Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 269 (79)

Khao Lak

Thursday 2nd December

I took the liberty this morning at breakfast of ordering some boiled eggs to make myself a packed lunch for on the boat today. Whilst I was on the small long-tail yesterday, I tried to make up my sandwiches but the constant rocking of the boat made it very difficult. This time, I made up the sandwiches ahead of time. It took a couple of attempts and several eggs at getting the point across to the Thai kitchen staff that I needed hard boiled eggs but we got there in the end.

We dived the wreck at Bangsak today and our dive master was the wife or partner of yesterday’s dive master. Like all the dive masters we’ve had so far as Sea Dragon, she was very nice and did everything possible to help us maximise our enjoyment of the dive. Although we never specifically arranged it so, it turned out that it was just Sandy and myself and our dive master in our dive group. As a result, we would not have to worry about taking our time with the camera and slowing other divers down.

We had the same long-tail boat as yesterday but today’s dive site was farther North up the coast and it was quite a longer trip on the choppy waters than yesterday’s jaunt. It must have been at least an hour and a half of tedium before we neared the dive site. The Thai Muang wreck that we dived yesterday is less established and also less well known than is Bangsak. By comparison, Bangsak is a very popular wreck amongst the diving community on the West coast of Thailand and we knew that it was going to be very busy when we got there. Sure enough, there were at least six or seven other boats already there by the time we arrived. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a live-aboard boat pulled up and dropped a dozen or more divers into the water just before we entered ourselves.

As soon as we hit the water, it was immediately clear why there were so many people here. The waters were literally teeming with fish of every sort imaginable. I’ve never seen so many in one place before. I couldn’t really make out much of the lopsided wreck itself, although we did swim past what looked like a wheel of some description, but we were mostly distracted by the fabulous marine life swimming in and around the rusted sections of the stricken vessel. The visibility was quite murky with all the sand and silt being stirred up by all the divers present but still much better than I had originally feared. Most importantly, I could maintain a good overview of where both Sandy and our diver master were. The photo opportunities were coming thick and fast and I did my best to keep up but it didn’t really matter in which direction we swam or looked, there was pretty much always something to aim and shoot at. Chasing after photo opportunities in the water always means breathing through a full tank of air quite quickly and once we reached the fifty bar minimum threshold, we followed the buoy line up to the five meter mark for our mandatory three-minute safety stop before surfacing and then having fun trying to mount the high ladder into the continually moving long-tail. Our surface interval was to be no less than an hour and a half and I spent much of the first half hour trying my best to make up my sandwiches using the boiled eggs I had swiped at breakfast this morning. The front boat was tethered to the buoy line and each boat in turn was tethered in a line trailing back from there. Our boat was at the end of the line and we were rocking and swaying so much that trying to make my sandwiches was like trying to perform brain surgery in a tumble dryer. I must make a mental note to make up my sandwiches before getting on the boat tomorrow.

By the time our surface interval had passed, most of the other boats had already departed with just one more waiting for its divers to surface. This was ideal as it meant that we would be the only divers left to explore the wreck and there would be no other traffic to contend with. As usual, my eagerness to get wet meant that I was the first to be ready for the back flip off the boat but I had to wait for all the other novice divers to complete their safety checks.

I’m not too fond of my mask but I have a really nice snorkel that has a block valve at both ends. Whilst snorkelling, I can hold the top end valve with my left hand and force all the water out through the bottom valve. This is a very rare type of snorkel that I bought some time ago in Florida and I’ve not once since seen another of the same type. As I was waiting impatiently for everyone else to get his or her acts together, I was sitting on the side of the boat with one end of the snorkel in my hand. Suddenly, the other end of the snorkel, the end that is attached to my mask, came away and the whole thing dropped into the water, leaving me with just half a snorkel, no mask and a rather panicked expression on my face. With the weight off all my kit, I couldn’t quite get up fast enough to lean over to grab it. The strong current and negative buoyancy did the rest. One of the dive masters had a spare mask with them that I was able to use so the dive itself was not completely wasted by I had grown rather attached to my snorkel in particular and was not pleased. Our dive master took an immediate bearing with her compass at the time the mask fell in and the first thing we did when we got in was to head off in that direction to try to find it. It was a search in vain, however, as there was little chance of us finding such a small object in such a large body of water and we turned around to try to enjoy what we could of the second dive.

