Finding a boat for Thailand was actually tricky, as they are many, and it was a little last minute for other reasons, but thankfully most boats were cheap and doing very short or short trips (2 to 5 days), which I avoid since they are not worth the time. In the process, I thankfully avoided a bunch of bad boats, some were overcrowded, some had untrained diving crew. Thankfully the boat I found that did 2 back to back trips, for a total of 10 days, was the Phinisi, and along with the Junk, one of the best boats in the area.
Sure enough, the crew was attentive, well trained, and cheerful. The diving groups were 4 to 5 people per divemaster, which is the best case scenario for the guides to be able to keep track of their divers and avoid a train of divers following a single guide. They also did a good job in making sure the different groups did not end up in the same place very often. All in all, outside of the boat being a bit smaller and less luxurious than the Waow, which was probably the best boat in the business by far, most everything else was more or less on the same level, which was awesome. For the addicts and people who did have to keep track of things back home during the 10 days, the boat didn't have satellite internet, but was within cell phone range once every 1.5 days at most, so that part wasn't too bad either.
Here is our trip:
The views from the boat, from islands to sunsets, were spectacular, of course:
We went to land a couple of times, and one was unscheduled. Unfortunately Thailand has some amount of restrictions on when we were able to dive or which beaches we could set foot, on. The first stop was going back to port after an electrical problem prevented the compressors from working, making diving hard if you can't refill tanks. We missed one dive that day, but to the boat's credit, they got people lined up at night to come on the boat and fix the issue within hours of our arrival. During that time, we went to celebrate halloween in local bars on land, so it wasn't so bad :)
by random luck, I had my LED outfit with me, I don't normally bring it on dive boats :)
The second stop was Similan National Park, a nice 1.5H stop:
yeah, it was hard to carry that rock up there and balance it just right :)
rare colorful pigeon
probably a water monitor
Anyway, we were there for divng :) Unfortunately this season was a bit unusual, and the amount of bigger critters was much lower than normal. We didn't get to see a single manta, shark, or more elusive whaleshark unfortunately. That said, there were still things to see:
plenty of small fishes
nice banded sea snake
nice manta shrimp, so colorful as always
cool fish :)
clown triggerfish are always fun :)
what a beautie
another unusual fish
the only sharks I saw, but they were cute and sleeping in a hole
several cool caves
One really weird thing I saw on a safety stop, was this thing, with a small fish still alive, swimming inside its stomach:
The soft corals were pretty:
We had a 4 dives a day, including a daily dusk or night dive. I was able to use my new video light which had a cool blue/ultraviolet mode:
My favorite videos;
Thanks to the crew for their hard work, and I hope to be able to come back in the future (apparently April would have higher odds of nice critters):
Since I was asked why Roatan, the real answer was that I had a trip planned to Turks and Caicos as my first diving trip to the Carribeans, but the boat cancelled the charter on us less than a month from departure, and by then Arturo and my calendar didn't have a lot of room left, so we had to find a liveaboad during the same week, figured we'd keep the same general area, and ended with Roatan.
I'll start with a quick review first, Roatan had interesting soft coral, even if not to Fiji standards, but the fish life was on the lower side compared to most other places I've dived at. It wasn't bad, but ont a top destination I'd say. The boat itself was reasonably big, but ended up with the smallest cabin on the boat and the smallest cabin I had ever had on any liveaboard: there was no room to put belongings anywhere, so I left them in my luggage on the same bed I slept on, not the best but oh well.
Apart from that, the weather was warm, actually kind of too warm and hummid on land, but thankfully more bearable on the boat once at sea. The weather was nice, and viz was good to very good on most dives. Water was between 28C, up to 30C, very comfortable (albeit not ideal for corals that don't like it that warm).
Here is our trip:
not a lot of rays during this trip, but found a few
we did find huge crabs
and prince albert wreck
almost no hard coral, but some nice enough soft colar
Our safety stop between the first 2 dives was very nice, big french key:
After those 3 dives, Arturo and I went to board the Aggressor, big enough looking boat, but the dive deck was bigger than it needed to be and in turn some cabins like the one we got, were super small
dive deck was spacious
dolphins came to race us a few times, but never saw or heard any during the dives
The next day, we started our 5.5 days of diving, 5 dives a day every day but one. Night dives were worth it overall, but it was unfortunate that the boat's schedule put the night dives after dinner: never had the chance to properly clean up/dress up for dinner, and it was hard to eat when you were going right back to the water (of course, also no wine with dinner).
