M.V. PHILKADE: 20st-30th November 2007.
We were to do two dives at Richelieu Rock before spending the afternoon journeying north towards Burma. As ever Richelieu Rock was amazing, even delivering us a 4-5 metre long whale shark!
It was a lovely clear star-lit evening on the 21st November when MV Philkade’s latest guests were welcomed aboard. After being introduced to staff and crew, everyone settled in the saloon for a buffet style dinner of tom yam soup, steamed rice, fried mixed vegetables, freshly baked fish and salad. It was with full stomachs and smiling faces that all retired to bed eagerly awaiting the next day’s diving in the Similan Islands.
We had a little rain on the journey through the night up to the Similan Islands so it was to a slightly cloudy morning that we awoke on the 22nd November. The weather did not dampen our spirits though as we prepared for the first dive of the trip at Anita’s Reef. The nice, gentle, easy conditions made this the perfect check-out dive to the begin trip. After staying shallow for the first 15-20 minutes of the dive to adjust our buoyancy and get used to being back in the water, we all headed deeper across the sand to be treated to the fields of garden eels and a couple of Kuhl’s stingrays trying to bury themselves in the sand. Shallower the coral heads were impressive in the sunlight with schools of yellow snapper hovering above and a giant moray poking its head out from underneath. Back on the boat breakfast was swallowed up before Kerry, Nancy, and Inkara took to the water to enjoy the snorkelling around Island no. 5 where they were able to spot hundreds of neon fusiliers swimming by as well as banner fish and long silver flute fish around the rocks and boulders. Our second dive was at East of Eden and the most outstanding dive of the day. The clear waters meant that visibility was at its optimum and the steadily sloping hard coral reef, big gorgonian sea fans, thousands of fusiliers and blue fin trevallies made for a superb dive. Around the famous pinnacle, apart from the amazing purples and pinks of the hemprick soft corals, there were also a couple of smaller, weirder nudibranches spotted. More food appeared after the second dive and we all tucked in, even sparing a little fruit for the green turtle that came swimming up to the back of the boat to join us! But soon it was time to dive again, at Squeaky Rock, where we found a couple of giant moray eels and a huge pufferfish that was willing to pose for photos before ascending to the shallows to listen to the eerie creaks and squeaks of the boulders shifting in the swell. By late afternoon the sun had broken through the clouds and was casting a lovely warm beam over the Similan Islands so we took this opportunity to visit Island no. 4. While Kerry and Nancy took to the water to snorkel in the bay, Mik and the remaining guests took to jungle walking up to the viewpoint. Admittedly this was a tough task after the rain the night before meant much of the path had turned to mud but a few brave souls battled on regardless and it was not long before they were stood on high overlooking the bay below. With the sun setting in the sky, we returned to the boat to prepare for a night dive at Hideaway. Congratulations goes to Ian for successfully making his first ever night dive where we found some big, fat, blue-fin trevallies were following our torch as well as smaller red reef crabs, a mud snail, a couple of pleurobranches and many tiny shrimps hiding away in the fingers of the hard corals. With the first day’s diving having been a huge success we all settled down to an al-fresco dinner on the upper deck under the light of the stars to chat about our day and enjoy chef’s tasty salad, spaghetti Bolognese, garlic bread and steak, followed by ice-cream and an after-dinner treat from Olli of single malt whiskey!
It was going to be difficult to follow-up the great day’s diving we???d had on the 22nd but our second day did not disappoint. We awoke at 6.30 and by 7.30 we were all submerged on Deep Six, swimming gently round the boulders and enjoying the early-morning marine life. Our second dive at the infamous Elephant Head Rock was a similarly impressive boulder dive. Over the two dives we enjoyed a couple of large dog-tooth tunas, 2 great barracudas with their teeth glinting back at us and a Kuhl’s ray sitting on the rubble below. Going shallower we were all over-whelmed by masses of giant trevallies that were hanging out in the shelter of the rocks and the swim-throughs. And yet further diversity was brought in the form of the smaller macro life spotted such as a leather coral cowrie found by Mik. Following two superb dives, we all felt the time was right to have lunch and enjoy the comfort of MV Philkade by relaxing in the glorious sunshine of the fly-bridge or by retiring to the air-conditioned saloon to watch some film footage taken by one of our guests on board, Martin, who had some fantastic clips from a previous diving trip. We look forward to catching a peek of his pictures from this trip…that so far had been going swimmingly as we dropped in on ‘Three Trees’ to find a leopard shark and a Kuhl’s ray down near the boulders, garden eels and yellow-margin trigger fish across the sand, and clouds of bright orange antheas and cardinal fish in the hard coral shallows. The adventures continued with a visit to Ko Similan where some guests opted to make the climb up to the view point while others opted to have a dip in the crystal clear waters of ‘Ao Geurk’ before returning to the boat where a turtle was anticipating our arrival and came right to the back of the boat for a feed of bananas and plenty of photos! But as the sun set it was time for a briefing again and at 7pm, we all dropped back in the water for a night dive at Mooring Bay where lucky guests encountered spiny lobsters and even a cuttlefish in darkness. Once again it was with big smiles on our faces that we settled down to a dinner of beef massaman, mixed vegetables, sweet and sour fish, chicken with fresh chilli and steamed rice, followed by waffles and ice-cream. After our second day???s diving, tired we may have been but hungry we were definitely not!
