In December 2009 I decided that I would like to do my PADI open water diver course all the way through to Divemaster. I thought to myself that the best place to do this would be at one of the top dive areas in the world - Phuket Thailand. It has perfect water temperature, reefs that are so amazingly beautiful and a currency that is greatly in my favour!
I started the search to find the perfect dive company to take me from zero to hero! I Google searched and came across a number of dive companies but one in particular stuck out to me - Sharkey Scuba. Their web site was fun and full of information, so I popped them a mail. Iain's response to my 20 questions about diving was warm, funny and helpful. I am SO glad I chose to do my diving courses with Sharkey Scuba! Iain and Oui made my experience that much more memorable and amazing. Their knowledge about the reefs and marine life in Phuket has given me invaluable education and understanding.
Half way through my zero to hero quest, Iain let me know that there was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go on a ‘liveaboard' for an overnight trip to the Similan Islands. I had always heard of the Similans as THE place to go to see manta rays so there was no way I could let this opportunity pass me by. I re-worked my budget and told Iain to book me on the trip. I got picked up at 5am in the morning, and although it was way before my normal wake up time, I knew it would be a once in a lifetime experience. After a long drive to Khao Lak (on the mainland of Thailand) we reached Taplamu Pier where our journey would begin. I was then shown to my home for the next 24 hours, the fabulous liveaboard boat, Giamani. The vibe among the other divers was energetic and excited as the boat prepared to set sail. Before we left the harbour they lit firecrackers to bless the boat for a safe journey, and off we went!
The Similans is a group of 9 islands in a marine reserve and closes over the rainy season due to unsavoury conditions. Our first dive was at Koh Bon West Ridge (North to South). What an amazing site! We eagerly set our gear up and got ready for the first dive. Before we jumped in I said to Oui, ‘do you think we will see Mantas?' she replied ‘we'd better!' I said a silent prayer and jumped in.
As we descended I was amazed by the beauty of the reefs and the masses of different coloured fish. 10 minutes into our dive my prayer was answered! A manta! All the other divers in the water were banging on their cylinders to let everyone know that there was a manta in the area. Seeing a manta for the first time is an indescribable feeling. I was mesmerised and I had to remind myself to breathe! The manta ray swam gracefully past, easily 5 to 6 meters wide. I even get goose bumps thinking about it today. We watched the manta until it swam off. Oui and I decided to explore the rest of the reef so we swam on. Then, another two mantas swam past us! I was on a complete diving high! Three mantas on my first dive of the day - life couldn't get better! We watched the mantas for the duration of the dive.
When we surfaced I was so happy and so excited and couldn't believe that I had seen three mantas already! We went back on to the boat and had a delicious lunch. After about an hour and a half we got ready for our next dive. Our second dive was also at Koh Bon West Ridge South to North. 15 minutes into our dive, Neptune the God of the Ocean blessed us with another two manta sightings! Whoopee!! I couldn't believe my luck. When we surfaced from that dive, everyone was raving about seeing mantas again! It's a special feeling being 20 meters below sea level, in 30 degree water and dancing with manta rays. This is a feeling I urge everyone to experience and a feeling I will never forget.
I have since re-named Koh Bon to Manta City! The reefs and marine life in the Similan Islands is just fabulous, from puffer fish, box fish and bat fish to octopuses, turtles and mantas. I think the spirit of Iain was with us on that trip as alas we did not see any whale sharks. I was also lucky enough to do a night dive. It does have a certain eerie feeling but once you start playing with the phosphorescence you forget all about that. Night diving is awesome as all marine life acts completely differently under the beam of a torch.
My Similans trip was an amazing experience and was made even better by Sharkey Scuba and Iain and Oui's in-depth knowledge about diving and the marine life in Thailand. Going from Zero to Hero in Phuket with Sharkey Scuba was the best decision I have made in a long time and was worth every penny spent. From doing beach dives off Kata Beach to going on the boat trips to my favourite dive sites (Koh Dok Mai, Racha Yai, Marita's rock just to mention a few) is something I will never forget. Learning and understanding the nature of diving and being so close to nature has given me a different view on life.
If you are at all interested in doing discover scuba diving or going all the way to Dive Master, I highly recommend you do it with Sharkey Scuba. Iain and Oui were so helpful, supportive and amazing. They opened their house to us and Iain even shared his prized gin and tonics with us! It's been two and a half months of absolute bliss. Come on, living in Thailand and diving everyday ain't too shabby!
Jen crossland is originally from South Africa but is now living in Australia. She came to Phuket in March 2010 with her sister, Gee, having never dived before. By June 2010 Jen and Gee had completed all their courses from PADI Open Water diver to Divemaster. During this time Jen dived at Kata Beach, Racha Yai island, Racha Noi island, Shark Point, Anemone Reef, King Cruiser Wreck, Koh Doc Mai, Phi Phi islands and the Similan islands. She also managed to log over 60 dives in the process. Most importantly Jen and Gee became our great friends and honorary members of the Sharkey family. We miss you soooo much, Jen and Gee. Come back soon!