Koh Tao – day 381

Neither of us slept very well. Not sure what Jayne’s excuse was but I had episodes of ‘Dexter’ running around in my head, with scenes of me as the protagonist. Not very relaxing or necessary for getting a good nights sleep! Also, I did that frustrating ridiculous time counting of ‘if I go to sleep now, I’ll get 5 hours sleep; if I go to sleep now, I’ll get 4 hours sleep’. The last time I checked the phone it was 2.24am so when the alarm went off at 5.30, it was practically punched back on to snooze mode!

Groggily, we got up and dressed. Started making our way through the deserted streets of the main port, a ghost town that is a million miles away from the hustle and bustle that will magically appear with the arrival of the first boat of the day. Got about half way to the dive centre when Jayne realised she had left her dive computer at the hut. She ran back to get it whilst I meandered through the concrete back alleys to get to the dive shop. Jayne mentioned in yesterday’s blog that we chose this dive centre as it was one that wasn’t going to make me do a scuba review as I couldn’t prove the date of my last dive (apparently, date stamped photos don’t count!). Having forgotten to bring my c-card with me yesterday, I was surprised that no one asked to see it today – in fact, it was never mentioned and they treated me like an instructor (which I’m not!). Jayne arrived and we were given gear. Not entirely sure why the kidney dump valves had been cut off all the BCD’s but when it was obvious that the second valve (out of three) wasn’t working, I requested a new BCD. The dive master looked a little bit shocked that I requested a new jacket but went off to get me a new one. Kit in our bags, we were all piled into a truck with a group of open water students and made our way back to the port where our accommodation is… Typical!

On the boat, we put together our gear, only to find out that my inflator hose was broken. So, I’m now on my third BCD of the day and it’s not even 8am – probably should have seen this as a sign to come. Jayne swapped her regs as there was a sizeable cut in the protective tubing and we sorted out our weights as the boat rocked heavily from side to side. So much in fact that at least two people were chucking up over the sides. Just what you want when you are about to jump in the water – a vomit mine field. The guy diving with us seemed cockishly confident, naming all the places he had ever been diving and it turns out that our lovely Californian guide has been a dive master for only 5 days at this point so was incredibly nervous about diving with Jayne and I. A quick dive briefing and we were stride entering from the back of the boat that was still pretending it was an extra in ‘The Perfect Storm’. 
img_2663img_2664Our Israeli friend jumped in the water with no mask on and no reg in his mouth. Descending down, I did worry about the dive site we had come to. The description of pinnacles and loads of marine life were non existent as we swam over white sand with the occasional clump of sea weed. Clearly, we had descended in the wrong place and it took us about 5 minutes to find ‘the White Rocks’. A great dive site for beginners as it clearly had lots to see at not very deep depths. In fact, I think our maximum depth for that dive was 17.8m. A very bizarre dive profile as our guide kept taking us up and down over the reefs rather than around (I’m going to blame the fact that my ears now hurt on this rather than the fact I probably shouldn’t have been diving in the first place…). Loads of nudibranch and a couple of clown fish families were interspersed with Christmas tree fans and blue spotted sting rays. We even found a juvenile moray eel that was proving how aggressive he was by trying to eat my underwater camera. Newbie DM didn’t bother checking our air consumption until 26 minutes into the dive (FYI, when I did my DM training, I checked people’s air every 2 minutes – like an OCD freak!!).img_2667img_2687img_2693img_2696img_2706img_2713img_2717img_2725A nice 45 minutes dive, just a small amble around with some nice coral and fish. It was fun. Getting back on the boat, however, was not! Holding on to the ladder as the boat swung up and down was the most intense upper arm work out I’ve ever done, made even harder by the ladder snapping as I dragged myself out of the water. Fortunately, the rope was holding the two pieces of metal together but no one seemed overly worried about it when I reported it. Swapping our tanks over, Israeli guy decided he didn’t want to do a second dive, stating that he was too tired (aka too hungover – his one dive buddy didn’t even wake up to join us today). 

Found out during our dive briefing that our second dive of the morning was the wreck with a maximum depth of 30m. For those of you who don’t know about diving, in simple terms, the rule is always do your deepest dive first. So we definitely didn’t understand why, after a surface interval of 30 minutes, we were being told to suit up again. In fact, we refused. Told our DM that it was too soon and we wouldn’t be able to spend much time at the wreck, she agreed but I’m not sure she completely understood. Turns out, she is doing her open water to PADI pro here on Koh Tao, has only been diving since September, has only ever dived with this dive centre and has learnt some seriously bad habits!! Convinced her to extend our surface interval to an hour, the crew members didn’t look particularly happy as the open waters got in and we waited.

