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January 30th 2014

More wrecks!
Trident-sinkingContinuing the theme of wrecks in and around Koh Tao, today it’s the MV Trident. The Trident is a dive boat that was sunk on purpose to act as an artificial reef. When in service, she (that’s how you refer to ships, they’re all female) was operated by Tech Thailand as a technical diving liveaboard. She was used to search for wrecks all over the Gulf of Thailand, and was able to find 30 lost ships before the owners decided to sink her. These include a variety of World War two ships and submarines, including the USS Lagarto, and more modern day cargo ships- even a drilling ship. Once the decision was made to decommission and sink her in November 2010, she had all her insides removed- engines, transmission, electrical wiring, furniture, fluffy dice, and even the soda stream. This was to make her environmentally friendly so she didn’t leak any oil or diesel into the ocean, and to make technical wreck penetrations a little less deadly. So there she sits today, her 29 metre steel hull rusting away on the sea bed at 36 metres- pretty deep for recreational divers but still open to experienced fun divers that have their deep speciality certification. It’s also a great training site for any technical diving courses beyond intro to tech.
She’s located just to the South of Shark Island, which is around a 20 minute ride from Big Blue. The great thing about the location is that Shark Island can sometimes be subjected to strong currents, which means that any local marine life use the Trident as a shelter- great for divers... not really ideal for snorkelers.. If you want to dive the Trident, pop into the office during your stay with us and charm the divemasters into letting you go, they’ll be mad for it. Then tell them you've changed your mind and just want to snorkel it..

Monkey or no monkey?
One of the posher resorts on Koh Tao, Jamikiri, say on their website that they have a monkey sanctuary. I had no idea whatsoever, and was quite excited about the prospect, so I asked around all the people that have been here forever, but no-one else had any idea either. So they’re either telling porkies about monkeys on their website, or its Koh Tao’s best kept secret. The only other monkeys I’ve ever seen on Koh Tao are owned by local Thai guys that go round the resorts and use them to remove coconuts from the trees so they don’t fall on anyone’s heads, killing them outright, and allowing them to join the statistical comparison, whereby more people are killed by coconuts each year than are killed by sharks.. fact. So the monkeys are on a very long dog lead, go up the tree, and commit violence on the coconuts until they fall to the ground. As for monkeys in the wild roaming around the jungle tree-tops, I have no idea, I’ve never seen any. Maybe they all dug a tunnel reinforced with coconuts and escaped to the mainland, and were employed as extras in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 film.

January 27th 2014

Getting wrecked
htms-sattakutAs a comedienne once asked Debbie McGee, “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” I shall ask you a similarly loaded question; what attracts you to dive in oceans that are abound with beautiful, eerie and historical shipwrecks? Did you say wreck diving? Thought so. Then allow me to tell you all about the more prevalent wrecks that litter the sea bed around Koh Tao. Today it’s the most common one that we dive, the HTMS Sattakut (HTMS- His Majesty's Thai Ship). It’s an ex-US Navy landing craft infantry vessel that was donated to Koh Tao by the Thai Navy in 2011. The Sattakut was involved in a number of battles in World War 2; the battles of Okinawa and Iowa Jima, and the liberation of Peleliu/Palau. After WW2 it was purchased by the Thai Navy, where it lived out its service as a patrol boat before being committed to its current resting place. As well as being its own dedicated dive site, it also happens to be the closet dive site to Big Blue diving, positioned just 10 metres to the North of Hin Pee Wee. It lies on the sea bed with the bow facing North on a sloping sandy bottom. The bottom of the bow is at 27-ish metres, the top of the bow is at 20-ish metres. The stern sits at 31-ish metres on the sea bed, and 27-ish metres at the top. The vessel is 48 metres long (no-ish this time). To visit the Sattakut you’ll need to undertake your advanced course- easily done if you allow yourself another couple of days on Koh Tao after completing your 3-day open water course. If you’re already an advanced fun diver you will be good to go.
The Sattakut is about as safe a wreck as a wreck can be; no fishing is allowed on it, so it’s not littered with fishing nets, all the furniture, the engine, and electrical cables have been removed from the inside, and the current is not usually very strong around it. Having been sitting on the sea bed for almost 3 years, marine life is abundant all over it, and providing the thermocline is not too bad there is lots of stuff to see as you swim around the outside of it. I say outside because even if you have your wreck speciality, wreck penetration is not something recreational divers should be doing. The PADI and SSI wreck specialities are not designed to teach you what you need to know about going inside a wreck. To do that, you need to be a tech diver and undertake the advanced wreck course. I’m not going to drone on about how dangerous wreck penetration is, but it is, so there… So as long as you don’t touch, and don’t even think about penetrating, you can swim around it to your heart’s content, or at least until your NDLs or air require you to ascend. It’s an amazing thing to see this object that we’re so familiar with on the surface, just lying there slowly being swallowed by the ocean, with hobo fish using it as a drop-in shelter. It’s the reason I love diving; I get to see a bit of history, with marine life thrown in for free. It’s also common knowledge that whalesharks are amateur naval historians, and will occasionally drop in for a peek of their own.
If you want to come to Big Blue to dive the Sattakut, look on the rest of the website and make a booking for a course or to fun dive- you won’t be disappointed.

