Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 272 (82)

Surin Islands

Sunday 5th December

It was an early start to the day as expected and I’m not sure if I was really well rested or not. I was extremely fatigued when I fell asleep last night but between the anticipation of the diving an my constant worrying about whether the boat was actually going to tip completely over during the ride out to the islands last night, I awoke not really knowing if I had had enough sleep or not.

The location, boat and crew were all different but everything else about the trip was very much the same as with the Mariner-1 and the Similan Islands trip a week or so ago. Each dive is preceded by a dive briefing in which one of the dive masters would tell all about the dive sight and our intended dive profiles. I was pretty much on autopilot during the dive briefing and the kitting up and wasn’t really fully awake until we actually dropped into the water. That first splash is always an anxious moment for me. The boat pulls around to the drop zone and we all line up on the dive platform waiting for the captain to give the signal that he has switched off the propeller drive. Upon hearing the whistle, we all try to get into the water as quickly as possible so as not to be too dispersed by the time the last diver in the group jumps in. Even though I’ve taken to not wearing a wetsuit, I’m still quite constricted by the semi-inflated BCD and the mask that is wrapped securely around my head. We get into the water by means of a giant stride and the first thing that hits you is the rush of cold water streaming all over your body. At this point, I have the camera in one hand and I’m using the other to hold my regulator in my mouth as well as the mask pushed hard against my head to prevent the force of the splash from dislodging it. The next thing you notice is a surge of bubbles rushing past your face and this can be a little disorienting if you don’t keep your head. You then quickly rise to the top of the water and the whole ordeal is over. After the dive master is satisfied that everybody is safely in the water and feels comfortable, the signal is given and we all submerge. To conserve air, I sometimes sit at the surface of the water with my snorkel in my mouth instead of my regulator. With the swell of the waves, I find it more comfortable to be able to breathe constantly when the waves are crashing over my head. On a couple of occasions, I’ve forgotten that I had the snorkel in my mouth when I deflated my BCD. This always results in an immediate scramble back to the surface to make the switch over to my regulator.

The first dive of the morning was a nice dive but compared to all the other dives we’ve experienced previously here in Thailand, there really wasn’t anything special about it. Had this been my first dive here, then I have no doubt I would have found it to be completely stunning experience. I’m now finding that I rate the dives based on whether or not we see something spectacular or perhaps we see something that we’ve never seen before. Neither of these criteria was satisfied by this dive. One slight difference between this dive and those on the previous live-aboard dives, however, was the fact that Sandy and I surfaced without the rest of the dive group. Our dive master, Klaus, was also the dive coordinator and he was quite happy for us to surface together whilst continuing the dive with the rest of the group. We always seem to run out of air faster than the other divers and this way they would at least be able to continue with their enjoyment without having to surface on our account. Each of the divers is equipped with an inflatable safety sausage in the pocket of their BCD. It’s nothing more than a long, rolled-up, inflatable balloon that is bright orange in colour. It’s tethered to a length of string with a weight at the end. The idea is to unroll it and then to inflate it so that it rockets to the surface of the water with the string dangling below it. When we reached the five-metre level for our three-minute safety stop, I unrolled my sausage and inflated it. We both then held onto the dangling line until our dive computers confirmed that we had waited the requisite three-minutes and then slowly climbed up the line to the surface. The boat captain scans the horizon for these brightly coloured inflated sausages and once he spots one appear on the surface, he waits until he sees the divers pop their heads out of the water before pulling the boat over to collect them. This was the first time we had used a safety sausage on any of our dives.

Back on the boat, the now predictable breakfast of chips, eggs, sausages and bacon was being served. For some reason, the cooking staff saw fit to cook the breakfast early but waited until the very last diver was present on deck before they served it up. As a result, everything was either just slightly warm or stone cold. If there’s one thing I hate, its cold food.

During our last live-aboard, we constantly nagged at each other over the photography and what the one of us saw whilst the other had the camera. In an attempt to knock this bickering on the head, we decided that for this live-aboard, one of us would have the camera for the entire dive and we would alternate who would get the camera each time we went into the water. It was Sandy’s turn to have the camera for the second dive of the day and I did my very best to try not to constantly point out where I thought Sandy should point the camera. Instead, I tried to hold back and let her enjoy the dive in her own time. It worked very well and we were very much more coordinated with each other for this dive. This tactic is clearly a good one that we shall endeavour to continue with. We ran out of air much faster than the other more experienced divers in our group and, once again, I unrolled our trusty safety sausage after we broke off from the rest of the group and we arrived at our safety stop depth. Lunch for today was fried snapper. I quite like fish but I do still find myself in a bit of a personal dilemma each time I see fish served as I would much rather watch it swim than see it devoured.

I find that something as simple as a sighting of a particularly interesting fish tends to exponentially increase my enjoyment of a dive. Perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush that I get that floods my body with endorphins that I find so enjoyable but the third dive turned up another peacock mantis shrimp that was right out in the open. It was good enough to stay put long enough for me to get several really nice shots of it with the camera. Ever since we saw our very first mantis shrimp whilst diving from Koh Lanta several weeks ago, this little character has turned in to my very favourite little animal in the sea. We saw not one but two mantis shrimp altogether during the third dive but the second one was hiding in a rock crevice and was difficult to photograph – but still a thrill for me nevertheless.

Luke warm pancakes were served as a light snack before the fourth and final dive of the day. The last dive was a night dive and Sandy elected to forgo the privilege in favour of resting some more. The powerful strobe that we have also doubles up as a torch at night but having used this for three dives during the day, I decided to take one of the dive centre’s flashlights with me as a backup precaution. This turned out to be a good move as my strobe batteries were completely drained shortly before the end of the dive. The dive master carries a spare with him just in case one of the flashlights fail but it was nice to have my own so that I didn’t have to badger him for the spare. We saw some very interesting things during the night dive such as hermit crabs and what looked like a rather large blob of jelly that was oozing across the sandy seabed. Photography during the night dive was rather good so long as I didn’t have to stay pointing the camera at one spot for too long. The water was teeming with literally millions upon millions of tiny shrimp. They were attracted to the light of the flashlights and keeping the light pointing at one spot for more than a few seconds tended to attract hordes of them into the beam. After several seconds, the only thing I was actually able to photograph was thousands of tiny shrimp swimming about in front of the camera lens.

Nobody ran out of air during the night dive but the dive master called an end to the dive after about forty-minutes of bottom time. This was prearranged and everybody surfaced to the safety stop together. It had only just turned dark when we first got into the water but it was completely black outside when we surfaced. With little to no light pollution, it was amazing to sit there on the surface of the warm waters, watching all the stars out in full force before the boat captain spotted us and came to collect us.

Once again, I was singled out as the sole recipient of some half cooked and nearly cold potatoes for dinner. Along with the shrimp soup they were serving, I couldn’t really think of a worse meal so I ducked out of the communal meal and went below to service the camera and write up some notes for my log.