It’s the final liveaboard trip before Christmas and everyone is in festive mood as we go to board the boat, Manta Queen I. In fact, most of the guides are wearing Santa Claus hats although, with the day time temperature in the mid-30’s, it feels about as far from Santa’s home at the North Pole as you can possibly be.
On Day 1 our guests LJ, Victoria and Sheylin are really excited to be going diving again. They’re (relatively) new divers and there’s a little bit of nervous excitement before we do our first dive. But, as soon as we’re in the water and make our decent, the nerves disappear and they begin to look comfortable. Sheylin is the most obviously excitable under the surface; swimming around like an child on a sugar-rush looking at everything.
We move onto Dive 2 at West of Eden and are looking to see some interesting critters underwater. Sometimes the small animals have evolved so well to their environment that they’re tricky to spot, so I help the 3 guys by individually steadying them just shy of the reef so they can safely see the Frogfish and Coral Crabs hiding in the coral. Later in the same dive Victoria excitedly pulls my fin as she spots an octopus! Also, hiding in sand is a Banded Mantis Shrimp. It’s built itself a little sand ‘castle’ around itself and peers up at us as we hover above it. This creature is a little easier to spot but I circle it with my torch so they can all take a look. After a small satellite delay while they focus on the area there’s the moment of realisation as they spot the shrimp and nod excitedly and sign ‘OK’ to me!
We round of the day with a dive at Deep Six – wafting through the swim-throughs – before a chilled out night dive and a cold beer after the dive. Happy faces all round!
Caro has a French family with her. Dad (Jean-Marc), Mum (Laurence), Daughter (Pia) and Son (Leo). Leo is only 12 years old but is already a PADI Junior Advanced Open Water diver with 60 dives logged. It’s really encouraging to meet a young diver with so much enthusiasm for the oceans. But, in the interests of safety, he’s staying shallower than the other groups and limiting the number of dives he does each day. Jean-Marc and Pia are also experienced divers who seem to be loving the trip. Mum, Laurence, is happy to just go snorkeling!
On the second day we go for a dive at Elephant Head Rock. Elephant Head Rock is a dramatic site. Huge granite formations like a oversized game of ‘Jenga’ with swim-throughs and gorgonian fans scattered around the rocks. We’re lucky to find a couple of Sea Moths lurking on top of the rocks. Amazing creatures but tricky to spot.
Day three and it’s Richelieu Rock. It’s always a pleasure to get to Richelieu as a) it’s a beautiful dive site and, b) it’s a difficult site to get to. Richelieu is exposed in the open ocean. No protection. And, if the wind picks up, there’s no way to get there. Today, however, we’re lucky. One of the other guides tips me off as to the location of some harlequin shrimps and we go on a mission to find them. Harlequins are small and (mostly) white. They’re also tiny – about the size of a thumbnail – and notoriously difficult to spot as they hide out of sight most of the time. In this neighbourhood they’re the holy grail of critter spotters. But, following the directions I find the spot and hidden, deep under a thin, green coral are two of them munching on a blue sea star. I try to show my guys but they look at me blankly. Yes, they’re that difficult to spot! Richelieu is teeming with other life though and Sheylin, LJ and Victoria and excited to see two pharaoh cuttlefish scooting around the rocks. They’re either mating or fighting – sometimes in nature it’s difficult to tell…!
The final morning takes us home via the Boonsung Wreck. Boonsung allegedly sank when someone flushed the toilet and the boat flooded. But most people believe that to be inaccurate and an insurance claim may have been involved. Either way, it’s fish soup.
On the wreck we find a couple of interesting critters. A ghost pipefish and a small, white, frogfish. My guys are getting better at spotting the small stuff and seem pleased. I ease them in slowly and ring the ‘critter’ with my torch beam to make it easier to focus on. The wreck is also caked in lionfish, honeycomb morays and bearded Scorpionfish. It’s a great end to a great trip.
My group are headed back to Patong. We say our goodbyes and sign log books. Nice people.