Mar 15, 2013

WMT23 11-15 Mar 2012

Sigh! It is the last Similan island safari of the season. It is a rigorous and often hectic schedule on board MV White Manta, though the 4day / 4night with 24hr break between is an appealing routine. Thailand feels like home to me, and of course it is to our crew too.

This trip sees us return to Patong; so an inverse schedule was on the cards, starting at Tachai and finishing in the Similan islands.

Joining us for the first time this season, and just in the nick-of-time; was Gemma Cami Cami a Catalan of Spain. She introduced two divers to MV White Manta and took good care of them as a private guide. They were Yonatan and Daria from Alicante.

Tristan Bellville retained his freelance guiding role for successive trips; a legend in his own right, a cat amongst the pigeons, and regularly folly of his own hypotheses.

He was tasked with the largest group; a Germanic language group from Austria: Andreas, Peter, Robert & Ewald, and Stefan & Karina from Hamburg in Germany.

Heikki entertained a couple of guests from Raya divers of Finland: Perkki and Mikko; both from the capital, Helsinki. Joining this tribe was Greg, from Washington State, USA. Greg is a pilot for Alaskan Airways.

Hayami supervised two French speaking couples, though one from Geneva in Switzerland. This was Cedric & Stephanie. The other couple, from Paris, were Vincent & Pauline.

My group welcomed back Sandra Leu from Cologne in Germany. Sandra is a friend of our regular videographer; Chris Gawel (Chris Jee). She bought along a friend in Manuela whom was keen to give diving a try as a DSD. I also had the pleasure of a couple from Switzerland, but this time the German speaking area of Zurich. They were Michael and Katrin, who were very experienced diver in my opinion.

Mike Newman was back for the second time this season. Mike lives in Nakhon Ratchasima, the large industrial city of Issan. Mike formerly worked for the US government in Saipan, Micronesia. Completing our pentet was Brock; from Minnesota, USA. Brock is currently residing in Phuket where he teaches American English to Thai school children. Brock is currently undertaking his dive master course with Oceanic Dive Centre in Kata.

Tuesday, 12th March 2013

We checked out on Tachai Reef, expecting a current, but experienced water relatively bereft of movement during the dive. Tachai reef was heavily affected by the bleaching episode of 2009 and has this seem better days, but given the tide chart, mixed abilities and need to acclimatise; I deemed it suitable for a check-out dive.

We had the divers woken up early for the first day; I wanted to get the second dive in before the current started falling as I anticipated a rapid water movement at this juncture.

The second dive followed a clipped briefing and helped the divers enjoy the first half of the dive with only a modicum of current, but it was building in strength as the dive continued. We were able to locate the pair of ornate ghost pipefish, again, and divers were aforewarned of the potential for thermoclinic overtures. They arrived with gusto, quite early in the dive; but this time rather frustratingly, hung around like a bad smell. It made the dive a bit cold and murky and didn't really do the beautiful fauna justice. It did, of course, bring in the amazing abundance of fusiliers that inhabit Tachai.

We enjoyed a long surface interval to make amends for such an early start. Some guests enjoyed the beautiful stretch of white sand at Tachai beach whilst Manuela and I tried out diving in the form of a DSD. Alas, despite our best efforts we concluded that Manuela has some challenges to overcome before she is ready to commit to the underwater realm. Initial terror was replaced by an inability to equalise without pain beyond a metre. We tried, but failed - so in water activity was to be restricted to snorkelling.

We had waited for the low tide to conduct the repetitive dive, and waited, and waited, until we could wait no longer. The current did not abate, so we braved the conditions for the third dive. My group was very adept at diving in current, I was very impressed, and we managed over 40 minutes, visiting the magnificent fauna of the second pinnacle and encountering pick-handle and chevron barracudas, some large groupers, oceanic triggerfish and some fine sweetlips. Gemma claims to have found a small pink frogfish on the west-side of the pinnacle, well done to her.

