November (22)

Diving with Nitrox
Nitrox300x181Ever heard of Nitrox? Strange sounding name for a pretty simple product. When you go recreational diving, the cylinder you take with you contains the same air that you breathe on the surface; comprised of 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, well, if you're a geek you'll know it's actually 78.08% nitrogen, 0.93% argon, 0.03% carbon dioxide, 0.0018% neon, 0.0005% helium, 0.0001% krypton 0.00005% hydrogen and 8.7 x 10-6 xenon, but in such low proportions they are considered inert, and bunched together with nitrogen. God you're weird for knowing that!
Nitrox is a gas that you can dive on that contains a higher percentage of oxygen- up to 40%. Why bother? Well, i'm glad you asked. Nitrox can have a number of benefits compared with using old fashioned air. It has the potential to provide longer no-decompression limits, shorter surface intervals, and enable longer repetitive dives. We can only dive for a certain amount of time at a given depth due to the nitrogen we are breathing under pressure. By increasing the oxygen content and reducing the amount of nitrogen we breathe, it allows us to stay longer at that depth. The fact that we will have breathed less nitrogen on our dive also means that there is less to come out of our system, hence the shorter surface interval- that's the time you have to spend on the boat between dives twiddling your thumbs and sunning yourself. The more diving we do, the more nitrogen we absorb cumulatively, so if you're diving more than one dive a day for a number of days, it will give you longer at depth than if you were doing the same dives on standard air- good if you're going on a Big Blue liveaboard trip on the West coast of Thailand. Some people also say that they feel less tired after diving on nitrox. There's no evidence to prove that, but hey, if it feels good, why not!
In order to be able to dive using Nitrox, you will have to do a speciality course.. guess what, we can teach you! For the SSI nitrox speciality, we can teach you in half a day, and you will have the option of just doing the course without going on any dives on it. As long as you understand the requirements for diving on it, you can use it on your dives to your heart's content. But you can also do the classroom session and then go for two dives with your instructor if you'd rather. Then you'll be a qualified nitrox diver for the rest of your life- another string to your diving bow. If you're interested in expanding your diving skills and are really switched on, you can combine the nitrox course with the deep and wreck specialities, which also works out much cheaper than doing each speciality on its own. We can also teach the nitrox course through PADI, TDI and BSAC.
If you're already a qualified diver you will hopefully have understood at least half of all this! If you're coming to Big Blue to do your open water course, don't worry, by the end of it you'll have a much better idea about why nitrox is useful to a diver.

Gaps in the market
Have you been to Koh Tao and noticed that there is a niche in the market for a certain product or service that would have made your time a little better or easier? Or have you been anywhere else in the world where a quirky extra something made a difference. Personally, I think if there was a shop or street vendor that sold pizza by the slice they would make an absolute killing. There's lots of different types of street food available already, be it Thai or western, but there's nothing quite like a slice of pizza after a few beers in the wee small hours of the morning. How about some of those bicycle taxis that 2 or more people can get in, like a tuk tuk but human powered? Or maybe an oxygen bar... nah!! Let us know anything that you think might be useful for long term residents or holiday makers. Maybe something diving resorts are missing a trick on in terms of their service to customers. Some things don't have to cost money but tweaking the way a business does this thing or that can work wonders for their customer's levels of satisfaction, and sometimes you can't see what's in front of your face and you need fresh eyes to show it to you. We are all ears. You can email us on our facebook page or just write a comment on the post for this blog. Just one thing, we won't be giving complimentary shoe shines!

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Short back and sides
mv-porponawaThe first of our dive boats came back from Chumphon yesterday after it's annual service, and it looks brand new. Porponawa is our exclusive fun diver only boat, and we're really glad to have her back in service. We have a fun diver only boat because we want to be able to take our fun divers out to the best dive sites- sites that are out of reach of open water students on their first couple of dives in the ocean, or try divers, because they are too deep. The reason Porponawa was chosen as the fun diver boat is because it is probably the fastest dive boat in Thailand. It can get from Big Blue on Sairee beach to Chumphon pinnacle (11km offshore) in 23 minutes! It takes any normal dive boat between 45 and 55 minutes to get there! Hence it's unofficial nickname- the millenium falcon.
That kind of speed gives us incredible freedom. It's been known that after having two dives at Sail rock on the full day trip, if a whaleshark had been spotted at Chumphon, Porponawa would head there for the third dive of the day; a journey unthinkable on any other dive boat. So we're looking forward to getting her back in action to show our fun divers the best that the Gulf of Thailand has to offer, and once Monsoon is over (it feels like we're not really having one this year anyway) we will be running regular day trips on Porponawa to Sail rock, Ang Thong marine park and Chumphon marine park- the only dive resort to go there. Our Tech and freediving boat Big Blue went to Chumphon yeserday, Banzai has yet to depart, and Ao Meung went earlier this year and has been back for a couple of months. But we're hotly anticipating the return of waverunner, which is having a major refurbishment. We can't wait to see what it looks like when it comes back!