Now this is probably going to sound pretty random, but I know somewhere that sells amazingly tasty samosa on Koh Tao. Granted, it's not your traditional Thai fare, but they are damn good nonetheless. The place is all over Sairee- it's a guy that wanders round with a tray reminiscent of the ice cream seller in cinemas of old. They are home made, when and where, I haven't asked- presumably at his house. Either way, you'll see him in the daytime wandering up and down the beach until the tray is empty. Don't worry though, I know you're all dying to try one now, and instead of chasing around the yellow brick road searching for him, you can easily find him outside the Big Blue office at 12pm on most days. He's always got a smile, and a straw hat- he's a bit of a dude.. probably enjoys bowling and plays jazz music while baking them. They sell for the grand price of 20 baht. If you think that's expensive, you are clearly not worthy to try one.


January 25th 2014

Dive “professionals”
instructorIn the last blog I wrote about the funny things that open water students ask or say during their course. It's a goldmine of stories that just keeps on giving. But I also promised to write about all the silly things instructors and divemasters have said or done. Not as easy as you might think. I spoke to a few people at the bar last night, and every story was about someone else. Who’s really going to admit that they’ve come out with something absolutely ridiculous? I myself have never left my dive gear on land when going on the dive boat, totally fluffed a skill I’ve been demonstrating in the pool, or come out with some kind of Freudian slip when teaching academics... Anyway, I did manage to glean some stories from my colleagues, that they have observed or heard other people say or do.
How about the divemaster that was heard telling their customer that if they had ear problems underwater, they should just put their fingers in their ears! I think the person in question may have been joking- I really hope there are no dive professionals reading this and thinking "well what's wrong with that? sounds sensible". What about the instructor that dived with a whaleshark with their students. Back on board the boat, one of them asked why the whaleshark repeatedly swam up to the surface and then descended back down. The instructor replied that it "needed to go to the surface to breathe"....! But my favorite has to be the instructor that was explaining how sound travels differently underwater, by explaining that sound waves enter one ear, travel through the skull, and exit the other ear, which is why you can’t tell where sound is coming from underwater. That’s like explaining that objects underwater appear larger than they actually are because the pressure of the water has shrunk your eyes!
I also know of an instructor that was showing their student how the equipment should be assembled, and then proceeded to put the regulator on first. I guess when you're carrying your tank under your arm, your BC probably looks a bit more stylish.
I had an instructor intern that I was mentoring, and, for once he was being very organised on the boat before dive three of the open water course. As his students stood at the back of the boat, he demonstrated the easiest and safest entry into the water. “So, I’m going to hold my right hand on my regulator and two fingers on my mask, like this. My left hand is touching the buckle of my weight belt. Now, with my toes over the edge, I’m going to look down to ensure I’m clear to jump, then, I’m going to look straight ahead and take a big step forward, like this”. As he came back to the surface, he fully inflated, signalled to the boat that he was ok, and then, as he drifted further and further from the boat, shouted “can someone please throw me my fins”.

Speedos season
It looks like the captain of Banzai was correct a couple of days ago when he said that the weather is going to get better and better from now on. It’s baking hot, the sea is flat as a pancake and the residents of Koh Tao are happy again. We didn’t really have much of a monsoon this time around, but it was cloudy for a couple of months, so it was slightly colder than the usual 30 degrees centigrade we are used to. The Island has been agog with dive instructors and divemasters wearing hoodies and moaning about being cold. No more, it’s just going to get hotter and hotter from hereon in. In April it will be touching 35-40 degrees, and then everyone that lives here will be complaining that it’s too hot. You just can’t win. The downside to it being nice and sunny is that there will be increased sightings of European men wearing speedos, which no-one wants to see, especially the flesh-coloured ones (speedos, not men). But it’s a small price to pay to live here. All we need now is for the Gulf of Thailand to warm up a little, back to 31 degrees.. because, you know, 27 degrees is practically Baltic isn’t it….