The whole site was still teeming with fish and both Sandy and I passed the camera back and forth several times throughout the forty minutes or so that we were below. In addition to all the other great things we saw, such as eels and shrimp to name but a couple, one thing in particular that was quite a thrill was a porcupine fish that had puffed up into a huge spiky ball about the size of a soccer ball. It was deflating itself by the time I was ready with the camera so I only got a shot of it half inflated but even the dive masters said later that they had never seen anything like it.

Another thrill was what we were treated to whilst holding onto the buoy line at the three-minute safety stop. There was a school of huge batfish as well as several schools of millions of smaller fish swimming all around us. We were essentially completely engulfed within several schools of fish. The debris moving along in the strong current gave the illusion that we were moving quite fast and I’m sure it would have been extremely disorienting had we not been holding the buoy line.

Back on the boat, the two of us immediately started to bicker with each other about what we each saw whilst the other was holding the camera. It’s clear that we will be better off with another underwater camera so that we don’t have to keep fighting over how we share the one that we have. This is something that I’ll have to give some thought to when we get to Australia.

With everybody now safely back on board, we were the last boat to leave the area. Several fishing vessels were waiting in the distance to move in after dark. The Bangsak wreck is not located within the boundaries of a national park and so it’s fair game for the local fishing boats here. Apparently, these boats have several extended arms under which bright lights dangle. After dark, they move in and illuminate the surface of the water to attract the fish that they then scoop up. I’ve developed a particular disdain for fishing vessels since becoming one with the underwater world. It saddens me to see so many trawlers heading out into the open waters for the sole benefit if sifting out the very fish that I derive such pleasure from seeing in their natural habitat.

There was drama on the high seas before the day was out today. As we were plodding along under the steam of the one engine at the back end of the boat, I was pondering what would happen if the engine were to fail whilst at sea. Just at that moment, the engine failed. We heard an almighty racket (although it has to be said that the engine makes an almighty racket to begin with anyway) and then the unmistakable sound of an engine grinding to a halt. Our Thai boat boy looked at the engine and propeller drive mechanism for a few minutes, as we all watched anxiously on, before turning and smiling to the on watching crown and saying ‘accident’ with a sort of ‘there isn’t anything I can do about it’ look on his face. Being the last boat to depart the wreck in the middle of the open sea meant that we would have been in quite a predicament had the engine failed earlier than it did. We were very lucky in that it failed just as we had turned to head in towards the beach were we were intending on terminating our journey. For some reason, the boat was to head back to a beach farther up the coast today compared to where we first departed from. It was still going to be a ten-minute taxi ride back to the dive centre but from a different location than where we first boarded this morning. Being so close to the coast already meant that there were plenty of other long-tail boats in the area and our boat boy managed to flag one down to come and tow us in. We were subsequently treated to a beach landing and had to offload all the tanks and gear from a hundred yards or more of water at waist height. One of the dive masters had by now called into the dive centre and a converted pick-up truck taxi was already waiting to take us and our gear back into Khao Lak.

Back at the dive centre, we completed our logbooks. The two dives today meant that my logbook was now completely full with just a few more pages left in Sandy’s. We will need to find some new logbooks before the next dive tomorrow.

The problem with our engine today was apparently the drive chain coming partly loose from the propeller shaft. Although not a major problem, it did mean that this boat was now out of commission for a while until it could be repaired. As a result, tomorrow’s dive will take place using another somewhat smaller long-tail that the dive centre owns. The conditions on this boat would be quite cramped so Sandy decided that she would forgo this dive in favour of having a day’s worth of rest instead. The alternative was to do tomorrow’s local reef dive on Saturday. With our Surin Islands live-aboard leaving on Saturday evening, however, this would mean four days of non-stop diving and Sandy was not keen on this idea. It will be just me instead for tomorrow, then.

After completing all the post dive formalities back at base, we went off in search of a new mask for me. We tried a couple of different dive gear outlets here in town and I found a mask that I really like but have not yet bought it. I want to hold out until just before the live-aboard, which is when I will need to buy it, so as to make sure that I’m getting the best deal in town.

Dinner this evening was back at the Viking restaurant where we ate yesterday. Another huge steak at ‘bugger the expense’ prices with another banana split was just what the doctor order for curing my bruised ego from the lost snorkel and mask incident.

On the way back to our hotel, we passed another dive shop and had another look for the mask I wanted. They didn’t have the one I wanted in stock but the shop owner was good enough to let us have a couple of new logbooks for free, which I thought was rather nice of him.

As has now become the norm, there was little energy left at the end of the day to do anything other than shower, service the underwater camera (offload the memory card, put the battery on charge, remove and re-grease the O-rings, dry everything off and re-assemble it all back together again) and finally to sleep.