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Friday, 21 February 2014 05:20

February 21st 2014

On a tropical Island far far away
scuba-warsThis may be the weirdest blog in a while (and that's probably saying something), but recently I was asked to write a post comparing staff at Big Blue with star wars characters. Of course it was a conversation in the bar, but i'll give it a go. Now, not being a huge star wars fan even though I grew up with the original three, there may be some confusion with star trek and spaceballs in there somewhere. But unlike the films, all characters appearing in this work are real. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is because they do resemble them.. kind of.
Instructor Guy- divemaster trainee mentor and professional Moby assassination double. He's mentored a number of instructors that ended up working at Big Blue, which is either extreme cronyism, or they were well trained. Two such people are instructors Oli and Alex. They look up to Guy in a weird worther's originals kind of way, so, if Guy was luke Skywalker, which is about as far, far away from reality as you can imagine, then Oli would have to be C3PO, as he's Skywalker's slave.. I mean companion, and he exudes a camp lankiness that you could probably only get in space.. all that metal needs lubricating after all. Now, comparing instructor Alex to an Ewok would be lazy if you've met him, so Alex would have to be an Ewok, as Ewoks tend to hang around with C3PO and are squat, hairy and cuddly (and probably play rugby in their spare time). I think that's were the similarity ends, because they're both vying for Guy's fatherly affections, but as far as I remember, Ewoks just thought Skywalker was just some important dude with a long glow stick, and actually worshipped C3PO. Good job the comparisons end there, because it would mean that Alex would have a shrine to Oli at his house, and Guy would have to be pretty handy with strip lighting, have hair, and be quite adept at moving objects with his mind (that much may be true).
But Guy does have a girlfriend that I think once attended a fancy dress party dressed as princess Leia. Though I don't think Big Blue instructor of the year Petra is his sister, but it wouldn't surprise me if she was.. the sicko.
PADI and SSI instructor Luke White is obviously Jabba the Hut because he likes to eat gekkos, moan a lot, and probably has a big pit under his house. Chewbacca roams the earth in the form of divemaster Steven, as he looks like one, and Chewy's language was loosely based on Geordie. Obi Wan Kinobi would have to be SSI instructor trainer Simmo as he's wise and old and hangs around young boys, and Jess would be R2D2 as she always fixes the messes that everyone else gets into... and probably bleeps a lot.
Instructor Donnie would be Hans Solo because he's got similar hair, used to be a carpenter, and must have, at some point in his life been frozen in carbon. But who's going to get the honour, or own up to being Guy's father Darth Vader? Tosh doesn't work for us any more and he would have never fit into the costume (apart from his head). And who would be unfortunate to be compared with Jar Jar Binks? Our fun diver boat Porponawa is obviously the millenium falcon as it's the fastest boat on Koh Tao, and we do see the occassional death star on the dive sites... 
I think i'll write the next blog post about scuba tanks, just to make the point that reality has resumed and we are in fact a dive resort!

Noisy little critters
Now that we're out of monsoon, some little insects have come out to play that are the bane of any dive instructor's open water academic session- Cicadas. They make a hell of a racket and we're well and truly stuck with them. So here's a few facts about them that you're all dying to know:

- Adult cicadas live 2 to three weeks, but some live only for a day or two or less.
- The male cicada makes the loudest sound in the insect world; they have their own built-in sound system. The sound can carry for up to a mile.
- The sound is made by vibrating the ribbed plates in a pair of amplifying cavities at the base of the abdomen.
- Each species has its own distinctive call and only attracts females of its own kind, even though rather similar species may co-exist.
- A female cicada lays her eggs in the twigs of trees and shrubs. She places the eggs in small holes that she makes with a sawlike organ near the tip of her abdomen.
- The female cicada can lay four hundred to six hundred eggs.
- After the adults have mated, both will die.
- Different species can be heard at different times of the day. While some prefer mating during the day, others prefer the evening hours.
- Cicadas have large compound eyes situated one on each side of the head They also have three very small glistening simple eyes (ocelli) on the top of the head.
- Cicadas feed by piercing the surface of plants with their mouth stylets. They then suck up the sap through a tube formed by the concave surfaces of two of the stylets. They also suck water out of moist sand on the banks of streams.
- Male cicadas have been seen to attempt to mate with other males as well as with dead females.