Things to do on a rainy day
Given that we are supposed to be in Monsoon season on Koh Tao, apart from a storm lasting a few days last week, the weather has been pretty good. However, writing this in the middle of a thunder storm has me wondering what you can do here when it rains and you're having a day off diving. People doing their open water course ask surprisingly often whether we they will be going diving when it rains.. the simple answer is yes, you will be getting wet anyway! But once your course is finished, if you don't fancy diving in the rain, then sitting in the room of your resort watching Thai tv is not an experience that is going to hold your attention for very long. One thing Koh Tao has in abundabce is cafes, lots of cafes. They are a great way to just sit and watch the world go by, and unlike in the West, they have two or three walls instead of four, so you can watch the rain and lightning up close and personal- effectively sitting outside, but stay nice and dry.
There are of course also plenty of bars in Koh Tao, so you may decide to start your evening's fun in the afternoon instead. Or you could be a little more productive and go to the gym, there are now two in Sairee alone, and an MMA centre has just opened up on the main road between Mae Hadd and Sairee. Apart from that, there's a bowling alley, and lots of massage parlours. Or, just get your wellies on and go and have a play in the puddles!

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New t-shirts!
bb-tshirtWe're getting closer every day now to the grand opening of the Big Blue retail shop, and to whet your appetite we're showing off our new range of Big Blue t-shirts. These little beauties are available to purchase in our office or from our website for the cost of a round of drinks- that's a Thai round of drinks, not London prices! What better memento of your time at Big Blue could there be than to be sporting one of these down at your local pub/supermarket/domnioes club? You can be pretty much 100% guarrantee that no-one else will be wearing one! We are always open to suggestions for our t-shirt designs, so if you can think of anything funny and/or clever, and of course diving related, then let us know on our facebook page in the comments section for this blog. We may like it so much that we get some printed off- you'll get bugger all money for it but you'll be able to say that it was your work! You can view the entire t-shirt range on our facebook page in the photos section.
Yet don't be mistaken that this is all we will be selling in the new retail shop. They will of course be on display, but that's not even scratching the surface of what else will be available to buy, there will be all manner of different items of clothing, including our own range of designer beach wear. In terms of diving equipment, you'll be able to buy pretty much whatever you require. But more of that in the next few days when we open our doors properly. Until then, get your thinking caps on and get in touch with your genius t-shirt ideas.

What to expect with travelling to Koh Tao
I wrote in a recent blog about all the different ways you can get to Koh Tao from Bangkok- bus then ferry, night train then ferry, or flying to Koh Samui or Chumphon then ferry. But how do they compare in terms of service, comfort, cost etc?
The bus from Bangkok is the cheapest option. They call them VIP buses, but they're just normal coaches that you'd get back home. Surprisingly they have decent leg room, a toilet, air con, and tinted windows or a curtain to block out the sun. But the journey does take around 7-8 hours, and if they put on a Thai DVD you'll be cursing yourself for forgetting your ipod headphones! They do stop halfway for you to get some food at motorway services and stretch your legs though. Good for those on a budget. The night train is my favourite way to travel around Thailand. If you choose 2nd class (around £20) you'll get a seat that they turn into a bed, which is surprisingly comfortable. If you choose air con, have a jumper as it gets arctic cold! You can eat at your seat and order from a waiter, or you can go to the restaurant car and meet lots of random people over a beer or two. If you're lucky the staff will wheel out the kareoke machine! Then it's off to bed, and you'll be woken up shortly before arriving at Chumphon at a ridiculous hour in the morning. Try and avoid third class unless you're on a serious budget. You have been warned! The ticket you buy will include the ferry, so at the train station just ask where to go to get the bus transfer to the pier, then go to the ticket office to get your ferry ticket. You'll need to book ahead though, the night train gets full, fast.
Flying is pretty quick but very expensive, around £110 one-way. I've only ever done it once and that was a while ago, but I remember it being pretty painless. Good for getting from Bangkok to koh Tao in the same day. There are cheaper deals to be had if you fly into Chumphon, so shop around.
You will have to get a ferry to get to koh Tao and there are three options. The Lomprayah will be the busiest, but it's also the fastest. There's an VIP section that you can sit in air con for 200 baht, but the rest of the boat is fine if you can find a seat. It takes around 2 hours to get to Koh Tao from Koh Samui or Chumphon, so it's probably a good idea to bring some snacks and drinks- prices on the ferry are expensive. The Seatran is similar to the Lomprayah, but it takes a little longer, and the Songserm is for those on a budget.. takes a lot longer and can be uncomfortable. Whichever way you choose, if it's your first time in Thailand it'll be a bit of an adventure!