Day #2 started with a shark feeding, didn't see any of those sharks during any dive except that feeding:
big groupers also came to join
multiple kinds, even
saw a few small turtles
We got lucky to see squids at night, they were curious:
Without our guides, we'd have missed a lot of things, like this burrowing fish:
Thanks to the guides who found us some sea horses I would have missed:
interesting starfish like animal that moved quickly
On the 4th day, we went by Cannery Bank, which had very friendly nurse sharks since they get fed:
during the next dive, the nurse sharks came to see us many times
I mentioned earlier that I didn't think there were lots of fish in Roatan compared to many places I've been to, but we did get schools on 3 dives, including this school of barracudas:
Roatan did have some amount of Manta shrimps, they were fun to play with:
And I even found a squid in daylight, which we followed for a while. It as not thrilled, we got it out of breath :)
it tried to turn into a weed :)
Day #5 started with a wreck:
found a nurse shark sleeping in the rocks
Even found a somewhat rare slipper lobster:
Day #6 was only 2 dives left at the same 40ft point dive site we had done the first day:
Let's end with a turtle eating:
And that was it. Did all the dives from the trip, 29 out of 26 :)
While the boat offered plenty of dives (26), the last day we could have done at least 2 more, but we went back to port and were invited to get off the boat and do land activities. This was fine, but I wish they had made it more clear since we would have used that time to do land activities we had done on previous days by arriving a day earlier. Oh well, so, we did a brewery tour which was ok-ish and a way to kill a few hours until the evening celebrations and dinner (at our cost at the yacht club):
I had a few days before Xmas and Hawaii's big island sounded like an
easy trip, and fun with the recent lava flows, so I went there a few
days and did 8 dives over 3 days.
On the first day, I did a couple of dives with Big Island Divers in the
afternoon/evening to see the Manta Rays. The Manta Ray Night Dive is
spectacular as always:
Water hovered between 27C and 25C even at night, which was borderline
cold for my 3mm wetsuit, but thankfully I didn't get cold (I added a hood when not moving
The next days, I did 2 more dives with Big Island Divers in the morning:
Kona Shore Divers was super nice to take me last minute for 2 more dives in the afternoon just
before the Luau I had that night:
The 3rd morning, for my last hours in Kona before driving to Hilo, 2 more dives with Big Island Divers:
Dubai was on my way back from diving in Maldives, and since it's full of fun things to do, I figured I'd go diving in one of the 2 Aquariums. The Lost Chambers Aquarium by palm beach, also offered aquarium diving. It felt more appealing, especially as they use ocean water, so there is no restriction in bringing your own gear (including camera) unlike other aquariums that try to prevent contamination, but it turns out their diving aquarium is actually smaller, and they charge an even more ridiculous amount of money for a dive ($330 for 30mn), while the bigger Dubai aquarium was a bit less than half, although you had to pay extra for the guide to film you (since I couldn't bring my own camera).
So, I went with the Dubai aquarium, which I think was a good choice, it's still not cheap, but no aquarium is, 30mn felt short, but it was probably long enough given that I didn't have to go anywhere, and the extra I paid for video, gave me some good shots, when I'm usually never in diving shots :)
The dive center had all the gear you needed (but make sure to get the 5mm wetsuit, 3mm is too cold for 24C):
Like all aquariums, they have a small platform you go from:
And then I got a bunch of shots even if the quality was lesser than my own diving camera:
And interestingly, while the lost chambers aquarium might not be the best choice to dive (more limited hours for diving and a lot more expensive), that other aquarium is in my opinion the nicer one of the two to visit from the dry side :)
This was my first time going to Maldives, for a combination of reasons like it's just about as far as you can make something be from where I live in California (more convenient for people in Europe), I'm also troubled by the country's politics and laws, and the place is pretty crowded but most of the boats seem to offer similar dive sites on similar schedules, causing more crowding. Still, it was time to go and try, so I picked one of the higher end boats, Carpe Novo.