 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 06:57

February 19th 2014

Planning ahead
SSI-advanced-wreck-diveI finished an SSI open water course yesterday with a lovely group of people- A pair of Englandonians, two Chileeeeans, and a brace of Netherlandarians. I made a point that, for their first two open water dives they would see some marine life, but they would be diving over sand and needed to concentrate on what they were doing in order to get to grips with buoyancy control and moving efficiently through the water. However for their last two open water dives we took them to some really nice dive sites- white rock and twins, to take in the huge variety of different marine animals pretty much everywhere they looked. By dives three and four they knew what they were doing and were comfortable enough in their abilities to be able to relax and take in the dive site. This was the reason they wanted to learn to dive in the first place.
Unfortunately they all had to leave Koh Tao straight after the course, and it prompted me to advise any would-be Big Blue divers out there of two potentially important things to consider before travelling to Koh Tao.
First, if you want to come and dive with Big Blue, BOOK ONLINE BEFORE YOU ARRIVE.. I cannot emphasise this enough. At the height of busy season, i.e. now, the Island gets pretty crazy, especially after the full moon party on Koh Panghan. If you want to be sure that we can provide you with accommodation whilst you are diving with us, ensure that you go on our website, decide the type of course you want to do, and then use the online booking form to reserve your room. People do end up sleeping on the beach when the entire Island is full; don't be one of them.
The second bit of advice would be to not come to Koh Tao at the end of your trip. Make it the first place on your travel itinerary. The reason for this is that 99.9999999999% of people that learn to dive with us fall in love with diving and just want to do more and more. The next natural step for anyone who has completed their open water course is to do the advanced course. It's an absolute no-brainer. After five more dives in only two days, you'll be a much more confident diver and you'll really know what you're doing. It's great fun and is easily the cheapest place in the world to do it. You'll be certified to dive to 30 metres instead of 18, you'll be able to night dive, your buoyancy will be much better, you'll know how to use a dive computer and compass and we'll even throw in a world war two wreck dive. Oh yeah and we'll take you to one of the best dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand- Chumphon pinnacle. Surely you don't need any more convincing than that!!
All you need to do is allow an additional two days after completing your three-day open water course to complete the advanced course. So, five days altogether. But remember that you cannot fly within 24 hours after diving, so factor this in as well.
Unfortunately, there is no such organisation as divers anonymous to help you control your newly found addiction, so until then I guess you'll just have to keep diving!

It's a gas
I've heard that the police have been clamping down on bars that sell laughing gas over the last few weeks here on Koh Tao, which sounds immensely sensible to me. Laughing gas is illegal in Thailand, but on Koh Tao it has become the latest money spinner for bars to sell to those customers that fancy a quick high. Laughing gas is nitrous oxide, and in the olden days it was used as an anaesthetic, and is still used to some degree in conjunction with other anaesthetics. The reason it is particularly bad on Koh Tao is that it’s really not a gas you want to be breathing after you’ve been scuba diving. During a dive your body accumulates nitrogen in your tissue. When you get back to the surface you circulatory system will be working hard to get rid of this nitrogen. If you then decide to do a laughing gas balloon, you are loading more nitrogen into your body. Whilst laughing gas has a very short half- life, it is much more soluble in your tissue than nitrogen or oxygen in isolation. Therefore it can put you at risk of developing symptoms of decompression sickness, even if you didn’t have any before. Furthermore, laughing gas is pretty bad for you if you have a little bit of trapped air in your ears or sinuses, which can be commonplace after diving- the gas will usually work its way out in its own time. Laughing gas can cause the trapped gas to expand, which will cause more pain and potentially damage the ears.
So the sooner it’s eliminated from Koh Tao, the better.

 

Sunday, 16 February 2014 15:11

February 17th 2014

Come on you blues
Big-blue-dolphinsAnother massive victory for the Big Blue instructor, divemaster, and DMT football team yesterday morning; 3-1 to the "Big Blue dolphins" no less. It was a very local Derby as their opponents were the Big Blue restaurant and equipment room boys. I wasn't present at any point of the game, but I'm pretty sure there would have been lots of friendly advice from the players and fans along the lines of "play it wide", "keep it", "to me, to you", and "you're on my team you idiot". Pretty technical stuff. Instructor Andy was snapping away with his camera from the sidelines and grabbed some lovely shots of the action, which you can see on our facebook page. Most endearing photo of the game goes to PADI and SSI instructor Neil, who, after probably running around for a whole 3 minutes, duly substituted himself for a nice refreshing smoke break.. lovely stuff!
The players have received a bit of a psychological boost recently by having some very fetching kits made up. Blue shorts (of course), blue tops, nicknames on the back and a lovely big dolphin on the front. A few of the players have also invested in proper football boots and shin pads, and I think there will probably be a team masseuse standing by before the next big match. The team bus has also apparently been ordered. But before they go on a national tour there'll be lots more local friendly games to enable them to further hone their craft. Of course the best bit of the entire day was having a celebration breakfast at Greasy Spoon- a local health food cafe in Mae Hadd.
So well done Simo's giants.. the weirdest line up of humans the world has seen since Sylvester Stallone's team on the film Escape to victory! 

