There she blows! (Sri Lankan version Part 2)

Continued from here

4.30 dawned dark and bleary, as we hobbled down to congregate at various randomly decided locations before getting together in a loosely knit convoy for the 20 minute drive to Mirissa. Once we in a roundabout manner found Mirissa Water Sports, a stones throw from the harbour; the next step was to provide all our details, ID numbers, address, hair colour, when we last had a shave, etc for the Navy’s benefit. Actually I jest; it was just name and ID number.

Fighting off the rather friendly dogs at the harbour we boarded the two storey boat, the Spirit of Dondra and were issued humongous life-jackets which I quickly discarded (I wouldn’t recommend this to the regular traveler but I have issues with bravado) as we moved out of the harbour. We gathered steam and headed out into the deep blue of the open ocean as Six Pence None the Richer still played in my head and Mirissa gleamed golden and newly minted in the early morning light.

BoardingMirissa Sunrise

 (L-R): Boarding the boat, Mirissa Sunrise

The boat ride seemed to go on interminably, the boat swaying in the swells. While most of my boatmates slumbered on the top deck to catch up from the early start, I gazed around at the sea in a whole new perspective. Being a frequent diver, I spend a lot of time in small boats almost at eye level with the sea. Here I was around 6m above the sea and the grandiosity of the swells had to be seen to be believed, one could easily imagine the kinetic energy generated by those swells to be immense as the giant sheets of deep blue water rippled slowly across our path. 

On the watch

Flying fish skittered across the surface every now and then, these were bigger than what I had seen as well and they flew for meters. On occasion looking into the glare of the sun, a flying fish skimmed so far across the waves, dipping in once to get more momentum that I thought I must have misidentified some kind of sea dwelling bird.

 Mirissa Watersports

Mirissa Water Sports 

The first whale sighting was relatively understated, mostly because most of us missed both the whale and the excitement amongst the MWS boys who shouted directions down to the boat captain as we turned towards the spout. The whale watchers were finally roused from their respective slumbers and cameras were eagerly pointed towards the whale as it whooshed an exhalation, misting the blue horizon as its bulk moved seamlessly, grey through the water. After a few breaths at the surface, the ludicrously small dorsal fin arched through the water as the immense creature, over 30 meters long, propelled itself into a dive, giant flukes cresting through the water as it sounded. The scale of the whale was brought home to me when I saw the pool of still water amongst the swells of the ocean that the gigantic body had created during its dive.

Blue whale breaching
What followed was quite similar to my Californian experience but just nowhere near as cold. The whale dived, fluking as we desperately clicked off as many pictures as possible and then we waited patiently until it surfaced again. The Mirissa and Fisheries Corporation boats’ behavior with the whale was exemplary, quiet engines, staying in the whale’s safe zone and maintaining a minimum 100 meter distance to the whale, except when the whale decided to come closer on one memorable occasion.

Mirissa Watersports & WhaleMirissa Watersports & Whale

L-R: Whale spouting, Mirissa Water Sports and the whale

Unfortunately our experience was hugely marred by some extremely irresponsible (not to mention obviously cheap) tourists who had chartered a local fishing boat to come whale watching. The boat sounded like they had jerry rigged a Tuk Tuk engine and the fishermen had absolutely no respect for the animal, charging up and down and scaring the whale into taking short surface breaks. The irresponsibility of the fishermen is one thing, but the sheer stupidity of the tourists is something that has to be seen to be believed. For the sake of a few thousand rupees theses cheap tourists put the wellbeing of one of the world’s most majestic animals at risk.

Irresponsible Tourists

Irresponsible Tourists

Rant aside we watched the whale for a couple of hours before heading back to shore. The 20 strong crowd variously napped, chatted, ate innumerable biscuits or stared hypnotized at the sea. After a while it occurred to some of us that we were not in fact heading back to shore, unless we were trying to make landfall somewhere in Africa. Consulting the Mirissa boys, it turned out that a shoal of Spinner Dolphins had been sighted and we were heading to check them out. Having previously missed the Spinners at Kalpitiya, I was quite excited about finally seeing some high spirited shenanigans from these famous acrobats of the sea.