I first did some land based diving with Ocean Junkies as soon as I arrived (2 dives in the afternoon after arriving and 2 more dives the next morning before going on the liveaboard). Those dives were actually surprisingly good:
so many eels in a hole
The next morning, I went back with Ocean Junkies for 2 more dives, and they were quite good too:
got lucky to see a tiger shark so close to town
I then went to Carpe Novo, we were supposed to get a checkout dive that day, but it never happened, so in the end we started diving the next day:
We did a couple of dusk/night dives:
we got to see a whale shark in passing
rally realy small octopus
this was really special, we saw 2 octopus having sex
poor shark went for a tasty lure
beautiful jelly fish
We definitely got to see a lot of eagle rays:
We also got to see a fair amount of nurse sharks, they are so cute. I found this one:
One of the highlights was this dive where we saw 8 or 9 mantas that stayed with us for the whole dive:
It's a good thing that I had two cameras (RX100M3 and RX100M7), as the M3 I normally used, ended up fogging up from how many pictures I took, and I was able to continue with the other one:
We got lucky with octopuses, plenty to see, one even went feeding for us
And that was it for the dives, 9 days, unfortunately not a lot of dives for that amount of time (only 25 dives), but apparently in Maldives, it's hard to get more for a variety of reasons (3 dives/day seems standard, and it's not allowed to boat at night if the weather isn't good, and it wasn't).
We had a fair amount of rain, and bad visibilty and low light most days, but all in all, we still had a good time and saw things.
We saw some nice islands from the boat:
The day before last, we got a covid test so that we could fly out:
'till next time:
If I come back, they recommended a south trip the 10 day trip coming back in April-May, or a north only trip (which they don't currently offer).
Palau was one of the major diving destinations that we hadn't hit yet, so it was time to fix that. We found an 11 day tour on the Siren where a group of Russians booked the boat, but ended up having an unused cabin, which worked great for us (all trips of more than 7 days were otherwise full when I looked). As a special bonus, they wanted to start one day early, so we ended up with an extra day on the boat (11 days instead of 10).
The day prior, we did a kayak/snorkling tour with Sam's Tour.
After the boat, we did a Palau land tour, also with Sam's tour
We were familiar with the boat as it was mostly identical to the siren we took in the Philipines. It's a nice and spacious boat, but has a moronic design where the saloon roof is so low that it's mostly impossible to spend a whole trip without hitting your head badly on it. I did so in the previous trip, and after 9 days of avoiding hitting my head, it happened again on this boat too. If only I could have 2 words with the lovely person who thought it made any sense to build a boat that way...
Anyway, while the boat is not as big or nice as the now defunct Waow, it comes as a close second. The staff was fantastic and the boat amenities were good, Even if we got the smaller cabin #1, it was still bigger than at least a portion of the dive boats out there.
The Siren was a bit unusual in Palau as the seafloor was such that the boat could not anchor close to the dive sites (either it was way too low, or too high for the boat, making it likely to hit coral). This did translate into sometimes long skiff rides (15mn was typical, with a few that were 20 to 25mn). I was not a big fan of that as we spent many hours on those skiffs over the 10 days, but it was unavoidable for that boat and location. On the plus side, some of the skiff rides were scenic and the skiff divers were good:
they were well equipped, better than my handheld garmin I logged all the dives with :)
For diving, I had my trusty RX100M5, but found out with great chagrin that the CCD on the camera had been damaged by lasers in Prague and now had visible purple dots on all my pictures. Because I like to be ready for failures, I had just bought a diving case for my RX100M6, but it was a terrible case with so many problems, and to make things worse, my RX100M6 grew a fault where its lens could not retract anymore without my pushing it. So, I had to turn the camera on on the boat, close the case, and make sure to keep the camera awake so that its 30mn shutdown timeout didn't trigger. If anything went wrong, the camera stopped working for the rest of the dive, so I ended up diving with both cameras with an this self built setup (yeah for zipties). When the camera with a non damaged CCD but damaged retraction mechanism, failed under water, I switched to the 2nd camera that took pictures with some purple artifacts on them (better than no pictures at all):
Anyway, let's look at the diving pictures:
first day was a wreck dive in murky water
Day 2, we stayed in the lagoon, due to bad weather and dived more wrecks:
And finally we were able to navigate to the south/west area where most of the nicer dive sites are located and the water wasn't as murky:
But rain didn't stop and hit us randomly most days, it was the first time I got to see such hard rain on the surface from underwater:
Sires Tunnel was a cool dive, especially as I like caverns:
we found a nice leopard shark down at 45m
While Yap is supposed to be known for mantas, Palau's German channel has mantas, although we only had good conditions one dive, the other dive had horrible visibility:
lots of other fish
red snappers eat plancton just like the mantas
They have a local friendly napoleon fish, called Al:
Other nice fish could be found, and of course plenty of sharks:
beautiful Orang Outang crab
Blue holes had fish swimming upside down in the cave, as they often do
Blue holes also had a huge barracuda
always nice to see an octopus hunting for food
this is how it tastes rocks for good, also amazing to see how stretchy that 'skin', is
I think that was a leopard shark I found sleeping under a rock
German Channel had something I had never seen before: gobis that were looking out for 2 shrimps that worked together:
Another unusual thing we saw was a shark missing its top fin:
The area had lots of holes and caves, and my favourite was likely Virgin Blue Hole:
Jennifer found a fire coral in there
deep holes that you could explore
nice crocodile fish
nice school of humphead parrotfish
Al came back to see us
The last day of diving, we went to Jellyfish Lake for a snorkel (you can't dive there as the water below 15 meters is quite dangerous to living organisms, but it's perfectly safe at the surface. The many jellyfish are non poisonous as they have lost the ability to sting because they have no predators (the lake is separated from the ocean by porous rock, which allows water through, but no organisms). It was super cool to play with the pretty jellyfishes:
we got dropped off
short hike to the lake
and then time to get in the water
that is the 2nd kind of jellies you find in the lake (much less common)
there are a few other fishes in that lake
and I found this single invasive crab
A few videos of fish:
Giant humphead parrotfish:
Back in the Korror lagoon, we did a wreck dive (Ijn Iro), but the water quality was pretty terrible:
Our last dive of the trip was Chandellier Cave, which was 5 different caves you could get to with short dives:
Outside the cave, we found a rare (for the area) sea snake, and nice mandarin fish:
We also did a fair amount of night dives and got lucky on some of them:
lots of plancton
This squid was a lucky find, it stuck with me because it loved my light and used it for hunting:
Normally squids run way like this:
biggest nudis ever
interesting shrimp with long arms
manta shrimp that dug itself in the ground
Basket star, a very interesting organism:
Dmitry who oragnized the trip for the Russian group, nicely lent us discreet blue lights that show off some proteins at night. Very cool to see with that:
lots of baby manta shrimps liked my light
found more squids, but those didn't like my light and swam off
Of course, we did a lot of diving (32 dives out of a possible 34 if we had missed a couple of land excursions), and the main land excursion was Peleliu.
The land tour in Peleliu where US Marines landed to kick out the Japanese that were there. Sadly they were well equipped and fought to the last one, infliciting significant losses to the US. Taking the place over too 74 days instead of the planned 4 days. The island has left over Japanese buildings, tanks, and amphibious vehicles for the beach landing:
found a nice hermit crab on the beach
also, plenty of small ones
runway that the americans wanted to capture
lots of crickets in the caves
thousand man cave was last on our tour
they drunk lots of beer
lots of bats live in there, now
one of the caves' exits
That evening, we also had fun on a nearby island we got dropped off at one evening:
easier to take pictures of the moon when not on a moving boat
One of our last days in the area, we had a nice BBQ on the small island:
Thanks to the nice Russian group that we shared the boat with, it was nice to chat with them and learn more about Russia. They were also all good divers, so it was a great to dive with them:
Truk Lagoon (also called Chuuk), part of Micronesia, is a bit of a pain to fly to, mostly due to the fact that it gets very little air traffic and the 2 planes that fly there using a former Japanese built runway, do so at inconvenient times. It's SFO to HNL, then a long flight from HNL to Guam and one last flight from Guam to Truk. At least all of them use proper jet planes with normal luggage allowance.
The history of the battle that happened in Truk Lagoon is fascinating, but in a nutshell, the Japanese forces were on the retreat and they knew they would be attacked, so they moved out all their big ships, but were not able to move out their smaller ships in time. They were all sunk in shallow waters, creating lots of artificial reefs that can now be dived. It is sobering to see the loss of Japanese life that happened there in all those boats that got sunk. At the same time, it is quite interesting to see this slice of history with bullets, bombs, tanks, parts of airplanes and trucks loaded on those boats, and sunk.