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How's my diving?
dive-positionHow long can you stay underwater on a dive, 30, 40 minutes, or even an hour? Of course it depends on a number of factors such as how deep you go, how fit you are, how big you are and how bad the current is to name but a few. But the way you move in the water and the position you dive in also influence how long you can stay down for. Following on from yesterday's blog about buoyancy, there a few things you'll learn on the open water course to help you dive in the most efficient way.

When you walk, do you lean heavily forward and let your body's inertia propel you along so your legs have to catch up? Not unless you work for the ministry of funny walks. Diving is the same. When you first let go of the buoyline on dive one of the open water course, you need to be thinking about your position in the water. The aim is to be as horizontal as possible (tech divers call it good trim) for two reasons. The first is that you will be much more streamlined, so you won't have to kick as hard to move yourself through the water- water is dense. The second, is that if you're a little bit upright, as you kick it will make you move upwards slightly. Not the end of the world you'd think, but remember on dive one you're also getting to grips with your buoyancy, so kicking yourself upwards combined with having a little air in your BC that will expand as you ascend and make you go up quicker will ensure you are surface-bound before you've even realised what's going on.
Streamlining your equipment is also important. Having your air gauge hanging out whilst you're diving along will create drag, and if it's dragging on the dive site it may damage coral and cause wear and tear to your equipment, both big no nos. Another good tip is to never try and compare diving to swimming. You may be tempted to do the breast stroke with your arms whilst diving, but if you think about the weight of all that equipment, and compare the surface area of your hand to the fin you are wearing, it's doing pretty much nothing apart from make you look a bit crazy and wasting your energy. Put your arms away and let your fins do the work.
Finally, how should you kick when diving? Simple, flutter kicking as if you're doing the front crawl, or frog kicking as if you're doing the breast stroke are both good, as long as they are nice and slow, and the power is coming from your hips and thighs. Slow, slow, slow is the key. The worst thing you can do is to bicycle kick. It's extremely inefficient, you look stupid, and you are again helping to propel yourself upwards slightly and making it harder to keep nice and horizontal. You may find frog kicks a little hard initially, so always best to start with the flutter kick, but as you progress as a diver you will eventually frog kick- if you're able to do it by the end of your open water course, you'll be well on your way as a diver.
You will learn all of the above on the open water course, and listening to your instructor and trying to follow what he or she is telling you underwater will help to minimise exertion during your dive, so that you go through your air slower, and therefore have more time to enjoy the underwater world. Once you get more experience, for example by doing the advanced course, you can move on to more advanced techniques such as the modified frog and modified flutter kicks, and the DMT's nemesis- back finning. For now, enjoy the learning new things, go with the flow, listen to your instructor and have fun!
 
Whaleshark saved by text
How's this for a bit of good news. Fishermen in Karimunjawa National Park in Indonesia got a bit of a surprise when they realised they had accidentally caught a 4 metre juvenile whaleshark in their nets. But luckily they had a back up plan; they sent a text message to the World Conservation Society (WCS), who then, in conjunction with officers from the National Park sent a boat out to help free it. The fishermen didn't just happen to have the phone number to the offices of the WCS though. In a brilliant bit of forward thinking, the WCS set up a helpline for people to report fishing violations and marine animal strandings, which involves sending out a simple text. The fishermen didn't want to get into trouble for accidentally catching the whaleshark, and weren't able to free it by themselves, so they asked the WCS for help, and it all worked out marvellously.
Since the helpline has been set up, illegal fishing has been markedly reduced and compliance with fishery closures within the national park have increased. This is thought to have increased the number of fish, which in turn may be bringing more whalesharks back into the area. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had such a system in the Gulf of Thailand, so that illegal fishing could actually be enforced properly.