Airborne Spinner dolphins

And they didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere on the boat while watching the Spinners was sharply different from when the Blue Whale was surfacing. While the whale with its slow almost languorous movements inspired a more reverent awe at the immensity of its sheer bulk, the Spinners inspired sheer excitement as they zipped breathlessly through the water taking a break once in awhile to do headstands or take flight out of the water. You could almost hear the entire group gasp collectively as they shot past our bow, shimmering silver streaks in the deep blue water, bubbles exploding around them.


Swimming past the boat

To be honest with the immensity of the pod and the non-stop action around I didn’t know where to look and eventually put my camera down and simply enjoyed the show. After about an hour we decided to make a move but a large pod started coming at us with a path crossing directly in front of us. The Mirissa boys killed the engine and we waited patiently for the pod to cross our bow. Unfortunately another fishing boat with tourists on board decided the best way to show their (all foreign) customers the dolphins were to drive directly into the pod. Of course this scared the hell out of the poor dolphins and they submerged, not to be seen again. The stupidity of the tourists and the fishermen had to be seen to be believed. People should really know better.

 Irresponsible Tourists

Irresponsible tourists Part II

Apart from the slightly sour taste in our mouths from the irresponsible tourists scaring the whales and dolphins, the trip was an unbridled success. Unawatune, despite the badly planned development is still not as bad as Hikkaduwa and the bay has a charm that is simply missing in Hikkaduwa. Bishu’s is a delightful place to stay and the Mirissa Water Sports whale watching excursion though a bit basic to those who are used to the more sophisticated excursions in the developed world is still a step in the right direction. If you do go to Mirissa to see the whales, please be responsible and use Mirissa or the Ceylon Fisheries boat and avoid the cheap fishing boats that are destroying the natural heritage that attracts the tourists in the first place.
Whale in the Indian Ocean


Eye to Eye with an elephant in Yala

Back in February before diving fever took over.

Sugathe: Stay calm and don't get excited.

I don't think he needed to tell us twice!


There she blows! (Sri Lankan version Part 1)

It was a funny sense of Déjà vu that I felt, as the boat slipped out of the Mirissa fishing harbour as the sun rose on the southern edge of Sri Lanka. I had the Sixpence None the Richer song in my head again, There she goes, in some psychosomatic flashback to my California trip to see Blue Whales. This trip was totally different though, in more ways than geographical. While the California experience had been purely to see the biggest animal that had ever existed the Mirissa/Unawatune trip was a weekend away with sea, sand, food and good company in equal quantities.

The venue for the weekend was Bishu’s (you can call the gentleman at 0777708880 right after reading this post…trust me it's the best budget place to stay in Una), cunningly disguised as the Unawatuna Bay hotel where a group of 20 of us (well mostly 20) crashed down for a weekend of chilling out and…wait…I already mentioned above what conspired for the weekend. But did I mention chilling out?

After a long trafficky dive down to Unawatune and settling down at Bishu’s, we headed for dinner with Kosala at the Submarine Diving School. I hear they’re pretty good at all things diving related, but I’ll be damned if they don’t have a Michelin starred chef working there. The food was relatively simple, grilled fish, devilled crab, salad and potatoes. The fish however was the most delicate and flavourful I had had in months, the salad was absolutely divine, a million flavours hitting your palette at the same time while the crab was…well spectacular to say the least. To say I took my time and demolished everything on my plate is probably the understatement of the year. Add the beautifully lit crescent bay, the white sands, quietly swishing ocean and the starry night and it was an absolutely perfect night and the best way to start what was to be the perfect weekend.

Saturday may have dawned bright and early in sunny southern Sri Lanka, but since I haven’t slept in since around November 2009, I decided to take a chill pill and stay in bed until the rest of the crew turned up to Bishu’s. Of course I didn’t get to sleep too much as some of the others on the trip came in bright and early from Colombo and roused us for lunch. Might I take a moment here and say the lunch at Bishu’s is absolutely brilliant. I had an interesting opportunity to contrast Unawatune Beach Resort’s sandwiches (supplied for breakfast by a friend) to Bishu’s lunch. The former was tasteless and hugely overpriced at Rs.500 for some sandwiches and soggy fries while the latter was the epitome of delicious Lankan style food. So here’s another tip, avoid UBR if you want value for money, there are much better options out there.