January 23rd 2014

Ask a silly question
silly-scuba-questionsAs you can imagine, we get a very broad mix of people coming to Big Blue to either learn how to dive, or go fun diving. They bring with them every sort of personality you can think of, as well as some you can't. We have quiet students that diligently listen and just get stuck into the learning process, people who don't listen to a word you say as you're trying to teach them, and people who ask very sensible questions that actually make some experienced instructors have to think about the answer. On the flip side of that, we're also asked questions that make us wonder how that person managed to ever obtain a passport, make it to the airport and travel to Thailand in the first place.
One student in the pool once described how they really liked the attention to detail we'd made to emulate the conditions of the ocean by installing a "current simulator". After a bit of head scratching, the instructor realised that they meant the filter that sucks water in to clean the pool! One of our ex-instructors, Tosh, was asked by their student why Koh Tao doesn't drift away.. after a pretty confusing conversation, it turns out that they thought that the entire Island of Koh Tao was like a raft that was anchored to the sea bed to keep it in place! That one is going to take some serious beating. One of my recent students was having a bit of trouble understanding dive planning, and whilst we were going through the dive tables she told me she couldn't understand what "residential nitrogen" meant. Either she meant residual, or I need to look at the tables again. I should have replied that residential nitrogen must always be kept seperate from the central business district nitrogen, or there will be noise complaints about the divers once they get back to land.
On the advanced course we talk about increased pressure from diving to 30 metres, and can demonstrate this by taking an empty water bottle down, filling it up with air, and then on the boat hearing it pop as the lid is removed. We also play tricks occassionally and people do fall for them. One is to show students a large bottle of chang beer on the boat, then take a small bottle of chang down to show them at 30 metres, implying that the increased pressure has shrunk the bottle. You'd be amazed how many people fall for this. We also do the same with small and large mars bars, and convince people that the pressure makes the chocolate taste better.. at least that's what it looks like as they nod their heads whilst taking a bite post dive. Maybe people just prefer the taste of salty mars bars.
At the end of the diving day, as people wash their equipment they are asked to fully inflate their BC before handing it in, so it has a chance to dry on the inside as well as outside. We see quite a lot of people pressing the inflator button, staring at us in puzzlement, before asking the inevitable "why is it not working". 
A really common question we are often asked comes as we are about to descend underwater in the pool for the first time... "Do I need to put my regulator in to go down?" But my favourite was a recent student that came up to me at the end of the pool session on the first day of her open water course, and said, completely straight faced, "Have you ever taught anyone as thick as me before?" How could I possible say no to that!? That just made me think she was awesome.
It's all part of the reason that we love our job, we're not really laughing at you, the questions are often very endearing, and you should hear some of the stupid things we say when talking to students, usually first thing in the morning. In fact, i'll have a chat with my colleagues and dedicate the next post to the stupid things instructors and divemasters have said to their customers.

We've had a mini-relapse of monsoon over the past few days, with very choppy conditions out in the Gulf of Thailand cancelling some of the ferries, and creating some very green looking people. But hurrah, the forecast is set to calm down over the next couple of days. Speaking to the captain of Banzai yesterday, he said that once the weather has died down, that's it... flat seas, hot baking sun and incredible underwater visibility, mostly until the next monsoon! Looking forward to Mr Sun heating Mr Ocean up again so that us pathetic dive professionals can go diving sans wetsuit and instead put on a rash vest and board shorts. We've all acclimatised to the ocean being 27 degrees instead of the usual 31, so we are cold when diving. Our customers that are used to colder conditions anyway will not really think it's cold at all. It seems that the vending machine that supplies cups of concrete has been broken of late.

