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Similan Islands Liveaboard Trip Report: Day 1

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Read the prologue to this trip report here.

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I woke during the night to a sudden silence – we had arrived at our first dive site and the engines had been turned off.

A Bang! Bang! Bang! at the door was followed by a voice shouting “Dive Briefing!”. It was 7:30am. I made my way to the meeting/eating/briefing area and grabbed some toast and a cup of tea. The dive groups had been sorted and were written on the white board. Next to the board there was a sketch of the first dive site, Hide-away Corner. Mats started the briefing by describing the site and what we might expect to see; it was an easy site and was always used as the first dive site to make sure everyone was comfortable (more likely to make sure the divers were as experienced as they said they were). There were two moorings lines, one at each end of the reef; we would drop down and go with the current at the south end of the reef.

My group, which included my travelling companions Neville and Sharky, was the third group to dive. The groups would take turns in who went in first; I had asked if we could have the Thai dive master ‘Jay’, pronounced ‘Yai’, as I had dived with him before and he new where every little thing was.

Breakfast at Similan’s

The first group entered the water at around 8am, followed quickly by the second and then by our group. A couple of the divers were checking their buoyancy and one diver was having trouble equalising, so we headed on. The site itself is a combination of coral reef, sand beds and a couple of large rocky outcrops covered in all types of corals. We swam along the reef spotting the usual reef dwellers: Angel fish, Wrasse, Lionfish and plenty of little fish I didn’t know the name of. The sandy areas were covered with spotted garden eels. We circled the first big rocky outcrop a few times admiring the amount of life in all shapes and sizes before we carried on to the rest of the reef. It wasn’t long before the reef thinned out and time and air were against us. Dive number one over.

Once the last person was back on the boat, out came breakfast. The chef, Mama Lek, always cooked too much. Thai food was available at request, but otherwise it was a pile of bacon, sausage, eggs, ham and toast (whoops! There goes the diet). After breakfast I went back down to my cabin to review my photos from the dive and grab a quick snooze.

Bang! Bang! Bang! “Dive Briefing!”

It was 10:30am, and time to head back upstairs for the next briefing. Dive two was going to be Elephant Head Rock. This dive was going to be quite different from the first; it consisted of a group of large boulders creating swimthroughs and caverns. We entered the water on the south side, where there were a smattering of corals on the huge boulders. We swam around following Jay to the first of the swimthroughs; it wasn’t a long swimthrough – none of them were – but it did provide shelter for a range of fish such as oriental sweetlips, parrotfish, grouper and angel fish. Shoals of blue lined snapper hung around outside.

After a few swimthroughs time and air was against us again, so we hung around in the shallows in awe of the amount of fish, such as a huge shoal of yellow fusilier sheltering from the current, and parrotfish passing us ejecting more sand for the fine beaches. Up went the DSMB and we followed three minutes later.

Back on the boat it was lunchtime. There was far too much food, but that wasn’t a problem, as I can’t resist good cooking. Then it was time for a rest on the sun deck to dry off in the midday sun, but not for too long; it was hot – really hot!

East of Eden

Dive number three was to be East of Eden, a similar sort of reef dive as earlier but with even more coral. The site is mainly coral reef with some small sandy areas, and a large rocky outcrop covered in all types of corals, both soft and hard, surrounded by large fan corals. We swam along the reef spotting the usual reef dwellers: Angel fish, Wrasse, Lionfish, Nudibranch, Coral Filefish, anemone crabs and triggerfish. Along the bottom of the reef I spotted a blue spotted stingray where the angled bed flattened off at around 27m. The sandy areas were again covered with spotted garden eels, and in the middle of the largest sand covered area there was a small patch of coral where a Giant Moray was residing.

I had already encountered this Moray on a previous dive to this site and warned everyone that it does like to come out and meet the first diver, and that you should keep your fingers hidden. Sometime during March 2005, one of the dive masters, who used to feed it sausages as it came out, lost his thumb, as it just looked like another sausage to the moray. Morays’ teeth point inwards, so the harder you pull the deeper they cut. He struggled and his thumb was the morays breakfast. There had already been divers through by the time we reached it and it stayed put, much to everyone else’s relief. We finished up in the shallows after an overwhelming amount of life and colour. Dive number three was over.

