Back to Tulamben: The Wreck

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I’d greatly enjoyed my last trip diving in Bali and I knew DC would love it as much as I did. It was a no-brainer to choose Tulamben and Tulamben Wreck Divers. Tulamben has the fabulous Liberty wreck and other fantastic dive sites that are just off the beach (hence no long boat rides and the chance to return to the room for an afternoon nap), and TWD has excellent guides like the eagle-eyed Wayan.

The wreck itself is fairly broken up, so it’s impossible to have an idea of its size just from one picture. Here’s part of the inside where a portion of its hull came to rest tilted on its side.

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It’s not often that we come up close to the resident great barracuda. My last trip, I only caught a glimpse of him once and it was the same this time round. A group of us practically came nose to nose with him in one of the chambers of the wreck. You can just about make out its ferocious teeth. Pardon the poor picture quality, I was still testing the camera.

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Other visible bits of the wreck included a boiler valve encrusted with coral, and I tried to get some pictures of me trying to turn the valve, but in vain.

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Residents of the wreck included plenty of bumphead parrotfish. When we went in September, it seemed like the season. We saw them on a lot of dives at the wreck and not just in the early morning.

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This one in particular was easy to approach as it rested on the bottom. It didn’t seem fazed by the big SLR at all.

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This poor fella was probably sick and in need of some serious cleaning from the blue-streak wrasse here, hence not quite caring whether anyone took its photo.

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We caught some other less-sick fish being cleaned, like this blue-spotted stingray bulging out from the bottom in its characteristic way, signalling that it was open for cleaning.

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Tulamben’s black sand gave cover to all sorts of strange fish, like this peacock flounder just about concealing itself. Only its bulbous pair of eyes gives the game away, thereafter its shape becomes apparent.

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Similarly given away by its bulging eyes was this dragonet.

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It reared up as I got closer, but not close enough to see exactly what type of dragonet it was.

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Beyond the wreck, there were other things to see, just not that often, like this blackfin barracuda.

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There was also the occasional squid, seen from afar. Squid tend to be very shy and it’s not easy to get a shot of one especially in the day time.

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But the most exciting thing about the blue was the occasional treat of fish schooling above the wreck, like these jacks starting to form a tornado.

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It’s quite exciting when you see a bunch of them forming up, I always wonder exactly how many fish end up inside that tornado.

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It’s such an amazing thing watching them congregate and almost block out the light.

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Guest Post: DC Dives Redang – First Stage

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After much nagging, I finally persuaded DC to do a guest blog. Let’s see what diving’s like from a different perspective! – WS

We decided to go diving a bit closer to home. We’d heard good things about Pulau Redang and decided to give it a try, and scheduled a five-day holiday to dive there. Just for a change, we decided to fly to Pulau Redang instead of taking the usual overland route. The plane, an old De Havilland propellar plane, leaves from Seletar airport and flies directly to the brand new airstrip at Redang. Needless to say, the thought of flying in an old prop plane raised some rather interesting risk analysis over whether flying was more dangerous than Malaysia’s notoriously unpredictable roads. This wasn’t helped by a thunderstorm that delayed the take-off of the plane by one hour!

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However, once we got over the extra bumpiness of the flight and the strange noise of the propeller blades, we managed to get quite comfortable and true to form, we were soon fast asleep and only woke up when we landed at Redang airport. The airport itself is brand new, so brand new in fact that the mandatory fire station wasn’t ready yet. The good news about was that immigration was very fast, given that there was next to no airport building.

From the airport, we caught a quick taxi ride and speedboat to the resort. RedangKalong resort is a PADI 5-star resort with a private beach. The chalets are basic but clean and have hot running water and air-conditioning. The management, headed by A.B. Lee and his brother Tim, are living legends in the Malaysian diving community.

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Once we were there, we settled in for the night and woke up the next morning for our first dive. Being as it was my first dive since my open water exam 5 years ago, I was feeling understandably nervous. However, I was in good hands (my three other diving buddies consisted of two instructors and a rescue diver) and I was soon comfortable in the water. We were soon greeted by the magnificent sight of a school of bumphead parrotfish leaving their nighttime perches to feed.