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Beginners guide to Buoyancy
giant-strideLearning how to Scuba dive is a process of getting to grips with a number of different elements- physical dexterity and spatial awareness (i.e. not banging into other divers or coral), physics (buoyancy), engineering (fixing your own equipment), and differing levels of OCD (washing your own equipment properly). To get you to understand these, the open water course is a combination of theory lessons in the restaurant or classroom, and practical sessions, starting in the pool and ending in the ocean. At Big Blue we completely understand that the last thing anyone would want to do is to go on holiday and end up being bored to death about physics in a classroom. So we're very good at teaching you the information that you need to digest and understand in order to improve your diving, but without waffling on forever. One of the most important elements of diving is buoyancy. It's pretty easy to get your head around, people have an instinctive understanding of it, even though they don't know it at first. The key to improving buoyancy is by practising it whilst diving. Remember your first driving lesson and how you probably stalled the car a few times before you were able to actually get going? Buoyancy is no different, but instead of having dual controls, we get you to feel and practice the feeling of changing buoyancy in the safe confines of a pool.
Here's the basic principle. When you jump in the water off a dive boat, you need to be what we call positively buoyant. This means that you will float along without having to kick like crazy to keep your head out of the water with all your equipment on. You achieve positive buoyancy by putting air into the jacket that you wear, called a BC, that also holds your cylinder of air. Now, when you want to go underwater you need to let all that air out so you will sink as you head down the descent line- this is called negative buoyancy. To stop you sinking all the way to the sea bed, you need to put little bits of air in your BC so that you will float along at the same level. This is called neutral buoyancy and it's neutral buoyancy that we want to achieve when we are swimming along underwater. If you kick up just a little bit, the air in your BC will expand slightly, and make you want to go up to the surface. You want to stay down underwater so you need to let a little bit of that air out of your BC to remain at the same depth. If you can get your head around that, you will be a good diver very quickly.
The most counter-intuitive thing about diving is when you want to go to the surface and end your dive. Most people think that you add air into your BC to go up, after all that's going to make you float up. The problem is if you do add air, you'll go to the surface way too quickly, and we always want to ascend nice and slowly and controlled. So to end the dive we periodically let air out of the BC as we swim up. That way, we are in control instead of our BC full of air taking us up. You don't have to let all the air out straight away, but instead vent air as you feel your BC taking charge of your ascent. As soon as your head is out of the water, then you can fill your BC with air and be a positively buoyant cork again. Easy eh?
Your instructor will take as long as you need to help you get to grips with it all, and the good news is that once you understand it, it becomes automatic so you can concentrate on enjoying what you see underwater.

How to behave in Thailand
Every country in the world has their own set of rules regarding social etiquette that all natives will grow up learning. When travelling to other countries it's a good idea to do some research on how these rules differ from place to place, so you can save yourself and others embarrassment, or, at worst, offence. Here's a few basic tips to help you blend in a little easier, and maybe stop you getting arrested!:

funny-thai-sign1- Don't get angry or raise your voice. Thai's are not confrontational, and if you shout you will embarrass them, which will quickly stop them from helping you out in any way. Keep calm and smile just as they do.
2- Don't touch anyone! Touching a Thai person is considered very rude, and an invasion of their personal space. The head is also the most revered part of the body for Thais, so don't be patting anyone on the head. If you accidentally touch someone on the head, apologise immediately.
3- Don't point your feet to indicate the direction of something, or touch anyone with your feet, they are considered unholy and it will be seen as an insult.
4- Never ever talk disrespectfully of the Royal family in Thailand, you can be arrested for it, seriously. Don't even step on a coin in the street if it is heads side up. Don't even have a laugh under your breath.
5- Wear appropriate dress when entering a buddhist temple. That means covering up your arms and legs. Some places may provide a skirt to wear, or deny you entry. Always take your shoes off too. Women are not allowed to touch Monks.
6- It's good manners to take your shoes off when entering a shop or restaurant, but especially when entering someone's house.
7- Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances take or possess any kind of drugs in Thailand. The penalties are very harsh and the police don't care about personal use or dealng, or whether it's class A's or softer drugs. If you're caught with any amount of any drugs on you, you could either be made to pay a very hefty fine to stop you going to prison, or get 25 years in jail. There are lots of westerners in Bangkwang prison in Bangkok-one of the worst prisons in the world. Don't be joining them.
8- Don't drink and drive- You could kill yourself or someone else, or if you're lucky, just have to pay a hell of a lot of money for damage to vehicles. Taxis are way cheaper and safer.
9- Please don't wear speedos!!!!!
10- There isn't a number 10... please just be really nice to dive instructors and divemasters and tell the boss how brilliant we are :-)