Donald Duck Bay

Back on the boat we were asked if we wanted to go ashore to Donald Duck Bay on Koh Similan. Everyone decided that this would be a good idea; dry land for the first time in 24 hours seemed quite appealing. The tender was launched and everyone went ashore. While everyone else headed up to the viewpoint, I decided to go and look for some of the large Water Monitor Lizards that live on the island. There used to be a large flooded area a couple of hundred metres from the shore where the lizards could be found, but since the Tsunami it has been drained. Despite this I did manage to see three lizards, the biggest of which was around 90cm. Soon our time ashore was up and we had to head back to the boat.

Turtle Head Rock

The next dive briefing was at 6:30pm. Dive number four was to be Turtle Head Rock (they seem to like to name rocks after what they resemble in the Similan Islands). It was going to be shallow and shorter than the daytime dives. Torches were supplied but weren’t brilliant, so I used my little BCD torch instead.

We entered the water at 7pm. For most of the dive we remained quite close as a group, and eventually I decided I was happier with a little more space. Every time I got to what I felt was a comfortable distance from everyone else, someone would flash their light in my direction to let me know that they thought there was something interesting enough to get a photo of (usually another lionfish, and in my opinion there were plenty of those to see during the day dives).

Sleeping parrot fish in their protective bubbles could be spotted all over the reef. The site was a mixture of corals and boulders, with loads of places for fish to hide. Surprisingly I didn’t see any crustaceans.

Oh well, three more night dives on this trip to go. The 40 minutes recommended dive time was over fairly quickly and we returned to the boat and was welcomed by yet more food than anyone could eat. After the meal we sat on the sun deck looking at the stars and talking over what we had seen during the day (and it wasn’t just about the marine life). It was then time to turn in, as we were going to be up early again tomorrow.

Read Similan Islands Liveaboard Trip Report: Day 2 here.

Mark Milburn is the owner of Atlantic Scuba in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, and is an SDI/TDI/NAS/RYA Instructor and a Commercial Boat Skipper. Although often referred to as a maritime archaeologist, he prefers to call himself a wreck hunter. Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba by visiting www.atlanticscuba.co.uk.

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Save £500 on Maldives liveaboard – but hurry, there’s only 2 spots left!

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Join The Scuba Place on board the award-winning (Best Liveaboard, Maldives Tourism Awards for 2 consecutive years) Sachika for a week in the sun!

Taking in the very best dive sites of the ‘Best of Central Atolls’ itinerary, including manta cleaning stations, Whaleshark Alley, the Fish Factory and the legendary night dive with hundreds of nurse sharks, this is one trip not to be missed.

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Boat images by Top Class Cruising

Underwater images by Nigel Wade for The Scuba Place

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The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 1 of 2

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In the first of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021…

Travelling during the Covid pandemic has been challenging for some, impossible for most, and missed by all. We have been scanning the rules and regulations daily, and as soon as the UK Government allowed us, we were off!

What was supposed to be a trip to Mexico for a gang of 12 of us, just like most trips over the last 18 months, we were forced to change as the travel rules changed – we have been trying to get to Bonaire for ages, and this became the perfect opportunity – at last!

With our bags packed, negative test results and completed Bonaire health forms in hand – we made an early start for Heathrow, prepared for an 0630 departure. A quick flight and we landed in Amsterdam. As a Dutch Caribbean territory, all flights from the UK to Bonaire on KLM go via Amsterdam. In the airport, we met up with the rest of the gang who had travelled from Birmingham. After a quick layover we took off for Bonaire, where we arrived about 9 hours later. Our health documents were checked at the airport, and we grabbed our bags. It seems odd to have to fly East to then go West, but as we stepped out of the minibus at Buddy Dive Resort, only 10 minutes after leaving the airport, the sunshine and blue sky told us it was worth it!

Our accommodation for the group was made up of two 3-bedroom apartments, a stone’s throw from the water, dive shop, dock and Blennies, the main restaurant and bar. Buddy Dive also has 1- and 2-bedroom apartments along with studios, all comfortably furnished with either a garden or ocean view.

Each 3-bedroom apartment is spread over two floors – but a floor up from ground level. The ‘ground’ floor of each apartment offers a double bedroom (beds can be configured as twins or double in all rooms), a bathroom, lounge with balcony, and a very well-equipped kitchenette. Microwave, toaster, hob, fridge/freezer with ice-maker and enough pots, pans and utensils to satisfy the avid cook! On the upper floor, there are two further double rooms with ensuite bathrooms, both with balconies of their own. Each bedroom is air-conditioned, and the lounge and kitchen have celling fans. All in all, quite perfect for a home away from home for a fortnight!

The rules of group travel say we must unpack (empty bags onto floor or bed), sort kit out (look at dive bag and save it for later), put cameras together (er….NO!) and hit the bar – so being rule-abiding people that we are, this is what we did. Picking up the rental van for our stay would have to wait!

