17/18 Moo 1, Koh Tao Suratthani, 84360 Thailand         Info @ Big Blue Diving        +66 (0) 77 456 050

Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - Displaying items by tag: PADI

 

Scuba diving is practised by thousands of lucky people around the world every single day. It’s something very special to be underwater yet a lot of people are very apprehensive about diving for the first time, even though it is considered a low-risk activity compared to many other outdoor and sporting activities – jogging for one is a lot more likely to put you at risk!

Of course it would be irresponsible of me to play down the risks involved, scuba diving is essentially an extreme sport which requires training and a licence. The most common medical issues are sunburn, seasickness and dehydration (all of which are easily avoided) but there also the dangers related to the effects of the increased water pressure underwater, dodgy scuba equipment and on the odd occasion marine creatures.

So is scuba diving dangerous? I think the best answer I’ve ever heard to this question is “diving is as dangerous or as safe as you want it to be”. If you practice safe diving by only diving to the limits of your experience and licence, maintain a reasonably fit and healthy lifestyle plus ensure the equipment you use is in good working order then diving is not very dangerous at all.

 

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Let’s look at a few ways on how to be a safe diver:

 

  • I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: dive within the limits of your experience – if you’re an Open Water diver stick to an 18 metre maximum depth, Advanced 30 metres and so on. Don’t be tempted to push your limits until you’ve had the necessary further training; it’s worth considering taking your PADI/SSI advanced, deep or wreck specialties.

 

  • Maintain good health. A high percentage of dive accidents are caused because of a pre-existing medical condition, so if possible have a medical check-up before taking a dive course to make sure you’re in tip-top condition.

 

  • Check your dive equipment thoroughly. If you have your own make sure it’s maintained and serviced regularly, rinsed in fresh water after diving and stored in a dry place. If you’re using rental equipment from your dive centre have a look at how it’s kept, check the hoses aren’t damaged and that it’s all being cleaned after every dive trip.

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  • Respect the buddy check! Insist on a thorough buddy check EVERY time you dive regardless of your own or your buddy’s experience, and take a minute to make sure the air is turned on fully, all regulators are working properly and secured in the correct manner, and that the weight belt/pockets are secure. A proper buddy check as taught in your SSI/PADI Open Water is more than sufficient here and stops any silly little problems that can occur. Many times I’ve heard people saying ‘don’t bother with the buddy check’, and inevitably they’re the ones returning to the surface because they’ve forgotten something or have compromised their safety somehow.

 

  • Always dive with a buddy, and that means staying close enough to each other so that in the event of an ‘out of air’ situation you can easily reach each other in a few seconds. Also make sure before the dive you’ve worked out who will be following whom underwater!

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  • Plan your dive properly, and stick to it as much as is possible. A good dive plan (and pre-dive briefing) will eliminate a substantial level of risk, but no plan is safe unless you follow it. In the event of the plan needing to change (for example, if a whaleshark appears on the divesite) make sure the whole group is aware of what will happen next, and make sure that each diver is aware of the reason for the change (in our example simply point at the whaleshark excitedly). The dive plan should also discuss at which point the divers will start their ascent – never go over the decompression limits without the correct training!

 

  • Keep practising to keep your skills fresh. Try to dive at least every 6 months, and if it’s been longer than that you should definitely consider doing a refresher dive: If it’s more than a year between dives then a refresher dive (also known as a scuba tune-up) should definitely be carried out for your safety and that of your buddy. I always ask all of my diving group when they last dived to get an idea of how good or bad they will be underwater, and which of them may need a little extra attention.

 

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To conclude, as long as train properly with a reputable dive centre (and keep diving to the way you were taught to), keep your skills fresh by diving regularly, and look after yourself and your equipment there’s no reason why you can’t lead a happy and safe scuba diving life!

 

 

 

 

I’m often found to be browsing the various Thailand backpacker forums out there on Facebook, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor and one question that pops up a lot is who to choose to dive with after you’ve been certified. With something like 100 dive centres on Koh Tao (1 great, 99 less so) it seems like a difficult task, but with a little bit of research it’s easy to see why Big Blue are the undisputed leaders of fundiving on this lovely little island for those wanting to dive more challenging and exciting sites than those the Open Water students are going to.

Here we will look at the different types of dive centre on the island, and what they’re offering to the already-certified scuba diver.

 

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Sites Visited

It’s essential for any fundiver, be them experienced or freshly certified, to be offered the chance to visit the best dive sites Koh Tao has to offer on a daily basis. The dive sites widely acknowledged to be the best are Chumphon, South-West and Samran Pinnacles, plus other classics like Green Rock, Shark Island and the wonderfully challenging Laem Thian ‘Caves’ on the east of the island. When looking for a dive centre to use for your holidays here, it’s an excellent idea to speak to the Divemaster in their reception  and have a look at their schedule for the coming days (and also the past week) to see which sites are being visited the most – if the same sites are being repeated daily then it usually means the dive centre is using the same boat for both Open Water students and the fundivers, especially if you see sites like Japanese Gardens, Aow Leuk and Mango Bay listed.

 

Fundiver-only Boat?

‘So what’s wrong with Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay and Aow Leuk?’ I hear you ask? ‘Nothing at all!’ is our resounding answer, these sites are absolutely perfect for those of you diving for the first time, with lots of shallow sandy patches to practice your buoyancy skills without bumping into the delicate corals. However, for those with more diving experience looking to see the most beautiful sites around Koh Tao these would be a disappointing choice.

It’s here where having a boat exclusively for fundivers really makes the difference!

Our dedicated fundiver boat has no restrictions on where it can go around Koh Tao, so we don’t have to follow the crowds and stick to the nearby western dive sites like White Rock and Twins every day – no site is too far, and it’s also one of the only big boats on the island that can comfortably go from Chumphon to South West Pinnacle in a normal morning run; way too far for the slower boats out there! Most importantly of all, it means that the dive sites we go to are not determined by the majority, the learner divers. All dive sites are now viable, currents to play with and swim-throughs to squeeze through are our goals, and of course we now have absolutely no restrictions on where the boat will end up so the moment we get the ‘Whaleshark!’ call over the radio we can immediately change our plans and head straight towards it, something that wouldn’t be possible if we were sharing the boat with our OW students!

