Valentines Tech Expedition: Similans Technical Liveaboard
Technical divers return to shore after 4 days at sea
Khao Lak, Thailand – The Valentines Tech Expedition contingent of Big Blue Tech return to Khao Lak today after coming ashore from the Mv Pawara after the completion of a 4 night technical diving liveaboard on the Similan and Surin islands.
The liveaboard was the base of our diving while completing a TDI Extended Range course which trained the divers to conduct accelerated decompression dives to depths of 55 meters / 180 ft using 3 mixes of gas with air, nitrox and oxygen over 4 cylinders worn simultaneously.
This course was delivered by James Thornton-Allan and Andy Cavell for students Yvonne Fries, Helen Artal, Duncan Tyler and Thomas Hallstrom.
This would be the second technical diving trip in the similan islands for Big Blue Tech this season and again it proved to be a holiday setting with challenging and interesting dives. While the diving conditions are described below it was the extra touches of relaxing watching movies, sun tanning on the roof and trips in the dinghy to the beaches, which really made this trip relaxing and enjoying as a holiday.
Technical diving is saturated with bravado and peer pressure which have lead to serious diving accidents around the globe, we’re more about having fun on the surface and focusing as a team underwater which allows each diver to relax and progress at their own pace. In addition to our relaxed atmosphere we also encourage a alcohol free environment and no smoking during the diving day which has contributed to our perfect record of no diving related injuries.
The Similan Islands is located off the west coast of the west side of Thailand just north of Phuket from a town called Khao Lak. There are several ways to reach the similans by speed boat, long tail or liveaboard and is listed as one of the best diving destinations in the world. The Similan and Surin Islands are protected marine parks managed by the Thai government to prevent fishing and destruction to help the marine environment sustain for generations to come. Divers must pay a park fee to enter the marine park which is enforced by roaming park police boats. It seems the greatest enforcement in the area is getting the money from the dive tour operators rather than protecting the environment from fishing or negative effects like litter or pollution but it’s a better system than nothing at all.
The dive sites we visited on our trip was East Of Eden, Boulder City, West of Eden, Elephant Head Pinnacle, Christmas Tree Point, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, Richelieu Rock, Richelieu Rock(sunset), Koh Bon Pinnacle, Boonson Wreck.
Over these sites we found ourselves at the mercy of very strong currents pushing us in all directions with changing temperature. On a dive a Elephant Head Pinnacle at 55m a freezing cold wall of cloudy water washed over us making the visibility very limited and giving all of us instant brain freeze that took your breath away. While we were struggling to adjust to the temperature we were being pushed all over the place at a very fast rate, so strong that you couldn’t kick against it to keep in place, our only option was to hide behind rocks and do strategic zig zag movements through the dive site back up to recreational diving depths where is was warm and clear again but it was an experience that taught everyone how to handle vicious currents and how to stay together as a team.
On a dive to Koh Bon we finally saw Manta Rays, thankfully our instructor dropped his mask off the back of the boat, as he went do to get it just below the surface we noticed two large manta rays circling us about 10m below us. This would be a first for some of the divers who have had plenty of chances but never actually seen one. The Giant Manta Ray or “Manta Birostris” is mostly black with a white underbelly, long triangular wings and a tail without stinger. It also has a pair of movable flaps just in front of its mouth. They can grow up to 3-4 meters wide and are recorded as up to 22ft or 670 cm in diameter or “disc” size making these very exciting animals to be witness to. These gentle giants are also one of the few rays that don’t sting so you can get quite close without worry of harm. We spent in total about half an hour with these majestic animals, while other divers were restricted by their single cylinder and no decompression limits we spent over an hour at depth without any concern for air or decompression since the dive was planned well in advance.
As the final night rolled around many started falling asleep after dinner showing clear signs of fatigue from the days diving. It was decided as a group that we would skip the last 2 dives and sleep in, we would come back with the speed boat to visit Koh Bon Pinnacle at a later date. It was also the 11th of February which is Andy Cavell’s 27th birthday. We all knew that coming back from the trip and it being Andy’s birthday that we would be well into a few drinks so it’s good to rest up for such vigorous Olympic style consumption.
Returning to shore we unloaded the boat into our taxi and headed off to our hotel for a nap, shower and relaxed for the next few days until the 13th when we would head off to the big shipwreck off the coast called the Sea Chart 1 which is 85m long in 40m of water.
Special thanks to the staff of Big Blue Khao Lak and Mv Pawara for taking such good care of us and bending over backwards to accommodate our trip.