How times have changed in Chorley BSAC….. a few years ago, George’s bunkhouse was the favoured accommodation for branch dives to Anglesey and any suggestion of a more up-market and expensive option (like a tent!) brought howls of protest about the cost. I remember being labelled a snob for insisting on staying in a B&B for the night. When “I don’t do slumming it” Geoff announced a return trip to the Maldives on MV Sea Spirit, the trip was quickly filled and we took all 12 spaces on the boat. Perhaps more amazing in terms of the Club’s reputation is that the crew commented that we may have had the record lowest bar bill – we were so shattered after 3 dives a day that we couldn’t be bothered drinking. What is the world coming to?
I decided to combine this with a business trip to Chennai, so that I could arrive all nice and refreshed in Male, while everyone else was jet-lagged after a night on a plane. What a mistake that was. I missed my flight from Chennai to Colombo (don’t ask) and then picked up food poisoning en route, so spent the flight from Colombo to Male and a night in the airport hotel being sick. Instead of being bright and breezy I felt dreadful and missed the first day’s diving – serves me right for trying to be a smart a***!
Apparently I didn’t miss much on the first day’s diving – that is, unless you happen to like manta rays!!!!!! The group were lucky enough to observe a bunch of mantas on a cleaning station, and I was gutted as they all came back on board saying what a fantastic dive they’d had.
Sadly, Joe heard that his father had died and he had to return home the following day. Maldives Scuba Tours did an excellent job of re-arranging his return flight, which gives us confidence to use them again for future trips, but we were all saddened to see Joe leaving us on the dhoni for the long flight home.
David & Tracey are the Cruise Directors / dive guides on Sea Spirit, and it was soon apparent that they faced a big challenge in meeting the different aspirations of the group. Geoff was clear that he only likes “big stuff with teeth”, whilst Liz & Charles were enthralled by the macros stuff that is best viewed through a magnifying glass. None of us were disappointed by the range and quality of diving.
The big stuff included 4 whale sharks, mantas, white-tips, grey reef sharks, leopard shark, nurse shark, guitar shark, eagle rays, mobula rays, mangrove whip-rays, sailfish, spinner dolphins, turtles, napoleons, a variety of morays, and octopus, plus schools of tuna, jacks, sweetlips, blue-striped snappers and other species. Only Carl & Ray managed to annoy the bandit morays enough to be bitten! We had more whale sharks in 1 snorkel session than I saw in a 1 week whale shark safari in Djibouti.
The macro fans weren’t disappointed either. We saw leaf fish, various colourful nudibranchs and flatworms, 3 different varieties of ghost pipefish, peacock mantis shrimps, fire-gobies, porcelain crabs, spiny lobster and loads of other amazing stuff that Liz can name, but I can’t!
Anyone who thinks that warm-water diving is for softies / not real diving clearly needs to get out more. We discovered that one advantage of chartering the whole boat, with an experienced group of divers, is that it opens up the opportunity for some more challenging dives that wouldn’t be on offer with a mixed group of differing abilities and experience. Howling currents called for a swift descent (“no tea-bagging”) and Mick’s reef hooks were well-used, as we hooked in and watched the sharks and schools of fish go by or even just hang in the current. The lessons of the Buoyancy & Trim workshop were applied and most of us dropped some weight off our belts over the first few days, including Ivan who dropped an amazing 6 kgs compared to last year in Cocos, partly thanks to a new well-fitting suit. Our snorkelling skills and fitness were also put to the test as we attempted to keep up with not one but four whale sharks and also manta rays. It sure beats Skem pool! With more than 30 dives in 12 days, I doubled the number of dives I've done this year, and I thought I'd had an active diving year.
Night dives are often under-whelming as they are in more sheltered (safe) locations, but Maaya Thila did not disappoint, and we saw white-tips, tuna, octopus, stringray, turtle, and the usual range of colourful fish.
Surface intervals generally included an Odd Couple - type debate between Dennis & Ivan re how they came to be separated (again!) on the dive. On one dive, Ivan clearly gave up on Dennis and decided that following Tracey would be a much better option. Unfortunately, Tracey wasn’t on that dive, and so Ivan ended up stalking some unsuspecting female diver with yellow fins (at least that’s his excuse!) However, Dennis & Ivan’s tales paled in to insignificance when Sandra announced that Mick had been wearing her bikini (maybe it was just the bottom half). He tried to suggest that it was just a mistake but we explained that we’re all broad-minded and don’t mind his fetishes.
Sea Spirit is a traditional wooden-hulled boat, and takes up to 12 divers. Compared to the Red Sea style plastic gin palaces that are becoming more popular in the area, she seems small, but size isn’t everything..…. with only 12 divers, we avoided the “diver soup” that is common with bigger boats, and Sea Spirit is comfortable with a great crew. Special mention should go to the chef Thilak who conjured up an impressive range of world cuisine from his small galley: Sri Lankan fish curry, fresh tuna, steaks cooked to order and ginger cake for afternoon tea were among the delights, and he was able to provide high-quality alternatives where needed. Geoff showed his appreciation for the chef in his usual manner, earning himself the nickname Pooh Bear when he scraped the dessert dish clean. His friends were then quickly named Piglet (Dennis), Eeyore (Ivan) and Tigger (Pete).
Mick summarised the trip “it was the most expensive trip we've ever been on but it was also the best and worth every penny. The diving, food, boat and sea life were all brilliant but it was the company that topped it all off.”
Thanks to Geoff for arranging the trip, and to the rest of the gang for making it such a great experience.
Photos uploaded here http://s777.photobucket.com/albums/yy53 ... n=organize
Reports on our previous club dive trips and some of our day diving activities
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