The choice here is simple, really.

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What else should we consider?

There are always more things to consider before taking the plunge with your dive centre of choice, the most important of all being safety. Boats should always have fully-stocked first aid kits, plus plenty of pure oxygen on the boat in case the worst happens. I usually have a quick search online to find out a bit more info, looking out in particular for reports of accidents etc. that may have occurred there, but maybe this is me just being a bit morbid!

The way the fundivers are organized is also key to a happy dive experience. More than 4 divers per DM is a little too much for my liking, and I do not like being told to go up because of a time restriction on the dives – there are a few dive centres on Koh Tao that won’t let you dive over 1 hour, some even have a 45 minute time limit! On a shallow site Advanced divers should be able to get at least an hour underwater safely, and here at Big Blue we will always try to give our fundivers as long as we can without compromising safety with the air in the tank, or the limits set by the dive computer of course.

Finally (and this is something that really drives me crazy!) the groups should never mix the certification levels. As a divemaster myself I don’t want to be placed in a group containing Open water level divers…ever!  More often than not the OW divers use their air a lot faster and have less control over their movement underwater, which can often result in short dives and lots of bumping into each other and the bottom. I don’t want to sound like a scuba snob but diving is expensive, and I want to get the most out of my dives without someone swimming into the back of me or kicking up sand when I’m trying to get a photograph - give them their own DM, and the put the advanced divers in another group for God’s sake!

 

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Here at Big Blue we wouldn’t dream of mixing our advanced and open water divers, there are no time limits, maximum group sizes of four per DM and absolutely no restrictions on where we send the boat. Our safety record is the envy of many, and our worldwide reputation for quality is one we’re very proud of here. Coupled with some of the most talented DMs on the island, and our big, comfortable dive boats (rather than the converted fishing boats so many of our competitors favour) there’s no reason why any sane diver wouldn’t at least come for a chat to find out just why we’re the best choice for fundives, every single day of the year.

 

 

Come and sign up for your fundives in person at our resort on Sairee Beach, or with me in the little office in Sairee village.

 

 

 

 

For those wishing to learn how to dive, the SSI or PADI Open Water course is a great choice here at Big Blue. We’re often asked why the Open Water course takes so long to complete, so this blog will hopefully explain just how the course works, and why taking four days to complete it is the best way to become certified whilst not rushing through it too much – after all why hurry something that’ll give you memories that’ll last a lifetime!

 

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When researching which dive centre to dive with, you’ll often hear the expression ‘getting certified’. This means taking and passing a scuba diving course given by one of the 120 accredited scuba certification agencies such as PADI, SSI and NAUI, the most commonly seen here in Thailand. When you’ve become certified you are now able to fill your own tanks and go diving without a dive professional (of course you’ll need to show a certification card before they will fill a tank) or, alternatively, they can now go diving with any dive shop worldwide without further training.

The training for the Open Water license consists of four parts, spread over four days: 

  • Theory work
  • Written exams
  • Pool training
  • Four Open water dives

OWPOOL

So why do we need four days – it doesn’t seem like that’s a lot to do?

When learning to dive for the first time, our students need time to let all the new information from the theory-side of the course sink in. With the average attention span of students nowadays being an embarrassing 10 minutes maximum (according to educational research) the teacher will have to structure the class sessions in a way that ensures the student is kept engaged and also interested in all the cool new information being introduced. This means spreading the classroom sessions out, with a typical theory schedule looking something like this:

Day 1: 17.00 – 19.00

Just over an hour of videos, and a quick chat with the instructor.

 

Day 2: 08.30 – 17.00

A half hour of videos, and about an hour and a half of class time with the instructor followed by a break for lunch then the pool session.

 

Day 3: 08.30 – 17.00

 An hour and a half of classtime with the instructor, lunch break then two shallow dives in the afternoon.

 

Day 4: 06.30 – 11.30

The final two deep dives of the course, no theory today!

OW

 

This spacing of the theory is, in our opinion, the best possible way to teach our Open Water students precisely what they need without running the risk of them being distracted or losing interest. If it’s all done in one go even a student with the best intentions will struggle to stay stimulated during the theory work, and will certainly not be able to recall all that’s being taught. Also, by spacing the Open Water over four days it really helps with the camaraderie of the group, as learning together always quickly leads to firm friendships amongst the group, which in turn aids learning due to the positive atmosphere that pervades.

 

On the second day, usually after a little instruction from you dive-pro, you will head to the pool (or pool-like environment). You will practice the basic scuba skills you will need to complete your open water training, including such things as putting on your gear, taking off your mask, sharing air, and so on. This shallow water session (known as ‘confined skills’) tends to take about 3-4 hours, but in some situations we will take longer if we feel the students need it to really learn all that is necessary to get maximum enjoyment out of the first ocean dives the following day.

Next comes the four ocean dives. During these dives you will demonstrate the skills you learned in the pool portion of the course, whilst also learning how to control your movements underwater – known as ‘buoyancy control’.

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So we can do all four in one day easily, right?

Wrong! There are many safety standards the instructors MUST stick to, dictated by the Gods of diving the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) who tell every dive organization (PADI, SSI et al) precisely what needs to be done to become an Open Water diver. In regards to the ocean dives they say this:

“No more than three open water scuba dives may be conducted on a given day.”

And hereby is the reason for the fourth day! Personally, I think to do it in a shorter time period can be a little daunting, as to really get comfortable with everything takes time, and to rush through would serve no benefit to either student or instructor – our new divers often call their Open Water experience ‘one of the best times of their lives’, so why hurry?

Sign up for your SSI or PADI Open Water course here at Big Blue’s resort, or through our website at

www.bigbluediving.com

Courses starting every day of the year, at 5pm.

 

OWSS    PADI

 

 

 

Ask any knowledgeable diver for their bucket-list of dive sites and there’s a few that are mentioned again and again – Blue Hole in Belize, Barracuda Point in Sipadan, muckdiving in Lembeh Strait to name but a few – however there’s one event in particular that most of here at Big Blue would give our right arm to dive, filling divers with excitement and I imagine a little trepidation over what they might encounter on their dives.

This event is known as the ‘Sardine Run’.

