A Wicked time in the Surin Islands
It’s 6pm at Wicked Diving, all the customers are checked in, the staff forward party have toiled for a couple of hours loading the boat with everyone’s equipment and all the supplies for the 3 day, 3 night trip. With an air of anticipation everyone boards the taxis to rendezvous with the MV Mariner and the rest of the staff.
Once on board we listen to the safety brief, details of the boat, introductions to the Thai staff and settle into the allocated cabins before supper. A few chats and its a relatively early night eagerly wishing it was the next morning for the first dive at Koh Bon.
An early morning wake up call issued by yours truly, followed 15 minutes later with the dive brief and plan from Marie see’s us all ready to hit one of my favorite dive sites; With the main dives being conducted on the South wall and the gradient of the North shore, running West is the ridge-line heading down to depths of 35+. This ridge is well known for attracting Manta Rays as the currents generally run along and intertwine over the ridge bringing with it all the yummy morsels that they desire.
The dive teams are allocated as such:
Instructor Denise with 2 Open Water students,
Marie with 1 Advanced Adventurer student,
Inge with 4 Advanced Fun Divers*,
Myself with Simon, Sorrel (2 of my DM friends) & Justin (an instructor hailing from the freezing lands of Canada)*
*Team kids….more about these reprobates later.
Dive Site Introductions
Dive 1 aka Check Dive – Koh Bon
Inge divides us into 2 jump groups and yours truly has the extreme pleasure of doing the first current check at 730 am, a cracking way to wake up in the morning. Looking down I drop a line and can see a mild current running west for the first 5m and beneath that a change of direction heading east so we decide to jump on the south wall, navigate around the west ridge-line and along the north coast. The jump groups are dropped off and Captain P’Wit skilfully manoeuvres MV Mariner into position for our exit. Descending down to a depth of 30m we slowly mooch along the sloping base of the wall in search of little critters & keeping our fingers crossed for the large flappy things to rock up. Alas, they must still be in bed, no Mantas but we did find many variations of macro, Giant Morray Eels and Octopus hidden away or clinging to the corals hiding from the current welling over the ridge. Since this was the first dive in 6 months for Sorrel & Simon we hedged our bets that Simon would be the ‘Air Pig’ at the end of the dive chewing through his air quicker than the rest of us. As we coasted along the north coast-line and slowly ascending to ensure a good dive profile we could feel the mellow surge of the water movement; fantastic!! slowly pulled away from the corals and then gently shoved a meter or so further past your previous location, its a great way to feel the power of the sea. Nearing the end of our dive 2 male Napoleon Wrasse silently glide by, maybe 1.5m & 1m in length these beauts raised monumental smiles, what a great way to end the first dive. Oh and the ‘Air Pig’…….the smallest of the group, Squirrel.
Dive 2 – Tachai Pinnacle
Koh Tachai (the island) has been closed to public access for the last few years for beach visits due to the sheer volume of tourists, thankfully this has not been extended to the Pinnacle. Tachai is much like my ex wife, stunningly beautiful, can issue some amazing surprises but can also be a right bitch. With the main dome crowning around 12m the surrounding area is a mass of flora & fauna covering large rocks and sea bed. It is extremely rare to dive Tachai and not have some form of current (this is where the bitch comes alive) from medium to outright powerful she sometimes puts up a good fight to descend and maneuver through the large boulders whilst sheltering from the force of the sea. Get through it and it is fantastic, with huge schools of fish darting around, the possibilities of Whale sharks (2 seen last week), Octopus and an abundance of macro there is always something to search for around the base of the dome and its suburbs. Finishing your dive with the mandatory safety stop its a pretty sweet ride over the dome and into the blue, KEEP LOOKING, even in the blue, random stuff just appears to keep you entertained.
