Tuesday, October 23, 2007

GUE Dive Extravaganza, October 19-21, 2007

Last weekend I was on the MV Black Manta for a weekend dive trip organized by Living Seas. Living Seas is home of GUE instructor Gideon Liew and he and his crew organized the first GUE Annual Dive Extravaganza 2007. The Black Manta is a large and pretty luxurious boat for this part of the world. We had somewhere in the region of 25 divers and we all settled comfortably in the cabins, dive deck, and saloon areas. Living Seas had been working on this trip for several months and organized all the logistics, including delivery of helium and oxygen bottles and the gas mixing. Over last several years, in no small part due to Gideon’s efforts, a sizable group of GUE trained divers has formed in the region. It’s remarkable that Living Seas was able to fill just about the entire boat with GUE trained divers. We even had 2 guys visiting from Australia and one from Shanghai. Probably the best thing about it was the fact that many people on board knew or had dived with one another; it was great to dive with old friends and make new ones.

We boarded the Black Manta at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal around 6pm on Friday. The first stop was the Seven Skies and it took an overnight sail to get there. We stayed there until late afternoon, then went to a shallower reef for a night dive. Saturday night was spent traveling to the Igara. Sunday we did 2 dives on the Igara and headed back to Singapore in the afternoon. By the time we were done with immigration it was evening.

Saturday we arrived at the Seven Skies around 9am. I’ve described the Seven Skies before (here and here) so I won’t describe it again. The current was ripping when we arrived and it took several tries to tie in to the wreck (trouble tying in seemed to be the theme of the weekend, together with strong currents). We staggered the groups’ entry into the water to make entry and exit smoothest. My team, stage diving 18/45 and using 50% for deco, went in last. By the time we were to go, other teams had already surfaced and reporting a whale shark sighting! We quickly jumped in. The current was indeed very strong and we pulled ourselves hand over hand down to the wreck. And whaddya know, the whale shark was there! It was a nice specimen, more than 5m long, with 4 cobias and a bunch of remoras hanging out with it. We enjoyed some time on the bottom with the whale shark but the real treat was having it hang out with us for almost our entire 20 min deco as we were flapping on the line like flags. At one point it looked like it started coughing and later we joked that it looked like it had swallowed a remora by accident… hilarious stuff that I will share once my buddy’s video has been edited. Despite the enjoyable whale shark sighting, I asked for the deco to be cut short a few minutes as were really getting tossed around by the bouncing boat at the 6m and 3m stops. This was no big deal as our bottom time was spent shallower than planned.

The whale shark hung out for most of the day and others saw it again on their second and third dives. We did another dive on the Seven Skies on 18/45 and 50% in the afternoon when the current had died down a little.

We then motored to a shallower site to do a night dive. It was a nice, relaxing no-deco dive. The highlight was disturbing a congregation that consisted of a HUGE marble ray and a bunch (almost 10) of big cobias. There was a lot of commotion as they sped off into the distance.

Sunday morning found us on the Igara wreck. See here for a previous description of the wreck. Again, we had some trouble tying in due to the ridiculous current. This current was something I’d never seen before and I came up from the first dive drawing comparisons to the highest flow areas of Ginnie Springs. Yes, it really was that strong! Several divers on board jumped in and went part way down the line before calling the dive due to the current. We dove 21/35 and 50% and spent our dive averaging 39m off the side of the wreck to get shelter from the current. We ended the dive crawling across the top of the wreck to get back to the line and again flapping line flags on the deco. Deco was uneventful but the current got even stronger at the shallow stops to the point where it was difficult to turn around and see my buddies. No problem there, being last in line, I rested my fin against my buddy and kept time so I knew when it was time to move on the next stop.

During the surface interval, the line tying us to the wreck snapped and had to be tied in again. We were the last team in the water and pulled the line as we arrived on the wreck. By this time the current had died down significantly. Our short deco was uneventful as we shot a bag and drifted.

With 5 good dives, the trip came to an end and we started the long ride back to Singapore.

The weekend was a lot of fun. It is remarkable how smooth things go when planned properly. Despite challenging conditions, everything went according to plan and everybody had a good time.

Thanks to Gideon and the Living Seas crew: Leon, Matilda, Andrew, and Thomas for the hard work organizing the trip, sorting the gas logistics, filling tanks, guiding dives, and generally taking care of the trip participants. If anyone is considering GUE training in the region or anywhere else, I’d highly recommend considering Gideon.

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