 

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The Sardine Run is a unique phenomenon occurring from May to July where millions of sardines travel up the south and east coasts of South Africa, causing a frenzy of excitement amongst everyone and everything that comes into contact with them. This migration of small fish come because of the cold currents along this stretch of coastline, and their insane appetite for the plankton that comes with it. The sardines converge close to both the shoreline and the surface whilst feeding on this plankton, making millions of ideal targets for all sorts of hungry predators which take great delight in this underwater banquet.

The first time I became aware of this was, like so many others around the world, watching the Emmy-award winning BBC documentary ‘Blue Planet’. There were birds diving 30 metres down to catch the fish, a few types of whale, bottlenose and common dolphins, sailfish and a few different types of shark too…it seemed every large predator in the ocean had converged to eat their fill and leave a large empty space where just minutes before had been thousands of tiny fish. Watching that at home with another Divemaster was like seeing something imaginary – surely it couldn’t have really been like that, it must have been cleverly edited over a long period of time, right?

Google being our friend, it turned out that this was the real-deal, and it happens every year off the coast of South Africa. It also coincides with the migration of humpback whales which also like to gatecrash the party for a quick feed, because a plain old sardine run obviously isn’t quite enough!

 

sardine whale 

 

How to Do it?

The closest international airport to all the action is Durban, and from there you can head to your dive centre of choice for your ‘safari’. If your budget allows it go for one of the 7 day options to really maximize the amount of stunning marine life that can be seen here – chances are you’ll see everything that you’ve witnessed on Blue Planet/National Geographic/Discovery Channel, however you’ll need patience, time and of course a helping of good luck!

It’s possible to experience the Sardine Run from a number of locations on the coast, with the most popular leaving from Mbotyi, Coffee Bay, Mpame, Port St. Johns and East London (not that one).

The dives on the trip are always dependent on the amount of action that is going on underwater, but the birds are always waiting, and when they’re spotted it’s in the water quickly! Sometimes you’ll be snorkeling, sometimes diving – again it depends on what’s happening underwater at the time, if could be over in minutes or may last longer and go deeper giving you the chance to don your dive equipment and head into the bait balls created by the predators.

 

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What’s a Baitball?

A baitball is a portion of the huge school of sardines that the dolphins have managed to separate from their friends. The dolphins swim around the sardines, release air bubbles from their back to disorientate them and then herd the separated sardines together, which are also packing tightly together themselves for protection. Unfortunately for the stupid sardines it’s an idea that doesn’t work at all, as the bottlenose and common dolphins then push them towards the surface and pounce on their prey, usually gorging on every single one of the little blighters, leaving just a few fish scales as evidence of the massacre.

 

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What can we see?

The numbers and variety of sharks is astounding: bronze whalers, zambezies, hammerheads, coppers, dusky, black-tip and great whites can be seen by the hundreds.  Bottlenose and Common dolphins are seen daily, with estimates declaring there to be around 18,000 of the delicious little buggers around during this event.

We also have our good friends the birds, without which it would be very difficult to find these baitballs. The cape gannet, African penguin and cape cormorant (amongst others) are our early warning signal to the action going on beneath the surface, and when we spot them we diving you can be sure something incredible is going on beneath you.

One of the most awe-inspiring creatures seen in the Sardine Run (for both divers and non-divers alike) are of course the visiting whales. Bryde’s whales, humpback, minke and southern right whales are common, even if they’re not joining the run.

 

 

How much does it cost?

Expect to pay a bargain price of around $2000 US for a 5 day trip, with prices going up to around $4000-$5000 for a week, which is recommended. This includes all food and lodging for the duration of the trip. Lodging is usually back on the mainland at your town of choice.

 

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The Sardine Run is an event for everyone to enjoy - be it bird watchers, marine-life enthusiasts, amateur or highly experienced divers or snorkelers. The best dives in the world? I’d have to say a definite yes!

 

Now if only I can find someone to take me...

 

The proof!

 

 

 

 

As simple as diving is (kick legs, breathe and look at fish) it’s very common for our fresh new Open Water students to encounter a problem or two when first trying out all of the new equipment involved in scuba diving in the shallow waters of the first day.

With years of experience dealing with these challenges, we’ve come up with our Top 5 ‘Hardest’ skills of the Open Water right here:

 

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  1. Breathing out of your Nose

As I said earlier diving is pretty simple, and it’s often the things that seem most straightforward that people trip up on. It therefore comes as no surprise that a surprising amount of students (for reasons unbeknownst to many) get stuck on the uncomplicated task of blowing air out of their noses. Breathe in through your mouth, out through your nose – easy eh?

Well, apparently not! From just simply not exhaling at all, or breathing in instead of out, or my personal favourite of blowing out of their mouths (and then arguing that they didn’t) it’s one of the essential things for all scuba divers to master, as all you certified divers know this is how we get rid of any water that may have collected in our masks.

So what’s the best way to get through this terrible ordeal?

It’s here when the quality of your instructor shines through, and usually with a few reassuring words, a quick cuddle and a pat on the head the students are all happily blowing all sorts of muck out of their noses without even realizing it. It also helps to reassure yourself when feeling anxious in a situation like this, tell yourself ‘don’t panic, you can do this’ and more often than not the perceived problem is overcome easily!

 

 mask clearing 2

  1. Mask Clearing

Ask any dive professional about problems encountered during mask clearing practice and they will no doubt talk of terror, blind panic, and bolting to the surface to get that damn mask off as soon as humanly possible. It’s a vital skill to be mastered by any new diver as it is quite common for water to enter the mask due to a variety of reasons, be it because of a poorly fitting mask, a stray hair caught under the skirting, a kick from another diver or a broken mask strap – the list is endless!

So how do we perfect this technique?

The easy answer is to practice as much as possible, preferably first in a training pool! A safe, controlled environment free of boat traffic, current or visibility issues means a novice diver can feel as comfortable as possible without outside factors causing more stress, and with a few choice words and expert advice from a good instructor the student, before long, is taking the mask of like a true pro.

