It’s our fourth day back in Koh Tao now, and I’ve completed my Advanced Open Water dive licence. I’ve done 5 more dives and it’s been awesome – the first day I did dives working on buoyancy control and underwater navigation which was great fun, especially navigation. We practiced navigating in a simple square with our instructor, then he took us for a little wander through the reef and left us, telling us to make our way back to the boat on our own using our wrist compasses and a little pencil map drawn on a slate that was clipped to my vest. We managed pretty well, getting more or less straight back to the boat which is fortunate, because if we’d messed up we’d have been heading straight out to sea.
The second day’s dives were even more fun – in the morning we dived down to the wreck of a Thai Navy ship which was sunk recently in about 30m of sea, 30m being the limit of normal diving and where ‘tech diving’ begins. It was amazing – we sunk down into the blue following a buoy line which led to the nose of the ship, not that we could see it by the time we got down that far because visibility was down to about 2m on the sea floor. We sunk down into the squelchy, slimy silt and played a couple of number games to see how much me and Mike, the guy doing his advanced course with me, had been affected by Nitrogen Narcosis, which can hit when you dive a bit deeper. We’d played the same games on the surface and we both struggled a bit more at the bottom than we had at the top, but nothing too substantial so we were fine. After that we went to explore the wreck, working our way round the hull mostly by touch as lots of the time I couldn’t even see the tips of my own fins. If we’d been fishi spotting it would have been annoying, but the terrible visibility gave the whole thing an awesome, creepy atmosphere, so I thoroughly enjoyed poking my head into all the hatches of the 49m ship, playing with the still-working controls that moved the main guns, and generally loving life.
The second dive that day was just a nice saunter round a little coral reef, where we saw loads of cool fish, but this was kind of overshadowed by our 3rd dive that day – a night dive. At 18:30 we got back on the dive boat and headed out to a dive site on the edge of the bay, arriving just as it hit dusk, so we got kitted up and jumped into the water straight away, torches clipped to our vests to help us see when it got pitch dark. There was a strong current heading out to sea so it was pretty tough going to swim over to the buoy line that we were following down, and the current was just as strong when we were at the bottom, only 10m down this time. It was the most challenging dive I’ve done yet physically, as you couldn’t relax – a moment’s distraction by a nice shiny fish meant you were swept by the current into the person diving next to you, or into the big rock that you hadn’t noticed before but now that you looked was particularly well covered in sea urchins. It was still great fun, and after 10 minutes underwater we were swimming round in blackness, with the only lights being the thin little beams from our hand torches and the phospheresence coming from tiny little plankton that glowed every time they were disturbed by our swimming – all in all, pretty eery. We saw loads of parrot fish, porcupine fish, trigger fish and stingrays, and lots more things hiding under rocks only visible when their eyes reflected our torch light. We were warned not to point the torches at any particular fish for too long, as there’s usually something higher up the food chain waiting around to snap up some well-illuminated dinner, but I didn’t see any examples of this. Not that I was trying, obviously.
Stu did his first couple of dives yesterday and really enjoyed them, and has two more this afternoon, so I guess I’ll just work on my tan while he’s on the boat. We have 3 more full days here after this so we’re going to look into doing a couple of extra dives to some further-afield dive sites if we can, but nothing definite planned yet. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ve pretty much left China yet – I’ll have one more night on the 10th in a hostel in Shanghai, but that’s going to be spent mostly working out how I can turn my 34kg bag into something a little more manageable.