And here we go for 19 year old Katie Balem's first sea dive. As always we start by kitting up in the nearby car park...checking and rechecking everything is in order before we start on the 200 meter stagger to the beach laden down with our tanks and weights and dealing with a 30 degree blistering sun drenched morning. (This regular yomp to the beach is why an old git like me has to go in the gym several times a week!!!)
I always send Kannika ahead with our guests. I pretend I have to sort the car out etc before I join them. This is so they do not see me struggling along......aahhh, the strength and energy of youth...I remember that time..dimly.
We gather together in the sea in between the local longtail boats, mindful that they are working and that when they lift their rotating propellers clear of the water in order to manoeuvre they will quite merrily chop our heads off and think nothing of it. The Thais do not seem to have the same respect for life as we do.....
And then, with well inflated BCD's, we gently paddle ourselves on our backs out to the Kata reef protection markers.
There are a few isolated patches of coral and rocks before the main reef. This is great for the first time diver as we can stop and take our first look at the teeming marine life..corals...sea fans...anemones...and many fish plus the chance of a bonus cleaner shrimp, a cuttlefish or even a moray eel.
Kannika is always there to assist...she is a marvelously reliable 'buddy' and is really good at giving a reassuring presence to our first time divers...and she's looking more like a Ninja warrior with every dive!
Well...you just never know what will be the main feature in any dive. On this occasion, Katie was so immediately at ease that we edged away from the reef into slightly deeper water (10 metres) and were greeted by literally 100's of blue spotted sting ray. That was definitely the most I have ever seen in the 14 years I have been diving at Kata. They were everywhere and so this must have made a very impressionable dive for Katie.
We try not to scare them but if one ray takes off it tends to spook its nearby companions and there is a group liftoff! When the rays 'take off' they kick up a cloud of fine sand.....it's quite a sight seeing them emerge from the sand, shake off the sand and hurtle away only to calm down after a few seconds and often return (like the one above) to circle us and check us out.
These are not big fish....I reckon just a couple of kilos at most....but they appear quite formidable under water with their long whip tails and stingers!
There are several groups of these blocks nearby. One particular group of blocks has a lot of little moray eels living amongst them...as well as dense shoals of colourful fish.
This was a real bonus to be able to show Katie all these rays and now lots of juvenile morays nestling together...this had turned out to be a great opening dive.
On the way back to the reef we came across yet more rays...they were certainly everywhere today!!
The blue spots stand out well in the clear water....and for those of you who might be wondering, the water temperature was...30 degrees Celsius! With such warm water, no current, good viz and a great assistant it is easy for someone making their first ever dive to last a good hour underwater. Katie handled this with ease and is already looking forward to another dive.
Well Done, Katie...Weymouth's newest and youngest charter skipper!
The charter boat Katie's will be running is called Eclipse and it is featured on Ryan Casey's Facebook page. One must admire young Ryan's business enterprise as he is the vessel's owner and has mentored Katie to reach the skippering heights she has already. Now Ryan has given Katie her own command and the opportunity to shine as the port's latest star and having got to know her over this past week, she is certainly a young lady of character and ability. Watching her handle the diving and the lake fishing is a great indicator of her potential!!