Thailand Day 80: How Low Can You Go?

Today began extra early as we needed to hit the Andaman Sea quickly to begin the first of our three dives for the day. The boat normally fits eight divers, two dive masters (one being an oddly hilarious Swiss), a cook, a captain, and a boat boy. With a capacity so small I knew the boat wouldn’t be very big and sure enough reality went in line with my expectations. The lower deck is made of a small space to load up our gear before leaping into the water, an equally small dining area / social area, and the kitchen and so on. The upper deck has a sun deck sized roughly eight by ten feet as well as a sleeping area covered by semicircle tent housing all of our bed pads neatly aligned next to each other. This boat wasn’t made for the luxurious life or anything remotely close to the expansive floating hotel I experienced on the Reef but it had a certain sense of home that kind of wraps you in a warm blanket that I couldn’t get enough of. One potential diver had to call off his trip while another person onboard was only here for her husband so the boat only had six divers which can make for a more personal diving experience. Oddly enough, I was surrounded by the most Americans in quite some time as three other divers and a dive master hailed from the land of the home and the brave. Although the boat is advertised as a backpacker boat, three people were in fact over the age of fifty so another lesson for those that use age as an excuse to not venture out. Breakfast was American style with eggs, bacon, and French fries of all potato products. The first and second dives would be at Koh Bon, a small uninhabited island known for manta ray sightings. After a nap and much cruising along, we all came together for our first dive briefing. In the middle of the talk someone noticed a whale reveal its back. Everyone jumped up and looked closely at the water. The whale continued to play peek-a-boo with us at drew closer and closer to the boat. The minke whale managed to get as close as 20 m to the boat. We had yet to even step foot into the water and already we gained one of those creme de la creme moments. On the first dive I needed to get certified to 30 meters, which has its own risks of narcosis and whatnot but offers a world of more spectacular sights. As soon as I dropped my mask into the water and lowered my head below the surface I noticed a large black and white figure flapping its wings near the sea floor. Since it was so deep in the water I couldn’t guarantee what my eyes were seeing; a small part of me thought it could be the flipper of a whale. I raised myself back out of the water and told a dive master that I think I am seeing a manta ray. As far away as the creature swam its presence could be felt so I could have only imagined how large it might be up close. I might as well have jumped back into the boat and cruised back to shore. How could anything top my day so far? I was batting a 1000 and hadn’t even taken a swing. Eventually we reached our maximum depth and began patrolling the sea floor for whatever marine life might cross our path. Just like the Great Barrier Reef, I saw parrotfish and many moorish idols but I also witnessed varieties of fish my eyes have never cast their sights on. The Reef was more colorful at least in terms of coral but so far I am enjoying the spectrum of fish on display. The more I am in the water the more it calls to me like the Sirens call Ulysses in ‘The Odyssey’. Towards the end of the dive we ran across a manta ray but this time up close and personal. I could now see how truly massive the ray measured out to be. This flapping king of Koh Bon stretched to at least four meters wide. Seeing the figure swoop over me made me feel so very small yet high as a kite with excitement. Tickled by the escaping bubbles reaching its underbelly, the manta ray forced down its wide wings and almost seemed to try to swallow up anyone that hovered below before swimming away. Any indecisiveness I may have had about this trip rapidly washed away in that moment. Another dive at Koh Bon began a couple hours later and gave me a further display of the great quantity and quality of fish and otherwise (aka banded sea snake) that swam in and around its depths. Clearly with much more experience than myself, my dive master and guide pointed out various living things that I would have never noticed even if I swam just above it. As great as it is to see the many rainbow parrotfish and other colorful sea life munching on the coral and sea grass, I like to notice of the small things that happen to hang around. As we finished the dive and hung out for our necessary safety stop, I happened to see another manta ray skimming the bottom some 20 plus meters a way. The black behemoth was quite noticeable at this distance so we figured it must have been a solid 4.5 meters in width. Not a bad day at Koh Bon; I entered and left the island’s waters seeing a manta ray. This liveaboard scuba trip was going to be all about scuba diving, eating great Thai food (except for breakfast, and frankly too much), and napping. When I napped on the boat in between dives, I felt like a baby being rocked to sleep with rolling waves. Before we could jump into the water for our last dive of the day (first in the Similans), a night dive in fact, I got to watch the sun set over open waters as the light stretched into a full fan of purples, pinks, yellows, oranges, and reds with the film of clouds that held up in the sky. A night dive is drastically different from a day dive besides the obvious lack of light and the need to carry a torch. The marine life is completely different from what we saw just a couple of hours ago. The fish that played and danced before our eyes now hid in the cracks of the corals and rocks hoping for a bit of shuteye. Without the spectrum of fish in the way, shrimps, crabs, lobsters, and moray eels could be seen strutting their own brand of colors. Although not as beautiful, a night dive tends to be much more peaceful. After a dinner composed of freshly grilled flounder crisped to perfection, green curry, and a hearty broth filled with various squid and such, Anthony needed some sleep after his busy day in the water. After all, more dives, more fish, and more coral begs to be seen starting tomorrow morning with a 7 am dive and a 6:15 wakeup call. Normally, I would hate to be woken that early, especially for the purpose of jumping in water, but knowing diving awaits will ease that shock.

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