Day 3 of diving brought more delights as we descended down the mooring line on to the boulders at North Point. We had a great start to the dive with 2 mating leopard sharks frolicking down on the sand and then as we headed shallower there were red and purple fire gobies in the sand as well as a turtle munching on the hard corals underneath clouds of tiny silver damselfish, cardinal fish and antheas. Not surprisingly, the leopard sharks took up much of our conversation over breakfast! Our second and third dives of the day were at Ko Bon West Ridge and Ko Tachai Pinnacle. Both sites are renowned for their potentially strong currents and therefore challenging conditions but despite the approach of full moon both divers and snorkellers were treated to great visibility and almost still water. The lack of current did not deter the marine life and guests spotted all sorts from the larger wahoo, banded sea krait, moray eels, giant trigger fish, rainbow runners and groupers down to the much smaller sponge snails and purple sea dragons. With 3 great dives under our belts, our sunset dive had a lot to live up to and Surin’s Torinla Pinnacle did not disappoint. While we headed across the sand towards the pinnacle a few lucky guests encountered a couple of white tip reef sharks waking up for their nightly hunt. Then on the pinnacle itself we found octopus, barramundi, and morays as well as lots of glass fish, fusiliers and snappers making the surface of the pinnacle look like it was moving below us. Our dinner of pork chop, salad and potatoes followed by cr???me caramel was the perfect ending to a lovely day’s diving.
Day 4 for some guests on board was the final day’s diving and what a day it turned out to be. We were to do two dives at Richelieu Rock before spending the afternoon journeying north towards Burma. As ever Richelieu Rock was amazing, even delivering us a 4-5 metre long whale shark! But even if the whale shark was missed by some in its fly-by appearance, there was a tiger tail seahorse, a large shoal of chevron barracuda, a couple of mating cuttle fish, every variety of shrimp you could imagine (including the banded cleaner shrimp that cleaned the dive masters’ teeth!), big shoals of snapper, thousands of glassfish, crowds of lionfish and much, much more. Even the snorkellers managed a look-in on the cuttlefish making Richelieu Rock the best site for snorkelling as well as for divers. It was with glee that we could fill in log books and relax into our 5 hour journey north to the Thai port of Ranong where we sadly had to say ‘good-bye’ to some of our guests, Richard and Nancy, Guy and Sarah, and Ian and Inkara. Thank you to them for making this trip the ’sharkiest’ trip of the season so far! For the rest of us it was time to welcome Jemie and En-Lai to the boat for our first Burma trip of this season. A dinner of soup, fish, chicken with fresh chillies, and steamed rice followed by caramelised banana was washed down with a couple of beers and some more of Olli’s whiskey before we all took part in the Thai Buddhist rituals of Loy Kratong, a festival celebrated on the last full moon of November. Guests, staff and crew came together on the back of MV Philkade to light our candles and our incense before sending them out on a float of flowers and banana leaves into the ocean to rid us of any bad luck and to hopefully usher in some good luck for the future!
It was to glorious sunshine that we awoke in Burmese waters for our first dive at High Rock, recognised by the single tree sat on top of the island. The currents brought on by full moon made this dive a little on the challenging side and the visibility was also not at its optimum but we still managed to spot a couple of nudibranches of the flabellina species, cleaner pipefish in some of the cracks, and a tiny juvenile emperor angel fish as well as teams of scorpion fish and lots of moray eels. Breakfast was had while we moved on up to Shark Cave where we were going to encounter much improved conditions. Immediately on entering the water, we could see that the visibility was far better than we’d had on High Rock and as we swam through the swim-throughs, canyons and caverns that Shark Cave offers, a few lucky guests met with 2 white tip reef sharks. In total we did three dives here seeing countless orange-spotted pipefish, some really large spiny lobsters, scorpion fish, three different types of moray (often with 2 morays cuddled up in one single hole), nudibranches and much more besides. Further highlights included 4 massive cuttle fish trying to mate with each other on the sunset dive and Mik’s terrific find of a teeny-tiny yellow tiger tail seahorse sheltering between two branches of a gorgonian sea fan. In truth, nobody wanted to leave Shark Cave but we had more excitement to come the following day at Black Rock so as the boat journeyed even further north under the bright skies of the full moon, guests enjoyed dinner before watching a dvd in the saloon or taking the opportunity of an early night’s sleep.
