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17 – 21 Feb 2013 – Similan Island Safari

/ MV Giamani Log Book

MV Giamani Trip Log: 17 Feb 2013 – 21 Feb 2013.

Port of departure: Phuket Island.

Weather Conditions: Sunny & calm.

Even though I had just returned home from a dive holiday in Sipadan (fantastic!), I still didn’t hesitate for a second when I had the chance to join a four-day liveaboard cruise going to the Similan Islands, one of the advantages of being self-employed and living in Asia.

Since 2006, I have generally tried to make a trip to the Similans one of my annual dive holidays. I had already enjoyed previous trips on the Giamani and was happy to see that they had made even more improvements to what is already a comfortable boat. Divers are generally limited to 12 which makes for a friendly but relaxing cruise. There’s a huge dive deck for kitting up and the main lounge areas, one for dining and hanging out and another for watching movies or tinkering with photo gear, have been opened up a bit and a new wooden floor has been installed which makes it less slippery when lots of wet divers traipse through. The cabins seem brighter and new aircon systems help to keep the rooms fresher.

After a welcome drink on the boat, I went down to the dive deck to find my gear had already been completely set up. I almost felt cheated as there was nothing for me to do but check that all my gadgets were in the right place, but then thought I could get very used to this! So I went back up topside to grab a beer and enjoy the view of Phuket and a sunset as we headed out. It turns out that all of the other guests had already been waiting on board as they had been on the previous two-day trip to the south of Phuket, so we had an early afternoon sailing instead of the usual night one.

First minute of our first dive: we practically landed on top of a leopard shark (or zebra shark in case my brother reads this). Luckily, we all saw it and were able to approach it cautiously and admire it before it glided off into the blue. We were on Shark Fin Reef, a very nice site which I hadn’t dived in years. On any first dive in the Similans, I never fail to be impressed by the massive granite formations underwater. The singular seascape just adds to the feeling of being in another world where I can fly and spy on exotic creatures. On that dive, I was able to find the usual suspects, some nice dart gobies, garden eels but was most taken with some unusual red bubble coral that looked like mini pacifiers or, with very little imagination needed, something else along the same lines!

Next came one of my favourite parts of liveaboard life: breakfast! It’s only after diving that I feel like (and can indulge in) having a heaping plate of bacon and eggs topped with cheese on fresh toast. My husband and I even started adding peanut butter and nutella to this breakfast of champions! I would like to say that I would then eat a lighter lunch and dinner, but the truth was that the food was really good and varied enough where I just had to try a little bit of everything. Anyway, it’s all part of the glorious dive/eat/sleep schedule.

Our second dive of the day was almost an exploration dive as it was at East of Eden, a site which had just been reopened after having been closed off for the past couple of years to allow it to recover from coral bleaching damage. It was a nice dive and although you could still see affected areas, there were some gorgeous huge bommies covered with corals, old and new, and healthy fish life. It was also nice to see that one of its more legendary inhabitants, a giant moray eel, was still a resident.

As there were several photographers on board, and even a couple of professional ones shooting a campaign to promote ocean ecological awareness with the help of a live mermaid(!), it was nice to be able to check out different types of pictures (macro, fisheye lens/wide‐angle and underwater
sirens) and exchange shooting tips with a good group of people in our down time between dives.

That first day, we even received a very entertaining visitor after a third dive at Elephant Head Rock (very cool and fun swim‐throughs) when a turtle came looking for some food and company. It was a very curious hawksbill turtle who stayed with us for at least an hour, allowing everyone ample time to take pictures and snorkel with it. Apparently, we were a recommended address because he even came back later with a smaller lady friend in tow!

I must admit that as a macro photographer, I’m always on the hunt for new strange critters, but on this trip I was able to see a little bit of everything I love: schools of trevallies, barracuda balls, huge groupers, tapestry shrimp, harlequin shrimp, ribbon eels, stunning nudibranchs… We didn’t happen to see the mantas this time around on Koh Bon, but they were there according to at
least three other boats. On one night dive just under the Giamani, where we were anchored to catch the sun set over a gorgeous beach (I skipped the optional afternoon visit), I never even managed to explore beyond a couple of
bommies as they were teeming with all sorts of crabs and shrimp, but I was rewarded with shots or views of at least six shrimp that I had never seen before.

And, day by day, the dives just kept getting better and better. At Koh Tachai Pinnacle, where my husband and I once spent an entire sunset dive just watching the pelagics hunting and darting around through schools of fusiliers over the reef, I was constantly amazed at the rainbow of colours of the enormous fans and featherstars, with countless scorpionfish camouflaged in their midst, not to mention the barracuda ball which stayed with us during the safety stop! Richelieu Rock remains a gem and, even after having dived there at least a dozen times, I was happy to continue my tradition of always seeing “new” creatures there. Ricardo, our dynamic tour leader, always on top of things and anticipating everyone’s needs, made it a point of planning our dive so that I wouldn’t miss the resident harlequin shrimp this time around, as I had always previously refused to waste my precious dive time waiting behind other photographers all piled up in one spot. Success! I even had the wonderful creatures all to myself and was able to admire and study the wonderful intricacy of their colours. We then went in search of the pineapple fish that had been hanging around the site. The tiny creature was apparently too shy that day but we did see a very nice and rather sociable black ribbon eel. I was actually more entranced by a giant moray right next to it which was peeking out from behind a curtain of glassfish. I also found a beautiful yellow and blue, black and white spotted toby which I now need to identify!

Our last two dives of the trip were actually the most exhilarating (even if the last – sniff!)! They were both wreck dives with the top of the first one, known as the Teak Wreck, located at around 22m.

Here, I have to stop for a second and say, hooray for Nitrox! Knowing that I would of course find the coolest stuff one minute before hitting deco, I decided to use nitrox throughout this trip. It really made a noticeable difference given my dive profile and let me linger and really enjoy sites like Koh Bon, Richelieu Rock or the wrecks.

Ok, back to my last (boo!) dives. There is really not much that can compare with the early morning light at 25m revealing a huge underwater structure with no one around but thousands of fish. I was torn between just floating and watching the spectacle in front of me and hunting down what I knew were some great macro shots just waiting for me. Luckily, with nitrox, I could do both! Because the wreck dated back only a few years, I was in awe at the discovery of a mini carpet anemone, about the size of a doll’s circular rug, which had taken up life on the wreck’s edge. As I studied it, I noticed a familiar little wiggle. It was a minuscule sexy shrimp (aka the much less sexy name of squat shrimp), no larger than 1cm, waving its tail around from underneath the anemone. It was too shy for me to get a good shot of it without disturbing its home but I was mesmerised by its little dance. So
nevertheless I still managed to come very close to deco (my computer stayed at one min. until I hit 18m) and up until the last second, I was still finding things to look at and drink in.

When we surfaced from the last (wah!) dive, the crew was already busy rinsing everyone’s equipment and hanging gear out to dry. By then, I was definitely used to the boat boys somehow always being there to help with fins, zippers, tanks, buckles. I have been on a lot of liveaboards with similar service, but I want to give a special shoutout to the crew and tour leader who made it all seem effortless, going the extra mile by helping even with the little details. Whether it was the hostess in the dining area or the guys on the dive
deck, everything ran smoothly and was relaxed.

I’ll be leaving Asia soon but I am quite sure I will still find a way to make it back to the Similans, hopefully aboard the Giamani (I have to have some
more of their fried bananas with cake batter!). Obrigado and many thanks to Ricardo and everyone for reminding me why I love liveaboards and diving!