The second dive was short, predictably, at 26 minutes. The wreck wasn’t very interesting and the constant beeping from Jayne and the DM’s dive computers warning them about the imminent danger of going into deco was a bit off putting. In fact, Jayne had to show our guide her computer to say that we had to start ascending. I have a nasty feeling that she would have let us stay down there as long as our air allowed… I have an even worse feeling that she has done that in the past.img_2729img_2735img_2745img_2753Back at the surface, she seemed a bit too giggly about the deco thing and didn’t seem to take the whole thing seriously so we decided no more diving with them! The dodgy equipment, the lack of checking my c-card, the poor dive planning and the disregard for considering the computer deco function was just a bit too much. Felt bad because our DM is clearly enthusiastic about what she does but it scares me that soon she will be an instructor. Or maybe I’m just pissed off that I never got to complete my pro diving qualifications because of my crappy ears. Back at the dive shop, we tried to pull our guide to one side to have a quiet word but she was whisked away before we had a chance – maybe the more experience instructors knew what we were going to say. Paying for our dives, we headed back to the main port to grab some lunch before heading back to our hut for a shower. Used coconut oil on our hair to make it soft after the sea salt abuse, so watched an episode of ‘Dexter’ as it soaked in. A lazy afternoon of reading, playing games, watching films and snoozing filled our time before we headed out for dinner. Found a little cafe next to the beach that played a film if your ordered food. As the only diners, we enjoyed Masaman curry and fried rice with fruit smoothies whilst we watched ‘The Draft’. Surprisingly more enjoyable that I was expecting, the film passed away the evening until bed.

Saturday 22nd October 2016

Coles Bay – day 328

We had set our alarms for an early start but didn’t really need to… It was freezing! I even woke up at one point, contemplating whether to release myself from the cocoon of blankets to steal the free duvet from the bunk above. This idea was squashed quickly as I didn’t want to move one inch to let any cold in so slept huddled up and fully clothed. Ah… It brought back memories of being a poor university student all those years ago! 

Warmed up in the shower, dressed and in the car before the other ‘hostel’ guests were up, we headed back down the road we had driven on last night at some ridiculously slow pace. In the daylight, it didn’t seem so scary but, with the amount of roadkill on the side of the road, it was a good job that we had gone slow. 
I drove us the 30 minutes down the road as Jayne fancied doing some scuba diving. I really wanted to join her but my ears have been a bit sore recently and I didn’t want to push it, especially since I shouldn’t really be scuba diving at all. Dropping Jayne off at the dive centre, the one shore dive quickly became a boat dive followed by a shore dive. So with my blessing, she headed off for around four hours and got back in the car and headed back down in the direction we had just come from to walk in the Freycinet National Park on my own (cue the tiny violins!!!) Jayne: Unless, there was a crab called Sebastien, some trumpetfish and a guitarshark lurking nearby, there was no lament as Katherine drove off. Ok, maybe a small bit of guilt. Suited and booted, into the back of a rusty old truck, hopped on a boat before the boat was professionally launched behind the Governor Island. 5minutes around this bit of rock, being watched by the fur seals, we arrived at our dive site: Bird Rock. There were no birds on the rock itself and the churning water didn’t look appealing. But, the dive was a treasure trove, especially with one of the easiest accessible sites EVER! Giant rock boulders and gullies contained a variety of life. The surge was at times a difficulty, others a real joy. The trickiest moments were when going through the caverns and swim-throughs when it had to be timed well to get in to the sweet spot where it wouldn’t knock you against the sides, seabed or cave roof. Going through all these passages was fabulous. It was explained to me later that it was much to do about giving the open water diver a chance to practice old buoyancy skills before going to dive some particular wreck. A multitude of fish species that I can’t remember the names to, a draughtboard shark, old wives, secretive crayfish, massive abalones, colourful sponges and tunicates and a patchwork of encrusting algae where seaweeds and kelp didn’t grow. I managed to squeeze my fat ass out of a tight gap, idiot skinny people thought we would all fit through, waited for the last diver to shimmy through as well (at least it wasn’t just me), and returned to base for a hot milo and chit chat. The owner and the club are all heading off to Papua New Guinea soon and Bob and I chatted loads about hiking the Himalayas – not something he was expecting. Second dive was just Al and myself. An interesting ride down in the other jeep, with wide turns for the vehicle that didn’t have power steering, he set up a dive flag at the end of the pier and I picked up a smashed phone from the car park. This site was even better than the first – it is no wonder that so many locals dive it several times a week. Depth instantly off the pier with a beautiful mixture of granite sea bed, sandy areas and kelp forests. The pockets of vegetation were the best chances to spot the wildlife as we could hover and circle around the area with keen eyes looking for elusive creatures. We were thus rewarded with a pot-bellied seahorse and 6x weedy sea dragons. Completely over the moon with having seen these remarkable creatures I was fortunate enough to figure out the camera settings on the dive and get a few shots. Of course, all good things must come to an end and the idea of warming up was soon more alluring. Katherine: Having paid my park permit, and receiving a free set of posters to celebrate the centenary of Tasmania’s National Parks (what am I going to do with them?!?), I started with the Wineglass Bay walk. Considered one of the most celebrated views in Tasmania, I began the steep uphill climb on a rocky, well-constructed track up to the saddle between Mt Amos and Mt Mayson. About half way up the path, I stopped to look out over the viewpoint of Coles Bay (and to catch my breathe and strip off several layers of clothing!!) which was absolutely stunning, even more so as I was the only one there! Continuing up the path, the granite rock formations were truly mesmerising especially when they were formed during the Devonian period. At the saddle, I followed the short side track that leads to the lookout with spectacular views over the crystal clear waters and white sandy beach of Wineglass Bay. Chatted to a Welsh and Australian couple who were also travelling through Tasmania. Offered to take a photo for them and captured a beautiful one of the both of them and the view. When they returned the favour, the photo is a close up of me and not much else – so much so, it’s not even making the blog so you’ll have to put up with my poor attempts at selfies instead. If only Jayne was there with her long lucky selfie arm!!