In order to digest our lunch fully, we decided in a fit of enthusiasm to hike to the nearby Jungle Beach and relax in the ocean. On our first 2:1 slope on the way, my enthusiasm waned somewhat, being weighed down by a full stomach and dripping with sweat in the humidity. However getting to Jungle Beach, my enthusiasm was (somewhat) restored. The beach is very pretty and picturesque, turquoise blue and green water, but in usual Sri Lankan fashion, people who come to the beach, tourists and fishermen, seem to have an uncontrollable urge to pollute it and there are plastic bags and other unseemly things lying around.

Jungle Beach

This drawback was however quite easy to forget while relaxing in the bathtub warm waters of the bay. I tried a small snorkeling expedition with a friends mask but it was too ill-fitting to do much with apart from spot a frightened puffer fish and skim the sand in search for small shells, odd pieces of rock and other things that only I would ever find interesting. Despite almost taking out a couple of people with my headstands and flailing legs to keep me under water, I had quite a lot of fun. The snorkeling does appear quite good here though if you can get further out into the bay as can be seen from one of my friend’s pictures here. Note that he didn’t snorkel, just waded in and stuck his waterproof camera underwater to get these fabulous pictures.

Powder Blue Surgeon Fish

It was with regret that we waded out as the sun set and headed back to Bishu’s to dry off, change and head back to the Submarine Diving School for a BBQ they had set up for us. I could wax on about this feast as well, but I’m afraid the culinary enthusiasts amongst my readers (assuming I have any) would hasten to throw themselves out of the nearest window. Suffice to say that I would like to take a moment to thank Kosala, Shirley and the staff of the Submarine Dive School for putting together what was arguably the best BBQ on (and off) the beach I have ever had. 

BBQ in progress

Satiated, replete and all the other adjectives you can think of to imply a full stomach, we took our leave off the warm Unawatune night and retired to bed early with the eager prospect (well not for some) of waking up at 4.30 the next morning to see the largest animal that has ever existed in the world.

To be continued


Dive Log: Taprobane East Wreck & Taprobane West (26/02/2010)

Dive #29 and #30 (and #31), diving off Mount Lavinia with Colombo Divers, Boatman Ravinda, Divemaster Jehan, Dive guide DJ and buddy Karin.

Taprobane East Wreck:
Bottom time – 35 minutes; Depth – 31.6 meters

Imagine a canvas of pure white sand and aquamarine blue, a picture perfect tropical paradise beach with the endless bowl of the blue sky replaced by the ocean. Into this starkly beautiful landscape had sunk a small boat, initially probably sullying the pristine scene with its harsh man-made lines, oil and diesel leaking. Time has however smoothed this out and now it is heaven underwater, the rusted shell covered in green and pink soft corals and fish exploding out of every nook and cranny.

Heaven's Gate (picture courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena off Dive Sri Lanka)

As we sank through the 30 meter plus visibility waters, the rusted wreck looked strangely abstract and as we got closer, amorphous. As we got closer to the bottom the reason for the shape-shifting became obvious as an immense shoal of glass fish obscured the wreck. Literally pushing through the glinting shoal we moved over the sunken ship settling down into the sand at the stern where the fish life was more languid but still diverse.
 Glass fish surrounding the wreck (picture courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena off Dive Sri Lanka)

An Electric Ray swam slowly into view while Blue-Lined Snappers and Fusiliers shoaled. Swimming back onto the  main body of the wreck and exploring the skeletal remains we came across a Scorpion fish hiding amongst the rust coloured remains of the deck while Sweetlips playing hide and seek with us.

This was one of those dives again where there was just too much happening initially to absorb it all. This is a site that needs to be dived again and again to get adjusted to the life kaleidoscoping all around it and get into the nuances of the biodiversity that is so abundant on this small oasis of life amongst the white sand underwater desert. I simply spent my last few minutes of non-decompression time swimming into the shoal of Glassfish by myself and making 360 degree turns in the shoal to enjoy the sunlight arching through the thousand tiny translucent fish, the light rays glittering and sharding through them as bliss overcame me, 30 meters down in heaven.

Jehan and I explore the wreck (picture courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena off Dive Sri Lanka)
Taprobane West: Bottom time – 43 minutes; Depth – 21.5 meters

We could see the reef from the boat and backrolling into the warm waters we could hear the reef rustling below us. According to Ravindra, this strangely serene sound is distinctive to reefs and they often use it to locate them when the bottom cannot be seen.

