Thursday, 15 February 2018

Girl Power...Mandy and Kannika into The Deep Blue.

 Our friend Mandy from sunny Weymouth and fisherman husband Gary Chard are here with us in Phuket for a well deserved winter break. And Mandy has taken the opportunity to get back into her scuba diving after several years lay off!

Here she is just about to start a refresher session in the pool. This is where we check out buoyancy control, mask flooding and clearance etc as well as just re-familiarizing oneself with the equipment. We usually have a couple of sessions in the pool totaling a couple of hours and then do a bit of theory before we venture to the beach for our shore diving.
 Here we go....mask being donned and ready to go under...
 Gary the photographer is at hand to capture Mandy's first underwater swim for several years...and she was straight back into it with no problems.
 And here she is as we start the first part of our hour long sea dive to 12 meters. On this occasion we 'swam' a good quarter of a mile out to sea before dropping down. Kannika was with us....she's back into it properly now and is all set to start her Advanced PADI diver course next week with a really great Thai lady instructor called Nat.
 We were straight back to our 'cubes' to see if the little moray eels were still there....and sure enough we weren't disappointed.
 As we can see, Mandy is so at home that she has turned into a fish.

The batfish wander around these cubes and are so friendly that they will come right to you.
 A very beautifully marked nudibranch was leaping about for our photographic pleasure.
 When we dived here three days ago, the cubes were clear of any fishin gger but on this dive a net had been shot right over part of the cubes. With its floating buoy line and leaded foot rope, this presented a dangerous hazard to other scuba divers. The net was already ghost fishing with fish trapped in it and more about to be ensnared.

It would be a dodgy thing for a European diver to do something about this situation....but Thai men will not confront an angry Thai lady. Kannika is very formidable when aroused and this situation had clearly angered and distressed her. She was straight in on the attack with her dive scissors....and I was dreading the inevitable surface confrontation with any fisherman likely to be around.

 The batfish seemed to have enough sense to move away from the net danger. They really are a very graceful and impressive sight.
 All the places where the concrete cubes are in contact with each other was full of morays.
 One of the best things to watch underwater are cuttlefish. Their ability to change colour so quickly is amazing. They too are very inquisitive and will come right up to you as long as the diver moves very gently and in an non-threatening manner. They tend to stay well clear of is as if they can sense that she REALLY wants to eat them
Set against the brilliant white sand the the bright blue sea, these are very photogenic creatures.

We made our way back along the reef to emerge about 30 yards from the shore. I was expecting an explosive confrontation...and I wasn't disappointed. Kannika was straight on the attack with the local boatmen pleading innocence. After returning to our car and packing the tanks and kit away, Mandy and I were ordered to the restaurant whilst Kannika headed back to the beach....and further discussion. I would have like to have been there....but there are times when we 'visitors' are better off staying right away from such discussions!!

Never a dull moment, eh??

Friday, 9 February 2018

Kannika Returns to Scuba

 What a fantastic dive today!!!!  And really happy that Kannika was able to share it with me as she was advised not to dive after laser eye surgery in November. But now she has been given the all-clear and we are back in action.

Some days with fishing, everything goes right....and similarly in diving. Today everything was perfect. We surface 'swam' a good 400 metres out and then dropped using land marks and compass bearings to hit our 'start point'. From there exactly 100 'cycle kicks' over a 4 minute time run on a bearing of 200 degrees and we arrived bang on our mark...hurrah!!! And the viz was superb with stacks of fish everywhere and with a water temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius, it was.....Heaven!

 We were aiming for one of the clusters of concrete blocks that the Thai Gov have been depositing around the Islands to encourage coral growth and fish life....We didn't see much new coral growing but they certainly attracted the fish as can be seen in the photo above. It is very rare to see a big fish when diving from the shore around Phuket...which is why we don't bother hiring a long tail boat for evening fishing trips like we used to....but the amount of small fish with their vivid displays of colour and the amazing variety of species more than compensates for size.
 The cracks between the blocks were full of baby moray eels....far too many to count. And they were very friendly and inquisitive....leaving their shelter and coming out to greet us.
 As with the fish, there seems an endless variety of moray eel species....

We were lucky (it WAS a lucky day) that we were diving at low tide and so were only at 10 meters. This gave us plenty of natural light for our photography and a good 45 minutes before we headed back to the nearby reef at just 6 meters giving us another 30 minutes of diving. I am very fortunate with Kannika as she uses very little air and our dives have always been lengthy. Diving in very warm water also helps air consumption as does a gentle approach to the dive.

 It turned out to be very much a moray eel adventure dive....and they were very accommodating as regards posing for photo's.
 Here's a giant puffer fish. There's a little cleaner fish in the picture just in front of the baby moray eel's head. The moray eel was also joining in the cleaning of the Puffer...taking parasites or whatever from its gills. It was quite a thing to watch....
 We saw plenty of batfish and they came right up to us. It just shows if you are very gentle the fish will come to you.
 Just look how clear it was at 10 meters! Fantastic, eh?
 Kannika has always had a hankering to be an orchestral conductor...thus the presence of her silvery baton.
 And here we have a real, genuine stone fish...described as 'venomous, dangerous and even fatal to humans. it is one of the most venomous fish known'.

Laying out on open sand, it would indeed be very easy to mistake it for a stone. You don't want to go near this bugger...even with a shiny baton to protect you. PADI encourages divers to look and never touch....and here is a very good reason why to heed that advice.
 We are now heading away from the blocks after an overload of fish life....really superb. On our way back across white sand to the main reef we saw several blue spotted sting ray. Many guests staying have been treated to seeing fair numbers of these....they are localized and often very numerous.
 We still had air enough for a 30 minute bimble along the coral reef to enjoy and it was great to have Kannika back with me as she sees everything. Here she notices the tell-tale giveaway sign of the white antenna of shrimps. Gently tapping the nearby coral encourages shrimps to come out and take a look. These two were just as obliging as the little moray eels and allowed me to get stacks of shots in. As we finally backed away, they returned to their shelter. And I am thinking...what IS going on??? Everything is being SO obliging today.

