Apr 7, 2013

WMGFD 28-31 Mar 2013

A wonderful Easter holiday was enjoyed by all as MV White Manta temporarily resurrected its schedule in the South China Sea since returning from annual maintenance in dry dock, Phuket.

As is becoming customary with White Manta’s diving trips we welcomed back a number of regulars; probably the most frequent, Brian & Penny. Brian is a WM divemaster from time-to-time guiding groups around the regular haunts of the South China Sea. This time he was Penny’s personal guide as they formed an independent buddy team.

Thomas Riber Knudsen invited his friend Christian Nyholm to try-out diving with us. Thomas was DM for his group including regulars; Kristian Ahlgren (this time without brother Niklas, who had to cancel),  and Tarmo Raudsepp (who dives alone when family is away). Completing Thomas’ group was Salvador.

BIG Andy, Andrew Malcolm, is considered a veteran of Singapore South China Sea diving – we were pleased to have his leadership skills and experience as part of the dive team ensemble. Andy would brief the divers on the wreck dives at Seven Skies and Igara and guide “Dive Trio”: Lim Mincheng (MC), Michelle Tan, and Tien Zhijian (Sky).  A young newcomer to White Manta; Elliot Eu completed this group.

Master Mariner and thoroughly decent bloke, Tony Goldsmith was back in action. His group included all returning guests: Lorna Cairney & Ben Blunsdon and Adriaan Buiter (Aart) & Maria Hertog (Maureen).

Liam Winston has not been on the dive crew for some time, once a regular. Liam has been busy developing his own business which sees him ‘yo-yo’ regularly between Singapore and China. Anyhow, it was a pleasure to have his expertise on display (Liam is a technical diving instructor) he led a band of 4 friends, new to White Manta: Amber McDonald & Kimberley Whale and Ross Evans & Camilla Masters.

Liam’s long term partner and organiser, Laura; is also a past regular DM. Our guests last had the pleasure of Laura’s guidance in the previous season. Her group this time out were regulars last season: Paul Stocker & Anthea Tan and Jason Doery & Tim Kohler.

Hayami Uchida from Japan is now a full-time WM divemaster after trialling with us last year. She has just completed her first full season with us in Thailand and had the pleasure to take care of newcomers to White Manta: Matthew Kern & Giselle Kavandi, Kathlyn Tan and Aaron Levitan.

Mike Thomas and I led the least experienced divers. They were 3 families; all French speakers, from Switzerland and France. Mike’s group was all one family: Dominique, Anne-Marie, Mahault and Alexine.

My group was a combination of two families; Jean-Marie Lepasset and daughter Solene joined us last year on MV White Manta, this time they brought their friends; Frederic Bonvin and daughter Salomé from Switzerland. Completing my group were a local couple friends with Anthea Tan; Teo Cheng Kok (Teo) and Julia Sok. All but Jean-Marie would be seeking to gain their Advanced Open Water certification during this trip.

Unusually everybody made the 17.30 meeting time at TMFT so we kept good schedule to check in at Batam. The long-weekend 3-day, 9-dive schedule allowed us to start in the further reaches of our destination for a check-out dive at Pulau Damar. This rocky outpost to the West of Pulau Djemaja is a perfect place to check-out with lesser experienced divers on its fringing coral reef and offers a light challenge for experienced divers at a small pinnacle to the island’s North waters.

Conditions were ideal; surface as calm as a pond, brilliant sunlight and just a refreshing breeze. Underwater we experienced minimal current and very good visibility. I can’t speak for the divers at the pinnacle but we witnessed a school of small-spotted darts in shallow water around the reef and Mike T’s group and my group also saw a large school of batfish moving at speed between our divers – sensational.

We can sail slightly further afield on a 3-day schedule and the opportune choice was Margesson Shoal; a favourite of mine from last season. We descend to a submerged reef between 12-20m; it is a punctuated variety of gorgonian sea fans, large coral colonies and sand. We had a thoroughly enjoyable drift dive with a mild current.

Returning to Pulau Damar, some divers were able to take advantage of the remaining daylight to enjoy a sunset dive and others waited on the surface for the night dive, including Tony’s group, Hayami’s group, Mike’s group and my own. We were chatting amongst ourselves in the dining area when a large shout interrupted us, echoing off the walls of Damar. With the resonance of a ‘Viking’ horn Thomas Knudsen wailed “SHARK” or was it “WHALE SHARK”?

An exodus of the dining area resulted. This group of divers were impressively organised. They can make meeting times punctually and be ready and equipped to the potential of whale shark in just minutes!

Sadly some of the sunset divers did not witness the magnificent whale shark – but I think all the would-be night divers did in a snorkelling pursuit akin to that of an ‘Iron Man’ race. The young whale shark traversed the reef for about 20 minutes before exiting via the pinnacle into deeper water. This is only the second whale shark I’ve ever seen at Pulau Damar and the first ever sighting for many of our guests. I imagine they were delighted – for those that missed it here it is courtesy of Lim Mincheng:

Good night dive, a couple of bob-tail squids the highlight.

Next day we woke up with a couple of dives at Seven Skies wreck on the cards. There was a bit of current on the first dive but not the second. Massive schools of batfish greeted the divers and a large school of jacks were evident on both dives. Subsequent deep dives can give the system quite a ‘nitrogen hit’ which manifests itself in fatigue for the less frequent diver:

Third dive of the day was on the submerged reef of Batu Kataoka. I was disappointed that the otherwise perfect conditions experienced on this weekend were marred on this dive by a lingering thermocline depositing cold, cloudy water and a trivial current. Good for the corals though – that seemed to be in good fare:

Last up was Tokong Malangbiru; my favourite place in our Anambas Islands trips. We arrived in good time to enjoy some snorkelling through Glenn’s crack – I understand a black-tip reef shark was sighted.

My group and Mike T’s needed to complete their navigation adventure dive amongst the corals of Malangbiru. I can’t think of a more pleasant setting in the world to do this. The diversity and health of the stony corals is unbelievable.Here is a selection of the corals for you to marvel at:

Last day of diving was a return to the Igara wreck for a couple of dives. The visibility was quite good, but relative to the rest of the weekend a bit disappointing. A strong current was whipping over the top of the wreck for the first dive which rather caged-in the most adventurous of dive plans – some groups spent the majority of time in the deep ‘holds’ of the wreck. An eagle ray was spotted.

Second dive had very little current and we were able to enjoy the schooling fish on top of the wreck with easy passage to the stern section (cut-off).

We are left to reflect on a wonderful Easter of diving – it was a ‘good egg’. Congratulations to Dominique, Anne-Marie, Mahault & Alexine Ehlinger; Frederic & Salomé Bonvin; Solene Lepasset; Teo Cheng Kok & Julia Sok on completing your PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course during the trip.

Thanks go to all that made this such a memorable dive-trip. Now we sail to Kota Kinabalu for another exciting season at Layang Layang. Some of you are joining us there. Those of you that can’t make it: see you next time!

Trip report composed and arranged by Christopher Hutton, cruise and course director: MV White Manta.

Trip: WMGFD 28-31 Mar 2013
Author: Christopher Hutton