Backtracking down to the car park, I headed back through the park towards the Cape Tourville circuit. A really easy walk with gentle slopes and no steps, the walk provided sweeping views of the Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay, the Tasman Sea, the Nuggets and Friendly Beaches. Stood looking for whales and other marine life for a while until a (very) loud American woman came and choose, despite the entire empty boardwalk, to stand right next to me to have a conversation with her husband about the lack of wild koalas in Australia. Seeing that I had just over an hour before I needed to collect Jayne from the dive centre and I only needed 45mins to drive there, I decided to do one more walk to Sleepy Bay. I followed the gently graded steps leading to the rocky shoreline of Sleepy Bay which, despite its name, often experiences wild and rough seas. Didn’t make it all the way to the sandy bay itself as, being conscious of time, I turned around about half way and headed back to the car. Arrived at the dive centre just before 1pm (as promised) only to have to wait for three quarters of an hour for my lovely wife to turn up – typical!! Chatted to one of the women who works in the dive centre who told me all fantastic places she has been diving in the world… I’m not jealous, not jealous at all.

Helped Jayne rinse her gear before we jumped in the car and drove to the dock where Jayne did her shore dive so she could point out where they went down and saw all the weedy sea dragons. Stopped off at the bakery on the edge of town to grab a couple of hot chocolates to warm us both up and may have, accidentally, purchased a chicken and camembert pie and a couple of caramel slices too… Oops!
An easy drive back to Hobart, stopping at Spiky Bridge on the way. As the name suggests, it’s just a bridge but it’s pretty cool. Built by convicts in 1843, this bridge abruptly pops out of the landscape to baffle passers-by with its odd design. The bridge was made from field stones laid without mortar or cement and the parapet features field stones laid vertically, giving the bridge a spiky appearance. It’s claimed that the spikes were designed to prevent cattle falling over the sides of the bridge, though no one really knows if this is true. There are also the remains of the Governor’s cottage on the hill overlooking the unusual bridge.Back in the car, we cruised back to Hobart, stopping in a nearby town to waste away time in Coles buying dinner supplies as we can’t park outside the hostel before 6pm. Back at the hostel, I got busy with a much needed load of laundry whilst Jayne tackled the mess in the tiny kitchen to make us some dinner. The lovely lady at reception had put us in a dorm room on our own so we were able to snuggle up in bed, watching a film at the end of the day and looking at Jayne’s photos from the dives. 

Tuesday 30th August 2016

Whitsundays & Airlie Beach – day 304

Up before even the crew, I had the upper deck to myself and the sea air filled me with life. Katherine was slowly waking up while I sipped a coffee and watched the clouds change from a steely grey to a magnolia white. The usual brekkie of toast, cereal and fruit shared between the pair of us was no longer a solitary affair with others now knowing of our secret dining area. Still, we were finished, changed and ready for our dive well before the crew were ready for us or the other passengers had begun to function. 
With the weather being a bit against us on this trip we were asked if it would be OK to dive where we were moored. An exploratory dive in uncharted waters… A MASSIVE YES from myself with a big of skepticism on Katherine’s part. But, once I had assured her of what depth the instruments in the wheel house had been reading coming in to the bay, something the crew was surprised I had noticed, we were revved up and psyched for a dive along an area of coastline in what we later discovered to be Stonehaven Bay. 
Backward rolls in to the water in perfect harmony, we descended with corals and fish all around us and we struggled to find a passage through the rock formations to a navigable dive route. The branching corals were massive. They were so big as to be described as underwater Christmas trees, hiding juvenile batfish and hogfish in their frameworks. A much healthier ecosystem and dive site it was clear that no one comes to this place for diving. Unsuitable as a DSD area and predominantly exposed to the elements we did hear a bunch of dolphins and only whales once. Something that I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog was the sheer volume and frequency of humpback whale calls throughout the dive. Every intake of breath was a mini orchestra of song and it was missed only slightly on this dive. The flora and fauna however did make up for it quite dramatically. 

