Dive trip to the Andaman Sea

A couple days ago I came back from one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken. This is a mishmashed account of the experience I posted in another message board. It’s a shame that I can’t display pictures directly on the board, so you’ll have to click on the links as you go.
Since I couldn’t get a watertight housing for my camera before leaving, all the underwater pictures are from other divers on the group, so the credit goes to them.

I left smogy Bangkok for scummy Phuket on the 30th and went straight out the airport to the pier which name I can’t remember up north, on the Phang Nga province. We boarded the Venus Marina boat and set sail around midnight.
Now, mind you, I come from a long line of seafarers. My grand-grand father was a Genovese sailor, my grampa was a fisherman and my father a merchant ship officer (and I have a brother in the navy) but the first night on that tin can made me a little bit dizzy and the morning, to my utmost shame, after the second dive I dove back to the loo to dispose of the mornings breakfast in a most disagreable manner. Boys and girls, if you really feel the stomach tide is rising, don’t cover your mouth, the sludge will find a way. If there’s something worse than throwing your guts up is doing it through your nose.
In my defense I have to say that the mishap was probably triggered by air that I had swallowed during the dive. The resounding burp after the deed points to that.

Anyway. Enough about that and onwards to some pictures.

First stop, Similan islands. My favourite place in this whole wide world. Unfortunatelly I didn’t get a chance to come ashore.
First we went to the Eel Garden dive site.
There’s a sandy slope with a large coral outcrop in the middle, many very nice soft corals and sea fans there. Plus more fish than you can shake a fin at.
I couldn’t buy an underwater housing for my camera before the trip so all the underwater pictures are from other divers on the boat.

Going down to about 25 meters is the Eel Garden proper, full of, you guessed, Garden Eels. Shy little slithering fellows the bunch of them.

After Eel Garden we moved on to East of Eden:

Here we spotted a sea turtle sleeping in a craddle of coral

Next dive was a navigation training exercise for the Advanced Open Water course we took during the trip. We went to Deep Six but didn’t see much besides sandy bottom and patches of coral here and there while we threaded the lubber line of the compass.

Getting late and time for a night dive, first ever! Boy, am I happy my girlfriend said no to that one… The group I was in inched too close to the shore and got caught in some vicious currents and whirlpools. The waves where sweeping us back and forth at an alarming rate close to the big granite boulders characteristic of the Similans. Two or three divers to my left where sucked into a twister, spun around and slammed against the rocks. To my right I saw a train of three divers zip by on their way to some more rocks. I managed to grab hold of a ledge with my right hand as I was swept backwards and used the next forward heave of the current to find my way to deeper water unharmed.
The group gathered together counting some cuts and bruises and called it a day.

Next day, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai…

So, Koh Bon, a small island between Similans and Surin, here we did a wall, drift dive going West, around the SW point of the island. We expected to see some manta rays at that point but none showed up.
Anyway a very beautifull dive, and the largest field of staghorn coral I’ve ever seen. The weather was bad that morning so it was overcast for most of the time. But when we got to that field the clouds above opened up and sunlight flooded the reef. It was a sudden, warm golden glow all around that left me stunned.
Large schools of silvery fish flowing around.

The following dive site was Koh Tachai, about 10 to 15 km away, the sea was quite rough by then with the boat listing over 30 degrees each side at times. Amazingly everyone seemed to keep a hold of their lunch. I spent most of the transit in the bow, watching flying fish skeep ahead of the boat. Those little buggers can fly remarkably long distances!.

At Koh Tachai my GF and I did the deep dive part of the course, going down to 37 meters, taking some written test to check the nitrogen narcosis wasn’t making us all screwy and finally swimming back to surface. We had a little time to swim around the reef there, although the current was at times very strong. Specially considering that I had my GF in tow by the hand.
We went up hand by hand up a mooring line, at the safety stop at 5 meters the current was so strong that we where nearly horizontal holding on the rope. Between the deep dive and the fight against the current I bobbed up with just 0.3 Bar left on my tank.*

We set sail for the Surin archipelago that evening and arrived there at around 9PM, I joined the night dive and again my GF bowed out. This time there were no strong currents and we swam around some reefs in a veritable primordial soup of shrimp and other little squiggly planktonic thingies. Didn’t see much besides some soldierfish doing the night watch, a couple large lobsters and some sleepy banner fish, moorish idols and the usual cast of reef dwellers.
One interesting thing about night dives is that the day light reef fish are usually sleepy or letargic, so it’s easier to get closer to them.
Another thing is the feeling of being floating in outer space, no weight, pitch black darkness all around and the feeling of being in an alien world. It’s a rearkable experience.
** SCUBA tanks normally are filled to 200 bar and you are supposed to head up when they are down to 50 bar; usually surfacing with 20 or 30 bar left.*

Sun came up on the lovely Surin islands and we jumped in the waters around Koh Stock, the very last island of Thailand, right next to the border with Burma (Myanmar).
On the first dive we went West, and found a very pristine reef, bursting at the seams with life. Clouds of young fish blanketing the coral.

We also spotted three sea turtles there.

Plenty of everything really, moray eels, lionfish, all sorts of hard and soft corals, rays, some pelagic fish. The whole deal.

Up the boat and next dive on the same spot going East. No turtles this time but plenty of anemones and, predictably anemone and clown fish living there. Also many lionfish and scorpion fish.

We went back and moved to boat some distance to another dive site, I can’t recall the name. Here we were to do another drift dive and did we cover some ground on this one!
The current was strong so we flew around large fields of anemones.

There were again no shortage of lionfish, one of the divers was hawkeyed enough to spot a juvenile among the coral.