Taprobane West is similar to Serendip Reef in that you get this sensation of swimming in a giant fish bowl with the endless visibility and the white sand that peppers the bottom. Apparently according to DJ the huge shoals of fish that were usually present were absent, however I kept myself quite entertained with the profuse macro life on the reef. Tiny yellow leaf-like fish hid amongst the rocks while Shrimp Gobies vigorously defended their subterranean lairs. Each coral head, representing half a century to a century worth of growth was an ecosystem to itself. Apparently it was naptime at the reef because all the Red-Toothed Triggerfish were ensconsed within sandy holes with only their blue-fin tips visible, looking ludicrously like bright-blue parrots hiding with only their crossed wingtips shown.

The highlight of the dive for me however was when J and I found a huge Mantis Shrimp sheltering in a perfectly circular hole in the ground. Inching closer we were astonished to see tiny, translucent red and white banded offspring drifting up out of the hole. Unfortunately as my decompression time was ticking close to double digits we had to take leave of this watery birth scene and take regretful leave of paradise, clambering back onto the hot and sunny boat back to reality.


Palagala: Bottom time – 34 minutes; Depth – 13.5 meters

Dive #31, mostly due to Jehan mentioning idly that another diver was coming for an afternoon dive and asking if I wanted to tag along and my inability to say no to diving. This was largely a quiet dive on Palagala, murky visibility limited to about 3-4 meters and a new diver who had issues with his buoyancy. Most of our time was spent miming breathing in and out full underwater to try and get him to sort himself out in between him excitedly pointing at the fish swirling around us in the green. But then it was a dive…so I was happy.


Dive Log: Palagala & Bambadahaya (Ten Fathoms) (27/01/2010)

Dive #15 and #16, diving off Mount Lavinia with Colombo Divers, Boatman Ravinda, Instructor Shaf and Divemaster Jehan.

Palagala: Bottom time – 46 minutes; Depth – 12.7 meters

This was actually my first dive with my own gear and only my third dive with Colombo Divers following my fiasco of a performance on the first two dives. I think Shaf was still a bit circumspect about my diving abilities but we headed off for the short boat ride to Palagala and hit the bottom. Truth be told I’m quite far behind on my dive logs these days and I can’t really remember much about this dive. What I do remember was that I was somewhat of a better performer during this dive though I faintly recall being pulled down by Shaf during the safety stop once.

A juvenile Golden Trevalley also made an entertaining interlude for us, swimming up off the reef and getting quite pally with us. Apparently they are quite fond of swimming up to large fish and following them for protection. Of course every now and then they miscalculate and end up getting eaten (or so the caption says for the below picture from the Discovery Channel website. Our little fellow though just swam with us for awhile, peering in our masks until he decided we were not impressive enough to provide him protection and absconded into the green waters, his yellow and black stripes fading quickly in the distance.

Golden Trevalley vs. Whale Shark from here.

Shaf was really enthusiastic about Nudibranches as well and pointed out a large Phyllidia ocellata in an overhang but that’s about where my memory of this early dive fails.

Bambadahaya (Ten Fathoms): Bottom time – 34 minutes; Depth – 19.2 meters

This dive was quite similar to Palagala apart from being a bit deeper, the rocky shelves of a typical Sri Lankan reef with slightly murky conditions, 5-8 meters of visibility. Again my memory is kind of shoddy on this dive but apart from some Blue-Lined Snappers and Bannerfish the main attraction were the Nudibranchs that Shaf with his eagle eye spied for us to look at. Phyllidia ocellata, Phyllidiopsis phiphiensis and Chromodoris geminus were all in attendance and please do click through to the pictures to take a look at the superlative colours from Nudipixels.net.

I’m not entirely sure why my memory is so shoddy from these first couple of dives but I’m going to put it down to spending most of my time concentrating on surviving underwater with little time to take in the sights and sounds. I guess the fact that I’m here writing this means I did a fairly reasonable job.

What can I say except.

Live to Dive!


Dive Log: Catalina Islands, Big Giger Reef & Eagle Reef (06/06/2009)

Dive #9 and #10, a continuation of the boat trip diving in the Catalina Islands with the Magician Scuba Charter, Captain Jerry, the pirate divemaster and dive buddy Praveen.