January 21st 2014

Watch now, buy later
big-blue-videoA friend of mine came to Koh Tao recently to see me, and he came up with an idea that I think is pretty good. In case you don't know, if you come to Big Blue to learn how to dive, we will film you during your final two dives of your open water course. That afternoon, the Big Blue videographer edits the footage and puts it to music. Then the instructor meets their students in the bar that evening and they watch the video together. It's a perfect way to review what the students have achieved, see how beautiful the underwater world is, and celebrate becoming open water divers. The students have the option to buy the video, and many people do so- It's a fantastic way to show their friends and family what they were up to on Koh Tao, and it's good to watch every now and then to remind them of what a great time they had at Big Blue.
Many people are travelling on a budget, and simply can't afford to buy the video, even though it is pretty cheap. So how about 6 months after they've left Koh Tao, we email them to say that they still have a chance to buy the video? Maybe they have settled back to life and they want to be reminded of their time here, or perhaps they've been working hard and managed to get some money behind them so they can now afford it. I think it's a great idea and I think many people would go for it. Who knows, being stuck in the 9-5 and then seeing what they were doing 6 months ago might spur people on to get itchy feet again and see a bit of the world, and that can't be a bad thing! If there's one thing people seem to be crazy about these days, it's having lots of options and choices.
I think it's got legs, but what do you think? If you did your open water course with us, do you think it would have been beneficial to be able to buy the video later, after you'd returned home? Let us know on our facebook page.

"Music" on Koh Tao
There's currently a two day electronic music festival happening on Koh Tao, which is brilliant news if you like partying for two days and nights, and also happen to enjoy listening to electronic music. Not so good if you live next door to it, you're old, and the constant bass reminds you of trying to sleep when working on an oil rig- trust me, it sounds pretty damn similar. Maybe i'm getting old, or maybe I don't want to hear a million car alarms going off next to my house for the next two days, but it seems as Koh Tao gets more and more popular, the nightlife is turning into a mini Koh Panghan. This Island is really missing one thing- a vibrant live music scene. It's the perfect venue to be having loads of bars with live bands playing every night, but for some reason most places along Sairee beach just seem to play the same old crappy house/drum and bass or whatever the hell it is. Big Blue bar is the only place I know that plays normal music of all genres. Ok, perhaps Banyans does too (on the road up to Jitson). There is a serious opportunity for someone who's in the know in the music business to get some bands over here to promote their wares. That's something I know I'd be up for, and so would many people I know. Now, do I put my ear plugs in and get a good night sleep, but miss the morning boat because I don't hear my alarm? My open water video tomorrow night is definitely going to have a zombie feel to it..

January 18th 2014

Batman on a horse
guyThe boss Jim is currently away visiting friends and family back home. So it's a given that anarchy ensued within hours of his departure. Regarding our instructors, Neil has vowed to demonstrate what a showman he can be on the open water videos, and has already bought his leotard. Mini Ant is threatening to get a life-size tattoo of a sea urchin on his face- not because the boss is gone, but because he thinks it'll probably match his eyes. Iain might even go so far as to say a swear word in front of his students, and Ami with an I has already rented a salang, from which she intends to sell laughing gas outside the office as our fun divers come back from their dives. Helium would have made more sense. As for the divemasters, Steven will suspend his usual high standards of customer service, and instead will tell anyone and everyone he meets exactly what he's thinking.. no wait... and Carly will probably start snogging all the divemaster trainees, male and female, all in one drunken night....... again.
But fear not people. Standing in for Jim is divemaster trainee mentor Guy, one of our finest, oldest and weirdest instructors. The other staff may think they will be able to wrap him around their collective fingers, but he has a fiercesome arsenal of nuanced jedi mind tricks he can play to keep everyone in line. Firstly, hailing from Yorkshire allows him to keep his natural miserable-ness on high alert- for 24 entire hours of each and every day (i'm told he sleep-whinges). So trying to get on his good side is technically an oxymoron as he doesn't have sides, or good. Secondly, he has extensive experience in handling unhappy customers from his years of performing in working men's clubs in his home town of Huddesfield. His turn was basically a David Copperfield-style magic act, performed whilst dressed as Jimmy Sommerville with high collars, extensive make-up and a cape. So, short of dazzling him with their ability to make the ocean dissapear/re-appear, he won't be fooled by any customers that appear to be having too good a time. Thirdly, he's definitely the right man for the job.. if that job is to sit on a horse looking like you have saddle sores, whilst wearing a batman t-shirt. I think that requires no further elucidation.
Joking aside, Big Blue is in good hands, we're busy and our staff are working hard, pulling together, and enjoying what they do. Whether you're a fun diver or learning how to dive, you'll get the best experience of diving you can possibly have on Koh Tao. So what are you waiting for? Guy is dying to say hello and introduce you to Steven..