Bacon blues
I would love for someone to explain to me why it is that the bacon on Koh Tao tastes really weird. Never anywhere on the Island have I been able to have a lovely bacon sandwich and enjoy it with a bit of Daddy's sauce or ketchup, it just tastes wrong. Yet if you go to Koh Samui bacon actually tastes normal. I often stay at a lovely hotel called Cocooning in Fisherman's village, run by ex-Big Blue instructor Dave Gatty, and you can enjoy your morning coffee with a lovely bacon butty. It's just a complete mystery why this isn't the case on Koh Tao. If anybody knows why it tastes so bad can they please inform the local butcher what they're doing wrong, as i'm dreaming of bacon way too much lately. Someone please send over a packet of frazzles from the UK!

Friday, 14 February 2014 05:41

February 14th 2014

Happy buddy day
buddy-systemI guess I can't completely avoid the fact that it's Valentine's Day, but this is a diving blog so I’m hardly going to drone on about Christian Martyrs or Al Capone. But if I were to relate it to diving, the closest thing that springs to mind is the buddy system.
When you learn how to dive, one of the most important things you learn as that you never ever ever ever ever ever ever dive alone. Why not? You can't talk underwater so who cares whether you go for a nice little dive on your lonesome? Well, there are numerous reasons why not. First of all, being allegedly a social species, it's always nice to go for a dive with someone else so you can see the amazing-ness of the underwater world and relate it to someone who had the same experience. Secondly, it’s always nice to have someone looking out for you, after all, some people are more absent minded than others and easily distracted from such mundane tasks as monitoring their air supply, or wandering way off the dive site. But also, with your scuba gear you have one cylinder of air. Although scuba equipment is very reliable, you don’t want to have a problem and have to deal with it by yourself. I mean, you might get in a huff with your equipment and start sulking, and refuse to help yourself, because that regulator just has to learn... Diving with a buddy means you have two cylinders of air, two pairs of arms and legs, four regulators, two dive knives, and hopefully two brains. Always nice to have a back-up.
So the next time you go diving and your buddy just disappears off to explore , and you spent the entire dive just keeping an eye on them and trying to keep up with them, you might want to think about making friends with another diver. Just don't get carried away when you meet them and open the conversation by asking if they want to join the 10 metre club..

Table for two
It’s that time of the month again where Koh Tao winds down a little in preparation for the incoming hoards of people after the full moon party on Koh Panghan on the 15th. The timing may be perfect for those couples on Koh Tao that haven’t been very organized with regard to Valentine’s Day; they may actually get a table at the restaurant they want to eat at. Personally I’d rather go out for dinner on any other night of the year where I won’t be surrounded by other couples staring into each other’s eyes, just because the calendar has spoken.
But no doubt there will be all sorts of marriage proposals in between the poppadums and Chicken tikka masala. Maybe even without mango chutney being stuck in anyone’s teeth. Someone will usually propose marriage underwater via sign language or slate, and there’s always the chance of an underwater marriage ceremony, complete with chairs and marriage register. The usher’s role would probably be different though, there will always be an air pig in the audience so they’ll be ascent escorts so as not to disrupt proceedings. Of course this will all change if SNUBA diving ever finds it’s way onto the Island. But I digress. Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. Hopefully they said yes!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 07:23