Big Geiger Reef: Bottom time – 16 minutes; Depth – 10 meters

What a disaster of a dive! As we swam to another cliff face and kelp forest I noticed P continually clearing his mask. Getting through the kelp we moved into an area covered in red and green seagrass and P motioned to me to surface. Apparently his mask kept flooding and his eyes were killing him. We tried to figure out what was going on but with no luck, every time we descended, his mask flooded and he was most definitely not enjoying himself.

Signaling to the boat crew, who were looking at us in some consternation as we bobbed on the surface, that we were ok, we began a surface swim back to the boat over blue water. This was ardous and long and my leg started cramping up half way leaving both of us tired and exceedingly annoyed. The only enlivenment was a shoal of bait fish that came up and suddenly took off, flashing silvery into the blue. I looked around for what scared them (hopefully not a Great White) but there was nothing to be seen.

Eagle Reef: Bottom time – 29 min; Depth – 20 meters

It took a bit of convincing to get P into the water this time. Even I was a bit freaked because where before we had a cliff face to help with our navigation, this reef was alone in the water away from any discernible landmarks. Thankfully another diver in a drysuit wanted to buddy with us and we descended down the anchor line for the deepest dive of our lives. Huge rocks, caverns and dimness greeted us at 20 meters. The kelp forest here was truly huge, reaching up through the water to the invisible surface. It also seemed almost alive, swirling in the grey water. A couple of times when I was stationary looking at things, the kelp seemed to engulf me hungrily and it took some calm nerves and quiet tugging to break free of the slimy, soft fronds.

This was a fascinating dive, with our buddy showing us sights that our amateur eyes would have normally missed, nudibranches and a giant lobster hiding in a cave in the rocks. We surfaced as our no-decompression time ticked down and clambered on board with our reputation restored.  In fact P was quite chuffed to hear Captain Jerry say to the pirate divemaster that the new guys had done good.

The bright blue Catalina seas glinted as we lay tired on the deck, happy that we had seen our first proper kelp forests and more than anything we had survived!

The last thing to do on the boat was to take a shower, which was an experience in itself. With the strong surges this basically consisted of bouncing from wall to wall in the shower catching a trickle of hot water mid bang. Refreshing and energetic at the same time.


Dive Log: Catalina Islands, Red Crane Quarry & Little Geiger Reef (06/06/2009)

Dive #7 and #8, diving in the Catalina Islands with the Magician Scuba charter, Captain Jerry, the pirate divemaster and dive buddy Praveen.

Red Crane Quarry: Bottom time – 31 minutes; Depth – 9.5 meters

Tired and scared. Those would be the most appropriate adjectives to describe Praveen and my train of thoughts as we huddled together in the leaden morning at the Long Beach harbour, the cold wind nipping at us unmercifully even in June. We had picked up our gear from Sports Chalet the night before and had spent a rather panicked night trying to figure out how our dive computers worked, watching a navigation DVD and reading the Open Water manual to try and recollect what we had learnt during our certification course almost half a year ago. The primary reason for the panic was when we were told that the Divemaster on the boat would actually stay on the boat during the dive and not accompany us as was the norm in the tropics.

Actually on second thoughts, shit scared and tired was probably more accurate for us. Added to our blithering fears about the upcoming dive was that no matter where we seemed to walk in the Long Beach harbour we could not find the damn boat. P’s manic grin just got wider and wider while my breathing grew more and more laboured. Finally we stumbled upon the boat’s berth and staggered on with our gear, joining a motley crew of fellow divers loaded down with bags and bags of gear.

As the boat sputtered out of the harbour with the gulls harshly sending us on our way, P and I moved into the cabin area to grab a couple of muffins to calm our nerves down and try and have a nap. A brief chat and a wary eye on the Divemaster with his gold, skull and crossbones earring however calmed us down enough to have a quiet nap as the boat headed out to the Catalina islands, one of California’s prime dive destinations.
The grey morning turned into a bright blue sky and a sunny day and the brown speckled hills of Catalina rose up before us as we reached the islands. The boat moored in a little cove as the Divemaster gave us the brief on depths and what to look out for and at. Both P and I exchanged scared looks and decided we would stick to the edge of the cliff and the shallow kelp forests there, around 10m in depth. Struggling into our 7mm wetsuits and generally impressing everyone present with our (lack of) dexterity in getting our gear together we took giant strides off the boat, swam to the chain leading to the mooring and descended along the chain to where the water met the cliff. Nervously noting the position of the chain and taking a compass heading we set out explore the shallower waters. Sunlight streamed through the kelp as bright orange Garibaldi swarmed around us protecting their nesting sites. Peering closer amongst the rocks I excitedly pointed out the Catalina gobies shining red and blue amongst the rocks to P.

