I’m not sure where to begin describing the awesomeness of our diving experience onboard the Andaman for the last three days and three nights. Wow! Let me start by saying I wish we had planned to do a seven day live aboard trip instead!
This was the first time Nick and I have spent more than one night on a dive boat. The live-aboard situation is superior to day trips because it’s much more relaxed. The diving starts early, but the surface interval time between dives is about three hours. Long enough for food, a nap, socializing, reading, whatever. On a day trip you get out of the water, eat, and get back in fairly quickly; it’s very tiring. At the end of each day on the live aboard I didn’t feel nearly as beat up as I thought I would.
There was no rushing around on this trip. Nick completed all nine dives, even though he originally thought he would only have energy to do six or so. He even got to nap on one of the ships three hammocks between pretty much every dive.
We finished our PADI Advanced Diver SCUBA course by completing the last two dives: a deep dive to 30 meters and a fish identification dive. I’m happy it’s done. It was not hard or even challenging, but I’m proud to have done it and I’m proud that Nick could keep up too. As an advanced diver we can legally go to 30 meters and do wrecks. Being told we can’t dive because we are not “advanced” is one technicality we will never face again. Yay.
We finished the course with a lovely Swiss woman called Rebekka. She was not only our instructor, but our personal guide and helper for the entire three days. She was assigned specifically to me and Nick. She set up and switched all of our equipment after each dive, she briefed us on the dives, and guided us through each site. It was so nice to be guaranteed a small group with an attentive guide who was there to assist Nick if he needed help getting through currents or back on the boat. She was so friendly and helpful and funny and personable. We had a really great time with her.
The diving in general was amazing. We dove the Surin Islands. They are the northern most islands off the west coast of Thailand just before entering the seas of Burma. In the SCUBA world this area is typically famous for the Similan Islands, but our schedule wouldn’t get us there, only to the Surins. I’m so grateful. Everyone we’ve talked to likes the Surin area much more than the Similans. It’s more colorful, less crowded, has a few unique species that aren’t found at the Similans (shark fin guitar fish, for example, spotted by another group on the second day), and one of the dives Richilieu Rock is routinely voted one of the best dive sites in the world.
Our last two dives were at Richilieu Rock, and even though the visibility was uncharacteristically shit, it was still an absolutely incredible dive. The plant life alone is enough to keep your eyes completely happy on a fifty minute dive. The soft coral came in colors and shapes I’ve never seen before: greens and purples, clusters and table-top fans.
We did a night dive the first night. The visibility was great, and they provided high quality flashlights. I’ve only done one other night dive, at a site called Shark Alley in Belize where it was surgy and scary and unorganized and crowded. This was not the case diving with Sea Dragon. They run a class act operation. A tight ship. Literally. We got a thorough briefing before the dive and they took us to a great location. This dive turned both our negative feelings about night dives around. What a relaxed experience. We played with a lot of shrimp. Apparently there is a particularly tiny species here that is strong enough to break glass with it’s punch. We were told stories of these shrimp breaking diving masks. Their little arms aren’t actually cracking the glass, I guess it’s the force their punch creates in the water, and that’s what can break the glass. Kind of like how a high pitched sound can do the same. I don’t know how true it is, but I saw those little dudes and they packed a mean punch when I put my GoPro up to them. We also played with Cleaner Shrimp. They like to climb on things and clean them, like the mouths and eyes of moray eels, and human finger nails, etc.
Over the nine dives we saw barracuda, bright little shrimps, big schools of big tuna, puffer fish, tons of colorful butterfly fish and parrotfish, big and small eels, many colorful and strange sea cucumbers and slugs, squids, and even octopus.
The sea cucumbers alone were something to write home about…
“Dear Dad, today I dove in Thailand and stuck my finger in a sea cucumbers butt looking for the crab that lives there.” I couldn’t help myself. Their butt sphincters were opening and closing and I could see inside. Apparently one species of little crab likes to make shelter inside of the sea cucumbers ass. What a life.
And the squid (AKA cuttlefish)! They were big and translucent and had peering eyes. They were also having sex (cuttle-fucking perhaps…) while a third one was acting as a body guard. He swam over to me when I got a little too close with the camera, letting me know to back off.
On the second day, they took us to a beautiful white sand beach on Koh Surin where we could relax and explore for an hour. Nick stayed on the boat and napped in a hammock. I checked out the beach. Absolute paradise.
On the second to last dive, Nick made a painful mistake and accidentally set his hand on a lion fish. The irony is that he warned me on the first day not to touch them when he saw me reach out for one. They are poisonous, but insanely beautiful, graceful creatures. They are slow to move away when humans approach, unafraid because most people know not to touch, so I’m guessing they don’t feel threatened. Nick accidentally put his hand down on one, thinking it was just a rock and got a stinger in the thumb. He said it felt like a bee sting. He made it through the remainder of the dive and then soaked his thumb in hot water during breakfast. It’s swollen and purple, but I think he has managed to escape a third amputation.
My favorite moment of the dive trip was finding a very long, snake/worm/cucumber thing. I have officially named it the Human Touch Induced Self Retracting Sea Snake Cucumber Worm. It was stretched out about three feet long, maybe an inch in diameter. Undulating to move forward, little flower-shaped sucking tentacle-thingies guiding it’s way along the ocean floor. It’s long, soft body was white and grey and black at 75 feet, which could mean it’s beautiful shades of red for all I know; our eyes can’t filter or see all the colors at that depth.
I turned on the GoPro and touched the Sea Worm (I love touching everything, sorry if that offends any uptight divers out there). It went into defensive mode, immediately retracting it’s entire body back into itself, starting with the tentacles and working it’s way backward until it became a solid hard lump, like a sea cucumber. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our guide Rebekkah was completely enthralled. She had never seen that before either. Maybe she’s seen the “snake” but never touched it to see what would happen. I saw two more on that dive and then never again. The underwater world is such a weird place!
So, in total, we made twelve dives this week. That’s twice as many as Nick had previously done in the time since his accident. His confidence has gone through the roof and he’s got a good gearing-up, foot-switching, and cleaning-up system going now to make each dive run smoothly. We will DEFINITELY be doing another live-aboard dive trip again in the future. Only question is where…?
We couldn’t be happier returning to Khao Lak for one night to relax and get used to being back on land before flying out tomorrow night to Chiang Mai. Only one week left in Thailand. Wow!
All aboard the Andaman!
Only an hour on a beautiful beach.
Random shots from the boat.