February 12th 2014

Big Blue photography competition
big-blue-photography-competitionNational Geographic stand aside, there's a new photography competition in town, to be hosted by.... Us! Many of our fun divers bring their own fancy photography equipment with them when they dive with us, and some of the pictures they produce are amazing. So we thought why not showcase the best ones and raise some money for marine conservation at the same time? Some people like to take a standard underwater camera on their dives, and are happy to just snap away in the hope of capturing something worthwhile. Others are already very accomplished photographers, and have clearly spent a lot of time and money combining photography with diving. If you put little wheels on some of the cameras they have, they could easily be mistaken for the Mars rover! These guys know exactly what they're looking for to get a great shot, and with the help of our divemasters, they will also find it, whether it's a nudibranch, or a school of barracuda.
The theme of the competition is Koh Tao Island, and photos elligible for judging must be related to conservation, or have a caption relating to conservation. So even if you're a landlubber that has no intention of even snorkeling, you can still enter the competition.
Now here's the best bit, the prizes... 1st prize will be a free place on one of our full day trips that we regularly run to Chumphon marine park, with incredible diving and no other dive resorts anywhere near (we're the only one that goes there!). 2nd prize is a free half-day coral and coral nursery workshop with Big Blue Conservation. We'll teach you about everything and anything you want to know about coral and coral conservation. 3rd prize is a very stylish Big Blue eco t-shirt and cotton bag for life. Each entry you make will cost 200THB. But you can enter 3 photos for only 500THB! The submission/fee deadline is the 31st March, and final judging will take place on 4th April. Send in your photos to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or drop them off in our shop (USB, CD, DVD), along with your entry fee. All proceeds from the competition will go to shark conservation and anti-shark finning projects.
I might even enter myself. I'm amazing with a goPro. That is, if you want to see 100 photos of my finger...

Whales of blue
Here's a few facts about the blue whale, as supplied by onekind.org You may have heard some them before, but they are so mind boggling it never ceases to amaze me when I read them.

blue-whale-big-blue- The Blue Whale is the largest creature ever to have lived on earth.
- Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant. Their hearts, as much as a car.
-Amazingly, however, this giant of the ocean feeds on some of the smallest marine life – tiny shrimplike animals called krill.
- A single adult blue whale can consume 3,6000kg of krill a day.
- They mainly catch their food by diving, and descend to depths of approximately 500m.
- The whale’s mouth has a fascinating row of plates fringed with bristles to help it filter its’ main source of food – Plankton from the water. There is what looks like a moustache of long bristles on the end of each plate to help it hold the minute prey. With each mouthful, the whale can hold up to 5,000kg of water and plankton. Having forced the water out of its mouth, the whale licks these bristles with its fleshy tongue.
- Although the blue whale is a deep-water hunter, as a mammal, it must come to the surface of the sea to breathe. When it surfaces, it exhales air out of a blowhole in a cloud of pressurized vapour that rises vertically above the water for up to 9m.
- Blue whales occasionally swim in small groups but usually alone or in pairs. They are thought to form close attachments.
- In spite of their bulk, these graceful swimmers cruise the ocean at over 8km/h, and can reach speeds of over 30km/h.
- Though we can’t hear them, blue whales are one of the loudest animals on the planet, communicating with each other using a series of low frequency pulses, groans, and moans. It is thought that in good conditions blue whales can hear each over distances of up to 1,600km. Scientists think they use these vocalizations not only to communicate, but, along with their excellent hearing, to sonar-navigate the dark deep oceans.
- Females breed only once every three years and gestation is between 11-12months. Females usually only have one young.
- A baby blue whale (calf) emerges weighing up to 2,7000kg and up to 8m long. New born whales are helped to the surface of the water by their mothers and are often encouraged (nudged) by other females so that they can take their first breath of air.
- The calf is suckled in the water, drinking more than 600 litres of milk each day and gaining about 90kg every day for its first year.
- Blue whales have few predators but are known to fall victim to attacks by sharks and killer whales, and many are injured or die each year from impacts with large ships.
- It is thought that whales feel emotions.
- Intensive hunting in the 1900s by whalers seeking whale oil drove them to the brink of extinction. Hundreds of thousands of whales were killed. The 1966 International Whaling Commission finally gave them protection, although they have only recovered slightly since then. Blue whales are currently classified as endangered on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List. It is estimated that only 10,000-25,000 blue whales now swim the world's oceans.

