Monday, 28 July 2008

Under pressure

I left the airport at Port Blair (the capital of the Andaman Islands) with just 17 minutes to catch the 1pm ferry to Havelock Island. The reason for the rush was that the dive centre was open and so was my wallet.

The ferry was an old rust bucket with fewer seats than there were passengers, so me, my bags and my lit fag were outside on the stern deck. This was okay till it started to rain. Mind you watching the misty rain releasing clouds roll over virgin forest and turquoise tropical waters was worth getting slightly wet!

By the time I arrived at Island Vinnie’s beach resort (and the dive centre which is attached) it was dark but the beer was cold and the food, which was my 1st meal of the day, was great!

Dive log:

Day one:

I have no idea where the dive sites were or what they were called. I just didn’t care! I haven’t dived since early March and all I wanted to do was get under some pressure. This is not the best time to go diving here in the Andamans, what with it being the monsoon season and all but the viz is better than you’ll get in England (actually this really isn’t true but I’m just trying to make you all feel jealous…is it working yet?) and rather surprisingly it was a chilly 27 degrees in the water (think I’m getting soft, will I be able to dive in England ever again?). Its scenic diving so we spent the dive in the 6-18 metre range and at that depth there was enough air in the 12 litre tank for at least an hour. The dive boat is your typical wooden canoe with a tree trunk for a keel, sadly there was no lift fitted on the stern and I had to use a “ladder”. I just about remembered how to use one of those contraptions. Under the water there were fish from all 3 classes, i.e. small, medium and large and in the evening I had one that had been curried…nice!

Day two:

The boat ride to the dive site took about 90 minutes and we ended up at a small forested rocky outcrop sticking out of the water in a large expanse of ocean surrounded by islands circling a few miles away. Falling into the water and sinking to the seabed 15 metres down I found that the viz was twice as good as yesterday. The coral was really healthy (apart from some bits that had been trashed a few Boxing days ago) and the fish life was abundant. During the two dives of the day I saw

• Fish
• More fish
• Lots more fish
• A lobster
• A turtle
• And for the 1st time ever…a banded sea snake!!!! How happy was I!

In the afternoon (this includes the boat ride back) it rained. The rain, unlike in England, is warm, so who cares! Especially when the water lapping against the pure white soft sandy beach is as warm as a bath

Day three:

Once again there were fish, lots of different coloured fish. Did I mention that there was coral, no? Well there was and there were also anemones, with clown fish in residence. During the surface interval a couple of divers thought it would be okay to smoke a joint…I wasn’t really bothered as neither one was diving in my group.
Out here in the Andamans the diving is basic. There is no ship to shore radio, no O2 kit and the nearest decompression chamber is in Thailand which is over 1000 kilometres away. So, you dive safe and stay shallow…and you certainly don’t act like an arsehole and smoke dope between dives!

Day four:

As always with some dives the best bit comes right at the end when you are running low on air and today was no exception. With only a few minutes left we were surrounded by a shed load of fish including several Napoleon wrasse. These fish are big; nearly a metre long and they like to take things slow. So plenty of time to have a look at them and wonder how big the frying pan would need to be! As I was turning around in a long and lazy sweep two rays came along to say hello. I was at 9.6 metres and was wondering exactly how many bars of pressure I needed to surface safely. Turns out it was 10 bar less than I thought…which was nice!

Day five:

No diving, just bicycling across the island in the sun!!!! 1st day since I been here that it didn’t rain.

(This is another lie because by midday is was raining and didn’t stop till 6pm)

Day six:

As it was a Sunday I went for another cycle ride, this time turning left out of the resort entrance. As there are only two roads on the island I thought I would go down the other one today. The little road snaked along the coast with jungle on one side and the sea on the other. So much better than being in London I thought too myself as the kilometres very slowly went by. The road led eventually inland and after passing rice fields, farmer’s cottages, chickens and very lazy dogs it came to a halt. So there was nothing else to do but turn my Hercules bike around and go back the way I came.

In the afternoon, amazed that it still haven’t rained and the sun was still shinning I did some washing. Not you understand to get clean clothes but more of a case of getting rid of the smell of several wet days…

Day seven:

Another Monday morning without having to worry about when the alarm clock is going to go off. No soul destroying thoughts about how short the weekend truly was and how long the week ahead at work will be. Saying that, having a coconut land on your bamboo hut roof at 05:30 in the morning loud enough to make you jump a few inches off the bed was nearly as bad!

Today‘s diving was somewhere. The viz was poor and the plankton abundant. Now if only I could get my mask to stop fogging up every 3 minutes I might even see something!

