Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Puerto Galera, Philippines, January 3-6, 2006

I spent the first few days of the new year diving with Tech Asia in Puerto Galera, Philippines. I was in Manila for a wedding and I thought it would be a good time to check out the diving in the area. For some background - I am GUE Tech 1 (Gideon Liew) and Cave 1 (Tyler Moon) trained. I currently live in Chicago, IL, but I spend a fair bit of time in Asia. About half of my diving has been in Asia and the other half in the U.S. and Caribbean.

The Operation

Tech Asia is a DIR diving facility. It, along with its sister recreational dive outfit, Asia Divers, can cater to all diving needs. Tech Asia is run by various technical diving instructors from different agencies, including Dave Ross (IANTD) and GUE instructor Martin Lorenzo. Dave runs the operation; Martin was not present when I was there. Dave has been involved in DIR for some time (see here for some info on a previous trip he ran). My buddy for the trip was Ralph Joerger, an IANTD trimix instructor who also dives DIR.

The Place

I had planned this trip several months ago upon getting the wedding invitation. Dave Ross and his staff were responsive to e-mail and they assured me that diving out there was very convenient logistics-wise. Despite arranging the trip by e-mail from half way around the world, I got comfort in Dave's detailed explanations and the fact that the operation was run according to DIR principles. My trip started with an early morning flight to Manila from Singapore. Clearing immigration and customs and picking up my bags was a breeze. A van was waiting for me outside. The van ride is about 3 hours in pretty bad traffic (playing chicken on the road and overtaking on the inside shoulder is par for the course) and is followed by an hour boat ride to Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera is on Mindoro Island, south of Manila. It is a large dive vacation destination, with approximately 30 dive shops along one long stretch of beach. Being in a bay, sea conditions are generally favorable and there is deep diving almost immediately off the beach. John Bennett set a world record for deep diving several years ago in Puerto Galera. A short walk away is Sabang village, where more dive shops, local restaurants and stores, internet cafes, and "entertainment" can be found.

My accommodations, the El Galleon beach resort, were arranged by Tech Asia and I checked in to a standard air conditioned room. There are fancier rooms available, including bungalows. But, the price was right and the room clean and comfortable, so I was happy.

Tech Asia is a 2 min walk from the resort and looks like a Halcyon and Apeks showroom. One look and I was immediately assured that they take tech diving seriously. From numerous backplate and wing setups and canister lights, to the many sets of doubles and 5 Gavins, they have it all.

The Dives

After a quick chat with Dave, he hooked me up with another instructor, Ralph, who would be my buddy for the trip. Within an hour, we were in the bay for a relaxing shallow dive where we hit 3 small wrecks covered in marine life. We started the dive at dusk and ended it as a night dive.

Dive 1: 3 House Wrecks
Depth: 20m/65ft
Dive time: 46 min
Deco: min deco

We missed a boatload of light-waving rec divers by about 30 min and had the site all to ourselves. A nice dinner by the beach and a quick walk around town ended the first day, together with dreams of the next two days' adventures.

Day 2 started with breakfast by the beach and then we assembled by the dive shop. I would be doing a 45m/150ft dive while another group was going to 72m/240ft. We dove the Three Sisters, a bunch of rock outcroppings amidst a sandy bottom. Because the water gets deep so quickly offshore, none of my boat rides exceeded 10 min, while most of them were under 5 min. The dive ended with a very smooth blue water deco and a short ride back to shore.

Dive 2: 3 Sisters
Depth: 45m/149ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 20 min

We breaked for several hours for lunch and a siesta and then met back at the dive shop. We did another relaxing 45m/150ft dive along the house reef. We drifted with the current and spent most of our time poking amongst the rocks for marine life. Our dive concluded with another very smooth and uneventful deco in blue water.

Dive 3: Deep Sabang Reef
Depth: 44m/146ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 20 min

By now, storm clouds had reached the bay, making it impractical to attempt further dives. I ended the day with a couple of beers and a US$12 full body massage.

Day 3 was pretty much the same routine. My breathing rate had improved markedly on this trip so we went for a slightly deeper dive. The highlight was a small cave-like swin through at about 51m/170ft. In it was a rebreather frame that belonged to the late Dave Shaw (recently deceased in South Africa). It was a memorial to him, as he had done his trimix training in Puerto Galera.

Dive 4: Marcus Cave & Sweetlips Corner
Depth: 52m/173ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 31 min

Dive 5 in the afternoon was almost the same profile. The current really picked up on this dive and we scratched our plans of decoing along the ascending reef. Instead, we flew along the reef for most of the dive and did another blue water deco. Deco was uneventful and we were pleased to find that the boatman had been vigilant and was waiting right there to pick us up, despite our change in plans.

Dive 5: Deep Monkey Beach
Depth: 48m/160ft
Dive time: 20 min
Deco: 26 min

The last dive of the day was meant to be on a 30m/100ft steel hulled wreck, but we called it as it was getting late and divers who had dove it in the afternoon complained of very strong currents and an unpleasant deco.

That ended my trip and the next morning I took the boat and van ride back to Manila for the wedding. All in all, a very enjoyable few days that I hope to repeat in the near future. My only regret is that I did not stay longer.


Tech Asia is set up to make the diver's life easy. They stock everything in the store, so just about everything can be rented if you don't want to bring it yourself. I rented a Pro 6 primary light from them and I might rent regulators too the next time around. Most dives are done with AL80 and AL40 tanks and they also have steel tanks for drysuit users. Tech Asia doesn't rent Gavins but if you bring your own, they can source batteries locally.

Water temperature while I was there was 26C/78F and I was comfortable with a 3mm full suit and a thin hooded vest. Others were using 7mm suits. It does get a little colder in January/February and some choose to dive dry during this time.

As mentioned earlier, all boat rides are very short. The boatmen and hardworking and well trained to support deep divers. Upon surfacing, the MO was to remove all gear and hand it up to the boatmen, making exits stress-free. The boatmen also carry your gear for you to and from the boat.


I came away from the trip with the impression that Tech Asia is an extremely well run dive operation. Everything is set up to make life easy and with safety in mind. By adhering to DIR principles, logistics are greatly simplified, making diving a real pleasure. Dave Ross and the rest of the Tech Asia folks did everything they could to ensure I had an enjoyable stay. When I dropped a stage bottle and cracked my second stage, Dave replaced the part immediately and even showed me how it was done.

Most of the diving with Tech Asia is deep reef diving. It's a good place to gain experience doing progressively deeper dives as conditions are relatively unchallenging and logistics are very easy. I could think of a lot worse places to learn technical diving than Puerto Galera. For those wanting to do recreational diving, Asia Divers is only a 2 min walk away.

The first couple of times I dove with DIR folks whom I had not dove with before, I was really surprised to find that the diving was much more enjoyable and stress free because we were all on the same page. I'm not surprised by it anymore, but I still appreciate the beauty of diving with other DIR people. Planning dives was straightforward as we were all familiar with Decoplanner and GUE's deco tools. We all dove the same gas, same configuration, and had similar breathing rates. Even the boatmen were on the same page, giving me great peace of mind. A special thanks to Ralph for being an excellent dive buddy and for pointing out lots of cool things. I hope to return to Tech Asia soon and to dive with Ralph again.

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