The sun was shining and the sea was flat when we awoke at Black Rock on the morning of 26th November. We did four dives here and managed to investigate almost every nook and cranny. On three of the dives we saw white tip reef shark and throughout the whole day we encountered five different types of moray, lots of cowries, a peacock mantis shrimp, many octopi and a turtle here. Aside from the more mobile marine life, the scenery was equally impressive with a mix of walls covered in bright cup corals and soft hemprick corals through to huge rocks and boulders down deeper offering a couple of swim-throughs and some big gorgonian sea fans. A particular highlight of the day’s diving was all the beautiful purple anemones that covered the rocks up shallow and some of the bigger fish that were hanging out in the current on the east and west corners such as giant trevallies, rainbow runners, longfin batfish, blue-fin trevallies and thousands of snapper. All this with only eating and sleeping to think about in between! That evening, as the moon appeared to glow a deep orange on the horizon, we enjoyed chef’s cordon-bleu with potatoes and salad, followed by waffles and ice-cream, and sailed on down towards the ‘Twin Islands’ for next day’s diving.
For our first dive on 27th November, we tried a new dive site on the eastern side of North Twin Island. Everybody, including the dive-masters, was impressed by the fields of lush staghorn corals and it was with delight that we came across 3 marbled whip-rays as well as many nudibranches and the ultimate find of this dive…a black ribbon eel! Needless to say, we will be back. For our second and third dives we stayed around North Twin Island, diving the plateau off the north of the island and then the western ridge off the south of the island. Both of these dives brought us huge shoals of hundreds of black-fin barracuda as well as a couple of pickhandle barracudas. Further highlights include lots of long-fin batfish, and octopus and an eagle ray! As the sun set in the sky we moved south to South Twin Island for our night dive. Fabulous night dive! Aside from the amazing macro life in the form of many flatworms, crabs, shrimps and pleurobranch, we also saw a white tip reef shark swimming round under one of the coral heads. Then as we surfaced we were all surrounded in a somewhat eerie fashion by small worms drawn into our torch beams. Even the dinghy ride back to MV Philkade was beautiful as the sky was alight with stars and the phosphorescence was still glowing in the water as we left the dive site behind.
We started early on our final day in Burma with a 6.30am jump at Sea Fan Bank, the submerged pinnacle of Sea Fan Forest. The beginning section of this dive was what Olli rightly described as ‘FANtastic’. Lots and lots of huge gorgonian sea fans, mostly bigger than us divers were waving around in the water movement and lots of different kinds of moray were spotted in the holes and the cracks of the limestone. Finally in Burma, on to Western Rocky. Upon descending, we found a cuttlefish almost immediately in our first big archway-like swim-through. Then we continued through a superb (and very roomy) tunnel that took us right through the island bringing us out on the northern side. Visibility was astounding, the tunnel was packed with spiny lobsters and shoals of trevally were amongst some of the fish life waiting for us on the other side. We then headed out and round some of the outer pinnacles away from the main island itself to enjoy the beautiful pinks, purples, whites, yellows, oranges and reds of the hemprick soft corals reaching all the way up to the surface before re-boarding MV Philkade and relaxing into our 5 hour journey back to the Thai-Burmese border.
And so it was back to Richelieu Rock to start our final day’s diving of the trip. Unfortunately the whale shark did not make a guest appearance this time round but the rock itself was alive with glass fish, shoals of barracuda, lionfish, morays and we even had a couple of mantis shrimp make themselves known. The seas were somewhat rough upon surfacing so we were all happy to moving further south to the shelter of Ko Tachai where we dived the pinnacle. This was a lovely gentle dive where we encountered a leopard shark almost immediately that we reached the pinnacle as well of a shoal of batfish being cleaned by the local cleaner wrasse and more peacock mantis shrimps. Over lunch we continued our journey south and arrived at Ko Bon in glorious sunshine and crystal blue flat seas. The island looked stunning as the sun light glistened off its surrounding waters and the ridge was no less impressive. In just the first few minutes of the dive a banded sea krait, marbled octopus and a napolean wrasse were spotted. Further delights included beautiful visibility, shoals of trevallies and emperors, nudibranches, morays and a somewhat agitated titan trigger fish that tried to attack Kerry’s fins! It was with sadness then that we had to leave this behind and make our way back to Phuket, although chef did help to lift our spirits (and widen our girths!) with a fantastic final meal of kebab, fried rice, king prawns, fresh fish, chicken breast and baked potato followed by some yummy creme caramel for dessert.
All in all the first Burma trip of the season was a great success and the staff are looking forward to returning to these waters in January 2008. In the meantime, Mik, Kerry and the crew on board MV Philkade would like to thank Martin, Julie, Gerlinde, Olli, En-Lai, and Jemie for sharing what was a terrific experience.