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Similan Islands Liveaboard Trip Report: Day 2

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Similan Islands

Read the prologue to this trip report here.

Read Day 1 here.

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After a decent night’s sleep I was up bright and early, assembling my camera after charging the batteries and re-greasing the ‘O’ rings. I took it up to the briefing deck and got some tea and toast; this would become a habit I’m afraid.

Christmas Point

Thailand 3“Dive Briefing!” It was 7:30am. Today’s first dive site was going to be Christmas Point on Island number 9, the most northern point of the Similan group of Islands. It is called Christmas point due to the large amount of Christmas tree worms that can be found there. The briefing outlined that this was an exposed area, and the current can be strong – and as a result we may see some big marine life.

The first group once again entered the water at around 8am, followed quickly by the second and then by our group. We all descended down the mooring line to around 30 metres. Near the top of the shot line we came across a blue spotted stingray resting on the bottom. The site was made up of huge boulders and rocky outcrops, once again making it good for quite a few nice little swimthroughs and several large gullies with loads of sea fans. Twenty five plus metre visibility and a bright sun made it an incredibly blue site.

During a swim through of one of the gullies we came across a lovely blue and yellow ribbon eel, mouth open wide as it hoped to catch some breakfast. There were more fish in the shallower areas – oriental sweetlips, parrotfish, triggerfish and of course loads of Christmas tree worms. After everyone else had returned to the boat, Sharky and I carried on finding more swimthroughs. The last one looked like it might be a bit tight, but you never know until you try. Not being the smallest of people, Sharky thought he might be pulling me out by my heels, but it was a perfect fit, very little in it. The landscape underwater was very impressive. Dive five over, so time for breakfast, which once again was another pile of bacon, sausage, eggs, ham and toast.

Koh Bon

We were now heading further North to the next dive site, Koh Bon. Although not part of the Similan Islands, it is still part of the Mu Koh Similan National Park.

“Dive Briefing!” It was 10:30am. Dive six was going to be Koh Bon Ridge, on the western side of the island. Again an exposed area that can have very strong currents, which again might attract some large fish. The limestone ridge ran from the surface down to around forty metres. We were going to jump in on the east side of the ridge and swim around and over it, and if the current wasn’t too strong we would wait around looking into the blue for anything big passing by.

At around 11:00am we entered the water, descended to around 20 metres through a huge shoal of big eye snapper and headed to the ridge. There was quite a coverage of star corals (as well as the odd staghorn coral) and the usual reef fish. As we arrived at the ridge, the current greeted us; quite a good bit of current actually – we were hanging on for dear life! We hung on to the rocks for a few minutes looking into the blue for anything else that might like some strong current, but we saw nothing, so we swam over the ridge and down the other side. A couple of large Blue ring angelfish darted off as we got close (they don’t like having their picture taken). As we made our way a little shallower we came across huge beds of staghorn coral, some of which had been damaged by dynamite fishing before they made it part of the national park, but it is all beginning to grow back slowly. The staghorn corals were covered in shoals of glassfish and damsels; the odd rocky outcrop had an occasional nudibranch. As we were doing our safety stop a couple of huge barracuda swam over the ridge; at least we saw something big. 56 minutes later it was time to come up.

Koh Tachai

Thailand 2Another huge lunch was awaiting us; were they trying to fatten us up? I tried to do what I could to help clear all the food, then after a few minutes on the sun deck where we said goodbye to Koh Bon, we started making our way to Koh Tachai.

“Dive Briefing!” Dive number seven was to be Koh Tachai Pinnacle at 2:30pm, a circular plateau surrounded by boulders. We were told that we might be met with some very strong currents at this site. The plan was to get straight on to the mooring line, follow it down and get into the shelter of the boulders. We would then follow the boulders around, hopefully avoiding as much current as possible before ascending back on the shot line.

We jumped in and made straight for the mooring line, and yes, there was a current. Descending to around 27 metres there was a lot of life: parrotfish, fusilier, grouper, snapper, lionfish, triggerfish, angelfish and several batfish – everywhere you looked there were fish. Shoals of wide lined fusilier swarmed all over the place; batfish accumulated near the bottom of the shot line where they were being groomed by cleaner wrasse. Time was up – another dive over.

Koh Tachai pinnacle again

“Dive Briefing!” 5:00pm. Dive number eight was going to be a dusk dive on Koh Tachai pinnacle again. The briefing was short and similar to the last, except we were told that we wouldn’t be going as deep this time. I do like dusk dives – you can see where you are going and when you take a photograph the ambient light is minimal.

We entered the water at 5:30pm. Unfortunately there was another boat on the way – they obviously had the same idea. We dropped down the line and hid from the current, which didn’t seem to be as strong as before. The dive was very similar to before; lionfish, a giant moray, scorpion fish, puffer fish, spotted boxfish were all present. The divers from the other boat entered as we were swimming around, and when we came across them I realised that it was a Japanese group. Now I have nothing against Japanese divers, but every time I meet a group of them, they seem to be a little… how should I say it? Ragged. Now I am sure that there are thousands of perfectly good divers in Japan – I just don’t think that they go to the Similans.

While we were on the mooring line the current increased. To start with, everyone’s bubbles went vertically; after a few minutes they went at the same angle as the mooring line. Thanks to the fifteen divers from our boat, plus the Japanese who were now on the line, we had a free spa bath.

Time for the evening meal. I could feel the pounds piling on; what happened to my willpower? The boat was now making for our most northerly dive site: my favourite, Richelieu Rock. We reviewed the day, solved the world’s problems, wondered why we ever would want to dive in cold water again and watched a film.

Then it was time to turn in; we were going to be up early again tomorrow.

Read Similan Islands Liveaboard Trip Report: Day 3 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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