(Feb 13th 2013)
Oh my goodness people, live aboards are pretty much the best thing ever! If you live to dive, you have got to try one. We’re on day 3 of 4 on the Manta Queen II of as I write this. After a crowded ferry ride from Koh Phi Phi to Scuba AdventuresPhuket and a long bus up the coast to Khao Lak we boarded our boat around 9pm and set sail for the Similan Islands right away. After a boat briefing, introductions to the crew and a late dinner, we turned in to our tiny little berths. Let me tell you, trying to sleep that first night was something of an adventure! I’ve never been on a boat for more than a day before and never overnight. As our berth is at the front of the boat we found ourselves rocking steadily up and down all night long, head first at that. I took some 12 hour Gravol and hoped for the best. I’m pleased to report that I’ve got the hang of it now…I have sea legs!
Our wake up call was blessedly late at 8am. If that sounds early to you, you will not like our schedule for the other 3 days! We had 1st breakfast (that’s right…1st breakfast…) and then we jumped in for our first dive. Beautiful Anita’s Reef did not disappoint, with fields of garden eels poking their heads up from the sand to sway in the current, plenty of fish, and even a 6ft blacktip reef shark making an appearance at the end! Also, the viz is awesome at 80-90ft! After the dive we had 2nd breakfast (that’s right…2nd breakfast!) and chilled out for 2 hours before the next dive. Our days go as follows: wake up, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, drink, sleep…repeat! It’s an intense pace as our dives are all an hour long and quite deep, usually all between 60-100ft. As I mentioned here, we’re all on nitrox and it’s a darn good thing; with this many deep dives a day it’s the only way we can get the bottom time. We’re also doing extra long safety stops (I explain what that is in this post), 5 minutes instead of the usual 3. This is simply because our dives are deep and we’re doing so many a day; a little extra conservatism never hurt anybody and its just another way we can mitigate the risk of decompression illness.
The crew took mercy on us the first morning with the 8am wake-up call but every day since its been 6am, before the sun is even up. This morning at 6:53am, when the sun had just barely broken the watery horizon, I found myself already 42ft below the waves. Who AM I these days?!? Halfway through our sunrise dives the fish finally wake up and get going for the day. The first bit is a tad boring down there but then its awfully fun to watch the reef come alive again as the sun gets higher in the sky.
Today we did 3 dives on a site called Richelieu Rock – an isolated pinnacle quite far off shore that was famously discovered by Jacques Cousteau long ago. Its simply breathtaking. Teeming with life and activity, more colors than a rainbow, and packed full of the tiniest little creatures divers get so excited about. Peacock mantis shrimp strutting around with their bold tail feathers. Harlequin shrimp shying away from the limelight despite their vibrant polka dot markings. Ornate ghost pipe fish so strange I have to blink a few times to make sure I’m really seeing what I think I’m seeing. The ever elegant tiger tail seahorse. The list just goes on! I would have been happy to dive that one site for the whole week. Take my word for it, the Similan & Surin islands definitely live up to their reputation.
Four dives a day on a boat is so much easier than from land. Our gear gets set up once and that’s it. There’s no changing tanks or reloading our weight pockets, the only work we have to do is the huffing and puffing of peeling in and out of our wetsuits and the rest is done for us. Our only task between dives is to drip dry in the sun, have some food, then lay around listening to some tunes and pouring over the fish identification books until its time to get wet again. This 4 day trip is exactly the right way to discover if live aboards are going to be something we enjoy, as its not too long in case it isn’t. No surprise here though, we love it! We’re already talking about where and when the next one will be. The rest of the group is having a great time as well, some of them even joining right in on the “so which boat do we do next?” conversations. That said, we’ll be upgrading a bit on the next one. We chose to do the Similan Islands not only because they’re a world class diving destination, but also because the trips are short and inexpensive; a perfect compliment to our week on Koh Phi Phi and a great 1st Ocean Sports trip for us.
There is nothing luxurious about this boat but that suits us just fine this time. You get what you pay for and we’re getting excellent value for money. There are 18 divers on board, plus 5 guides and a full Thai crew too. The boat has 2 double berths, 5 with 2 singles and 1 quad share room. There are 3 little bathrooms for everyone to share and only 1 towel each. At 4 dives a day plus a shower in the evening, those towels are really getting a workout…and that’s the least gross way I can put it! Note to self: bring own towel next time, so I can have one for fresh water and one for salt water. Also, next time I’ll bring enough bathing suits that I can change into a dry one after every dive; being wet for 13 hours a day does get uncomfortable. And a private head would be awesome too. I’m getting a real education here! All in all, I love life at sea. It’s simple, honest, relaxing and all this fresh air is good for the soul.
We will definitely be doing this live aboard thing again, but that doesn’t surprise you much does it? Got to go…its dive time!
Thanks to Warren for the underwater pictures! If you’d like to see more of his fantastic portfolio, check out his photo blog at www.warrenmckay.wordpress.com