The following tips may be of use to those having trouble with mask clearing:

  • Practice! You can do this at home, in the kitchen sink or the nearest bathtub
  • Try breathing through the regulator on the surface without a mask on, breathing in through the mouth and out from the nose till it feels normal.
  • When feeling a little more comfortable, try breathing (with your face in the water) through a regulator or snorkel without the mask at all, to get used to the feeling of water in and around your nostrils

Ultimately, a flooded mask is a common occurrence underwater, and dealing with it shouldn’t be perceived as an emergency, but rather as a normal part of scuba diving for the competent, confident diver.

 

 equip

  1. Setting up the Dive Equipment

I remember very well indeed the first time I was shown all of the fancy new equipment needed for diving – ‘there’s quite a lot of it’ was my initial reaction, then suddenly I was bombarded with terms like first stage, buoyancy control device (!), second stage, low pressure inflator, primary and alternate…and my confidence dropped to an all-time low. There was no way I’d remember all those names and which was which!

Of course (being the No. 1 Divemaster in Thailand now) I did in fact get to grips with the equipment after all, and before long it was almost second-nature to go through the set-up efficiently in a matter of minutes. So what was it that helped me conquer this fear of long-winded technical terms and unknown equipment?

Repetition was absolutely the key.  Again and again we set up the dive equipment, took it apart, set it up, swapped with our buddy’s equipment…. repeat ad nauseam! It didn’t take many dives before we could do it with our eyes closed, had worked out the exact knack of getting that LPI connected in one easy movement, and had become at one with the equipment.

The trick is to keep at it, and when diving after the completion of your Open Water insist on always setting up your own equipment to ensure you don’t forget how – after all who better to trust with your stuff than yourself!

 

 giant stride

  1. Deep Water Entry

This is a strange one, as the deep water entry is basically hold the belt, hold the mask and step in. So why do we always have a bit of bother with this one?

It all really comes down to two emotions – excitement and fear.

The first time out on the boat, with everyone putting on their equipment for the first training dive of the SSI or PADI Open Water, is a great place to get excited. There’s always a wonderful buzz going around the boat as we head to the dive site, and when the captain honks his horn to give the all-clear to jump you can see the visible change in our divers demeanour, usually an even split of the nervous and the bloody excited!

Herein lies the problem with the deep water entry. Our divers head to the back of the boat, instructions are repeated for the final time, the diver hold the belt and mask and steps into the unknown…

It’s at this point when at least one person from every group of divers will let go of whatever they were holding and either flap their hands around nervously like they’re a chicken whilst stepping into the ocean, or does some super-excited hands-in-the-air star-jump thingamabob, usually accompanied by a few laughs from the other students. No matter how cool and collected the diver may have seemed before their giant leap for mankind, you can be assured that’s there will always be, from now until the end of time, at least one who royally screws it up and forgets everything they were told a matter of seconds before.

How to beat this? Vulcan emotion-suppressing aside, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself should be enough to enough, but there will always be at least one remember…

 

 

  1. Getting up at 5am for the last day

Staying up all night is not the way to succeed on this one, partygoers.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a little known fact round these parts, but in my previous incarnation in the real world I was lucky enough to experience one of the greatest jobs I could imagine, running a sex shop called ‘Pleasure Chest’ in the heart of Sydney, Australia. It was easily the funniest and most disgusting job I’ve had (which I can’t really describe in full here due to censorship and vulgarity laws) and more often than not it was just plain weird, but as the boss has asked me to compare it with the 2nd best job in the world – Koh Tao Divemaster – I’ll be delving deep into the repressed memories and trying to see what similarities we have between the two, other than the lingering smell of tuna and cat-piss.

 

Sexshop

Potential for growth within the company

The office role of the Divemaster in a dive centre like Big Blue is essentially organizing all of the dive boats and divers to the most suitable places, and ensure that there’s sufficient equipment for the divers. Being responsible for the day-to-day running of the dive centre obviously leaves you very nicely placed if looking to progress through the ranks at Big Blue, and with the diving role meaning you get to master every dive site on the island who better to consider when looking for the right dive instructor?

Running a sex shop generally involved tidying up the porno magazines, making lovely displays to help promote the various sex toys, helping old men find a nice young man to slobber over and buzz people into the different rooms/booths/cruising lounge areas. I answered only to the sweaty, creepy cross-eyed cocaine-fuelled owner, so the only chance of getting promoted would be to buy him out, or marry him then throttle him to death with a 15 inch dong.

Divemaster 1 Sex Shop 0

 

Employee Benefits

Diving for free for the rest of your life is one hell of a perk for us PADI and SSI Divemasters, Koh Tao really does have some very beautiful divesites and with whalesharks being seen regularly by our fundivers now there’s no better time to take advantage of this excellent bonus. In fact, when you think about it pretty much all of the diving part of the Divemaster job is a great – find cool stuff, then point at it!

The benefits in spending you day in a sex shop are very…different. The place I worked at had private one-man booths, private rooms for couples, and the wonderfully named ‘Suckatorium’, where $10 got you an all-day pass to be entertained by men (customers themselves, actually, but more generous ones) in ways that can easily imagined from the room’s name. As well as these we sold all manner of toys, dolls, movies, lubricants and my personal favourite for quiet days, bottles of amyl nitrate or ‘poppers’ as they are usually called.

As we always had a variety of different bottles of poppers open for people to sample, inevitably whenever I got a bit bored I’d crack open a bottle and enjoy that intensely warm, fuzzy, hilarious hit they produce. Combined with the amazing perks of catching men pleasuring themselves in dark corners all night long (not that amazing, actually), receiving numerous gifts from infatuated pensioners looking to convert yours truly to a life of gaydom, AND being able to monitor all the different movies that were being chosen by our customers (i.e watching leather-bound lactating midget-porn for about 6 hours a day, every day) it’s easy to see how the pure, innocent boy that first arrived there left the place as a fully-fledged deviant, with daily flashbacks of bad acting, terrible soundtracks and intimate knowledge of just how lucky plumbers and pizza delivery men are.

Divemaster 2 Sex Shop 0

 

Chance of meeting your significant other there

It’s a well-known fact that the chance of meeting your future husband or wife at your workplace is very high indeed, after all it’s much easier to drop a few rohypnol into a workmates glass rather than a total stranger’s. So how do the two workplaces in question match up?