We completed the day at Tachai with a night dive on the reef. What a splendid affair; divers were accompanied by hunting barracuda and we witnessed one of the best displays I can remember by a large reef octopus at the end of the dive. Hayami found a second frogfish of the day, in a rarer moment of Japanese dive guide specialty.

Satiated, we turned in after the 3 hour sail to the Surin islands.

Wednesday, 13th March 2013

We awoke early again to avoid current at Torinla pinnacle. Alas, when we arrived another dive boat was already there. I honoured the respect that was not reciprocated by them earlier in the season, by allowing over 30 minutes to elapse after their last diver entered the water before sending our first groups to descend near to the morning line. This operator has a punishing schedule with short surface intervals, so I understand the need for them to dive early. Our more relaxed schedule and superior resources benefit the situation, the possibility of avoiding diver soup can be exacted.

Some divers saw the bumphead parrotfish, not as good as last trip though. I don't think anyone found the minute short-pouch pygmy pipehorse, perhaps our eagle eyed Thai DM, Ohn, might have fared better. We did see the short-nosed pipefishes, and I found a giant spearing mantis shrimp in the sand of the east-side of the pinnacle.

Richelieu Rock was experienced in really quite mild current for the first dive; surprisingly so. We were able to explore the majority of the dive site; indeed I commanded a shallow profile to enjoy the rich colour and abundant marine life of the upper water column. The giant trevallies were whipping up a frenetic treat of fusilier surprise during the dives and divers encountered the rarer marine creatures; tiger-tail seahorse and harlequin shrimps (who have been busy reproducing). Cuttlefishes were encountered; always a favourite of the divers. I finally found Halgaerda Stricklandi this season - I've been looking every trip!

After diving we sailed all the way to Koh Bon.

Thursday, 14th March 2013

Some groups elected to dive the pinnacle at Koh Bon in the morning, whilst others settled for the more leisurely reef. Alas the current was strong. Our objective at the pinnacle was to find recently sighted leopard shark, but no joy, there ought to be an inquiry into the disappearance of the docile leopard shark, they were so abundant just a few years back and now very rare. The national park has failed them.

I embarked on my regular snorkelling tour during the surface interval with Manuela, Greg and Sandra. We also saw no sharks. I checked the current on the ridge ahead of the second dive and saw a white tip cruising against the current, over the ridge.

The repetitive dive at Koh Bon was a pleasant affair, the little fishes dancing above the reef with a mild current assisting us through them.

After 2 dives at Koh Bon we continued to the Similan Islands completing very nice dives at Three Trees (#9) and Turtle Rock (#8). Top sightings included turtles and barracudas, with macro dominating the finds at the latter site.

Friday, 15th March 2013

The final morning dives for this season would be conducted at West of Eden and Boulder City. I can't remember many better dives at West of Eden. There were no other boats at the divesite, the water was clear, blue, and virtually thermocline free. There was barely a current. The fans at the north end of the site are fantastic. We saw 4 egg cowries and a purple ribbon eel amongst the sensational hard corals and small schools of reef fish.

Strange enough it was the first outing of the season to Boulder City, last year we would venture there regularly, sometimes finding leopard sharks, but it was chancy. This is an exposed playground of large rocks, so best dived without current. We were fortunate on this occasion. Boulder City has a magnificent forest of enormous gorgonian sea fans; some as large as a small car. Tubeastrea coral (tree coral) cements itself to the boulder faces too. There is even an area close-to the mooring line that has a population of porites sp. porous coral heads, always rich with marine life. Some divers saw a bumphead parrotfish - there were many fusiliers.

It is quite a long sail back to Patong, so our guests were able to put their feet up and relax. Upon arrival we arranged a long-tail boat to the pier and waved our guests goodbye - we would now sail to Chalong pier to pick-up the guests for the next trip, with Greg Reed and Mike Newman remaining on board.

Bon voyage everyone. See you next time.

Trip report by MV White Manta cruise leader: Christopher Hutton
Photo's courtesy of Sandra Leu, Germany

Trip: WMT23 11-15 Mar 2013
Author: Christopher Hutton