Turtle traps
With high season well under way, here's two things to avoid on Koh Tao. The first is laughing gas. It's actually illegal in Thailand, but for some reason it's recently become big business on Koh Tao. Lots of bars are selling it all along Sairee beach- it seems to be the new poppers. But it's not very good for you after you've been diving. Think about it, nitrous... nitrogen. What is your body trying to get rid of after a dive? Exactly. The medical literature is very well versed on the need to avoid laughing gas or entonox (if you dive in the UK) after a dive. So do one or the other, but not both. There has also been a massive increase in used balloons littering Sairee beach. This is ugly, but more importantly some of it will end up going out to sea. Perfect food for turtles and other marine mammals (they might think they look edible). But they will get stuck in their throats and kill them. All because you wanted a cheap high.
Secondly, lots of people like buying one of those huge lanterns, adorning it with some kind of profound message written in very fetching and romantic permanet marker, and then setting it free to float up in the air. But what comes up must come down. There isn't a lantern cleaner that sits in a boat waiting for these things to fall back to earth so they can be disposed of safely. They land back in the sea and stay there, and over time the paper disintegrates, leaving the wire frame sitting there for turtles to get stuck in. Turtles have been found dead in the past encased in these things. Even if they weren't hazardous to turtles, would you buy a load of paper and wire and throw them in the sea? Of course not, so why is it ok if they stay in the air for a while first? Stop littering the ocean and watch the beautiful sunset instead, then go diving on a beautiful, litter-free dive site.

January 15th 2014

Narcosis part deux
hydroxI wrote about inert gas narcosis a few days ago, giving an overview of how, when we dive below a certain depth, nitrogen can have a narcotic effect on your brain. Recreational divers that stay within the limits of their training and experience have nothing to worry about, at 30 metres narcosis is usually hardly felt by most people, and even at 40 metres you can learn to cope with its effects. But what about deeper diving; technical diving? I've undertaken countless technical dives to 55 metres, which is pretty much the limit of diving on air, and most of the time i've felt fine and in control. But occassionally I have been pretty narced. I've dived at Khao Sok National park in Thailand, diving to 55 metres to see an underwater forest and look for a school that sits at the bottom. I felt fine on each dive, but on reviewing the video footage me and my buddy took during one dive, it seems we spent the entire time singing incomprehensible songs to each other! The whole thing was pretty surreal, especially as the disturbed silt on the tree branches made it look like it was snowing!
Beyond 55 metres, technical divers need to breathe a different gas than air- trimix, which is a combination of nitrogen, oxygen and helium. Helium is added to the mix to reduce the percentage of oxygen and nitrogen that is being inhaled under increased ambient pressures. This lowers the partial pressure of those gases at a given depth compared with air and therefore reduces the effects of narcosis. The deeper you go, the more helium, and conversely less nitrogen and oxygen is required to be able to function. However, at some point helium also begins to have a narcotic effect on your brain, and beyond 150 metres you are susceptible to High Pressure Nervous Syndrome (HPNS). How badly HPNS affects you depends on your rate of compression, i.e. how fast you descend, the percentage of helium you're breathing, and how deep you go. Symptoms of HPNS include tremors, changes in the electrical signals in the brain, and somnolence (drowsiness). The deeper you go, the worse these symptoms will get until they can be life threatening (estimated to be around 360 metres for most people). But the boffins are always looking at ways to go further, and experiments with increasingly exotic breathing gases have allowed humans to go even deeper. Now, bear in mind that the deepest ever scuba dive by a real, living, breathing person in the ocean was 318 metres, and that more people have walked on the moon than dived deeper than 200 metres. Yet humans have sat in hyperbaric chambers and breathed hydreoliox, a mixture of hydrogen, helium and oxygen, and hydrox- hydrogen and oxygen, in order to push the boundaries, and limit the effects of HPNS. At 500 metres, hydreliox has been successfully used to reduce HPNS to a manageable level. But predictably, beyond this depth hydrogen becomes narcotic, and hydrogen narcosis kicks in. The deepest any human has ever dived was to 701 metres in a hyperbaric chamber using hydrox, undertaken by Theo Mavrostomos in 1990, technically making him the deepet human ever. I can only imagine how long it took him to get back to the surface! The next step is obviously to invent working gills in humans!
If you're not interested in breaking the record for the world's deepest scuba dive, but perhaps want to explore a wreck that sits at 70 metres, such as the Prince of Wales of HMS Repulse (both in the South China sea), you'll need to do some technical diving training. Guess what, we can do that at Big Blue. Big Blue tech can provide all the technical diving training you'll need, building up your comfort, introducing you to changing gases underwater and teaching you decompression procedures, so that you can stay down longer and go much deper than with recreational diving. If that sounds of interest to you, send an email to Big Blue Tech's manager, James Foleher here, or pop in to the tech shack to have a chat with the tech boys.

