Leave your shoes for the shore

I think I am landsick. Whenever I sit still I feel the motion of the boat. The sea hadn’t exactly been calm the past few days. Even during the dives you had to give in to the current at times, floating in circles or gently up and down. In the last four days I’ve more than doubled the dives in my logbook and did my advanced open water course.

On the first day I met my instructor Michelle and together with one other person, Mark from South Africa, we drove to the jetty. A small longtail boat picked us up. We also had two Swedish snorkellers on board, but even with the five of us and the captain there was plenty of space. This day we didn’t go very far. We had three dives, mostly consisting of skill practise. In the morning we’d gone over the theory and now we would see how we’d go under water, starting with Peak Performance Buoyancy. This was one dive I was looking forward to. It’s all about where you are in the water, what to do with your breathing and how to use less air. So we swam through hoops, hoovered in the water and had to touch a stick with our nose, all using your breathing. After the surface interval it was time to make some squares for our navigation dive and we continued with square search patterns for search and recovery after lunch. In search and recovery one buddy is busy with the compass while the other buddy counts the distance and keeps track of direction. Are we going left or right? Michelle had hidden a weight belt with a gigantic, bright yellow lift bag attached Mark and I were so focused on our pattern though, that we swam right past it twice before finally seeing it. Lets say we got some extra compass practise. We’d only had a bit of time to explore the reef, but all the skills were done and we’d had a good day out o the water. It was nice to have a day like this to get into it again before boarding the Nangnuan dive boat.

There's our boat!

There’s our boat!

The next day I walked to the dive center at 6.45AM. I carried my small backpack and hoped I had everything I needed. Our boat had seven guests, two instructors and three crew. At the pier we dropped our shoes in a box and we didn’t see them again until three days later when we were back on land. In no time we were off. Upstairs was a small sundeck with cushions to sit on and a big covered sleeping area with ten matrasses. Downstairs was all the dive equipment, our dining/briefing area and to the front the kitchen and space for crew and captain. There was a small toilet/shower or you could have a shower at the back of the boat. At first everything was a bit awkward, but once we started diving, people opened up and got comfortable on the boat. We had to go quite far to reach Koh Bon, so breakfast was served on the way. We were all surprised. The table filled quickly with eggs, bread, bacon, tomato, cucumber and fries. And this is where it all went wrong. Thinking ‘o, we’re diving a lot anyway’, you start piling the food on your plate. The food was so good! We had curries, steamed rice, friend rice, soups, meat. There was always more than we could eat. There was fresh fruit for dessert and there were always bananas and cookies if you were peckish. And if there was no meal after a dive, they’d made a snack, like pancake or fried banana.

Upstairs, our bedroom

Upstairs, our bedroom

Besides the food fest, of course there was lots of diving. The first of the nine dives was part of my advanced open water course. There were two others who had never done this ‘deep dive’, so they booked it as an adventure dive. When you dive deeper, you have a bigger chance of getting nitrogen narcosis. Everyone hits this at a different depth and it could even vary from one dive to the next. You basically feel drunk. For some people it’s just harder to think or to count, but I’d also heard stories of people going completely nuts, taking regulators out of their mouths and taking off gear. Yes, I was a bit nervous. So since this was the first deep dive, we paid close attention to each other and had a test at the bottom to see if we could still think straight. We played rock, paper, scissors. I didn’t feel any different, even when we reached 30m, so the game was a piece of cake. At this depth you can’t stay too long though, since you use much more of your air. We still wanted to explore the dive site, so swam a bit higher and just had some fun. In the Similan islands, the visibility is incredible. I was scared to go this deep, but it was still easy to distinguish between up and down and I could see everyone around me. Therefore you don’t even realise you are this deep. You just keep swimming and suddenly see on your depth gauge that you’re already at 25m!

The blue of the Similans

The blue of the Similans

On most dives we would go over 22m, but then slowly move up to make sure our dives were about 50 minutes. We had two dives around Koh Bon and then continued to the Similan islands. Our third dive of the day was another one I was nervous for: the night dive. Being claustrophobic I thought it would feel like being in a cave. At the same time I was really curious and wanted to push myself a bit. I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. As we were putting on our BCD’s I still wasn’t sure I was ready for this, but before I knew it, I was jumping in the water. This was a popular spot for the night dive and we weren’t the only boat there. Michelle had already told us it would be an underwater disco and she was right. I could see the light of torches everywhere. It wasn’t nearly as dark as I’d expected. It was still heard to recognise people though, since you can’t really see their faces. I kept a close eye on my buddy, so I wouldn’t lose him. I just had to stay close to someone I knew. The fun thing about a night dive is that you are a lot more focused. There are a lot of fish in the Similans and often I would be looking around, my gaze going from fish to fish, not knowing which one to pay attention to. In the night dive, your attention goes to where you shine your light and you don’t see anything distracting in your peripherals because it’s just black. At one point we put our lights against our belly, so it becomes dark. If you then wave your hands, you see the plankton lighting up. I am not sure if I’d do it again, but I enjoyed it more than I thought.

Sunset from the water

Sunset from the water

The nights were a bit stormy in the Similans. The wind seemed to pick up, there was a bit of rain and we heard thunder in the distance. One evening we saw a good lightning show in the distance. The boat shook in all directions, making sleeping interesting. Early in the morning instructor James would wake us with a ‘wakey, wakey’. Then we had some time for a cup of tea and would start the dive briefing. We’d do a dive before breakfast and these were my favourite dives. I was still fresh and was amazed by everything in the morning. The Similan islands were amazing. I was a bit disappointed by the state of the corals though. Most of it was gray and nearly dead. There were still plenty of fish though, hundreds of them. The fifth dive for my advanced open water was fish identification. Luckily I had lots of dives for this, so I went down with a pencil and some slates. First I tried to find some fish that were on the slate. Later I took a blank slate and did some sketching underwater. Afterwards I would try to find the fish I saw in the books on the boat. Being on the boat for three days hearing about fish in the briefings, looking them up and discussing them with the other divers, you do learn to recognise some. There were big parrotfish in many colors, little Nemo’s or anemone fish, big groupers and many kinds of angel- and butterflyfish. Sometimes whole schools of fish would swim past us. We also found lots of moray eels hiding in the little holes in the reef. We saw a turtle that was feeding and an octopus that was hiding in a hole. I could see the black ink moving through its body. Michelle would also point out lots of little things. She would often stop somewhere to look for those little things. Since I was in a group with other less experienced divers, in these moments we looked more like bumper cars, constantly in each other’s way, especially if we were in a narrow dive site.

Surfacing after a great dive

Surfacing after a great dive

All the sites were different. Sometimes there was a wall with corals, sometimes just little mountains or pinnacles of coral, sometimes a big reef, but at times also massive boulders you could swim around, with openings and alleyways to swim through. Of course we had surface intervals between our dives and twice we had the option to spend them on a beach on one of the islands, so we got to know the Similans above the water as well. The first island had a rock shaped like Donald Duck. We were there right after breakfast and just before the day trippers arrived. There was a path that climbed up to a massive boulder: sail rock. We had the rock to ourselves and enjoyed the view of the beach and the neighbouring island. The second island we went to had a big and a small beach, connected by a jungle path. it was lovely to just float in the sea. The water was 30 degrees Celsius and even in the relatively shallow water we were accompanied by some fish.

The view from Sail rock

The view from Sail rock

It was a bit strange when the last dive was done. This was it. It was time for the 5 hour journey back to town. After three days of being completely away, just diving and being, it was time to put my shoes back on. At first land felt fine, but soon it started swaying. I miss the boat. I want to put my shoes back in that box.

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