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How to get underwater
dive-girlsIf you were to ask anyone what equipment scuba divers use, in the same way that everyone knows a skydiver needs a parachute, most people would say a tank to breathe from, and also mention flippers and goggles. There is obviously a little more to it than that, but really not much more. People doing their open water courses with us are often surprised that once they become familiar with their equipment, and have been shown what each piece does and how it's all assembled and disassembled, it's not very complicated and by the end of the course they know exactly how to put it all together and check that it's working properly themselves before going for a dive- which is exactly why you become certified to dive; you have demonstrated to an instructor that you are competent at using your equipment, and understand how you need to behave underwater, on the surface and on the boat, in order to be able to dive safely. Luckily at Big Blue you will also have had a lot of fun in the process and seen some really cool underwater life!
Recreatonal divers require a full cylinder of air of course, and they don't carry it in their arm on their dive, they wear it on their back. So the cylinder is attached to the back of a jacket that they wear called a Buoyancy Compensator, or BC- sometimes called a BCD. Fins (not flippers!) enable a diver to move through the water much more efficiently than without, and a mask (not goggles!) allows a diver to see underwater. You also need to wear a weightbelt with varying amounts of weights on it to compensate for your body's own buoyancy, and some kind of rashvest or wetsuit- no drysuits in Thailand! The only other primary piece of equipment required is a regulator, which allows the diver to breathe from the cylinder, enables two people to breathe from one cylinder if they absolutely have to, has an air gauge that tells you what's left in the tank, and connects your cylinder of air to your BC to enable you to manipulate your buoyancy. Understanding buoyancy is key to becoming a good diver, and is probably best left for another blog post, but you'll learn all about it on the open water course too.
There are of course other peripheral items used in diving, cutting devices, compasses, computers, surface markers, frying pans and sturdy boots- no, that's underwater camping.. But that kind of thing is introduced to you on the advanced course, where you'll be given a compass, computer and surface marker, and be shown how to use them.
If you're a geek you'll find equipment fascinating, if you're not, you'll still appreciate learning to assemble and maintain your equipment so you can get underwater and enjoy it all safely. Regardless, your instructor will guide you through the learning process every step of the way with the patience of a saint, so don't worry if you initially find it all a bit confusing- you'll get it. Just remember that your instructor was in your position once!

Cable cars for Koh Tao?
cable-carAlthough Koh Tao is getting busier, it's still pretty traditional in terms of what's on offer for tourists- diving, snorkeling, off-road biking, crazy golf and bowling etc, and getting around is very basic too. How about some of the things you get in other parts of the world that are a little more extravagant, or just completely impractical for this lovely little Island of ours? The most basic example I can think of is glass-bottomed boats. I recall someone telling me there used to be one here, but they're very common in the carribean and Mediterranean. Or pedallos or whatever their called? I'm sure if Koh Tao was a playground for billionaires there would be submarine tours available, and probably hotels on the sea front with bedrooms underwater and glass walls to see the marine life. What about getting around on the Island itself, what hair-brained schemes would be possible? A cable car taking you to the top of the jungle? Trams on the main road? Zip lines from the centre of the Island to the beach.. actually that would be pretty awesome! How about a travelator from Sairee to Mae Hadd? Just be thankful that SNUBA diving and booze cruises have yet to arrive here! Let us know some of the more outlandish things you've seen on your travels on our facebook page.

