Thailand – Australia – United Kingdom

Mv Trident – Richie Kohler – Trip Report

The 2009 Team is international group with divers joining in from the UK, Canada, and US. As soon as we landed in Koh Samui we loaded the boat with all our kitt but we can’t stay on board due to some dodgy fueling issues, so we are forced to head for the two hour Thai massage…the kind that leaves you drooling and weak kneed. As the old buds hug and catch up the new team members cast wary looks about the wild-west atmosphere of Samui roadside beer joints with names like Lovers Bar, the Cosmic and the Kitty Cat sit side by side with the Lord Nelson, the Lunch Box and the Mermaid. After 22 hours of travel and three time zones the post massage beer is oh so cold and after a few drinks 9PM seems like 2 in the morning and the pretty Thai bar girls are way too young to play pool as well as they do.  The speakers pound top forty beats into the night and one by one our spinning heads are off to seek warm soft beds. The next morning we stumble out of our hotel rooms into the glare of the morning light and after breakfast amble off to the Trident, fully fueled and nearly ready to go at the end of the dock.

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We assemble kitt and pump our O2, bailout and diluent gasses as our cook Mickey stores and incredible pile of food, (enough to feed 16 people over a seven day expedition) into every nook and cranny. When the last team members arrive it’s time to cast off and with the snap of fireworks to scare off the evil spirits, our bows point towards the first dive site. With a cold beer in our hands hosts Jamie and Stewart go over the safety briefing and our dive plan for the week.

This is my fourth charter on board the MV TRIDENT and after the briefing Jamie shows me the new changes to the staterooms and the new galley equipment and coolers.  The changes weren’t just material as our Captain from the past charters Pon, died last year so the TRIDENT has a new master, Captain Ekk.  Ohh was the number one Burmese boy but has been promoted to Chief engineer and there are two New Burmese boys are Aung and Five to round out the crew. If you think these names are hard to read you should try pronouncing them.

After an overnight fifteen hour steam from K0h Samui we arrive at the modern wreck of the SOLIMOES for our check out dives. At 160 feet to the hull and 200 to the sand, with little current this is an ideal site to check out our gear. The wreck is intact and lay on her port aside. Transferred to Thai ownership and then reported lost in 1995. As we explore the wreck, each team finds all the brass and navigational equipment missing, huge cut outs around the doors and in the side of the hull to facilitate removal of big equipment from within. It seems like it was hacked up then set to sink, but oddly enough there is a spare BRASS prop still chained down to the aft deck? The viz was not stellar but made for nice dives. Out in the sand one team got turned about in the murk, wandered to far afield and had to deploy their SMB’s and do a drift deco. No worries as the TRIDENT crew were spot on , got in the rib and towed the wayward team back to the boat. The only injury was a slightly bruised ego for Evan who claimed this was the first time he couldn’t find the wreck and for his Buddy, John W, who thought this was a drill???

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Over dinner we traveled 60 miles overnight to arrive on the first set of virgin marks at 2:30 AM and just like last time the Thai numbers where spot on, (these from purple book) marked hard 10 meters wide, and ran for about 80 meters long, with about 15 meters of relief. We anchored for the night, and wait for daylight. This mark is 31 miles from the WWII submarine, USS SCULPIN claimed to have sank either the AKITA MARU 40900 ton freighter or possibly the TAIRYU MARU 5000 tonner, but over 52 miles from where the Dutch submarine O-19 claimed a vessel, so what lies below? Another mark lies 8 miles away.

At 7am I splash to set hook with Evan, but it was a bad drop, to give the guys on the TRIDENT a small break the current was a little heavy, so we swam hook into current for a while, then dropped it and clipped and swam the reel a total of 200 feet to come up on the bow of a large modern freighter upright by the tip of the bow. Securing the reel we climbed the wall of nets draping the bow and suddenly I felt a little light-headed on the ascent from the mud, (205) to the deck (160) and so I did a diluents flush, first time I ever had to, or felt compelled to do that for any reason, after which I felt fine. Evan and I swam back to find intact bridge, no apparent damage all the Navigational equipment in place. No bell on fwd mast or bridge, so I took some pictures of the binnacle and the bridge.

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Evan located what he thought to be the builder’s plate on the bridge but we were out of time and would have to return to clear off the incrustation on another dive. We decided to send up a lift bag from on top of the wheelhouse and then it was up and down in the water column trying to watch Mickey set the hook. All of a sudden there was a cascade of bubbles when Mickey, working 100 feet below us had his BCD low pressure hose burst. Between our bad drop and Mickey’s problem we came up with the working name for this wreck; the Cluster Phuck Maru.  As the divers began to ascend from their dives, it was clear everyone liked this wreck; Jim nicked the compass out of the binnacle bowl, intending to recover the stand on another diver. The compass was Japanese in design and manufacture. Dart recovered a large compass repeater and a red EPIRB like device from the wheel house. Paul and Leigh also explored the bridge and accommodation areas and found promise for the next dive. The clues piled up, this was a recent wreck down maybe 30 years at most.
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When John Weisbrich surfaced he was exuberant and awe struck at the virgin wreck below. As he plunked down on the bench removing his kitt he happily began to tell us about his foray into the intact bridge, his face alight with the excitement of his experience. But like cloud passing, his disposition changed and features darkened, brow furred.  He mentioned a slight cramping in his calves, and a slight ache in one knee. Taking no chances I suggested a quick return into the water, (escorted by Evan) to add another hour or so to his hang.