Finding a mask to go with the snorkel I found yesterday, the only other sign of human impact was a massive lot of fishing line. Bex did a brilliant job of tracing it back through the area, untangling it from coral and collecting what must have been an entire spool of really tough line that had fallen off the back of a boat. It would never have been needed or used so close to the shore and yet it would do unspeakable damage to the corals and trap dozens of turtles before finally being buried or covered in coral and algae growth to become visible to wildlife. 
Back on a more stable boat Katherine turned in to a 4yr old at a water theme park. The slide was set up, the pool noodles were littered on both the deck and sea and there were people whizzing about on the paddle boards. It was like a puppy eager to try and jump up its first steps and I’m not really sure I had any say whatsoever in letting her off. Up and down the slide, apparently she was told she used it more in the time she got back from the dive than anyone else did all morning. So we had slide, a cannon ball from the plank and a momentous occasion on the paddle board standing up and paddling a bit, to the applause and amusement of the entire ship while I took photos of our little hitchhiker. With quick showers all around and the crew stowing away everything that could budge an inch we were on our way home. With the bribe of hot dogs for brunch snack, beds were stripped and clothes packed. For some reason in section C everyone decided to put their bags on our bed and not strip the beds. So while everyone else on the both was huddled in the galley put of the wind and sea spray, section C were cuddled up in bed and the two of us were forced to sit on the floor with our stuffed pillow cases of linen for some comfort. On the way back, I was ‘roped’ in by the crew to help dock the yacht…Back in port and a few goodbyes to various people and crew we collected our bags from the agency and continued to our hostel in Airlie Beach. It was nice to have the room completely empty on arrival as we needed to repack and organise bags for laundry and generally sorting ourselves out again. Down to Woolies for some food we ended up with a late lunch / early dinner. Kat put away dried clothes while I had the tedious affair of trying to upload some blog photos that are piling up. We tried to watch Zoolander 2 on the netbook, but with neither of us in the mood for that type of humour so we called it a night. 

Saturday 6th August 2016

Whitsundays – day 303

The gentle roll and pitch of the waves on the hull made the boat rock from side to side like a cradle. So, after a peaceful nights sleep on what was a sliver of a mattress we were up on deck waiting for a sunrise that didn’t appear and quietly enjoying breakfast at the cool place on the stern when the rest of the passengers started to surface. The constant hum of the generator was to them like a kanjo hammer rather than a white noise that one drowns out. With coffees in hand and the clouds now brightening up, our zombie like room mates were set in motion to get ready for a day at Whitehaven Bay. 