Bit of Korean?
Koh Tao has restaurants to suit all tastes, German, French, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Thai (obviously), but what about Korean? There are a couple of places that do Korean-style barbeques. Basically you get a hotplate that sits on top of a big bowl. You'll be given a plate of vegetables and a seperate plate of meat, then you get to retrace your ancestry all the way back to being a caveman as you have to cook your own food using fire! As the meat sizzles away on top, the fat drips down into a broth, which serves to thicken it. The broth boils the vegetables, so you end up with a bowl of delicious broth with veggies in it and a plate of cooked meat. There are surprisingly as many as four places that do this, one is in Jitson opposite Pi-Dangs, one is in Mae Hadd behind the petrol station on the main road (my favourite), one sits on the way to Chalock (called Golden 99), and one somewhere else that I have no idea where it is. It makes a nice change from the other types of food on offer around Koh Tao. How authentic it is is a little ambigueous, but I find myself sometimes eating there 3 times a week, so it must be pretty damn good!

January 13th 2014

Air pig-ery
air-pigAfter finishing teaching an SSI advanced course yesterday morning, I got to thinking about air consumption, as, you know, I need to get out a lot more. In the last blog post I wrote about the deep dive of the advanced course, and about how inert gas narcosis can impair judgement, and how it's important to know what to do to eliminate its effects. Monitoring your air consumption is also important on a deep dive, and you need to be checking it regularly. As you descend on a dive, you are being subjected to greater ambient pressure due to the increasing weight of water above you exerting additional force on your body's air spaces (plus the weight of the air in the atmosphere). If you can think back to Boyle's law from your school chemistry lessons, you'll know that the pressure and volume of a gas are inversely proportional. So, if you imagine a 1 litre balloon at the surface, then take that balloon down to 10 metres depth, the air inside will be crushed by the pressure of the water, so the pressure will be greater and the volume smaller (half the volume at 10m). The scuba cylinder containing your air is a rigid container, so the pressure and volume stay the same as you descend. But when the air comes out of your regulator into your lungs, your lungs are at the same ambient pressure as the water, so the air is compressed to that ambient pressure. But you still need to fill the same lung volume, so this means that you are basically breathing more atoms of air per breath. Thus, the deeper you go, the quicker you will go through your air. For a standard 11 litre cylinder, if you dive to 30 metres your dive time will be shorter than staying at 12 metres.
Bear in mind we need to ascend slowly from any dive, but especially from a deep dive, and it will take a few minutes to get from 30 metres to 5 metres for the safety stop. So keeping a good eye on your air is very very important. It's no good telling your buddy that you have 70 bar of air at 30 metres.. you WILL be sharing air before getting to the surface. 120 or 130 bar is a good rule of thumb to begin your ascent from 30 metres. Then you'll have plenty of air as you shallow up. Luckily, you're not a nutter attempting an open circuit world record deep dive. The official record is 318 metres, completed by South African Nuno Gomes in 2005. It took him 15 minutes to get down and 12 hours to get back up! At 250 metres, a standard 11 litre cylinder will give you approximately 11 breathes from full to empty!
Each dive of the advanced course introduces you to a different element of diving, and it's a perfect next step from the open water course. We run them every day, so give yourself 5 days when you come to Big Blue so you can continue your new addiction!