The next morning after breakfast, served in the Ingridients restaurant and right on the water, we attended the Buddy Dive orientation. The staff gave us a quick tour of the dock and resort including the famous drive thru tank shed offering both air and nitrox tanks ready and waiting to be loaded into your vehicle. Check in at the dive centre was easy… we all completed our diver forms online before arrival so with a quick hello we were handed locker keys for our kit storage. Time to head back to the room and get ready for our first dive!! That is why we’re here after all!

As with all trips, the first dive was a check dive, so we climbed down the steps into the water off the dock to go an explore Buddy Dive Reef. Finning over the sandy bottom, past the coral restoration project ‘trees’ and following well laid lines with directional markers we hit the reef after just a minute or two where you can drop to 35+ metres over simply stunning corals. This reef, just like the rest of the sites we dived, is super-healthy and teeming with juvenile fish wherever you look. Moray eels, turtles, octopi and HUGE tarpon on our first dive! What a great start!

The following day we decided it was time to explore the island. We picked up our 6-person minibus from Reception, pulled up to the drive thru tank station and grabbed 12 well filled Nitrox 12l aluminium (A-Clamp – not DIN) cylinders. With our guidebook in hand, off we went driving on the right of course, in search of marine life.

There are over 50 dive sites scattered around the coast of the main island, and even more on the island of Klein Bonaire accessible by boat. We chose a comfortable start by picking dive sites to the South where the entry seems to be a little easier on old knees and hips. We packed up sandwiches we made after a quick shop at the supermarket the day before, along with waters and a few essentials – towels, sunnies and bug spray.

I won’t bore you with every dive site name and description – the guidebook is the tool for that – but it is more than safe to say that we dived, dived and dived again! Every dive gave us far more than we expected, and the marine park surrounding the whole island delivered the goods without fail. Super healthy corals, plentiful marine life, warm and very clear water at 30 degrees made life easy. Parking the van up at the marked dive sites wasn’t difficult, and a few strides across the sand was far simpler than we had expected.

I will say that some sites are a little more challenging to get into the water from – anything more than three or four steps doesn’t float my boat! We adapted our entries for the group – some kitting up in the water, some not, but the rule of thumb quickly became step in up to thigh-depth, inflate bcd, fall flat on your back and paddle out before putting your fins on. Simple! Getting out of the water was pretty much the reverse of the above – stand up when you can, remove fins, and then navigate the rocks and sand channels before you walk up the beach. Nothing that an over-weight, under-tall chap in his mid-50’s with dodgy knees and even dodgier hips couldn’t cope with! (That is me by the way…..no offense to anyone else intended and no animals were harmed in the writing of this either).

We saw stuff – lots of it! Huge tarpon, French and Grey Angelfish, forests of Christmas Tree worms, anemones with Peterson, sexy and cleaner shrimp, clinging crabs, nudibranchs – especially lettuce-leaf slugs, coral-banded shrimp, lobster and so much more. Turtles everywhere, trumpet-fish in unbelievable numbers, and that was generally the story – all in very good visibility too! The corals and huge sponges were stunning with fascinating reef-structures offering all sorts of hidey-holes for critters!

There were some really special sited that we loved, and Salt Pier was one. The Cargill solar salt facility is easily found with its distinctive line of white salt pyramids.Each pyramid, roughly 50-feet high, can contain up to 10,000 metric tons of 99.6 percent pure salt. Even more noteworthy, in addition to the acres of salt ponds, the facility is also home to largest pink flamingo sanctuary in North America. Our very own Chloe has written an in-depth blog about Bonaire and its pure salt so be sure and check it out!

Back to the diving! We were given a hint to drive just past the pier to park where we would find an easy sand entry to the site. We kitted up and finned out through the shallows where we encountered three juvenile hawksbill turtles along with a few smooth pufferfish fighting to feed on patch of sponges, and then made our way under the immense structure of the pier. There are several platforms supporting the conveyor belts that move salt to the container ships and there wasn’t much diver-traffic to contend with. We were amazed by all things weird and wonderful – big scorpion fish hiding under the metal work, angelfish battling for food, schooling fish up above you, and frogfish! Barracuda, Caribbean reef squid, spotted drums, octopus, oh! and more frogfish! Even a flying gurnard in the shallows! What a dive! And as it is shallow, it can be a very long dive too, especially with the 200-210 bar fills the drive-thru often gave us.

Check back for Part Two of this Blog tomorrow!


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

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  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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