Day eight:

One of the dope heads was back and this time he had a small underwater camera. Sadly he was in my little group of me, the dive guide and him. Not only did he like to “smoke” between dives his air consumption was pretty dire as well. However, as he had a camera I thought he might be taking it slow trying to get a few good shots. Um…no! After 30 minutes of chasing after any large fish he saw he was down to 50 bar. Myself, well I still had 120 bar left. Not happy, its costs R3000 for a days diving and I damn well want to get my monies worth.
The next dive was better but only because when once again he breathed his way to 50 bar in no time at all we were back by the anchor line and we were able to leave him with another group that were going back to the surface. After that I still had enough air for another 40 minutes of wandering around scaring the clown fish.

Day nine:

It was hump day Wednesday and as the sea was slightly rough there were lots of humps to go over. The three other divers (a family group from Russia) were, after 20 minutes into the 80 minute boat ride, all leaning over the side saying hello to their breakfasts. This was good news because it meant more samosas for me! The 1st dive of the day was over a little gorge 30 metres under the waves. Initially I wasn’t really that impressed with the dive but after seeing one huge turtle, a couple of spotted rays, two reef sharks, several large groupers and a school of barracuda up close and very personal (they have very small but amazingly sharp teeth and they look mean!) I had changed my mind and found myself enjoying it immensely.

Day ten:

Well I suppose it had to happen one day soon and today was that day. Yep that’s right, I rented an underwater camera. What the hell were you thinking it would be?

(Joe, if you’re reading this get your filthy little mind out of the gutter for once)

Anyway the camera looked cool, even if it was a Canon and I’m a Nikon guy at heart, but after a short while of playing with the buttons I came to realise that the zoom button didn’t work. Lucky for me my arms can move in and out. Once underwater I discovered that the strobe didn’t work as well…looking on the brightside once again I didn’t worry about it and just concentrated on getting the shots! Back on dry(ish) land I put the camera card into the laptop and spent a few hours putting the colour back into the photos, mostly the reds!
Sadly on the last dive of the day my dive computer finally died. The low battery sound was beeping as loud as it could yesterday but as I only had two more days diving I hoped it might last. As I have no watch, I’ll be diving old skool for the remaining two days. Yes I know I mentioned about diving safely previously but at the depths I’m going to I would need a twin set before I would have to worry about my dive time going into any kind of decompression.

Day eleven:

What’s the one thing you can’t find on Havelock Island? Well if you run a dive centre the answer would have to be the tide charts telling you what time slack water was. Both dives today were running a current that if I had been back in the English Channel I would have put up my d.s.m.b and just drifted. Here, for some reason they like to come back to the boat via the anchor rope. At least this way you can hold onto the boat when you surface as the swell was fast and furious but somehow I was the only one going “weeeeeeee” each time a big wave came along!

Day twelve:

Today was going to be my last days diving but I was wandered along to breakfast I was informed that the diving was off due to the weather. Not being that surprised as the ferry to Port Blair was cancelled yesterday and as it turns out today as well. Will I be able to get a ferry on Monday? Honestly who cares…not me that’s for sure. This place is the only chance of peace and quiet I’m ever going to get in India and I’m making the most of it!

Day thirteen:

Today is my last day of diving. After 10 days of diving I’ve seen all the dive sites, sometimes more than once (this is of course a good thing). If you ever come here I would recommend the following:

1. South button
2. The wall
3. Jackson’s something or other
4. Thingy ma jigs pinnacles

As you can tell I’m not that concerned with names anymore!

I took a camera underwater for the second dive of the day. My luck with the underwater camera continued and after 50 photos or 10 minutes the batteries failed…just as I saw a mantra ray quickly followed by the whale sharks who were both chasing the blue whale in a game of tag!

When I got back to base in the middle of the afternoon I was informed that there had been a small earth tremor or quake on the island at 13:05. At the time I was on the dive boat and you don’t feel the earthquake on the high seas…mores the pity

In the early evening I finally got around to checking my emails, first time in about 3 weeks. Turns out I’m being sued for an unpaid gas bill from about 15 months ago…this should keep me amused for a few weeks while I drag it out.

Monday the 11th of August:

I have finally gotten around to knowing when I’ll be leaving Havelock Island and will be doing so on Thursday. This only gives me three days to relax in my hammock, reading a book a day whilst listening to the gentle sound of warm tropical waves washing up onto a soft white sandy beach.

The boat ride back to Port Blair was great. I didn’t rain so I spent the entire time on the top deck, watching the fiery orange sun slip beneath the horizon. The full moon began to shine its reflected light across the ocean whilst the stars twinkled history from high above me.

I have the weekend to relax (again) in port Blair before I fly to Calcutta on Monday morning.

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