Jennie and Robin here with a trip report from the recent Richelieu Rock Liveaboard. We’re corporate refugees who recently fled our high tech, high pressure jobs in the big city of Tokyo to join ranks at Wicked Diving’s Divemaster Training (DMT) program, and this was the first of three liveaboard trips on MV Mariner we’ll be taking over the next month. Our mission on the Mariner is simple: become better divers. Improve our trim. Learn how to deploy our SMBs. And keep the fridge fully stocked with beer and soda. As the saying goes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
We spent the first evening on the boat meeting and greeting staff, crew, and guests. Fearless trip leader Brett ran a tight ship with a Wicked Diving staff of three, including Instructors Marie and Julio as well as DMT alum Meg. Our intrepid guests including Canadians, Americans, and Israelis, one Kiwi and a lone Dane, a nursing student on holiday from a rotation in Bangkok. And as always, the Mariner was manned by Captian Witt’s ace Thai crew: his son XY, boatboys Tom and Toh, and his lovely and talented wife Pida, Mariner’s chef and therefore its most valuable player.
Robin and I elected to kick off our first full day of diving by working on our skindiving skills, which is a required part of our divemaster training. Liberated from the Vader-esque soundtrack of scuba respiration that inevitably accompanies diving, we free dived to 10 meters to visit angelfish and back down to five to make funny faces at Instructor Marie’s divers as they made their safety stop nearby. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous when they surfaced next to us with breathless reports of a juvenile whale shark sighted during the first five minutes of their dive.
Dive 2 took us through an underwater moonscape of granite boulders at a site Wicked staff have dubbed “Turtle Rocks”, where we crossed paths with our fellow divers from Mariner in between clouds of FISH TYPE in a steady current. Before Dive 3 at Him Kong Island, some of our guests snorkeled in to sunbathe on the rocks during our surface interval after lunch.
I admired their fortitude. Robin is blessed with a naturally tan complexion and has nothing to fear from the sun, but I seem to burn just thinking about venturing out. I had no choice but to watch their adventures from the shady safety of the mid deck—fortunately within easy reach of both the soft drinks and the coffee supply. My cross to bear, I suppose.
After diving on Him Kong Island’s reef, where guests reported spotting FISH TYPES, Tom and To lowered the dinghy to bring everyone onto shore for a beach visit. The dinghy pulled up next to an encampment of Surin Sea Gypsies, and Wicked staff squeezed in a beach cleanup while on shore, aided by many of Mariner’s environmentally conscious guests.
It’s a sad fact that no matter how remote you are, it’s hard to escape signs of human activity. Unfortunately, Mariner guests and crew managed to fill an garbage bag with plastic bottles, cigarette butts discarded carelessly into the sea, plastic bags (which sea turtles often mistake for jellyfish and consume) and styrofoam packing material. But everyone’s hard work was rewarded when a local flying lemur made a brief appearance in the treetops bordering the beach. A beautiful sunset and some ultimate frisbee later, it was time to head back to the boat. Brett and Marie spiced up an otherwise tame ride with a shoving match to see who would capitulate into the water first. Robin was pulled into the melee with Marie and both returned to the Mariner slightly more waterlogged than they left it.
PICTURE OF Sunset and the rocks/Picture 3
Day 2 signaled an earlier start at 7 am as the Mariner reached Richilieu Rock. Among the most iconic of Thailand’s dive sites, it’s home to a granite rock formation full of beautiful purple soft corals and fields of anemones. This “banana” or “croissant” shaped dive site was discovered with the help of local fishermen by diving great, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.The origin of the name is disputed; some say it’s inspired by the red of Cardinal Richelieu’s robe and the color of the reef, while others say it bears more resemblance to a famous Thai commander. Either way, the popularity of the dive site was clear as we saw numerous other boat pull into the area.
(Editors note: These common misconceptions are cleared up on this Richelieu Rock page)
We did two dives in the first half of the day, with the site playing hosts to schools of barracuda and bluefin trevallies hunting for their next meal. There were also sighting of mantis shrimps, which was terribly exciting – given their sheer awesomeness. A bit of trivia: mantis shrimps have two appendages in front of their body that accelerate at the same velocity as a gunshot from a 22 caliber rifle. They strike the prey with over 1500 Newtons of force. Oatmeal fans will know that if our arms could expend this amount of force, we could throw a cricket ball or a baseball into orbit. Awesome! Learn about them here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?
The time in between dives was filed with Songkran (Thai New Year) festivities as everyone indulged in some healthy face smearing and cold water dunks. The boat boys took the lead in introducing folks to cold water dunking, which everyone embraced and repeated on subsequent dives. Nothing feels more chilling than coming out from a warm dive and being dunked with ice cold water – the one upmanship of this exercise came to a climax on day 3.
After a hearty lunch, we neared the site of our third dive. A staff favorite, Koh Tachai also gave us DMT’s a chance to learn the invaluable art of guiding a dive. Full of nervous energy, we circled this beautiful dome shaped rock, sighting octopi and huge moray eels hiding in plain sight. This dive put to test our navigation and multilevel diving skills and we circled the entire dive site to return to the mooring.
Another nap and snack later – the boat was ready for the first and only night dive of the trip. The boat snuck into the bay of beautiful Koh Bon, with great visibility and a couple of titan triggerfish patrolling the area. A night dive is amongst the coolest experiences out there with a whole new cast of animals to explore as well as beautiful phosphorescence. The team quickly scoured the area to unearth heaps of tiny shrimps, among other crustaceans. We came back on board to Pida’s famous post-night dive dinner, which was a big culinary highlight for guests and staff aline. As you see, the pattern of “dive eat sleep repeat” has been firmly established at this point. With our stomachs full, the boat divided into the sleepers and the conversationalists – stories of dives and travel filled the night sky, paving the way to a beautiful sunrise.
The last day involved two dives at Koh Bon, but for the DMT’s, it meant the deepest dive of our training at 40m (as a policy, Mariner allows guests no deeper than 30m). We practiced how to manage no stop diving, safely staying within our decompression limits. The final dive was bittersweet for all involved as we saw beautiful swarms of glass fish interspersed with huge tuna and trivially Back on board, people prepared for the beautiful cruise back to Tapla Mu port and onwards to wherever the road took them. Before getting for though, we managed to capture the trip in this great group photo with each diver signaling their favorite fish.
Never have the bright fluorescent lights of the corporate cubicles seemed dimmer, or further behind. And never have we been happier about that.
Until next time,
Jennie and Robin