As we swam along we saw some of the other more experienced divers in the blue depths of around 20m pass us, bubbles streaming up towards the surface. P and I looked at each other, wordlessly confirmed that we were still cowards and continued to hug the rock face back to the chain and headed back to the boat with plenty of air to spare.

Little Geiger Reef: Bottom time – 25 minutes; Depth – 10 meters

We were somewhat more confident after having survived our first solo immersion in the ocean and were looking forward to this dive. This time the boat moored further out in the kelp and we decided (in our cowardice) to stick to the shallower area between the boat and the island. Falling ungracefully into the water and giving the Divemaster (who I must say had a slightly skeptical look in his eyes) a shaky ok signal we moved to a sandy area before deflating our BC’s and starting to descend.

Looking between my fins at the sandy bottom I noticed a slight aberration in the sand, an outline of something triangular shaped. As I moved closer and closer to it I suddenly realized it was a California Stingray directly below me, almost half a meter wide. All I could remember at that exact moment was Steve Irwin and paralyzed I kept descending towards it as it lay directly below me. Luckily for me the Stingray was smarter than me and quietly flapped off as I got to a couple of meters over its head and I was spared a barb in the heart or more likely my arse.

The excitement of the Stingray over we paused for a few moments to get our buoyancy under control, took a heading and proceeded to explore the kelp forest. There were huge boulders littering the ocean floor and these provided both interesting places to explore while at the same time being quite spooky, with the prospect of some hitherto unknown sea monster of Catalina engulfing me while I poked naively around. Did I mention we were cowards on this dive? The rocks also provided a more practical problem because I was trying to swim in a straight line as possible, in order to navigate back to the boat when we decided to head back. I was quite reluctant to swim around boulders (someone of them were pretty big) as I rather foolishly thought this would throw my navigation off but we managed ok in the end.

The major excitement of the dive came when I accidentally scared the crap out of a Grey Seal who came charging through the kelp at me, silvery with bubbles in the blue water. I was awestruck at the grace with which it moved in the water. Effortlessly it came to a complete stop about 5 meters from me and stared at me in puzzlement before pirouetting into the depths. I looked behind excitedly to share ok signs with P but he had unfortunately been behind a rock the whole time and had missed the excitement.

We headed back towards the boat as our air was running low (well not really low but we were being extra conservative) and gave the Divemaster (a hopefully pleasant) surprise by getting back onto the boat completely intact.

To be continued


Dive Log: Cargo Wreck & Barracuda Reef (24/02/2010)

Dive #46 and #47, diving off Mount Lavinia with Colombo Divers, Boatman Ravinda , Divemaster Jehan, Dive guide Nishan and buddy whose name I cannot remember.
Cargo Wreck: Bottom time – 49 minutes; Depth – 31.3 meters

It was a dark and stormy morning as I moseyed down to the Dive center greeted by Nishan, Jehan and our buddy who were sitting solemnly in a row outside the center. My heart quailed a bit when Nishan said the dive for the day was cancelled due to rain. I hadn’t dived for over a week and a half due to a trip out of Colombo to see whales in Mirissa (more on that later) and a hectic schedule had kept me in office. I was starting to hallucinate at my desk with the white wall in front of me suddenly turning into deep blue with a trumpet fish dancing temptingly in front of me. As you can see I needed to dive (though I am wondering with some trepidation as to what the heck will happen when dive season ends).

Thankfully Nishan was just having me on…well to a certain extent. We did have to wait to see how the conditions panned out and what Ravindra said about going out since he was the boatman with all the experience. We sheltered under the roof off the dive center as the rain seemed to go on interminably. Finally getting a break in the rain we loaded our gear into the boat and stood ready to go as the waves crashed and surged around us in the surf. Ravindra though, played the waves adroitly with superlative skill, waiting for just the right moment, the right break in the waves and we got out with barely a splash.