With colour coded stinger suits and supplies ready for a day on a Queensland beach, we performed a circus act of fitting several clowns in a mini, albeit we were the clowns and the mini tender designed for 11 was filled with 12 plus the driver. It was inevitable that with the swell and choppy waves the little boat was rapidly filling with water and when it started getting dangerously close to the level of people’s shins did we stop. A bit of hokey pokey with the the wiring in the box next to the outboard engine and with the little green button firmly pressed down and the bilge pump kicking in to action we made it the rest of the way to shore without a single man overboard. We did however have a crew member fall in back at New Horizon as they were casting off the ropes, so at least we stayed ‘dry’ on our adventure ashore. We waited on shore for the rest of the group to arrive. The official line is that the path to the lookout is confusing, but from experience you know that H&S dictates that a group stays together and they don’t want people wandering off. Thus, a gentle stroll up through the ‘bush’ and we were looking down on the infamous Whitehaven Bay. In this instance it wasn’t the picturesque calendar photo of the scene that we were hoping for, but it was still kind of special. White sand and white horses competed with blue waters and skies. The cameras we had were in no way equipped to capture the intensity, purity and vibrancy of the area and all photos that included us in them meant the poor cameras weren’t able to focus on anything past us being overcast but bright. Down on the beach we did a wheelbarrow race and a human pyramid. The vegemite came out and a queue of people formed to do various poses as if in or coming out of the pot of vegemite. We were getting ready for a splash and tried to crate the illusion of snorkelling in the stuff. It didn’t work, so we left of for a bit of proper snorkelling. Well, proper in the term that we tried, but with south easterlies wind and waves, poor viz and wind chill rather than cold water we strolled around the area. Some silly jumping photos were a must and then silly mistakes. I was snorkelling around looking for more wildlife, convinced that there had to be more than the big lizardfish. Thus, swimming with a breast stroke my right hand grazed along a rock with the shells of what must be a type of limpet / barnacle thing. Having been warned previously at Champagne Pools of these treacherous wildlife I felt a right numptee with my hand sliced like a cheese grater. Of course, what makes you feel better about yourself, ignore the excruciating pain, tighten your fist in to a ball and chase the fantail sting ray around in the shallows until you get a good look at it. Complete idiotic five minutes over, we returned to our bags. Well, we returned to where we left them and Katherine’s sundress that was tied on would have been impossible to find with the sand completely covering over it. In fact it was so windy as to blow away any trace of the wheel barrow race and human pyramid in the vicinity. The walk through the forest at the end of the beach resulted in a treasure find of a busy but quiet cove. We sat on the rocks watching the powerful waves crash along the shore. I cleaned the wounds with dry clothing and water from our bottles and let the swelling go down. It might not have been a paradise lost, but we enjoyed the moment and would have happily stayed longer. But, back to Tongue Bay we did the reverse queueing process for the tender back to New Horizon. We watched with fascination as a team of workers on deck and on boats manoeuvred the Atlantic Clipper around the bay in an attempt to fix the anchors. We were later told that they wanted to swap the good anchor chain for the other bad chain, as it was on the better gypsy (the engine winch to raise/lower the anchor). But, without thinking it through sensibly they dropped both anchors at the same time and they became entangled. Something that I’ve never heard of before and probably something the owner of the company didn’t want to hear either with a string of cancellations and refunds for people booked on the larger boat of the fleet. Oops! I’m guessing someone got in a lot of trouble for that one. 

Back on board we enjoyed wraps and sandwiches for lunch. Typically this is served while underway to our next destination but frankly that would have been messy. With grated cheese and shredded lettuce already flying around the deck with the wind I can only imagine the scenes with a swell added to the mix. As it was there were quite a few green faces en route to Luncheon Bay and only the true hardcores were touching their goon. After a briefing for the Discover Scuba Diving initiates, Phoebe, Katherine and I had a briefing on our dive site. Still at the same location as the snorkelers and DSD’s, we were probably over excited for an area that would be shallow and perhaps a bit worse for wear from all the activity it sees. But, it was UNESCO Site #50!!!

While preparing an underwater slate for the UNESCO sign (we kind of figured there wouldn’t be one there for us) we put everything aside when the kitchen blew up. Now, that is a bit melodramatic, but the eggs, sauces, milk and several items from the fridge went flying across the galley and the oven door slammed open with such force as to break the outer pane of glass in to a thousand pieces and leave it hanging on one hinge. The garlic bread although still in trays would have been unsafe to cook even if we did have the means as glass seemed to everywhere and the butter had a lovely shimmer to it. An Italian coming upstairs from the lower deck found it hilarious much to everyone else disapproval. Needless to say he didn’t help with the clean up. 

We went snorkelling for a bit before diving. The 1mm stinger suits provided absolute zero thermal protection and with everyone else zooming around not knowing what they were actually seeing, we stayed in one small patch and watched George the resident Humphead Wrasse pass by a few times and the fusiliers shoal back and forth. The cold of staying motionless meant we went back early on a tender and waited for our dive. Geared up and raring to go we soon rolled backwards off the edge of the tender to begin The Great Barrier Reef. Bex led the dive, as the instructor on board the New Horizon she knew the area well and we headed for a boomey (underwater rock formation in Ozzy slang) and Evan the newbie on a week long interview process was buddied with Phoebe. She’s a recently qualified Open Water and she was surrounded by people looking out for here and finding cool stuff underwater. With loads of nudibranch and corals with finned along for some time. Evan and Bex were given fresh tanks of air before their fun dive and Evan was unfortunate in that it only got filled to 150bar. A bit of simple maths means having 50bars of pressure less than everyone else in an 8litre tank meant he was 400 litres of air short of the rest of us. The average breathing rate being somewhere around 20ltr/min would be irrelevant except at the depth we were at and the good old physics playing its part, he was effectively taking 40-60litres of air per minute at the 10-15m depth we were at. Thus, he had 10mins to live, less when someone (already arranged and approved with Bex) gave him an ‘Out of Air’ signal, while swimming towards him with no reg in mouth and flapping around like a turkey being chased at Christmas time. He wasn’t best pleased when he realised we were testing him, but he responded well and I lived. That’s also a big plus. Putting my own reg back in my mouth and waving goodbye to the air depleted Canadian, we swam on. But, it must have been really tough to hear that 30seconds after we left him we found a turtle. Nestled in the coral and giving the casual ‘What are you doing here?’ look that all turtles seem to project to divers. In to a small cavern with the light shining through the crack to silhouette a lovely turquoise shade of blue. With the turn around on the surface being so quick and efficient, Bex dive computer didn’t start a new dive, but rather continued as if on one continuous long dive. So, we may have gone a bit over the allowed bottom time rules for the boat regulations. But, we only found this out back on board while queueing for warm showers and striping equipment. 