We passed through what was literally thousands and thousands of fish I reckon were maybe 3'' long in the longest and most dense shoal I have experienced in my 15 years of diving at Kata. There were so many fish the whole area was 'blacked out'. My photo's show nothing! Just....blackness...!!

 And then to break clear of this shoal, swim through a heap of needles barracuda and into the bright light of just 3 metres deep for what I though would be our final anemone/fish display of the dive......but no...there was one more wonderful surprise to come....
 ....and here...just before we surfaced...a group of three coral shrimpfish. We do see these sometimes but it's the first time for me this year because the visibility has been so poor.

So, yes...this really was a dive with everything.
A nice head of coral as I headed towards the surface....with Kannika not wanting to leave...
...and a final parting shot as Kannika finally gave in and reluctantly that even she couldn't stay down with an empty tank!

This is what I came to Phuket for....the diving....and how great to see it at its best today.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Paul and Michelle meet John Gray

 The John Gray vessel pulls in to the pick up pier at Ao Po on the North East end of Phuket Island.This is the vessel that will take the adventurers on what many regard as the very best of the trips that Phuket has to offer......and it is BRILLIANT!!

And now...once again...I hand over to our Budding Blogger and Ace Photogrpaher, Mr Paul Cross....

Paul writes......
 ''Organized by John Gray, the original sea cave explorer and well-known conservationist, this is a magical experience not to be missed by nature lovers. 

The 'Hongs by Starlight' tour starts in the early afternoon with a delicious lunch on board the boat while it makes it way from Ao Por Pier heading north towards Koh Panak and Koh Hong in Phang Nga Bay.

 The exact destination will depend on the tide as some sea caves are only accessible by expert paddle guides when the tide is just right.

The Legendary John Gray 77 years young and paddling that Kayak like a 'Good 'Un'

John started this adventure over 30 years ago.....and we only meet the old pirate himself!!! Thumbs up, John,  for a great trip!

(Editors Note...And thumbs up from me too, John, for the massive amount of pleasure your trips have given to my friends over the past 10 years!!!! Paul Whittall)

These sea caves were formed by the dissolution of the limestone rocks which formed cavities that became the caves you can visit today.

The sensation of gently floating through these dark caves lit by the torches worn by the paddle guides with stalagmites dangling from above is both other-worldly and exciting. 

On the other side you emerge into a "hong", a hidden lagoon surrounded on all sides by sheer stone walls topped with lush jungle.

The food on the boat was outstanding and the service was great. 

Then comes the part where everyone on board, under the expert guidance of the Thai crew members, makes the Loi Kratong water offerings to be illuminated with a candle and floated off inside the final cave in the night darkness.

(The John Gray set up is all about caring for the, please don't worry....everything is retrieved!)

Then after dark the most magical part of the tour begins.

Thailand....a magical country of Romance.

 The sun sets in Phang Gna Bay for the start of the most magical part of the trip....
 Michelle inside the final cave....

And me.....presenting my offering to the Water Spirits. What a trip...what memories....what a country!!!!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Paul, Michelle and James Bond

     James Bond Island Boat Trip by enthralled tourist Paul Cross! 

Heading North from Phuket we, (myself, Paul Cross and my delightful Michelle; Old Scroat Whittall and the the Glamorous Kannika)  entered the Phang Gna region, the land of the Elephant Tusk. 

It was our plan visit a large cave system and then hire a longtail boat for a trip in amongst the marine scenery where the James Bond film 'The Man with the Golden Gun' was shot.

Firstly we travelled through the mangroves to reach  Phang Gna Bay. Because we had hired a car, we were able to take boats from quiet, non-touristy locations. This meant the prices were much better (£35 total to hire the longtail boat for just the four of us) and were able to persuade the Captain to take us to where we wanted to go and heave to (like the Nautical terminology?) at locations that interested us.

Phang Nga Bay is home to 'James Bond Island'  is a place that is so very different from the 'normal' seascape one encounters that it will definitely imprint itself on the memory and will always be remembered.  sleep in.

This is the island that was used in the 1974 James Bond film 'The Man With the Golden Gun' starring Roger Moore. 

The iconic limestone island of Khao Phing Kan (the actual island featured) is one of south west Thailand's top tourist destinations. 

This has its drawbacks as there were many tourists on the actual small island so we did not go ashore. Our Captain took us gently right around the island allowing us to view and photograph it from the sea. 

A view from a different angle of Koh Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island.
The effects of erosion can be seen on the Karst (sea mountains) with very jagged indentations and a sharp, rocky surface. There were plenty of crabs on the waterline with these formations offering perfect protection for them.
These are very wild and different 'coastal' scenes from our own gentle Dorset coastline.

The sea is a green colour due to the constant erosion of the limestone formations. It's certainly not a place to try snorkling....and we did not see any fishing taking place...although that's not to say there are no fish here...just did not see any locals trying for them. No doubt it's a more lucrative use of the boats in the High Season to take tourists out for a ride.
There are many kayaking 'tours'. The customers are mainly Chinese. Westerners are very much in the minority now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    These are the famous 'cave paintings' that feature in various books about the region. Apparantly they are 3,000 years old. It's amazing how well they've lasted especially when one considers how quickly buildings in Thailand show severe effects of weathering on thier paintwork after just a few years. Maybe the paints were better 'back then'?

       Thanks to Paul Whittall , Michelle And Ganniker For A Great Birthday Trip 🤓.