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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.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…

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Competitions

WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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