January kicked off as planned with Koh Tao being crazily busy. This means lots of people renting motorbikes to take in other parts of the Island, such as Tanote bay and Shark bay. Unfortunately it also means roads full of people who have no idea how to ride a motorbike, which inevitably ends in numerous crashes. Koh Tao tattoos are everywhere, with people wandering around with bandages all over their legs and arms from having wiped out on a bike. You can easily prevent this from being you. If you've never ridden a motorbike before, why would you think it would be a good idea to learn in a foreign country, where the rules of the road will be different from your own? If you can already ride a motorbike, just consider getting a taxi to wherever you want to go. They're not that expensive and you can go anywhere on the Island in one, or get a longtail taxiboat if you wish to go to one of the bays on the East or South coast. If you still insist on renting a bike, make sure you also rent a helmet, drive like a grandma and DO NOT drive when drinking. Also be aware of sand patches on the road, especially on bends. If you do crash, and hopefully don't injure yourself, you will have a hefty repair bill. The rental places will sting you, and they have your passport remember. If you do get into an argument over payment, you should call the police, as they are not allowed to keep your passport- it belongs to the Government where you come from.

January 9th 2014

British Women Reside Amongst Fungus
rsz buddy-checkFor those of you that are yet to become divers, diving is all about safety, having a back-up of a back-up of a back-up.. We check our equipment before we get in the water- as we're setting our gear up, and then again just before we get in the water. It's called a pre-dive safety check and it serves two purposes. We are checking that our equipment is working properly before we go diving, so if we have any issues they can be resolved on the boat, and we are familiarizing ourselves with our buddy's gear, so that if they need any kind of assistance during the dive or on the surface we will be better able to help them. First of all, we make sure our BCs are working correctly. Then we double check that each person is wearing a weight belt that has an accessible, right-hand, quick release mechanism (so we can drop our weights easily if we need to). Then we familiarise ourselves with how our buddy's BC is secured, type and number of clips, and location of them. We also check that the tank band is nice and tight, so that the air cylinder will not come loose during the dive. Then we check our air supply. One person breathes from their primary regulator, whilst the buddy breathes from the alternate regulator (belonging to the first buddy, so two people are breathing the air from one tank). They breathe in at the same time to make sure the needle of the air gauge doesn't fluctuate. If it does, it could mean that the air is not fully turned on, or that there is a problem with the regulator. Then the exercise is repeated with the 2nd person's regulators. The last check is the final ok- we are just ensuring that everything is working and streamlined, and that we have our masks and fins so that we are good to go diving. 
We always do the check in the same order, and remember it by using an acronym; BWRAF. We can remember this by using some standard phrases or we can make up our own. I mentioned it the other day on the Big Blue Facebook page and people were coming up with all sorts of weird phrases. The most benign would be Begin With Review And Friends. Then there is Bruce Willis Ruins (or Rocks) All Films. Bangkok Women Really Are Fellas, or Bruised Wrists Ruin Arse Fun. See if you can come up with something original and funny and post it to our Facebook page. 
Once the check is done, we can do what we're here for... To go diving!!

Koh Tao hospital
So I don't know when it happened exactly, but the new hospital that was being built on Koh Tao, has been built, and is open for business.. Hopefully it won't get many customers. It's been a long time coming, but what I do know is that the private health clinics are a complete rip off, and if you're used to something like the NHS, you may need to recalibrate your expectations of medical care. The Government hospital is brand spanking new, and treatment will be much much cheaper than the clinics. It's based somewhere in Chalock.. I don't need to be worried about being vague, it's not as if it's going to be difficult to find on an Island this small!






January 6th 2014

You see?
good-visAll I can say is wow. After around 2 months of monsoon diving with reduced visibility, I took my open water students on dives 3 and 4 of their course this morning, and the "vis" was fantastic- 15 metres, and fish everywhere. Dive sites twins and white rock we're equally beautiful, and Chumphon pinnacle was also amazing according to our fun divers. It was a great reminder of what conditions are normally like on Koh Tao, and I look forward to teaching a lot more courses throughout the year with similar or even better conditions.
But why does visibility vary? Like life, it's complicated and has to do with loads of things. The latitude of the dive site, and the time of day will both affect how much light enters the water instead of being reflected off the surface- generally the closer to the equator a dive site is, the better the visibility will be (so contrary to popular opinion, noon is actually the best time to dive if you want good vis, but there is usually more marine life to see in the mornings). The action of waves, tides, and currents also stir up the bottom and suspend particles in the water, which scatters light in all directions (Rayleigh scattering for the geeks), and guess what- reducing vis!
The type of bottom can also affect vis; disturbed sand or gravel will sink back to the seabed much quicker than clay or silt. Run-off from land inundates the water with sediment, which in turn may provide nutrients for algae to bloom and therefore reduce vis further (this also helps to explain why whalesharks tend to be more prevalent after heavy rain). Biological particulate matter can also reduce vis because they scatter more light, but they also enable filter feeding organisms to go on a feeding frenzy, which serves to improve vis. Finally, thermoclines (thermo= temperature, cline= gradient) and haloclines (halo=salt), can reduce vis because two bodies of water with different properties meet and mix. This reduces vis because the refractive index of the light traveling through the water is altered, but you knew that already didn't you...
This is obviously just a broad summary, the interaction of all of the above make predicting visibility pretty difficult. But we know from experience that the next 10 months are going to be consistently good, 10-30 metres. If you don't know what that's like, you'd better get your ass over here and come diving with us!