Also many angel fish and lots and lots of redtooth triggerfish. I also saw a large titan triggerfish eating something off the coral, whatever it was the fish was really pummeling it. Boxfish, puffer fish, parrot fish piper fish, damsels, butterfly fish, you name it.
On surfacing we found out that the boat was a loooong way out. Well over 500 meters away. It started to steam towards us while we buoyed on the crystal blue water.
When the boat got close enough they threw a line to us and grabbed it to get closer to the boat. I helped my girlfriend get on board and as I had just removed one of my fins, with my head under the water looking towards the bow I saw a coral outcrop coming in from the left. The boat was drifting quickly in the current and before I could react, on the next through of the waves the keel hit the reef with a mighty bang. I saw a cloud of debris and one second later the skipper floored it. All this as I was hanging with one hand from the ladder, with my face not two meters away from one of the props. Let me tell you that was a wild ride!
They where yelling me to let go from the ladder but I had the towing line wrapped around me, so I wasn’t very keen on find in out how or if if would disentangle. I managed to get ride of the line with my other hand (that was still holding my right fin) and finally let go of the ladder.
Luckly the boat’s hull wasn’t damaged, but I think half a meter made the difference between a scare and a shipwreck.

Later that day we did the third and last night dive. This time my GF joined us. Right from the start we saw the odd looking spade fish juvenile.

We drifted along a large reef composed mostly of staghorn coral. Watching many fish sleeping within the branches. I saw many box fish perched on coral branches with little shrimps doing a night clean up. We also saw a couple cuttle fish, big crabs and lots of dancing shrimp hiding under the corals.

On the way up, I was the last to get on the dingy and when I turned off my torch, looking down into the dark water I was mesmerized by hundreds of blue lights swirling around me. Some kind of noctiluca critters that flashed blue when disturbed. An amazing sight around my legs and fins as I kicked.

We where done with the Surin islands schedule so that night we pointed south to the Richelieu Rock.

The sea was quite rough in the morning but we closed in to a completely unremarkable rock barely sticking out the sea.
The boat attached to a mooring line, and as I was gearing up I saw everyone start to jump off the boat, I kid you not, even the captain plunged out; which is certainly not something you want to see on a cruise…
Two seconds later I catched up with the events and heard “Whale shark!” I walked to the side of the boat and sure enough one had just swam right up to our side!
Geared up in a blitz, popped the GF on her BCD and jumped in the water.
The shark was still lingering about and we spent about 10 minutes swimming around the Richelieu Rock at arms length from it.

Even though it was a young one, only 4 meters and change long. It was a magnificent sight. We left the shark to go on his merry way and went down. The bare rock on the surface hided the most rich reef I’ve ever seen, mostly covered in red and purple soft corals you can see every fishy critter in the platter right there. And I mean everything, groupers, parrot fish, lion fish, scorpion fish, and even Harlequin ghost pipefish. Although I missed if another diver snapped a picture.

This was certainly the highlight of the trip. My GF loved it and wants to go back.
The whale shark sighting was a tremendous stroke of luck for us on our first dive trip, one of the guys in the boat told me it was the first one he sees after over 200 dives.

We swam around the pinnacle only to find out that the mooring line that the boat anchored to, and that we used to guide us down was gone, snapped near the base. We did our safety stop and bubbled up to a rough sea with no boat of any kind in sight! For a few minutes we just bobbed up and down until we spotted the boat some distance away; they deployed one of the dingies and picked us up from the water. We loitered around waiting for any other divers and then got back on board.

We left the Richelieu Rock and headed further South East to the Boon Sung shipwreck. Some kind of ore processing barge that sunk some 25 years ago.
The water here was not as clear as before but the place was fascinating. Huge schools of fish cascaded through the encrusted hulk of the wreck. I’m talking about massive quantities of fish, sometimes they completely obscured the view of anything else.
The wreck is a puzzle that bears little resemblance to any kind of ship, at most it looks like a giant tray of Mecano that capsized. It’s covered in clams, algae and soft corals.
Within the hull gapping holes many lionfish hover around like gangsters of the neighbourhood in groups of three or more. There are also many kinds of moray eels, like this honeycomb moray in a crevice of the wreck.

I was delighted to find a juvenile blue ringed angelfish in a small hole in the wreck. Cutests fish I’ve ever saw, just like a little, playfull blue jewell darting from side to side.
We did a second dive on the wreck and this time I found other two of those young fish, I called to attention one of the guys with a camera and he tried to take a picture, but it’s a hard subject, it just keeps moving and skipping from one hidding place to another.

While looking at the photoshoot I moved along the edge of the hull, and as usual gave a good look at where I wanted to get a hold with my hands. Good thing because right there I saw not one but two scorpionfish, one for each hand. Very well camouflaged. If you happen to visit this dive site be advised that the darn things are everywhere, always assume that there’s one waiting to sting you up really good.

That was the last dive of the trip, 15 all in all. Each one a different and wornderfull experience. I can’t wait to go on another one.

Last two pictures, one of my GF and I at a Moken (Sea Gypsies) village in Surin, the only landfall we did, and only 30 minutes at that. We had to turn tail and get out before the lowering tide left us stranded.

And finally us together during the third Surin dive. She didn’t feel very confident at the beggining so we held hands for most of the dives. But midway through the trip she started to venture a little on her own. Very proud of her, she thought she could never dive and there she was, out in the middle of the ocean and having fun. :smiley:

Those are some awesome pictures! But I can’t seem to view the ones in your second and third posts. It says the image has been moved or removed.

Ugh, I probably messed up the code and can’t edit now.
Don’t despair, go straight to the full album instead.

Oh, I see what I did. I had to reformat the links from

to … So I used the notepad to search and replace “img” with “url”, the problem is that the image names are like “img_XXXX”, and got changed to “url_XXXX” so the link doesn’t work.