Monday, 10 February 2014 05:11

February 10th 2014

That’s heavy man
weightbelt Learning to dive can be an exhilarating and, without sounding too cheesy, for some people a life-changing experience. Taking your first breaths underwater makes you suddenly realize that there is literally a whole new world waiting to be discovered. But before you can dive around with ease, you'll need to learn some fundamental skills, such as buoyancy control and how to move in the water efficiently.
You’ll hear it over and over again that buoyancy is the key to becoming a good diver, and it’s true. But the secret to good buoyancy is also ensuring that you are correctly weighted.
We all have to wear weights when we dive in order to counteract our body’s own buoyancy. Most people will be neutrally buoyant whilst floating naked at the surface; they just don’t get too much opportunity to practice it! How dense your muscles, bones and fat are, combined with the thickness, age, and type of wetsuit will determine how much weight you are going to need when you decide to not dive naked.
Many diving instructors overweight beginner divers so that they don’t float up to the surface easily. After all, they’re going to be easier to deal with if they’re actually underwater! But that student will need to add a fair bit of air to their BC to stop them dragging along the bottom. If they rise up a bit, Boyle's law will take over and they'll have to get rid of all that expanding air. So for a while they'll be like a yo yo- wasting air and making their ears work harder than they need to. So it can take a lot more time for them to understand how to control their buoyancy. I would rather start my students if anything a little light, so that they are not having to add anywhere near the amount of air into their BC. I also brief that they should use their lungs to come back down if they find they are a little “floaty”. If they are consistently finding it hard to stay down I can give easily them an extra weight. The closer they are to having the right amount of weight, the less they will be adding and removing air through their BC, and thus the less they will be moving up and down in the water column.
On the advanced course, a lot of emphasis is placed on using the lungs to fine tune buoyancy, so the quicker the head start a student gets in their open water, the better. However, more often than not, on the buoyancy dive no mention is placed on correct weighting. Some instructors will perform a buoyancy check on a student and help refine the amount of weights they need, especially if they haven’t dived with them before or the student hasn’t dived in a while and can’t remember how many weights they normally have. But that's it.
But weighting is one of those things that the student needs to understand, so they can start to take responsibility for themselves as an autonomous diver. The least weird analogy I can think of would be learning to ride a bike as a young kid. At some point you become adept enough that your parents will take those stabilisers off. But with diving it’s your decision as to when to take the stabilisers off, and you have to experiment. If you’re being led by a dive professional on a dive, it’s always a good idea to discuss it with them, but if you want to experiment with having, for example one less weight just give it a go, your dive leader can always carry an extra weight during the dive.
To know how much weight you need, you have to be able to stay comfortably at 5 metres at the end of your dive during your safety stop. Air, like anything else, has a weight, and as you breathe through your supply, your tank is getting lighter. This can be a 2kg difference from the beginning to the end of the dive. So at the beginning of any dive you will be a little bit negatively buoyant. You don’t want to increase that by having too many weights. Statistics show that most divers that get into trouble are usually found to have been badly over-weighted. Remember, the deeper you go, the more negatively buoyant you become. If you’re a fun diver, you should hopefully be following this article. If you’re planning on learning how to dive and have read this far, hopefully you’ll be a dream student. But don’t worry; your instructor at Big Blue will help you get the weight you need. But remember, if we ask you to carry more weight than your friend, we’re not saying you’re fat!

Turtle traps
chinese-lanternsSo, you come to a tropical Island like Koh Samui or Koh Tao and, as you’re walking along the beach at night a friendly Thai approaches and asks if you’d like to buy a lantern to launch into the air, with a personalized message attached for good luck. Very romantic. But let’s think of it another way. How about a Thai person comes up to you, hands you some metal wire and some paper fabric, then says that you have to get in a boat, travel a kilometer out to sea and then throw it all into the ocean.. Sounds bad? Well that’s exactly what you’re doing if you chose the first experience! I don’t care how romantic or sentimental it all sounds, you’re basically littering the ocean.. So don’t do it!
To top it all off, when the wire mesh falls back into the ocean, it settles on the bottom and turtles come along to investigate it and get stuck. They then find it very difficult to get back to the surface to breathe, and often drown. So now you’ve read this, please don’t even go near the lantern sellers. They don’t understand the effects of what they are selling, they are just trying to make a living, but if no-one buys them they’ll quickly move on to sell something else.

Friday, 07 February 2014 08:47

February 8th 2014

TV show recruiting now!
bangkok-flyer-keo-filmsExciting news for all you budding films stars out there.. sort of. We’ve been contacted by a film production company that is planning to do a TV show, following various people as they visit Thailand, beginning with their arrival at Bangkok airport and presumably ending there too at the end of their trip. They are particularly interested in people that are planning to go diving, getting married, having some kind of medical treatment, taking part in a sporting event (i.e. Muay Thai, but maybe tiddlywinks too), or travelling in search of spiritual enlightenment.
They have asked for our help to spread the word as they seem very keen that at least one of the people that they film comes to dive with us (why would they go elsewhere anyway!?).
So here’s your chance to get your name in lights, handprints on Broadway, get a bit of red carpet treatment or whatever else happens in a documentary these days. One thing’s for sure, if you are picked because you want to learn how to dive, you’ll certainly get the red carpet treatment from us.
So dust off your costumes and get in touch with Keo Films by emailing them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. just don’t forget that your mum and dad may end up watching what you’re up to!
It’s a shame they don’t want to film some of our staff as they go about their day, but then again I think the world is pretty familiar with the likes of David Brent by now. We could throw a few of our staff the film makers way though. It would be the perfect medium for Steven to prove that he really is the best divemaster in Asia (or did he say Asda?), and Guy would finally find a way to put all those financial irregularity allegations to bed. Neil could perhaps prove once and for all that he’s not Elvis, and Nick could dust off his drum & bass vinyls, which may or may not blow his cover as an SAS operative . It would all make for some cracking telly!