10 things you SHOULDN'T do after diving:
1- Fly within 24 hours of completing your last dive.
2- Heavy exercise- why would you do that at any time anyway?
3- Freediving. To the layperson, duck diving, no, that wasn't a typo of di....
4- Breathe laughing gas- it won't be as funny as you think.
5- Have a deep tissue massage. Give it at least a few hours you lazy aching masochist.
6- Write a blog for work.
7- Write a blog for fun.
8- Play in the road with your imaginary friend.
9- Think you can swim to Chumphon and decide to prove it.
10- Log the dive from the depth gauge of your SPG, that says you went to 80 metres.

10 things you SHOULD do after diving:
1- Go on trip advisor and say how amazing your instructor or divemaster was.
2- Go diving again, but with someone else- your divemaster wants the afternoon off.
3- Give the tizer or umbongo that you brought with you to your instructor or divemaster. 
4- Offer to write the Big Blue blog for your instructor.
5- Offer to pay your instructor for the privilege of writing the Big Blue blog for them.
6- Put a thousand baht behind the bar for your instructor.
7- Figure out why it's not called residential nitrogen when doing a repetitive dive. True story.
8- Realise that your way of remembering the pre-dive safety check is a bit weird- Bruised Wrists Reduces Arse Fun.
9- Revel in your weirdness and patent your method for remembering the pre-dive safety check.
10- Ask your instructor for a new battery for your LPI, as the one that powers your inflator must be dead, because it won't inflate after washing.

January 2nd 2014

New years resolutions
new-year-beach300x225So have we all made the usual new years resolutions? Quitting the booze and smokes, maybe aiming to exercise a little more? Various staff at Big Blue will be endeavouring to keep to their resolutions until at least the middle of January.. a record by Koh Tao standards. From our pool of instructors, mini Ant will be striving to make himself less of an object of ridicule by his peers. The only hope he has of achieving this is by making a vow of silence.. I can't wait to watch him miming his open water academics. Steveo will be trying to turn down his Yorkshire-ness so that his students can finally understand him, and Ernesto will be aiming to teach a group of students with a combined age of less than 400. As for our divemaster team, Steven will be refining his "missing link" look, and Phil has promised to twitch his leg slightly less, or at least figure out a way to harness the energy to power the office. Nick will try and stay with the same girl for at least a week, and so will Carly...
Ian and James at Big Blue Tech have a pact that James will make Ian a cup of tea first thing every morning, so that Ian can learn how to read tea leaves to plan his dives better.
The staff at Big Blue Freediving are aiming to hold their breath for the entire year, and office manager Jess has vowed to put her combat training into practice at those who want their passports back after the office has closed (at 7pm- now you know and have been warned).
Whether any of our staff stick to their resolutions or not, 2014 is looking good for Big Blue. We'll continue to have the most professional and fun instructors and divemasters on Koh Tao, we'll still take our customers to the best dive sites that they want to go to, and we will still be able to provide you with any kind of course you can think of.. As long as its not ice diving.
From all of us at Big Blue, we hope that 2014 is everything you want it to be. Happy new year!

The calm after the storm
So new years has been and gone, and hopefully everyone had a great time. it was kind of weird leaving big blue after midnight, as the road leading back to the main road in Sairee is usually heaving with revelers moving from bar to bar. But this year it was eerily quiet. I don't know why but Choppers bar and grill was closed, as was Diza bar, so it was desserted. Very strange.
All down the beach though the action was in full swing. Fireworks were going off anywhere and everywhere, and just about every bar had a big sign saying happy new year that was ceremonially set on fire at the strike of midnight. The whole Island had a good natured festive feel to it, and. As with anywhere else in the world the entire Island was pretty quiet on new years day, as everyone nursed their heads. So what's next? Sonkran, that's what!

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