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So much for quiet season
Big-Blue-Diving-ResortAs predicted a few days ago, we've been inundated by full moon revellers wishing to detox from all the boozing and do something productive with their holiday by learning to dive with us. Consequently, our instructors are busy teaching open water courses, and our divemasters are busy taking out already qualified divers to show them the best marine life Koh Tao has to offer. Likewise, the tech boys are hard at work teaching interns Aleksandra and Maksim TDI advanced nitrox and decompression procedures. Once they've finished they will be teaching our divemaster trainees their deep, wreck and nitrox specialities. On the virtual diving front, our g page is getting more popular, and we are fast approaching 6,000 likes on the Big Blue facebook page. Who's going to be number 6,000? Similarly, on trip advisor we have almost 1,000 overwhelmingly glowing reviews, not that we're boasting or anything!
Big Blue video is filming some amazing underwater shots on a daily basis and wowing our customers in the bar where they sit down to watch themselves on their open water course dives 3 and 4. Very wise decision deciding to start filming in-house; someone has an idea to film something or other and it'll probably done the next day, which is exactly the kind of creativity and flexibility we were aiming for. The retail shop grand opening is imminent, and there will soon be a load of staff walking around like Derek Zoolander showing off Big Blue's own clothing range. Lets just hope they still remember how to turn left, especially underwater. If you want the latest information on what is happening at Big Blue, have a look on the website and the blog, and like our facebook and G pages.

Survival guide to arriving on Koh Tao
mae-hadd-pierSo you just arrived in koh Tao and are about to step off the ferry, what the hell do you do and where do you go? Firstly, you can't help avoid all the touts that will be shouting at you to try and get you to come to their dive resort. Don't feel pressured, just walk on through and take your time to decide. Hopefully you will already have done your research and decided where you want to go anyway. If you're really clever you will have booked online also. If you do talk to a tout on the ferry or at the pier, be weary of very cheap prices for open water courses, there will either be hidden charges or just a pretty shoddy course. Also be weary of touts telling you bad things about other dive resorts other than their own. Any good dive school should be able to sell themselves without resorting to underhand tactics. A common myth is that if you go to a school that teaches SSI, any future PADI dive resort will refuse to take you diving with your SSI certification card. This is utter rubbish- your SSI card is as valid as your PADI card anywhere in the world.
Some dive schools offer free accommodation for people learning to dive, and that's their main selling point, but you have to consider the bigger picture. At Big Blue our focus is on teaching a good course and you enjoying your time with us. Do you want to save a few hundred baht every night, but be staying in a bungalow that's so close to all the parties that you can't sleep, or would you rather pay a little for a nicer room away from the action so you can relax? At the moment we have free dormitory accommodation for the days that you're diving, but we also have some great private rooms that are still reasonably priced. I would rather go to a reputable dive resort and pay something for accommodation than find myself in a horrible room right next door to a nightclub on the south end of Sairee beach. If in doubt, do your research and look on trip adviser!
If you're not diving then there will be plenty of taxis to take you to one of the many resorts on the Island, and you're on your own as to deciding what you want price-wise and how near the action you want to be. If you are diving then each dive school will have a taxi that will give you a free lift. Big Blue has a taxi waiting for each ferry that comes in, whether it's Seatran, Lomprayah or Songserm, so don't panic if you don't see it immediately, it will be there, just keep an eye out for the driver wearing a Big Blue t-shirt. You'll probably have seen the Big Blue tout on the ferry anyway so let them take you to the taxi. the pier is in Mae Hadd and Big Blue is in Sairee, which is a 5 minute taxi drive away. Then once you've checked in for the accommodation and diving you will be doing, you can finally relax!  

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Fairwell Ugly
uglySad news for Blue staff, old and new. A few days ago Ugly, one of the resident dogs and our unofficial mascot sadly died. He passed away in his sleep on the morning of the 19th completely out of the blue, though he was probably one of the oldest dogs on the Island so it wasn't completely unexpected. He'd had a damn good innings though and lived a happy life, utterly spoilt by dive and restaurant staff alike. All the Instructors and divemasters periodically chip in to pay for all the resident dog's veternarian care, and they're all well fed and given a lot of fuss, but "uggers" was everyone's favourite and definitely the boss. He didn't do a lot, and set the bar for how much one dog could scratch itself over the course of a day. If you've been to Big Blue you'll probably have witnessed what you initially thought was doggy abuse, as someone or other appeared to be hitting him with a shoe on his hind legs, but he loved it, wagged his tail and came back for more and more- very weird trait of all Thai dogs it seems. We already lost big black dog or BBD earlier this year, and now only Moo-moo, piglet, Ernie and sausage are left. Moo moo is probably the oldest dog that ever lived, sausage made even ugly look hyperactive, Ernie is half an IQ point short of being able to appear on the Jeremy Kyle show, and piglet is the dog equivalent of Norman Wisdom, with a pelican-like chin. Anyway, hopefully ugly and BBD are now lying on the big beach in the sky getting loads of attention, and continuing their war of attrition against any fly that dares to land on them.. let's just hope that flies don't go to heaven.