At Big Blue, a LOT of people working together end up hooking up. As an unmarried Catholic virgin this is very troublesome indeed to my delicate innocent mind, but it does appear that spending every day with the same dive professionals eventually leads to sexy times being had by all, despite what The Lord teaches us in his bibles. To have semi-naked, like-minded people out on the oceans as the sun rises and falls every day is rather romantic, to be fair – but was it more romantic than the Pleasure Chest?

You’re damn right it was. Romance is NOT a word associated with a dark sex shop that smells like poppers and gentlemen’s relish. The most romantic thing in the whole bloody place was probably the glory-holes in the walls of the beating-off booths, and to be honest you don’t really get much decent conversation through a glory-hole and you certainly don’t want to hold your ear up to one…

I’m not saying that there weren’t some lovely people there, I made a lot of friends with the lonely old men who used to hang out (literally) there every day, but meeting a life partner in a place where people aim to spend no more than ten minutes before running off in a sticky mess is not something that happens very often, I can assure you dear reader.

Divemaster 3 Sex Shop 0

 

suit

 

Opportunities to smell Fish

No explanation necessary.

Divemaster 3 Sex Shop 1

 

Does it leave you fulfilled at the end of the work day?

Returning from a beautiful long dive with happy customers excitedly going over the different things that they’d spotted underwater is a wonderful feeling for the Divemaster, after all it’s the job of the DM to find things the diver wouldn’t normally be able to find themselves. It’s also pretty hard to find the most elusive of marine life, and it takes a special kind of person (and a keenly trained eye) to find the weirdest things that lurk on our Koh Tao divesites – so when you do manage to locate that extra special shrimp or super-rare nudibranch even the most cold-hearted DM will get a buzz of excitement!

The sex-shop has a very different type of buzz. Double-headed, multi-directional, battery powered or hand-driven, the type of buzz available is often just as wet, twice as fishy but with the same amount of tight rubber suits, in my own personal experience. It’s was never that fulfilling either, as watching 6 hours of porn every night would usually leave me a little…tense. Some parts were more tense than others, obviously, and it wasn’t like I could go and try out the moves I’d been staring at non-stop for most of the shift…it’s a little off-putting to pull off an ‘Erotic Accordion’ on your sleeping partner when you get home in the wee hours of the morning, she told me.

Final Score : Divemaster 4 Sex Shop 1

 

toy

 

So as predicted it’s a thrashing for the sex shop (insert whip joke here) with the work of the lowly Divemaster once again being hailed as the best damn job that anyone could ever conceive, in the history of the universe.

 

Sign up for your chance to here in the Big Blue office, with DM training starting every single day of the year!

 

NB No lactating midgets were harmed in the writing of this blog.

 

 

Black Water Diving – Tahiti and Moorea Islands, French Polynesia

Not for the faint-hearted (and probably the most nerve wracking dive on this list), even the name ‘black-water diving’ sounds a little intimidating to a lot of divers, but take the plunge here and you’ll never forget what happens next! The night dive involves tying scuba divers to the bottom of a boat (there are often strong currents) and suspending them in pitch black water, in the deep channel between Tahiti and the Moorea Islands where depths can reach hundreds of metres. In this black water, strange bioluminescent creatures such as siphonophores and comb jellies rise to the surface to feed, creating an incredible light show that really has to be seen to be believed.

black water night scuba diving teaser

How to Get There

French Polynesia can be reached in a number of ways. If you’re flying, you’ll arrive in to the capital Papeete, the only international airport, which is on the island of Tahiti. From the USA you can fly direct from Los Angeles, or from New Zealand you can fly direct from Auckland. The best time to visit is between March and November.

 

 

 

Nudi Falls’, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia                                      flamboyant

 

The so-called ‘muck diving capital of the world’ the Lembeh Strait is world famous among the dive community for its incredible diversity of weird and wonderful critters. In fact, the Strait is only a long and narrow strip that separates the mainland from the Lembeh Island, but when you take a closer look you start to notice that it is home to thousands of nudibranchs, blue-ringed octopus, wonderpus and mimic octopus, cuttlefish, pygmy seahorses and a whole of small marine life. As most of these creatures are incredibly active during the night, it only follows that night diving in the Lembeh Strait is even better than diving during the day!

In particular Nudi Falls makes for one of (if not the) best night dive in the world. You’ll follow a wall on the mainland side of the Strait down to rocky corals and finally along the sandy bottom to a soft coral field. In the process, you might find active cuttlefish, squid, rare yet colorful nudibranchs, soft coral cowries and so much more.

Dive sites here go to a depth of between 15 to 25 metres, there are hardly any currents, and throughout the year the waters remain a warm 24 to 30 degrees. Its best visited between March and November.

How to Get There

From Manado, capital of the province of North Sulawesi there are public buses (or rental cars) available to Bitung. Upon arrival at Bitung continue to Ruko Pateten pier in Lembeh subdistrict, and cross by boat to the island of Lembeh – only around a 15 minute journey by boat.

 

 

Manta Night Dive, Kona, Hawaii.                                                  img 4979

It was a toss-up between this and Lembeh Strait for the coveted No. 1 spot on this list, as to experience descending into darkness to observe the nightly performance of the manta ballet just of the Kona coast is something that you’ll never forget.

Each night, dive operators shine massive spotlights into the water which attracts light-seeking plankton. The mantas, eager for an easy feed, then glide in to feed on the plankton whilst you relax on the sandy bottom with the best seat in the place!

Samuel Beckett from ‘Planet Dive’ puts it very eloquently –

“Diving with mantas is one of the most satisfying things a person can do in the water. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of watching a massive fish the size of a stealth bomber coming into vision. It’s akin to watching your child ride a bike for the first time or finding a winning lottery ticket”

How to Get There

Traveling to the area is easy, as Kona has a large international airport served by numerous airlines from North America as well as inter-island airlines. The best time to visit is between April and October.

 

 

 

Bonaire, Southern Caribbean                                                                         bonaire

For years, high-tech photographers have documented the neon fluorescence displayed by corals, nudibranch and other marine life that occurs when UV light reflects off them viewed through a special filter.

Biofluorescent diving is a relatively new concept in the scuba world, where special UV lights and mask filters are used to bring out this natural fluorescence underwater. The result is an underwater party best experienced in Bonaire, where about 25% of the marine life species are fluorescent with shrimps, eels and all manner of creatures reflecting the UV rays in shocking pink, purple and green. These dives also can’t fail to give you a new found respect for the reefs and the coral, revealing things that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye in a stunning display of fabulous colours.