Not so bright but early
Getting up at silly o’clock yesterday morning to get the Lomprayah to Koh Samui, I’d forgotten about the stuff that goes on on Koh Tao to keep things running smooth for all the visitors to this amazing place. Eveything we have on the Island comes in from the mainland via the ferries. So at 5am the roads are full of cars and trucks coming off the night ferry, delivering to the local resorts and businesses. Street food vendors are firing up their cooking pans, ready to feed anyone that passes by, and those travellers that are on a tight schedule are waiting to get on the first ferry out of here so that they can fit in as much as possible on their tours of Thailand. I would love to know what is produced locally on the Island, lots of fruit and vegetables, and rainwater is collected on each building, but drinking water, furniture, metal, vehicle parts, diving consumables, household appliances, gases for cooking and cooking implements, I could go on and on. The wifi being as it is I can only assume that the data is delivered daily in actual packets…
Anyway, we’re pretty dependent here, and forget that there is a small army of people keeping everything going behind the scenes. So thanks very much, whoever you all are!

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 16:37

February 6th 2014

Waverunner is go!
waverunner-refurbishmentIt’s all happening here at the moment, boat-wise. It all started with our acquisition of MV Waverunner last year. We wanted to basically rebuild her, as she’s a fantastic boat but the Feng Shui was all over the place and was interfering with the captain’s chakra, or something. But seeing as it was so busy last year we had to keep using her until it was quiet enough to send her off to be refurbished, right up until November. But that process is now well underway. Big Blue’s head naval architect and most inappropriately tattooed dive instructor mini-Ant is currently in Chumphon on a jolly, I mean overseeing the work that is being done on her. First glance of the photos show her to be in a pretty sorry state (like most of Ant’s women), but actually the messiest part of the refurb has already been done. She’s been gutted back to the main structure. So now the work of building her up to how we want her can begin. 
Ant is quoted as saying “Chumphon is not very cosmopolitan is it, I mean, where the hell am I going to get my vanilla mocha-locha-chino latte from? Everyone knows that architects just sit around all day drinking coffee and playing with lego. But at least I went to see a big pretty boat in the harbour today.” The project is clearly safe in his hands. 
In the meantime, the rest of the Big Blue fleet are holding the fort- Ao Meung, Porponawa, and Big Blue. MV Banzai set sail for Chumphon yesterday for its annual service and lick of paint, so we are renting a boat while it’s gone. That means that until waverunner is back, we will have FOUR dive boats currently in use. One for the fun divers only, so they are not restricted in the dive sites they want to visit, one for the tech divers and freedivers, so they can find more challenging sites with greater depth, and two for people doing courses such as open water, advanced, and rescue diver. Most of the dive resorts on Koh Tao only have one boat to accommodate everyone on.. yet another reason to come to Big Blue.
I can only imagine how mini Ant and P’Piak, the captain of Banzai, are whiling away the evenings, swapping knitting stories and keeping each other warm.
The only other question is, when waverunner returns, shall we rename her? If so, what is she to be called? Let us know by posting on our facebook page here.

Nice view
Anyone that has visited Koh Tao will tell you that it is as beautiful a place in person as it is in a glossy holiday brochure. If you’re staying on a budget you’ll be staying somewhere in Mae Hadd in a guesthouse, or in Sairee in a hostel, and you’ll have to walk to get the view you want (not very far I might add). But if you’ve booked a luxury holiday, you’ll want luxury accommodation to go with it. You won’t have to look far to find it. If you choose Sairee, you can travel North on the main road and then turn right near the whale skeleton all the way up into the centre of the Island. All the way up means higher up. Higher up means stunning views. There are villas up in the hills that have their own affinity pools, and huge balconies to sit on whilst you take in Sairee below you and watch the Sun go down.
Alternatively you could go remote and find a holiday let on the South or East of the Island. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of Sairee and Mae Hadd, nice and quiet. Again you’ll be high up, so the views are incredible. You’ll be able to watch the Sun rise instead and be only a stone’s throw away from Tanote bay or Ao Leuk bay to service all your lounging and snorkelling needs. With Koh Panghan and Shark Island on the horizon, there are far worse places to be.
These resorts are all online, so you won’t have to google very far to get what you want.