Whaleshark facts
whalesharkHere's a few amazing and wonderful facts about the largest fish in the ocean, that is common to the waters around Koh Tao.

- It's latin name is Rhincodon typus.
- The largest confirmed specimin was 12.65 metres long and weighed more than 21.5 metric tons!
- It's believed that they can live to be 70 years old.
- They mainly eat plankton via vacuum and filter feeding, but have also been filmed by the good old BBC eating a school of small fish.
- It's capable of diving to depths up to  1,286 metres!
- No-one has ever seen a whale shark getting down and dirty to mate, but they are thought to give birth to live young, around 40-60cm long.
- In Vietnam they are worshipped as a diety and called Ca Ong, which translates as "Sir fish".
- They are a huge draw for divers and snorkelers, and bring a lot of tourism revenue.. way more than if they are killed for their fins.
- They are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
- We get them on Koh Tao and see them pretty regularly. The juveniles are very curios of divers. 

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Instructor meeting
scuba-meetingIt's that time of the month again at Big Blue.. no, I talked about the full moon party yesterday. I'm talking about the instructor meeting that will be held tonight in one of the classrooms... next to the bar. It's a monthly competition to see how many people can physically fit into a room the size of a bureau de change, that has also been temporarily turned into a sauna. See, we'll endure anything to improve what we do. The meeting is a good opportunity to keep everyone singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak, despite no-one, except maybe mini Ant actually resembling a choirboy. All the different dive agencies have standards that must be adhered to in order to ensure a diver's safety, and at Big Blue we take that very seriously. So ensuring that everyone is doing their job exactly as the standards dictate is integral to what we do. Anyone who is found to have been lacking in any aspect of their role as it relates to standards and customers' safety will not work for Big Blue much longer.
We are constantly trying to improve everything that we do so that our customers have the best experience possible, so we also regularly discuss everything and anything that may help things to run more smoothly. This includes how we check people in, the order and running of all our courses, the logistics of the boats, and even what kind of biscuits we have on board! If something isn't working, we look for ways to improve it. In some ways it's almost a shame that people don't have to undertake three separate open water courses at three different dive resorts before they become a qualified diver, because then they'll have a point of reference in the quality of teaching between schools, and realise that we are as professional is it gets.
The meeting is also the perfect forum for taking the mickey out of some instructors, and in all my years of endless, dull, soulless staff meetings this is the only time i've had a good laugh whilst actually doing something productive. It also helps that we all get a free beer! Incidentally, mini Ant recently posited the grand idea of having a HR department at Big Blue, to which instructors Rick, Donny and divemaster Nick quickly voted instructor Neil to be the director, as he's amazingly empathetic in matters of staff wellbeing. In fact we'll probably put it to a vote this evening. Now, mini Ant, why do choirboys have a centre parting?

Dive boats- what to expect
old-dive-boatI've spent the last couple of days trying to find out why Thai fishing boats and some of the more traditional dive boats have curved hulls, but google said no. I even asked a few of the Big Blue land staff, but it was too difficult to get the point across. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime I realised that anyone who's never been diving before will have no idea what to expect on a dive boat... apart from diving of course. A dive boat is usually laid out to maximise the amount of people that can dive from it at any one time, so on climbing aboard, the first thing you'll notice on the main deck is the row of diving cylinders on either side, sitting in grooves so they don't fall over in rolling waves. There should also be enough space in the middle of the deck to put all that dive gear- usually in bags. But space is always at a premium. Dive boats on Koh Tao can be anything from 10 metres to 45 metres long; Big Blue has the biggest boat- MV Waverunner. This means more space and therefore more comfort.
Also on the main deck you'll notice a bit of noise, as the boat will usually have one or more compressors to fill the dive cylinders in between dives. But once you've set your equipment up, unless you're going straight into the water, there's no reason to hang around downstairs. In fact you'll just be in everyone elses way, so get the hell upstairs! It'll be quieter, more spacious, and should hopefully have some sort of furniture to sit on and a canopy to get out of the fierce midday Sun or occassional rain shower. This is where you'll be briefed and de-briefed on your dives, and relax. It's also probably where the hot and cold water, tea, coffee, fruit and biscuits will reside. If a dive boat doesn't have a toilet, or "head", to use the correct naval parlence, then you were lured in by a dodgy company who's diving prices were way below every other company's.. and now you see why! A few things not to do on any Thai boat- Don't go into the captain's cabin- it's his house and this is where he sleeps.. and you weren't invited. Don't do a titanic at the front of the boat. It will usually have ribbons and that's where the spirit of the boat lives; you will offend the captain. Likewise don't wear flip flops- or thongs depending on whether you're antipodean, as this also offends the captain. Regarding your safety, don't get into the water until you're told it's safe to do so by your instructor or divemaster, and don't smoke anywhere near the compressor intake- you'll be told where that is. Apart from that, enjoy yourself, and either congratulate yourself on choosing to dive with Big Blue, or flagellate yourself as to why you're on a decrepit cramped boat going to the least appealing dive sites.. But hey, you saved yourself 2,000 baht for the open water course... apart from those hidden charges of course.