How to Get There

Direct flights from the USA are available with United Airlines from Newark and Houston, with Europe being served by KLM or TUI from Amsterdam.

 

 

Navy Pier, Exmouth, Western Australia                                              

One of the best sites in the Ningaloo Reef, Navy Pier is a 300-metre structure extending out from shore and is a world famous dive site home to some of the biggest marine life in the Pacific with huge rays, moray eels, lobsters, sea snakes and massive Queensland grouper commonly seen. Diving here during the day is something very special, but the area really comes into its own at night where you’re likely to encounter flatworms, nudibranchs, eels, wobbegong sharks, whitetip reef sharks, octopus and scorpion fish among the active, nocturnal hunters. It’s also a great place to see whalesharks in season, so there’s always a chance of bumping into one of these on this phenomenal night dive.

 octo

How to Get There

Learmonth Airport is located 36km from Exmouth and ‘Exmouth Bus Charters’ provide a shuttle bus service from the airport to your accommodation in Exmouth for a per person fee. The best time to visit is between March and November.

Once you start diving, it becomes very hard to stop – ask any dive pro here on Koh Tao and they’ll usually tell you the same story, they came for a few days and before they knew it they’d signed up for professional training and waved goodbye to the grind of the real world and the 9-5.

As you start buying equipment and learn more about diving through PADI/SSI courses, you’ll find that doing some proper research on what you’re intending to buy will help get you ready for years of diving enjoyment. One key component in your gear is your dive computer, and in this blog we’ll be looking at my 3 favourite computers on the market right now:

 

Shearwater Research Petrel 2 SA Dive Computer

Shearwater Research Petrel 2

The largest dive computer to make my top three, the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one hell of a dive computer and my undoubted number one choice for those with a bit of cash to splash on a proper dive computer!

It features a large full size 2.4 inch screen that allows you to see all the important functions (depth, temperature etc.) without having to scroll through several screens – making it a lot easier for those diving in cold waters and wearing gloves, which is always a struggle with the small-buttoned models. It supports both normal regulators and rebreathers, as well as Trimix diving making it an excellent choice for recreational and technical divers alike – purchasers can be sure that they’ll never need to buy another dive computer again with this beauty, and even if you are a beginner diver this will be a good investment as you will never outgrow it, no matter what your future diving tastes.

The backlight on the Shearwater Petrel 2 is adjustable and on medium brightness with a single AA alkaline battery you will get about 35 hours of life, and if you use a SAFT LS14500 lithium you can get over 100 hours! I love the fact a normal AA battery can be used with this, it really cuts the chance of having a dive trip ruined by a flat battery. It also features an incredibly clear screen, with a lovely bright LCD display rather than the older crystal displays that so many of the other popular dive computers feature.

shearspecs

You can also customize the layout of all the essential info to suit your dive style and I’m a huge fan of the ‘time to surface’ feature, which actually calculates how many minutes it will take you to surface if you started your ascent at that very moment, including decompression and safety stops.

The digital compass included in the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one of the best I on the market. It is tilt compensated so reads properly at any angle, has a degree wheel displayed which you can toggle between 60, 90 and 120 degree display modes, and best of all you can easily mark a heading and it automatically marks the reciprocal heading for finding your way back - perfect for stupid DMTs!

Like most of the good computers available these days, the Petrel 2 can link via Bluetooth easily to communicate with your PC, Mac, iPod or iPad.

So, don’t let the size or price put you off - it retails at around $850 US – as you can be certain that this surprisingly easy to use dive computer will have other divers drooling over it on the boat and underwater. For anyone thinking about getting into technical diving then there’s really no better computer on the market that the Petrel 2, and with its sturdy design you can tell immediately that it’s a dive computer made to last for a very long time indeed.

The best dive computer I’ve ever seen, hands down.

Specifications

Air/Nitrox/Trimix capable

Screen Resolution 320×240 QVGA

Full colour LED LCD

Battery Type – Single AA

3 axis, tilt compensated, digital compass

Dive Log 1000 Hours

Smart Ready Bluetooth Interface

 

OceanicGeo2.0

Oceanic Geo 2.0 

A great example of a mid-range dive computer, the Geo 2 is one I’ve been wanting for a long time now. With its nicely designed screen and easy to read numerical displays, its small ‘watch’ size doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features at all.

The Oceanic Geo 2 Supports both air and 2 programmable nitrox gas mixes, one up to 100% O2 which is pretty unusual in similar computers. The audio alarms are loud enough but not annoyingly so, and they’re also accompanied by a very handy small flashing LED for the hard of hearing out there.

The Oceanic Geo 2 dive computer features four operating modes: Watch, Norm (for air and nitrox), Gauge (with run timer) and a free diving mode, which is nice. Despite the instruction manual being a little confusing the computer is really easy to get the hang of after a few minutes messing around with it, and the pretty powerful backlight (with adjustable duration) works great. Like many of its competitors it too comes with a safety stop countdown timer.

geee

 

I really like that it has an easy access ‘last dive’ function for quick reference, and of course you can see it is a cool design which doesn’t look out of place at all out of the diving environment. Another great bonus is that you’re able to change the battery yourself in a matter of minutes, saving a lot of time and money when it does get a little low on power.

 Finally, and one of the most important features for a lot of experienced divers is that it’s possible to change the algorithm used to calculate your NDLs!  They offer dual algorithms allowing to switch between them when necessary, which is particularly handy if you dive with a buddy that has his own computer which calculates based on a specific model. You at least will be able to somewhat get the calculations in sync!

The algorithm you can select is either the Buhlmann ZHL-16c based PZ or a DSAT based model. The DSAT variant is better suited when you want to pick a liberal recreational dive algorithm, whereas the Buhlmann algorithm is more conservative. It’s also possible to adjust the conservatism of either of the calculation models by yourself to achieve a more conservative dive profile.

Overall this is one of the best dive computers in the intermediate price range on the market today, and if it featured a digital compass it could well be sitting pretty in my number one spot. It retails at around $350 US.