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Each parrotfish was about 2 to 3 feet long. It was totally awesome to see them glide slowly and regally through the water. It was like watching a royal procession.

Shortly after that, we came across the resident nurse shark in its cave…

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… as well as a school of juvenile chevron barracuda.

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It was a fine start to the holiday. So fine, in fact, that I decided that I just had to do my advanced diving course.

Diving the Similans: Islands 1 to 9

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The Similan Islands get its name from the Malay word for “nine.” This cluster of nine islands is famed for its underwater boulder landscape and the coral gardens that grow around them.

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Some of the boulders really are bits of island and where sea and land meet, I had a fish-eye view of waves breaking on the boulders above.

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It’s also much of a fish nursery here. Schools and schools of little fish envelop the boulders. It makes for a beautiful sight in the right kind of light.

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Sometimes the schools get so thick that you hardly see anything else beside little fish. Even other divers get obscured in the crowd.

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Most times it’s hard to tell what species the fish are. Other times, when the schools are made of fish destined to be large predators, it’s easier. Here we have a school of juvenile chevron barracuda.

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Those barracuda would probably grow up to feast on the blue schools of these fusiliers.

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Either fusiliers or these snappers that formed a school around me.

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While Islands One to Nine didn’t offer up a great deal of hard-to-find wildlife and the visibility wasn’t as great as we hoped (bad weather the night before), there were lots of great opportunities for good photos (including this one of DC).

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April in The Philippines: Wrecks and Good Food

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Coron is less than an hour away by plane from El Nido. By ferry, however, it takes an eternity. I caught the morning ferry and only got there 10 hours later. Nothing much happened on the way, save that we saw an eagle of sorts kept as a house bird.

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The scenery wasn’t quite as good as that in El Nido. The limestone crags were still draped with lovely green, but the cloudy skies turned the water a dull grey-blue.

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We finally arrived as the sun was going down. Thankfully I’d booked ahead and the dive resort was right where the boat dropped us.

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Coron is famed for its wreck diving. An island surrounded by shallows, its warm waters are ideal for diving year round. It was this same shallow water that stranded a whole fleet of WWII Japanese warships and all of them went down under Allied fire. I didn’t yet have my underwater camera at this point, so all I have is this photo of the dive brief.

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I wasn’t particularly keen on wreck diving. All wrecks look pretty much the same to me and marine life on wrecks hardly seems varied enough to sustain my interest. I feel that wrecks, being dead things, are very unnatural and it’s quite spooky even in the day time to go there. The idea that people died there, that I’m diving a grave site is quite unnerving.

Obviously, I enjoyed mealtimes a lot more. The crew made excellent food and there was plenty to go round.

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Aside from the food, other things caught my fancy too. Here is the entrance to Barracuda Lake. The lake is enclosed within the island and to get there, we had to scramble up and down craggy rocks. Only some bits of the way was a proper path connected by wooden planks. And if that doesn’t sound hard enough, we had to do this with full scuba gear on. OK fine, so we hung the fins round our necks, but you get the idea. It was awful!

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The dive itself was fantastic though. I didn’t see the barracuda, later someone told me others had spotted it on the other side. What an experience it was! Fresh water running into the saltwater lake somehow forms a film on the top which traps heat from the sun. It results in (relatively) cold water of 30ºC at the top and warm water of 38ºC at the bottom. It felt like diving in a nice warm bath. I loved it. At 10m, there’s a halocline where salt water and fresh water meet in a hazy muddle. It’s really strange to pass through that transition. I saw the bottom at the shallower part of the lake and it was made of a strange kind of earthy, soft sand. You could dig your arm right inside and still not reach anything hard. Squeamish about odd encounters with the unseen, I only reached in up to my elbow. The dive guides told me that someone had once taken a photo with his head buried in the sand like an ostrich!

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As usual, the food was excellent, with fresh grilled fish at practically every meal. It was great.

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While we’re still on the topic of food, there was this great French place on Coron that served up amazing food, especially considering that we were hours away from freshly imported gourmet food. I had the booziest coq au vin ever, so full of red wine that I had to go back to my room to lie down before heading out to check my email and then head back Coron Bistro for some very good apple tart.