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Day-glow invasion
Full-moon-partyIt's that time of the month again where we get the lull before the storm. Pretty much every traveller in Thailand is currently descending on Koh Phangan to buy cheap and cheerful day-glow singlets and shorts in preparation for the full moon party. Personally I can't think of anything worse than being trapped on a beach with 30,000 young beautiful people, whilst we all get plied with booze.. no wait, i'm thinking of that film Battle Royale, with the booze being replaced with weaponry. Ramblings aside, what this all means for Koh Tao and Big Blue is that the Island is currently pretty quiet, but in a couple of days it's going to be very busy, even though it's supposedly Monsoon.
So in a couple of days, at around 9am in the morning we'll start to get the drip drip of people coming into the resort who don't know where they are, why they are here, or what their names are. All they will know is that they want to learn to dive, which is also a good opportunity to detox. It's pretty safe to say that the drip drip will quickly turn into a torrent of people. When you arrive we'll sit you down with a free drink and give you your options; do you want to learn how to dive, which will take 3 days, starting with a two hour orientation on the evening that you arrive, or do you just want to experience being underwater? If it's the latter you can do a try dive, which will take one day and give you two full dives with an instrutor watching over you the entire time. If you're already qualified to dive there are loads of options available to you, from fun diving, to taking your diving further and undertaking some speciality courses like deep, wreck and nitrox, or even technical diving. Once you've decided what you want to do we can set you up with accommodation with us, which, in Monsoon may be free whilst you're diving if you want a dorm room.
But if you can, before you party the night and day away, please please please go on our website and book your diving and accommodation, as when it gets really busy we can't guarantee that we will have any availability for rooms, and bear in mind we have a lot more rooms available than most other dive resorts on the Island. Of course, we can still quarrantee being able to dive with us though. For any pre-full moon queries, send us an email (at the top of our homepage).

Longtail taxi boats
longtail-boatWhen you think of Thailand, there are certain things that spring immediately to mind; Muay Thai, ladyboys, land of smiles.. but what about longtails? You can't miss them, they're everywhere in the Gulf of Thailand (on the water rather than land.. obviously). Longtails are known as Ruea Hang Yao in Thai, and have been around for hundreds of years. They are basically a lightweight long wooden canoe, with a canopy of some kind if you're lucky and a huge exposed rocket engine at the back. The engines don't have a reverse gear, but the driver is able to maneuver them pretty adeptly by rotating them by more than 180 degrees. If you come to Koh Tao and do a bit of sight seeing, getting around by boat is a great way to see the Island, and the easiest way to get to the adjoining Islands of Koh Nang Yuan. If you're getting on one for the first time, here are a few tips to make your experience a little more enjoyable.
Firstly, expect to get wet. They are fairly easy to get on and off from the beach, but you may have to wade in up to your waist, so make sure your phone is in a dry bag. You will also be sprayed by seawater as they travel pretty fast! It can also be a pretty bumpy affair whilst riding the waves so if you're taking pictures hold on tight to your camera! When you climb aboard, get comfy, as the last thing you want to do is think you can stand up and move around- they are very narrow and many a longtail has capsized because it's suddenly listed heavily and taken on too much water. The captain will tell you where to sit so make sure you listen and stay put. Finally, longtail drivers are usually very experienced, but they'll also often feel that no storm is too great for them to navigate through. If you're on a longtail with 1 metre swells, and heading into a storm, do you really think it's a good idea? Don't wait for the captain to tell you it's not safe! Of course that would be very rare indeed on Koh Tao, but still good to have in the back of your mind. If you're mindful of the above you'll have a great time... and probably a sore arse!

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