Katherine was really nice and plaited my hair so as not to get messed up in the wind and with diving tomorrow. But, Phoebe, her sister Sonia and a plethora of other girls were queueing to get their hair done as well. She only managed to do one complex braid before dinner. A triumph of spaghetti bolognaise, despite the earlier mishap in the kitchen and now the back of the boat was the cool place to be. We became trend setters. We’re so hip and down with it. Lols

Kat plaited a lovely design for Sonia before the sun set in the distance. Cameras and phones were a plenty and the tone for the evening was now set. Peaceful and quiet, the boat was now split with half the people chatting and playing more ‘Gunno’ and the other half watching passing sea snakes in the water, stars and chatting. We wanted to reclaim a piece of the boat for ourselves again and sat on the roof of the galley, arms stretched up above our faces to block out the light on the foremast and we could make out the stars and Milky Way in such much detail. The call for the main lights to be turned off and the silence was now only interrupted with people shouting ‘There’ as more and more shooting stars were observed. We finished our wine and snuck off to bed, the evening having been perfect and snuggling up to the gentle hum of the generator and roll of the hull. 

Friday 5th August 2016

Kalpitiya – day 126

Got up and joined the family for breakfast – Joy, Simon and their daughter Jo. Managed to convince the hotel owner to make us coconut roti for breakfast which was served with not only jam but also an onion compote spicy chutney concoction – it was weirdly nice!! Waited for our TukTuk from the dive centre to turn up and we were bumping along the sand tracks towards neoprene!! Arrived after the family so waited outside the storage container whilst they got kitted up with snorkelling gear and entertained ourselves by playing with the cutest puppy ever. Turned out we weren’t on the same boat so as they waited for another person to turn up, Jayne and I jumped into our speed boat and headed into the blue. Took about 30 minutes before we arrived at the first dive site and I watched as Jayne and Kristina rolled backwards off the boat into the water. Followed their bubbles for a while as they did their first dive…

(Jayne – dive 1). The dive site was brilliant. A mix of giant boulders, gullies, cracks in the rock sea bed and pure white sand all around. It was reminiscent of dive sites off Ireland, but a hell of a lot warmer and pretty awesome viz. Sea whips stood up in current, and we negotiated them and stuck our head under overhangs and outcrops looking for those elusive and camouflaged fish. We came across three massive scorpionfish, some lion fish, shy emperor angelfish and a host of colourful parrotfish, triggerfish, and surgeonfish. Kristina was amazed at the length of the dive and by how much we saw, usually seeing loads of schooling fish, but poor visibility or vice-versa – we had both thumbs up today. We finished the dive with a massive moray eel hiding in the crevice waiting for a passing dinner and the lump head napoleon wrasses keeping a watchful eye on us for our ascent. We surfaced and we were miles out to sea, all alone. 

Back on the surface, the skipper was in training and clearly getting in some boat practise whilst the two were underwater. Not entirely sure what happened, but he suddenly couldn’t start the engine. As we drifted further and further away from the buoy the two locals seemed to get more and more desperate – taking the engine apart whilst balancing precariously on the edge of the boat, one guy holding on to the others underwear to stop him falling into the water. Had visions of having to dust off some of my rusty lifesaving skills if one of them (or God forbid, both!) fell into the water. After about 30 minutes, they admitted defeat and called for back up. The second boat (for the family and other diver) turned up – empty – which then made me worry about everyone else as we were towed back to where Jayne and Kristina were frantically waving at us, and Jayne blowing a whistle. Continued being towed with Jayne in the other boat and me alone in the broken boat to the open water diver – still not able to see Joy, Simon or Jo!! Slightly worried after joking about being left in the water last night that it had actually happened! Turned out, they had been dropped off at a huge moored catamaran to do snorkelling whilst we were being rescued. All got onto the super posh boat and waited whilst our boat got towed back to shore. I jumped in the water whilst the others chatted on the boat but there wasn’t much to see at that reef.   When the boat got back, we all piled onto it and went to a shallow reef for the open water student to do their second dive and the rest of us to do some snorkelling. Much nicer reef with loads of fish and coral.     Climbed back onboard and headed back to shore to drop off everyone. A slightly James Bond beach landing, driving the boat straight onto the sand. Emptied the boat and then Jayne, Kristina and I got back in (after a very ungrateful miss of the boat from me, requiring me to swim out and climb back onto the boat) and headed off for dive site number two. 