Per recommendation, I booked with the Truk Odyssey, captained by Mike, an American who has dived all those wrecks probably more than anyone else, and did a really good video documentary on them, which we used for our dive briefings.
Our Boat for the week
The Truk Odyssey was a spacious boat with a great crew. The food was adequate but not beyond that, and the service was good but didn't match the Waow or Philippines Siren. That being said, it was more that good enough. A big plus was the knowledge of all the staff on the boat and their catering to people with rebreathers, double tanks, or fancy deco mixes. Their biggest downside IMO is that they only offer 5.5 days of diving while Trukmaster had the option of a 10 day trip instead of 7 days. Getting to Truk and back is a major pain, so doing a longer diving trip can make sense, and 8.5/9 days of diving may be a sweet spot.
Back to Odyssey, we had a great dive guide, Bobo, who knew all the boats like the back of his hand and took us in dark corners we'd never have found or dared going on our own. His knowledge of all those wrecks sure came in handy and he was also quite funny:
trying to fin the boat around to our buoy :)
our dive guides spent deco time doing bubble ring wars, this one could make them with his fin, awesome!
Even better, bubble rings with a fin kick:
Some divers had a lot of heavy gear, so our boat had a nice lift to get you back out of the water:
Truk had ok reefs that went on top of the sunk boats, but the sea life was still on the limited side compared to most places we've been to. Nonetheless, we saw a few nice things anyway:
friendly looking leopard/zebra shark
slipper lobster, cute eyes
lots of nice soft corrals
soft corals of all colors
I was able to spot a humphead parrotfish, rare in that area
During the trip, Jennifer and I did the PADI wreck diving certification. It had some useful concepts, but its limitations made it not useful at all for the kinds of diving we did where we were deep in enclosed spaces (engine rooms) for up to 15mn or more at times. It would have been helpful if Jennifer and I did wreck diving on our own without guides, but it was so much more efficient to go with experienced guides, which we did have on the boat. At least we learned a few concepts like frog kicks to avoid silting out a wreck and making it hard to see. I also got to try a pony bottle, although I couldn't get certified for tech diving and doing deco on 50% or 100% O2.
We did 4 dives per day on most day, with the option of a night dive, of which I did a few, but they were not earth shattering. We found lots of things on those boats, despite their age now, and many things having been eaten away by the seat.
Random eating-ware, bottles, medicine vials, and also gas masks:
lots of beer and sake bottles (sadly the corks failed and they were empty)
Toilets and Japanese baths:
Favourite parts of the ships were telegraphs (to send orders from one part of the boat to the other):
Engine Rooms, lights:
many doors taking us into the insides of the boats
lots of light bulbs somehow survived the water pressure
aptly named R2-D2 compressor
many light switches and plugs, it was tempting to try to turn them on :)
nice set of tools
Gas cartridges, gas tanks, ammunition, bombs:
Then, engines, plane parts, tanks, trucks, and more:
truck engine, V6 maybe?
plane parts, including wings, and fuel barrels
nice propeller blades
airplanes fuel tanks
airplane rotary engine
The outside of the boats was interesting too. Several had huge canons, and others were laying on their side and you could see their prop
Rio de Janeiro, formerly a cruise ship, was laying on its side
We also went to dive one the Betty Bomber, a plane that had crashed and was at the bottom:
Then, there was the San Francisco Maru, the deepest wreck you could dive. Deck is at 50m deep and it goes down to about 65m. We only went down to 55m, which allowed us to see the first level of the cargo hold (the lower ones were not safe for us to reach on our 24% nitrox mix). We prepared for that dive given how deep it was, and on 24% nitrox, we budgeted for only 12 minutes at the bottom. While it might seem like a long time, it sure wasn't, and even less so when I was fairly narc'ed (nitrogen narcosis), which for me caused me to struggle more at simple tasks:
We had a fair amount of technical divers with proper dive gear, including rebreathers
airplane rotary engine
I was deep enough (55m) that my computer gave me a PPO2 warning (oxygen toxicity) instead of my depth
ladder down to even deeper where I couldn't go without trimix
tank #2 and tank #3 on top of it
During the longish way up to deep deco stops on the way, Bobo, our guide, brought back the extra emergency air tanks none of us ended up needing:
And that was it for the Odyssey: 24 dives (out of 27 possible) in 5.5 days of diving. While I wish we could have dived a bit longer and didn't have to wait 36H between our last dive and our flight, we sure got to see a lot during those dives, thanks again to our expert guide, Bobo, who made sure that each and every one of those dives counted.