The first time I went out to the Cargo wreck it was a grey morning as well, but that time the sea had been as flat calm. Today it was as grey but an angry, white tipped grey with monsoon like swells. We even had trouble hooking onto the wreck due to the surge but eventually we hooked on after a few tries. Rolling in and moving down the greyness of the morning turned into the blue of the Cargo wreck. The visibility wasn’t the best, 8 meters or so but the fish life was profuse.

As I hovered above Nishan as he equalized a sudden movement caught my eye. I looked down hurriedly and was greeted to the somewhat comical sight of Nishan obliviously and diligently pressing down on his nose while a few meters below him Elvis or Priscilla (one of the two resident giant Sting Rays) pelted hell for leather across the sand heading for the safety of the wreck. Hooting excitedly through my regulator to get Nishan’s attention I exhaled and finned down to rest in the sand at 30m and stare delightedly at the Sting Ray as it flurried the sand, burying itself in it, white flakes drifting down around its bulbous eyes. Nishan wagged his finger at me as I took my leave off the Ray, shamefacedly scattering the sand as I regained my forgotten buoyancy.

As we swam around the wreck at 30m I had a strange sensation. Drifting over the familiar lifeboat on the sand it felt like the mother of all head rushes. Trying to figure out what the heck was going on, I suddenly came to the realization that I was probably narced. The late night out before was apparently causing me to experience the rapture of the depths, something I had never had before even at 30 meters. Making a mental note(s) not to go out before dives, keep my reg in my mouth and avoid conversations with any fish that seem so inclined I moved up the wreck to a higher profile and things seemed to calm down.

The surge conditions had apparently brought a bucket load of nutrients to the Cargo along with the somewhat limited visibility (well limited to those spoilt by tropical conditions) and the fish life was abundant. Shoals of bait fish surged above the wreck as we hung taking it all in. The silvery fish moved as one as a Surgeon fish suddenly rose and hit the shoal for a quick snack. Things got more exciting as five Bonitos flashed by on the hunt, hitting the shoal again and again, the epitome of speed and grace in the water. Large Yellow Backed Fusiliers were also in attendance getting cleaned by Cleaner Wrasses which in their enthusiasm for their job went headfirst into the Fusilier’s mouths. Nishan ever the comedian took his regulator out of his mouth and mimed the Wrasses doing a cleaning job on his teeth.

As our non-decompression time came to an end and we swam to the anchor line, the Bonitos zipped by right under us, concentrated silver streaks in the blue. Nishan and I exchanged happy grins as another brilliant dive on the Cargo came to an end.

Barracuda Reef: Bottom time – 46 minutes; Depth – 23.5 meters

The cut-cake, square-sectioned wonderland of Barracuda Reef rose up at us, the crevices sure to provide us with a lot of fish and macro life. Apparently the resident Lionfish had been busy over the past week and a half I hadn’t dived and reproduced quite happily. A few young lionfish drifted through the rocky canyons, looking ethereally beautiful with long delicate fins, pale white and brown. I called Jehan over and borrowed his torch to look at a goby like fish that was the same colour as the red and yellow coral on the rocks hopping around in the beam.

A couple of Phyllidiopsis phiphiensis nudibranches were present while the regular Phyllidia ocellata were present as well, resplendently dark orange and yellow.  As I drifted over the reef I suddenly came across two Goatfish on a patch of coral having a quiet moment together, the looks of outrage from them were apparent as I beat a hasty retreat leaving them to their own devices.  There was yet another surprise as we moved over the reef as I noted a white, pointy head poking out of a hole in the reef. Swimming over thinking it was a Moray I was a bit perplexed by what looked like some sort of thin white headed fish hiding in the hole and staring at me beadily. No-one seemed to have any idea what it was though it could quite possibly have been a Snake Eel judging from the shape of the head.

I was so absorbed in the intricacies of the reef that I failed to notice my ultra conservative computer had decided I needed 10 minutes of decompression time. As I slowly ascended, Jehan pointed excitedly into the misty blue as another Giant Ray flapped gracefully away about 20 meters away. Two dives and two Giant Rays, life certainly was good despite the extended deco stop screwing with my sinuses.

Unfortunately the conditions topside weren’t as forgiving as they were in the Big Blue, the surge still pretty big, stiff winds and intense surf on the beach. Ravindra waited; hand on the throttle, eyes intently watching the waves before judging the perfect break and gunning us onto the beach as smoothly as silk. A truly professional boatman.