(Jayne – dive 2). Heading back out to the same reef, but exploring a different part of it, Kristina was equally excited about the dive, having now learned that I wasn’t a newly qualified diver, but an instructor. Without the detailed pre-dive briefing like I had on the previous dive, we were on ur way and much more at ease. She took the camera, while I continued taking short videos on the GoPro. This side of the reef was almost on two levels, with some of the rocks and gullies being much higher than the sandy sea bed on the lower side. I explored the nooks and crannies slightly deeper while she was photographing a playful dogface puffer face. We passed over three massive giant anemones with families of two species of clownfish darting in and out of the tentacles to examine the strange divers and cameras pointed at them.   Banging on the tank soon afterwards, I was confused by the hand signal I was seeing. Surely not, and as I ascended up the rock face, I was still confused until I was pointed down between the gullies to a cleaning station where the turtle was quite content being preened and groomed.    We were unobtrusive and she was happy to hang around till she was all blamed up and gracefully swam away in to the blue. More lionfish, shoals of fish and astonishing formations of coral later, I was at a loss of how to attract Kristina’s attention, so had to shout really loudly in to the regulator to get her attention for the stingray that was making its way over the sand to our rocky reef. We were having a fab dive and it would have quite going for much longer, as we both had the air for it, but sadly we had reached our no decompression limits for the dive and had to surface. One final moray eel in a hole grinning wickedly and we headed up. 

The skipper was slightly worried about how long the two of them had been down there but once I explained that they were both instructors, he seemed less concerned. Pick up the two divers and headed back to shore. A quick dump of equipment, kit wash, shower and chat with the two dive centre people before we started walking down the beach back to the hotel.   I had to ninja it up as we walked because I was burning so easily!! Got back to the hotel, had a quick dip in the sea before showering and watching the videos from Jayne’s dives. Chatted to Jo about scuba diving and her parents about where they have been in the world. Had a massive dinner before falling into bed, slightly sunburnt and completely shattered!! 

Wednesday 10th February 2016

Pondicherry – day 96 (Jayne)

It was weird getting up so early and sneaking around in the dark. It was like getting ready to go to work back in London, yet there was an air of excitement about the day rather than a sense of foreboding.
I was at the dive centre by 06:15. You know that too early and you’re in the way, but not being early shows a passive attitude and not being prepared. As such, the cats snuggled up while I got bitten to death by mosquitos and breakfast was laid out on the coffee table. Awake by 03:00 in the morning by these evil creatures, I would have consumed a gallon of chai along with my idli and curries but, alas, there was none.
It was nice to be listening to a dive briefing, rather than giving it. Some of the staff were overly concerned that I’d be cold with my broken wetsuit or that I’d get sea sick on the way out. Reassured that the water was 27*C the day before and the boat ride was about 35mins I tried to reassure them that I’d be ok. The main instructor overheard the commotion and was amused to say the least. He clearly had an idea of the conditions that are the norm in Ireland and thought it funny – there was already gambles and forfeits that I’d be sick on the journey.

While my ass didn’t enjoy the occasional bump on the fibreglass hull of the boat rim, the gentle swell with the salty, sea breeze and the peace and quiet was blissful. We were at site #1 before long, dropping anchor and the DM (my buddy for the day – Jay) descending in to the depths to set a shot line for the 3x DSD’s (Discover Scuba Diving) on the other boat.
‘Temple’ as the site is called, is an artificial reef beginning to flourish. A metal frame was sunk here deliberately by the centre, with ropes extending along the sea bed to some crates and vehicles. The fishermen of the area occasionally try fish here and you can immediately tell why. Cardinals, fusiliers and a variety of other fish that I have yet to identify, habituated the frame, ropes and palm tree branches of the site. This has led to it not only becoming a sanctuary, possibly even a nursery and cleaning station, but a reason for Groupers to hang around like school yard bullies. These beasts look at you with a disdainful eye and intimidate you with their gaping mouth and rows of teeth, wondering if you’re going to disturb them. Needless to say, they’re all bark and no bite and we explored the site for almost an hour.

I’m not sure Jay was sure what to do with me. Matching his air consumption and spotting sealife as much as he was with a torch, he checked my air three times and then just hovered until it was time to ascend. Perhaps I was an easy dive for him, perhaps I was infuriating as to be having so much bottom time and not be reliant on him… who knows???

