local to the area, were at the pinnacle; being cleaned. Large marbled groupers also jostled for territory below. A very large napoleon wrasse was also sighted nearby.

Onto Richelieu Rock; I was apprehensive what current the tide-chart would exact on this day, I needn't have been; we enjoyed three dives, all in mild current and superb visibility. The dives were astonishing, so much schooling fish action and sightings of large groupers, Spanish mackerel, rainbow runners amongst the special critters of the rocks. It was a photographers dream.

Tomorrow we'll finish up at the Boonsung wreck again. It's sure to be a lively affair. Thank you to you all for coming diving with us. We sincerely hope you will stay in touch and hope to see you again in the future - bon voyage!

Trip report by Christopher Hutton; cruise leader - MV White Manta.

Trip: WMT22 6-10 Mar 2013
Author: Christopher Hutton