Monday, 03 February 2014 15:50

February 4th 2014

Local wrecks for technical divers
unicorn-wreckThe last few blog posts have all been about the wrecks that lie in and around the waters of Koh Tao. They all have one thing in common- they are all accessible to recreational divers. By that I mean that the wrecks are shallow enough for recreational divers to visit, and swim around the outside only- wreck speciality courses offered by PADI and SSI do not adequately prepare divers for entering inside a wreck.
There are loads of other wrecks in the Gulf of Thailand, but they are all strictly off limits to recreational divers, mainly due to their increased depth; if you want to explore them, you'll need to be a technical diver, conversant with decompression procedures. Here's a brief overview of two of the most popular wrecks frequented by tech divers near Koh Tao.
The unicorn, also known as the dog food wreck, lies at a depth of 50 metres, one mile to the North of Mango bay (the northernmost point of Koh Tao). It's a steel-hulled freighter that was skuttled in 1989 in order for the owners to claim on the insurance. However, shortly after sinking, the insurance company smelled a rat and had some tech divers go and investigate. Contrary to popular belief, it was not carrying tins of cheap dog food instead of the expensive tuna claimed by the owners on the insurance form. It was indeed carrying tuna, but only for pets to consume, rather than humans. Bad luck skuttlers!
The wreck is 60 metres long, and leans 60 degrees to port. It used to be covered in fishing nets, but these have since been removed. The wreck has always been a challenge to penetrate due to the tightness of the entry points, but today it is pretty much impossible, as the wreck has degraded structurally and is thick with visibility-reducing silt inside.
This challenging dive serves as a stark reminder that it is off limits to recreational divers, as there have been a number of instances of inadequately trained succumbing to serious diving related injuries whilst attempting to dive it, with one person unfortunately getting lost in the engine room and dying in 1996. The Thai Navy had to recover his body. Your No Decompression Limit (NDL) at 50 metres on a single tank is 1 minute, whilst breathing 6 times the amount of gas per breathe compared with at the surface.. definitely not a good idea on a single tank.
But with correct training, it's an amazing experience to dive the Unicorn, with huge shoals of red snapper and barracuda circling around you as you complete your decompression obligation.
Another amazing wreck is the Torpedo. It's a 60 metre Japanese cargo vessel that sank in the mid-seventies, and lies two hours North of Koh Tao. It sits upright at 55 metres and has two large cargo holds on the main deck. A collapsed crane can be seen on the main deck, and the whole thing is covered in fishing nets encrusted with coral. I dived it last May and there was a huge school of barracuda circling around us on the main deck. The reason it was nicknamed the torpedo is that it was carrying a cargo of teak logs.
Now this is just scratching the surface of the wrecks available to technical divers in the Gulf of Thailand. Others include the HTMS Pangan, Hishidaiya Maru, C47 Aircraft Wreck, Davy Jones, Akita Maru, Big Boy maru, Tottori Maru, Inverted wreck, Brick Maru, Bitumen Wreck, Wankey Tankey, and the Dumb Dumb Maru. All of them challenging dives, and none of them have been dived for a long time. They are just waiting to be explored again, and it would be fascinating to see what condition they are in. The best news is that the person who has all the gps co-ordinates for these wrecks is one of our very own boat captains!
If you would like to explore these wrecks, you'll need to become a fully qualified tech diver, with an advanced wreck certification. Big Blue Tech can teach you all the courses you will need to be able to dive these wrecks. If you'd like more information on the TDI courses that we offer, contact James at Big Blue Tech here. It starts with Intro to tech. You need to have logged 25 dives and be an advanced open water diver. Each course progresses on from the next, until you are a fully qualified extended range or trimix diver. Then you can go off and see some of these bad boys for yourself!