You can get a bit of a feel of what things looked like inside the boats with those videos:
The last day, due to unfortunate timing of the rare United flight to Truk, we spent the entire day and a few hours of the night at Truk Blue Lagoon Resort for our flight nicely timed at 02:50 (ugh!)
The founder of blue lagoon resort, a micronesian who documented what the Japanese did and started the first diving on those Japanese ships
A nice map of all the dive sites in our area
I got to see mud skippers for real, the coolest fish that can leave the water and hop on land
Lots of ruins left from the Japanese occupation
and after a mere 3H of sleep we had to wake up and go to the airport for TRK -> Guam -> HNL -> SFO. Sucky times.
We didn't go to Oahu to dive, but since we were going diving in Micronesia's Truk Lagoon, and we had to fly through Ohahu, it made sense to stop there for a few days and dive a bit while we were there. Ohahu not being a prime diving destination compared to the other islands, it catered to beginner divers more than confirmed ones. It was hard to find a dive shop that would ensure we didn't have crappy dives due to a boat full of beginners.
Our first day, we went with Hawaiian Diving Adventures, met them at 07:15, and were lucky enough to be the only divers that day (just after thanksgiving weekend). Our first dive was the sea tiger, a nice boat sunk on purpose:
Our second dive was "the pipe", minimal life, but a bit more fun with the octopus our guide found:
Two days later, I chose Reef Pirates, because they had a 3 tank dive that was more geared towards experienced divers. Sadly we did not luck out that day as they made us go there by 06:30 (getting up at 05:40), and then left 45mn late while they were sorting out whether they would allow a diver with medical conditions, join us, or not.
Once diving the Coraair plane wreck, they forced us to go back up after barely 10mn down there, even though I still had 12mn of bottom time left on my computer. I'm not impressed by such forced babysitting :(
The next dive was Angler's Reef, where our guide found another reef octopus:
Last was Koko crater, with two underwater Buddhas and lots of turtles (more than 7 different ones, one of which sadly had a piece bitten off, probably by a shark):
And that was it for diving in Oahu, not super impressive, but not terrible either. At least the water was still reasonably warm during the winter (25C or better).
While we were Diving with the Philippines Siren, we had a special dive where we got to see a lot of whale sharks (around 10 or so).
So, the story goes that the local fishermen started feeding the whalesharks to keep them away from where they were fishing, because they were getting in the way. Eventually they grew to like them, and figured it was better to feed them and show them to tourists than to fish.
Snorklers get to wait a long time and spend only 10-15m in the water. Divers however get to spend whatever time they'd like (1h+ for us) and see them underwater for real. I've always been told that whalesharks don't like bubbles (which is true of sharks), but those not only didn't mind, but at least some actually liked our bubbles. One of them followed us away from the food to swim around us and dance in our bubbles.
As for the question of whether this prevents the whales from otherwise eating naturally, they only get fed in the morning, and they do migrate away to live and eat elsewhere, so it doesn't seem to be a real problem. I'm hopeful that it's a net positive, especially if it gets all those people to use the money to live instead of (over-)fishing.
Still, as I found out later, the place remains controversial, at best, more details here: http://dive-bohol.com/conservation/5-reasons-not-go-oslob
I went with a gopro for filming in the left hand, and took pictures with my camera in the right hand. I then took a few screen grabs from the 4K video to supplement the pictures taken by the camera.
So, speaking of pictures:
Here's a 4K video of the encounters:
And more pictures below:
sadly, our friend whale shark had a lot of parasites on it
Half way through the dive, we had to reposition and noticed 2 cuttlefish at the bottom, one was doing a very good weed impression:
don't look at me, I'm a weed
Back to whalesharks:
this one loved bubbles
not just one, but 2, then 3, and up to 7 whalesharks
chasing bubbles again
So that was it, it was a lot of fun and the shalesharks seemed happy enough, at least with us, divers.