Specifications

Easy to navigate with 4 buttons

Four operational modes for Watch, Air/Nitrox, Gauge and Free Diving

Two gas mixes between 21% and 100%

PO2 limits adjustable from 1.2 to 1.6 bars

Two different algorithms with additional conservatism settings

Max. operating depth 100 meters for Air/Nitrox and 120 meters for Gauge

Automatic altitude adjustments up to 4,270 m (14,000 ft)

Dive log with capacity for 24 dives

Log sampling rates selectable at 2, 15, 30 and 60 seconds

User switchable battery

Limited warranty of 2 years

 

suunto d4i

Suunto D4i

 

The Suunto dive computer is a very popular brand, and the D4i is easily the most commonly seen dive computer in my recreational diving experiences around the world – meaning there’s almost always someone who can help you with it if you didn’t read the instruction booklet properly!

It’s a sleek, compact and lightweight dive computer that can easily be worn everyday as a watch, and has four dive modes: Air, Nitrox, Freedive and Gauge. The Suunto D4i also comes with the ability to connect to an (optional) wireless air transmitter which makes it great for mid-level divers who want the ability to expand their gear later on.

The freediving mode stands out and you can see why this a very popular computer with our freediving team, mainly due to its ease of use, small size and also the ‘3 times a second’ sample rate, giving you highly accurate data on the true depths reached on your dives.

The Suunto D4i comes with an 80 hour internal dive log that can be easily exported to your PC for digital dive log enthusiasts, and the dot matrix display is super easy to read and has a strong backlight that keeps all essential dive information available at a quick glance – an essential characteristic for those looking to buy a compact watch-style computer.

 

Suunto D4i Novo Black action1

 

There is a nice safety stop countdown feature, and the nitrox settings can be adjusted between 21% and 50% without much trouble at all. The optional wireless air integration on the D4i allows you to easily track current tank pressure and remaining air time with a quick glance at your wrist, along with other critical information, giving you more time to truly enjoy your dive.

I highly recommend this to scuba diving enthusiasts looking for a high quality mid-range Suunto dive computer. The free diving mode is great, and the optional wireless air integration feature is a nice touch for those looking to invest in a transmitter.

The Suunto D4i retails at around $450 US.

 

Specifications

Adjustable alarms for ascent rates and maximum depth and time

Free diving mode sampling depth information 3 times per second

Clear and precise dot matrix display with backlighting

Four dive mode settings including Air, Nitrox, free dive and gauge

Adjustable Nitrox settings between 21% and 50% with PO2 limits between 0.5 and1.6 bars

Maximum depth display to 100 meters

Adjustable Altitude

Built-in dive log up to 140 hours

Lithium battery (CR2450)

RGBM (Reduced Gradient Bubble Model) algorithm

Built-in dive planner

Optional wireless air integration

2 year limited warranty

 

Happy shopping!

 

 

 

A question that we’re asked often here at Big Blue by those of you looking to do their first ever dives is how long will be spent underwater? In this blog I will try my best to answer that question, but of course there are many different factors that will influence the length of time that you will be diving for which we will look at in more detail now.

 

Rate of Breathing

Obviously the faster you breathe, the shorter your dive will be – after all the time underwater is dictated by the amount of air in the diving cylinder, or ‘tank’ as I’ll be calling it here. So how can I extend this ‘bottom time’? Don’t bloody breathe so fast, that’s how. Slow, relaxed breaths are the way forward here - exactly how you’re breathing right now.

fatty

Size of the diver

Are you a big fatty wobbler, a 2 metre giant or a muscle-bound hero like me? Then you’re going to breathe more than smaller humans, as you’re carrying a lot of extra weight compared to those damn slim people. It takes more energy and effort to move this mass around you see, which takes a lot of oxygen – it’s like they’re working out every time they move. I don’t recommend chopping of a limb before diving of course, but I imagine it would help.

Conditions underwater

We all dream of diving in crystal clear waters, gliding effortlessly through the water free of currents without a care in the world, but in reality it isn’t always like that. There’s always a chance that the visibility may drop, which may make the diver a little nervous which often results in faster breathing. Tidal movement may also introduce an ocean current, which will put the diver in a situation where they need to kick harder, thus increasing the rate the diver is breathing – both of which will shorten the amount of time the diver gets underwater.

string current

Excitement of diver

A number of situations will make your heart beat faster, including how excited you are. The faster your heart beats, the faster it can get more blood and oxygen to your muscles, leading to…you guessed it – shorter dive times due to the increased rate of breathing that goes hand in hand with heart rate. So we shouldn’t get excited?? That may be difficult especially when diving for the first time ever, but with practice a diver is able to control this more, and thus have a longer dive. Calm and collected is what we aim for when diving!

Depth of dive

Simply put, the length of your dive directly depends on the depth of the dive. The deeper you dive, the denser gases become (the more molecules are required to fill a given flexible space). Double the pressure (at 10m seawater) and it takes twice as much gas to fill your lungs with each breath. Triple the pressure (at 20m seawater) and it takes three times as much. Thus, the deeper you dive, the faster you consume air from your scuba tanks no matter how much air it holds to start with.

 too many tanks

The size of the tank

There are varying sizes of tanks used for diving, and the size you’re given will affect how much air it can contain and how long the tank will last at a given depth. The most common you’ll encounter especially here in Thailand are 12 litre, 200 bar scuba tanks (or thereabouts).  In Europe it’s also common to have the larger 15 litre tanks, which should add about 10 minutes to your dive time from the standard 12 litre cylinders.

So how long does a scuba tank last? The average beginner diver’s air consumption in calm waters runs a tank close to empty in around 1 hour at 10m depth (compared to just a few minutes at 40m). Professional and very experienced divers can usually double this time through breathing/buoyancy control and by minimizing the amount of movement underwater.

out of air

Quality of instruction

I’ll never forget my first ever diving experience, where my bitter old instructor shouted at us poor students repeatedly, got really angry when we messed up and generally just acted like an arse the whole time. He didn’t exactly inspire any of us new divers, or calm us when we faced a challenging part of the course – to be honest it seemed to us that we were wasting his ‘valuable’ time and he’d rather be anywhere else but in the classroom with us.