Dive 5 – Ao Packard
A slow drift dive along the south side of the southern most point of the Surin Islands with a planned max depth of 25m we coasted along and very quickly realized that the majority of life & reef was much shallower, ascending to <18m we coasted along and with eyes acting like marbles in a rattling jar; literally having no clue on where to look next. This dive site is absolutely fantastic, flora mobs the reef, crevices hiding all sorts of wildlife & larger fish coasting around just a little way off the reef itself. We were treated to so many variations of wildlife it was difficult to remember it all, even for seasoned pros it was just beyond belief. I checked our dive time at 41 minutes (max dive time 60 mins) and what felt like 2 minutes later Justin & I simultaneously looked at each other after checking our computers registering 71 minutes and just laughed. The dive site had us in that much awe that time literally flew by. We surfaced and all agreed that a full day on this dive site would not result in a single complaint from any of us.
Dive 6 – Ao Packard Night Dive
Unsurprisingly everyone on the tour had enjoyed this dive site, so, we stayed and conducted the night dive too. This time Simon & Sorrel elected to skip the dive (lazy DM’s in holiday mode & beer in the fridge) so Justin & I where joined by Inge’s group. Having had a bad experience when previously night diving Alex was the most nervous of the group so I kept her close for the descent, within minutes she (along with everyone else) was scouring the reef and sands for wildlife. We found all-sorts during the 40 minute dive, Giant Morrays hunting, Hermit Crabs, Cuttelfish and Lobsters. The highlight was right at the end of the dive when we spotted a baby lobster, no larger than 4-5cm with a ridiculously over-sized pair of bright white feelers. Keeping the torch lights away from him and using red light he was happy to exit his sanctuary and calmly rest on the boulder, with care we maneuvered a standard torch light behind him which highlighted the vibrant blue colors along his body. After everyone had seen the little fella we ascended to instant chatter on the surface of how ‘awesome’ the dive was. Alex was a very happy lady & eager to night dive again, satisfactory feedback for a dive pro, time for that celebratory end of day beer.
DIVE 5 – Stok or now known as Stork
The current check discovered that it was running both sides of the island & the intended route of being dropped on the east and drifting south would prove difficult for exit from the boat due to the waves. Safety being the number 1 priority we elected to drop in the shelter of the south and go with the flow. When we descended it became apparent that the current was in fact taking us around to the east. Down at 25m the seabed was littered with large boulders and plenty of overhangs and cracks to peek into, with a gentle current flow we had the first 25 minutes hunting for macro and was we ascended the dive profile the visibility and colors increased. More macro, more fish and even a sleeping White Tip Shark. A nice little dive site with the best of it being the varying colors of soft and hard corals
DIVE 6 – Torinla Pinnacle
Inge “Are you ok with a bit of current guys?” to my group, a unified “No probs” reply.
The current was running North to South and it was clear that the boat was not going to be mooring up so we dropped slightly North and coasted back during a negative entry aiming for the buoy line as a visual reference. Very quickly we realized that the visual reference was just wishful thinking, grabbing hold and pulling ourselves along it whilst looking like flags in a strong wind we hit the base with some shelter behind the boulder it was attached to. Ok, time to get those engines working, we kicked hard, hugging the lie of the land sneaking between shelters and using any ebb to move further North. The intention was to reach the northern most point and make our way back along the western side; 11 minutes into the dive and we where still fighting current, quickly signalling to the group we agreed to ‘go with the flow’ which if you are like me – a kid at heart – was fantastic fun. The flow took us through gaps in the rocks and over boulders to the slack water on the south side of the pinnacle, I could hear myself thinking “Again, again!!” and sighting the rest of the group appearing I could see that the thought was mirrored by all. We mooched around the various outcrops and again hunted for macro, Justin found an amazingly colored Nudi-branc of around 6mm in length clinging on for dear life even in the slack water. A shorter dive this time due to the current we headed up to our safety stop and drifted away from the dive site. Not as many fish to see in the blue this time but as the sea bed fell away you could make out the lines of small rocks and old coral that where lay in almost military unison pointing in the direction of the current flow. Not everything underwater is about the wildlife, this for me looked pretty spectacular.
