Authors: Max Hand/Iain Page, April 2009
With the high season coming to an end the Sharkey team were delighted to see the return of the infamous Jon Owen and friends Ben Jackson and Steve Nelson. After enjoying Songkran and the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan they decided it was time to do some quality diving. Back in Phuket they could not resist the special deal on the Phi Phi Overnighter dive adventure.
Having Jon come back to Phuket is like having Christmas and your Birthday at the same time. Always good fun and definitely full of surprises! And surprise us he did, by very kindly inviting Oui to join the party at his own expense. This enabled the whole of the Sharkey to come along too including little Abbie.
With everyone present and the boat ready to depart from Chalong pier we were informed by the tour leader, Kerry, that we were the only people on the trip. Greta is a great boat. She has more than enough space to accommodate 25 divers, so to have our own "private charter" had us all excitedly grinning with glee. On board we were greeted by the always smiling and friendly Thai crew. They especially liked meeting the newest member of the Sharkey team, Abbie. Now on her third Phi Phi liveaboard trip Abbie just wanted to explore the boat. Under the watchful eye of Oui she did just that, checking out the large dive deck, the air conditioned lounge, the sundeck upstairs, and even trying on some dive gear!
In the meantime Kerry gave us a safety briefing while we munched our way through a light breakfast. Scuba gear set up, it was time to chill out, chat, and take in some sun upstairs. Our first dive site would be Shark Point. Iain would take Jon and Ben, I would take Steve, starting his PADI Advanced Open Diver course with Peak Performance Buoyancy, while Oui would be on "Abbie-sitting" duties. A rotation plan had already been put in place to ensure none of us missed out on the pleasure of Abbie's company!
With a slight current running south to north we jumped in over Pinnacle Two. Descending slowly the amazing array of colour in the soft corals would have been enough to make Picasso envious. Spotting a leopard shark resting on the sand I turned to my student Steve who had earlier confessed to an unhealthy fear of sharks. Initially on seeing the shark his eyes went very wide and I think I saw some extra "off gassing " taking place but he quickly saw that it was no threat and we both went for a closer look. Moving on to the Pinnacle One we saw twenty or more white-eyed morays out feeding on the hapless glass fish. On completing the Peak Performance Buoyancy skills we completed our safety stop with another leopard shark swimming around us throughout the stop. What a great start to the trip!
Back on board we headed off to the Phi Phi Islands with everyone exchanging their leopard shark encounters over a sumptuous Thai style lunch. Later, while most slept, "Pappa" Iain made Play-Doh turtles, geckos, and even a Sharkey to a delighted Abbie. Arriving at the Phi Phi Islands, the now worn out Iain and Abbie took an afternoon nap, Oui took Jon and Ben diving while I conducted Steve's Navigation dive in the bay of Koh Bida Nok. Oui came up having seen even more leopard sharks and a very cute white seahorse in a giant gorgonian fan coral. Steve did an excellent job in his Navigation but had a school of curious Forsters barracuda check his skills the whole dive just in case!
Dives three and four were Garang Haeng and Hin Dot, the first a dome shaped underwater formation and the second a series of chimney-shaped pinnacles. Once again minimal currents and great visibility allowed everyone to enjoy what can be challenging dives in the wrong conditions. Huge schools of yellow and twin spot snappers covered both sites giving you the feeling of being “Queen Bee” in a bee hive! At the end of a fantastic day's diving and a delicious spaghetti bolognese dinner on board, it was time to head off to Phi Phi Don for the night.
Leaving the Greta behind, we jumped into a longtail boat for a short ride to the island, checked into our luxury bungalows, showered, changed, and walked down the golden sandy beach to Hippie's Bar, a popular and chilled out local spot. We deservedly supped a few ice cold Singhas, chatted about the day's diving, and, of course, Abbie entertained her adoring crowd. Later we were treated to a fire show and live Reggae music before heading off for a good night's sleep at a reasonable time, honest Injun!
Up early and feeling refreshed we meet for a beautiful breakfast on the beach with stunning views of Phi Phi Ley before heading back to the Greta. Leaving the splendour of Phi Phi we set off for the first dive. The conditions were even better than yesterday with the only ripples in the sea coming from the wash of the boats. An early morning dive is hard to beat and this one at Koh Bida Nai was no exception. With a Deep adventure dive for Steve proving a lot of fun the rest of the divers headed off to a small side reef called Fantasy Reef. Blackfin barracuda, more leopard sharks and large schools of trevally were among the highlights.
Next was the King Cruiser wreck, an old ferry that sank in May 1997. Like a fine wine, she gets better with age giving a real mystical feel about her. Being an open dive site the King Cruiser can suffer from strong currents and low visibility, but today was not the case. With at least 20 meters visibility we could see the schools of snapper covering the wreck. In the blue passed dogtooth tuna, and huge swirling clouds of small naked fusiliers all interchanging as one body mass. To top it all Oui found a new nudibranch. Yes NEW!!! I tried to contain my excitement but squealed like a pig and took a couple of pictures for my "nudi nerd" collection.
Back on board it was lunch time and heading off to our last dive site, and my personal favourite Koh Doc Mai. This awesome wall dive is stunningly beautiful. The dive was everything we hoped for and more. The highlight was two amazing frogfish (anglerfish) perfectly camouflaged with their lures out ready for an unsuspecting fish to take the bait.
On the way home Abbie had us all laughing when Captain An let her take controls of the helm. "Captain Abbie" as she now calls herself did a fine job, under supervision of course, of steering with hands and feet alike. Almost back to the Chalong pier, we all agreed that it had been a fantastic trip with awesome diving and even better company. We hope to see Jon and co. again soon for more quality diving adventures in and around Phuket.
N.B. All photos in this article were taken by the Sharkey team during the above trip.
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