When we were descending on the first ever ocean dive we were (no doubt due to the poor quality instruction we’d received) pretty bloody nervous, and felt ill-prepared for what we were about to encounter. Nervous divers, like the excited diver we talked about earlier, breathe a lot more hence have shorter dives – we lasted about 30 minutes only.

Would a better instructor have been able to allay our fears, resulting in calmer divers? You’re damn right they would have!

badd diver

Diving technique

Anyone with a bit of diving experience can tell you that there are a lot of divers out there with poor technique. Divers will bump into you, constantly adjust their buoyancy, flap their hands around, kick as hard and fast as they can and often ruin the dive for everyone else in their group by getting low on air very quickly indeed due to all this excessive movement. The solution can often be quite simple; take the ‘Perfect Buoyancy’ dive offered at your local dive centre, or go for the SSI or PADI Advanced Diver course where the instructor will really work on taking your diving technique to the next level, often leading to a large increase in bottom time for the newly competent diver.

 

Speed of the Diver

When you’re active, your breathing can increase up to about 40-60 times a minute to cope with the extra demand on your body. The delivery of oxygen to your muscles also speeds up, so they can do their job efficiently. This is all well and good if you’re a professional athlete, but whilst diving we want to try to maximize the time spent underwater by breathing slowly and calmly as much as is possible!

The key to this is to dive really slowwwwwwwwwwwwly. Less movement as we know leads to less oxygen being pumped to the muscles by the heart, so the breathing rate will also slow right down in turn. We don’t want to be kicking constantly or darting around the dive site, aim to slowly glide around underwater as much as possible and you’ll be amazed just how much longer your dives become!

Taking all of these things into account, what can we conclude?

 The short answer is about 45 minutes!

 

I’ve been living and loving Thailand for quite a few years now, and like to think I know a thing or two about places to visit if you’re looking for some time to really unwind and forget the stresses of the real world. Personally I think the real beauty of Koh Tao is underwater, so when I want to really take advantage of the peace and tranquility that this wonderful country has to offer it’s time to grab that backpack and head to the other side of Thailand to explore some of the lesser-known gems that still manage to hide away from the masses of tourists now visiting this country.

In these next three blogs I’d like to look in detail at my all-time favourite islands for those wanting something other than partying every night!

 

KPmap

Koh Phayam

My absolute number one choice due to its easy accessibility from Koh Tao, Koh Phayam is like taking a step back in time to the days when Thai beaches were filled only with palm trees, crabs, a few simple bungalows and the odd skinny beach dog.

This gorgeous little island is around 35 kilometres square, and is the second most northern Thai island found on the Andaman Sea. It’s just 20km from Ranong and has long white sandy beaches, warm seas, beautiful views of neighbouring Burmese islands, fascinating wildlife and no ATMs, 7-11s or cars– although there is a weird tractor-type thing that you see on occasion carting large groups of Thai tourists to their plush resorts! It's the perfect place to really get away from it all, with great treks through the jungle or on the beaches revealing playful monkeys, the weirdly wonderful great hornbills, sea eagles, many types of butterfly and hordes of crabs going about their business. The interior of the island is home to large rubber and cashew nut farms which line the narrow ‘roads’ that link the main beaches and villages of Phayam – the smell of the cashew trees in bloom in March is amazing!

Great Hornbill 1

 

It’s not a place for those wishing to enjoy the clear, coral filled waters that so many Andaman-side islands can boast, but one thing that I’ll never get bored of is the 1 metre-plus breaking waves on the busiest beach of Long Beach, making it possible to surf and boogie board– one of only a two places in Thailand that can offer this I believe, the other being Phuket, which as we all know is a sh1thole.

There are a few really nice beaches around this island  - most of the accommodation is on Aow Yai  (Long Beach) and Aow Khao Kwai  (Buffalo Bay). Ao Yai is the largest bay on the west-coast with a lovely 3 km long beach perfect for sunset strolls and watching the bioluminescence, and there’s the occasional party in high season and cheap simple bungalows on the far north and south of the beach – expect to pay a minimum of 300 baht per night for the most basic. The amount of resorts and bungalow operations on Long beach has risen dramatically the last few years, but it’s still a great place to hang out during the day and eat at night – most of the best restaurants are located on Long Beach.

 

kpsunset

Buffalo Bay is a quieter beach, especially the south-east part of the bay where you’ll find me lazing around in a cloud of smoke and Chang bottles in my time off from Koh Tao. More upscale and better quality resorts dedicated to families, couples and Thai tour groups are found here, but there are still a few low-budget places on the beach and overlooking the bay – prices start at around 300 baht per night for the most basic wooden bungalow.

At the south end of Buffalo Bay is a small sea gypsy settlement which is worth exploring, especially when the locals return with their daily catch – just remember to ask before taking pictures of them, they’re gyspy/pirates so I imagine they’re pretty tough guys!

 

KPsurf

When you feel like snorkelling or a spot of scuba diving it’s possible to sign up for a day trip to sublime Ko Surin or the islands in Laem Son Marine Park to the south, plus on the odd occasion I’ve seen adverts for Liveaboard trips north into Burma’s Mergui Archipelago. Those of you thinking of doing your PADI Open Water course here should expect to pay around 15,000 baht for the 4 day course, which is 50% more than what you pay here on Koh Tao.

Koh Phayam’s tourism season lasts from November to May, with the high season kicking in around late December through to February. It’s not necessary to book in advance for budget travelers, and discounts are often given when dealing face-to face with the resort of your choice.

 A ‘cashew festival’ is held every year in March to mark the harvest with music and sports on Long Beach for all you nut fans!

 

KPsign

How to get there:

In Ranong, take a taxi motorcycle or ‘songthaew’ to the Koh Phayam pier. This will cost between 50 and 100 baht, depending on the mood of the driver.

The slow ferries and speedboats leave every hour or so nowadays, so it’s easy to arrive and book on to the next available boat out most times of the year – though in the peak of high season it may be a good idea to book in advance at least the day before. The slow boats cost about 200 baht and takes 2-3 hours depending on the waves, and the speedboats cost around 400 baht and take just 40 minutes.

The last boats to Phayam are at 14.30 in low season, and 17.30 in high season – again subject to change depending on the mood of the drivers and the weather of course!

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