DIVE 7 – Ao Tao
Drifting along the west coast of the island Ao Tao is a relatively small boulder area that looks vaguely similar to a turtle, hence the name Tao (Thai for turtle). A little murky on the visibility we coasted around the rock clusters seeking out yet more macro but with little glimmers out in the blue we knew their was larger stuff out there just hanging around. This would be a great site to visit when there is good clarity. After mooching around the rocks the current took us around the south of the island over some patches of dead coral and more boulders increasing in size as we progressed. Towards the end of the dive we found some Scorpion fish, not uncommon in these waters but they where tiny, maybe 2 inches long which just echoed the “Awwwww, they’re so cute” thought ringing through my head.
The sun was ready to set, Simon had clearly had enough and written on his slate “Beer O’clock & I’m buying”
All in agreement & keen for a free beer we commenced our safety stop as a school of Chevron Barracuda appeared and coasted with us for a few minutes, unlike other Chevrons I have seen before these boys had clearly been shooting the steroids, biggest I’ve seen so far and really cool to be drifting along with.
DIVE 8 – Richelieu Rock
With its name granted by the father of diving, Jacques Cousteau and named after his good friend the Cardinal you can quite easily see how some of the dive site appeared to remind him of a cathedral or a place of worship. This is by far one of the greatest dive sites of the area and with an air of excitement the briefing takes all of 10 minutes before we are scampering down to the dive deck ready to kit up and get descending. Having dived this site many times I knew it was going to be good, the bonus being that we were the first boat on the dive site and had her completely to ourselves. An amazing dive with a medium paced current we again searched for the macro hidden within the abundance of swaying Gregorian Fans and colorful soft corals; Surrounded by a copious amount of wildlife it really didn’t matter where you lay your eyes there is always something to see. The best was yet to come….
DIVE 9 – Richelieu Rock
You could spend a day or 2 at Richelieu, not the largest dive site in the world but with so much activity you just cannot register a full appreciation in just one visit. This dive proved to be the best one for me by far. The wave height had increased so we left the dive deck directed ourselves at the buoy line and deflated heading for the sea bed, 30m later and we where at the southern wall intending to hunt for macro once again. It quickly became apparent that the dive focus needed to change.
Whilst looking down as we gracefully utilized the water movement between natural miniature valleys created by the main pinnacle and outlaying landscape, the lifestyle of the fish became very apparent. Much akin to a scene from Finding Nemo & a road traffic theme of fast moving chaos, schools of all types where flowing in our direction to the left and fleeing the opposite on the right. We saw slip roads of fusiliers joining the main carriageway and the odd oversized body to fin ratio Box Fish carving a route of devastation in the wrong direction.
Sod the macro, this is awesome! Further out and slightly above us, huge schools of Yellow Fin Trevally took their time in picking out a target and blasting into the glass fish creating an explosion of miniature fins doing their upmost to escape being today’s snack. Sorrel became a bouncing board for a school of hunting Big-Eyed Trevally slapping at her arms with their fins and a school of juvenile Trevally attempting to hunt glass fish, who where clearly laughing at them with a turn of speed out-weighing that of the kids having a go.
The shear quantity of hunting (and escaping) fish on this dive was insane and to add to it we had the pleasure of two pairs if Cuttlefish displaying their color changes and riding the flow and ebb to hold their own position over the rocks. A true delight and a fantastic way to end a 3 day trip but alas, still no turtle for Sorrel even though the rest of the boat saw quite a few we quickly decided that if you want to see turtles then don’t dive with Sorrel.
The journey back to the mainland provided us with sufficient time to clean and dry our equipment, relax and eat even more of the fantastic food provided by the kitchen staff. Needless to say, we were all extremely happy with our adventure, making new friends, discovering new relationships and above all enjoying a ridiculous amount of banter……but that’s another story for a later blog.
Not only do Wicked Diving take you there but they are the first dive company in Khao Lak to actively support the Moken People (Sea Gypsies) that reside on South Surin. You can have a guided snorkel of the islands with a member of the Wicked staff acting as interpreter and the Sea Gypsies, lets face it, these guys know the area and the seas better than anyone else around. Any booking made via Wicked also contributes to the local community, 2% of your money will be used for charity work assisting the locals in a better lifestyle without forcing them into an unknown western world.
Photography credit: Nge Dives