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As John eased into the water and made his way to the down line he suddenly stopped, and turning him to me said his hands felt funny and had no grip. Looking into the saucer eyes of uncertainty in his mask, I aborted his descent and got him back on board. Just as he got back on the boat he began to experience vertigo so we got to lay on a cushioned bench, gave him some water to drink and onto 100% oxygen. Removing his suit we found large red mottled areas of skin on his side’s, thighs and chest. He began to vomit and the pain grew worse…There was no doubt now, Weisbrich was bent like a pretzel, 180 miles out in the Gulf of Thailand!

I accounted for his dive profile and checked his buddy, Dart. Dart was fine and they had both cleared their computers and did everything right, but still John was bent. I grabbed the SAT phone and called DAN…it was 3:00AM on the opposite side of the world but the emergency operator answered on the second ring and soon I was put in contact with the chamber supervisor at the closest recompression chamber, 180 miles/18 hour ride back where we began, on Koh Samui! There was no option for a helicopter evacuation so we needed to beat feet. The best we they could do was arrange to dispatch a fast boat to at first light to meet us 50 miles out, cutting down the travel time by about 3 hours…

We got all the divers back on the boat, cut the anchor line and with diesels growling and props churning turned our bow toward Koh Samui. As the hours passed and the sky darkened, John grew worse, but fortunately one of our team, (and Johns dive buddy) Dart Craytor, is a paramedic and he took charge of monitoring John and made him as comfortable as possible.

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Through the long night we arrange watches to monitor John checking his pulse and respiratory rate and keeping him company. Needless to say he couldn’t sleep at all due to the pain and uncertainty running around his head.

At first light the entire crew lined the rails, eyes straining for the rescue boats approach and soon enough it could be seen on the horizon. I would be escorting John back to the hospital and chamber so put together a “to go” bag of essentials; some clothes, all the required paperwork, and the nine pages of notes about the incident. With careful maneuvering the smaller boat was soon alongside and secure. A lone figure jumped onto our vessel, it was Mike Fife, the chamber supervisor, who after a quick intro to John and brief update on his status, wasted no time in getting John strapped on the litter, down the steps and onto the main deck. The seas cooperated and with many helping hands the mid-ocean transfer went smooth as silk. Waving goodbye to the faces lining the rails of the MV Trident, I sat down as the twin outboards whined loudly, getting us up on plane, and we raced towards the distant island.

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Koh Samui grew larger on the horizon and in less than three hours we arrived in the harbor I could see the ambulance at water’s edge. Within 10 minutes of landfall John was being examined by a Dr and was soon carried into the chamber.  Almost as soon as the pressure was increased in the chamber John had felt some relief and five hours later John was able to shakily walk out.

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At the local hospital, (this by the way was more like a first class resort than a hospital!), the Dr was concerned that due to extreme dehydration Johns kidneys may have been damaged and over the next few days John would take a total of five chamber rides and have a 100% recovery, his kidneys none the worse for the wear, (he actually claimed to feel better after the treatments then he did prior to the incident!) Since returning home John has seen a hyperbaric doctor who confirmed that John has a PFO which “may” account for this bends incident. For a much more detailed account of John’s incident, keep your eyes open my upcoming article in DAN’s Diver Alert Magazine

Aboard the MV TRIDENT, Evan Kovacs would lead the charter for the next five days and after the rendezvous with the rescue boat, the TRIDENT motored north to revisit the great wreck of the Tottori Maru for a few days and before heading back to Koh Samui they located yet another virgin wreck!

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This was another modern freighter, somewhat small, but intact and upright on the bottom. There was some of the bridge equipment still in place but some thought this could’ve been a fishing boat mother ship, so it will need a little more looking at! Once everyone made landfall and settled into the Mermaid hotel to relax and do a little touring some of the local temples on the island, we got together at the BBC restaurant for our wrap party. I saw happy faces, both about John’s recovery and that they were able to find and dive some great wrecks including two new virgins with the MV TRIDENT. We will be back again next year!

A big thank you to this year’s team;  Paul Bell, Dart Craytor, Leigh Grubb, Jim Kilcullen, Evan Kovacs, Ian McKnight, Bob McPherson, John Weisbrich, the crew of the MV Trident and the team at the Koh Samui Recompression Chamber, Dr Dulyakit, Mike, Alex, Ian and Matt. Great work all!.

A very special thanks to my pal Tim, of Tims taxis, who was there for us when we needed him!

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