Unleaded dive sites?
On the theme of wrecks, the marine branch of the local environmental organisation Save Koh Tao, has recently concluded that not enough marine life has grown on the HTMS Sattakut in the almost three years since it was sunk as an artificial reef. So volunteers have begun scraping off the paint in an attempt to coax coral into attaching itself to the hull. I've heard a number of people say that this is about as environmentally friendly as allowing Joseph Fritzl to present an episode of crimewatch. The reason? Lead paint. Having taken a cursory glance, it seems that lead is still very much an additive in paint manufactured in Thailand, despite international efforts to remove it. Research published late in 2013 by the Ecology Alert and Recovery Thailand Foundation (Earth), concluded that levels of lead in paint manufactured in Thailand exceeded Thai Industrial Standards Institute (Tisi) limits by a huge margin. 40% of all samples taken were over 100 times greater than the maximum allowed levels. only 15 out of 42 paint manufacturers adhered to Tisi standards. It doesn't exactly help that the Tisi operates on a system of voluntary compliance.
However, I am unsure as to whether the Thai Navy uses Thai manufactured paint to protect it's fleet of ships from the elements, that may or may not contain lead. IF it does, then it doesn't matter how carefully Save Koh Tao volunteers attempt to dispose of the paint that flakes off from the Sattakut, lead will enter the local eco-system.
However, when you think about it, it really doesn't matter whether it's scraped off. If there is lead in the paint, leaving it on the Sattakut won't prevent it from entering the local eco system as the wreck is slowly consumed by the ocean. So actually scraping the paint off and taking it in bags back to the surface will actually minimise lead leaching into the ocean.
We have a certain Thomas Midgely to thank for lead being added to paint. He was a one-man walking environmental disaster, first to utilise CFCs for use in refrigeration, adding lead to petrol, and paint. If any one person has caused more damage to the environment, it's him. 

Friday, 31 January 2014 08:00

February 1st 2014

Exclusive Big Blue wreck to explore
HTMS PraabOne of the best kept secrets for diving in Thailand is Chumphon National Park. It covers an area of around 320 square kilometres and hosts some beautiful Islands. In the waters around these Islands are some absolutely stunning divesites. The good news is that the area is very rarely dived, and no fishing is allowed, so there is a wide abundance of marine life encompassing the entire area. The even better news is that Big Blue diving is THE ONLY dive resort on Koh Tao that ever goes there. That's a pretty important detail, so let me say that again just to be sure you got it.. Big Blue is THE ONLY dive resort to take people diving there...! We regularly run full day trips there for our fundivers. How come only we go? Simple, we have a dive boat that is really really fast, and it can make the trip in over half the time any other dive boat on Koh Tao could, so we can still fit in 3 dives so you get your money's worth.
Now, in continuing the theme of wrecks, Chumphon National Park houses a wreck that is very similar to the HTMS Sattakut, but lies in shallower water. It's called the HTMS Prab. Like the Sattakut, it was a US Navy landing caft infantry vessel in World War 2. It was involved in landing troops on D-Day, and also in Italy shortly thereafter. Following the war it was purchased by the Thai Navy and it lived out it's life until 2011, when it was decommissioned and donated to the National Park to act as an artificial reef. So there it sits, at about 22 metres off Ngam Noi Island, just waiting to be explored.
On one of the last trips to the National Park, we also stumbled upon a freshly sunken Thai fishing boat. It was sitting in really shallow water and could only have sunk a few days prior to our visit. It would be good to see if the wreck is still there.. after all, what's better than diving a wreck? why diving two wrecks of course!
If you'd like to dive the HTMS Prab, go into the office during your stay with us and bug the divemasters to run a full day trip. They'll always agree to it as the full day trip comes with breakfast, lunch, as many soft drinks as you can manage and chocolate cake. Just take one look at our full-time divemasters and tell me they don't like cake... it's a given.

More monkey business
After writing about monkeys, and wondering whether or not Jamikiri resort houses a monkey sanctuary, long term Koh Tao resident and Big Blue member of staff Wibeke got in touch to confirm that there was once a "sanctuary" of sorts, if sanctuary means cages at the entrance to the resort with monkeys in them.. Staff apparently used to ask visitors not to put their hands inside the cages as the monkeys could bite. One of Wib's friends went for some pampering one day and following his aloe vera body scrub or whatever it was, as he stood outside the entrance feeling all relaxed and refreshed, one of the monkeys, having escaped, suddenly landed on his shoulder. As he was armed with the knowledge that they could bite, he completely freaked out whilst the monkey held on for dear life in between attacking him. I guess he had to go somewhere else for another massage to calm himself down. I don't know if that was the cause of the "sanctuary closing, but there are no longer any monkeys residing in the resort!

 

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