Together we spotted lionfish, scorpionfish, 3x types of puffers, a moray eel, squirrelfish, batfish, false moorish idols and a massive grouper hiding under a car/bus door that was on its side in the sea bed. Later, Kas, the main instructor doing the AOW (Advanced Open Water) on our boat, was telling me how the crates were full of grindstones. They tell DSD students that they are Shiva Lingas gathered from temples to go with the theme of their u/w temple structure. As such, DSD’s pray to these artefacts while being led around on their dive. An innocent joke, they helped create homes for countless fish to hide between and they looked brill.

Between dives snacks consisted of biscuits and cake. It was all the better that the AOW refused, leaving more for myself, Jay and Kas. He wasn’t doing so well with the sea sickness, but was desperate keen to finish the course before heading to Australia. It’s normally after a dive when you should really be feeling a bit better, from getting off the boat for so long and your mind starting to tell you, you can do this. Even after dive 2 he wasn’t so flash, leaving fins on during the surface interval until dive 3. Was interested to hear he’s a pro chef in Toronto and he’d cooked nearly everything he saw on the dives… Interesting that Karma should follow him half way across the world.
‘Danny’s Eel Garden’ was site number 2 and it lived up to it’s name. A short distance from site 1 (coincidence?) they believe these group of rocks in a semi circle formation are the ballast remains of a shipwreck. Not really seeing anything but marine fauna, the 4 types of moray were impressive. Closing my fist as best as possible to conceal the rings on my hand so the lonesome barracuda didn’t get any fancy ideas (magpies of the sea… that bite fingers off) the little glint of titanium was enough to entice the morays out of their nooks and crannies to be stars in their very own GoPro home video. Of course, the laptop is too old to play videos of this quality, but I’m sure they’re going to be good when they’re less than 10cm from a row of crystal, needle teeth and a wicked grin.

The resident octopus was where he should be, but do ya think Jay could remember where that was? Kas banged his tank with the butt of his knife to let us know he found it. A trick that would never work in Irish waters as you wouldn’t have a clue which way on the dive site to swim. We were fortunate to be at one end (the wrong end) of the ballast, enjoying a sea urchin with incredibly iridescent blue/purple to its shell, when I heard the banging. He was cute, changing colours ever so slightly to blend in to the type of shell he was over as he withdrew like a shadow into darkness.

There were scorpionfish and a crab (which I think I was supposed to be impressed with) along with some LPS coral dotting the rocks. The zooplankton on the ascent drifting by, were just as cool to behold as the sea bed. But, of course you must be barking crazy if you’re waving your arms about like you’re trying incantations on a safety stop. It did make my eyes go all fuzzy focusing on so much blue and silt trying to discern the opaque outline of sea gooseberries and other pelagic macro life. I had to resist the urge to go swimming after a bell jar monster and return to the shot line.
More cake and biscuits. Whoop! The countdown to dive 3 was literally to the minute. Surface interval planned to depth and bottom time and we were descending in to dive 3 (just another short boat journey from last site – sceptical much?). ‘Macro Garden’ is a muck dive, meaning you dive over muck and hope for the best. They have a line laid out on the bottom and then they swim in an agreed direction with the cox’n.
The rock at the end of the line has by happenstance become the recent home of a frog fish. So ugly as to be cute, they walk along the bottom and he swaggered around 180 to be a tad more photogenic.

Off we went, like Dory, “just keep swimming” and there was evidence of sea potatoes from discarded shells. It wasn’t long until we found 2 types of nice starfish, a flat species of sea urchin that I didn’t know existed and suddenly we’re stopping by a sand mason worm to admire a seahorse. Shy and still, the poor thing must have felt oppressed by 4 looming shadows and the sound of bubbles. We left it in search of more.

Garden eels became more frequent. Pikemen guarding the castle gates, these cowards retreated in to their holes just at the limits of the camera zoom and stayed there till the paparazzi had passed. The 2nd seahorse that Jay found was slightly more amicable. She wasn’t burdened with 4 divers as Kas had to begun his ascent with the AOW. We did try and call them back for the massive cuttlefish, but it didn’t stick around for the party. I did manage to convince Jay to come back down slightly, as the gap in the middle of the sand ridge looked too much out of place not to be investigated. Sure enough, another octopus, so small as to hide in one half of the clam shell and await our departure.


The dives were brilliant. Without any need for depth or colour, the magnitude of life we came across was astounding. The fishermen weren’t happy to see us drift over their nets on the way back up river, but if they focused less on shouting abuse at us they’d have noticed all the fish jumping to freedom over their nets. Back to the dive centre, late as always is the case, I was feeling guilty about my day diving when I saw Kat in the centre and I immediately had to run to the loo and save a bladder.

IMG_7104Diving in India… ticked off the list!

Monday 11th January 2016