14 May, 2008

Last Men Out

While Cyclone Nargis was hitting the Surin islands forcing the Thai navy to rescue some 300 visitors who had remained stranded by the high seas and strong winds before it went on to wreck Myanmar, Martin and I were diving from a live aboard around the Similan Islands about 90Km south.

The Similans are located about 100 Km NW of Phuket and are composed of nine granite islands covered by tropical jungle. Their name derives from the Malay word Sembilan which means 9 and the underwater scape is made up of a combination of large granite boulder formations and the more familiar fringe reefs. From early May until November harsh south-westerly monsoons hit the islands and we did get in just in time before the diving season was officially declared over.

We met at Phuket airport on 30th April with near military precision, Martin flying in from Hong Kong and I from Bangkok. Him waiting for me at the domestic arrivals and me waiting for him at the international arrivals….

We arranged for a 3-day, 2-night live aboard package through Megumi at Phuket Pro Dive whom I rely on every time I go diving out in Phuket or to the Similans but we spent 2 nights around the lively heart of Patong Beach (one night on the way in and one night on the way out) in very satisfactory accommodation at the Lamai Apartments and at the Phuttasa Residence, both very central, for only approximately USD25 per room per night inclusive of breakfast!!! Both were booked via http://www.ratestogo.com/ a last-minute hotel booking site where you can always snap up some very good deals.

It must be said that liveaboards are not everyone’s cup of tea especially if you are accustomed to diving with only one or maximum two others. From a live aboard the underwater scene can get crowded. I was on the same boat operated by South Siam Divers last year in February (peak season in the Similans) and being there again now (end of season) it did not feel as busy with over a dozen divers on board although I must admit I did welcome the news of another group of divers being unable to join the boat a day after we set off from port due to high seas and the operators inability to launch their speedboats!!

To me liveaboards are similar to the TV series Big Brother where personalities and egos tend to come to the surface, for better or for worse. An interesting experience whichever way you look at it. Martin and I teamed up with Kevin a really interesting Canadian based out in Kuwait. Among ourselves we had plenty of interesting stories to share.

Due to time constraints this time we did not venture out to Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock further north where last year I saw some nice manta and whale shark action. Given the weather situation probably it wasn’t a bad thing that we remained around the Similans Islands #7, 8 and 9.

Of the 7 dives we did the memorable ones were the ones at the Chinese Wreck, a Chinese fishing boat caught fishing illegally in the marine park and sunk down to about 40m by the Thai Coast Guards. The same dive culminated at an underwater 2004 Tsunami memorial garden. The dive at East of Eden where we caught some nice white tip shark action on video (posted here) and, finally, the dive at Beacon Point where we found ourselves finning uselessly against a strong current, changing course, being redirected by the guides against the current and ending with an exit in pretty high seas care of Cyclone Nargis’ activities further north.

The speedboats could not be launched on our last day as well so we were put aboard of another boat and taken back to land when the diving season in the Similans was officially declared over.

All pictures / videos shown were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains their copyrights.
White Tip Shark Action (Video Below)

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