A Mystery Tour in the South China Seas
With the weather forecast promising cloudy skies and patchy showers but the reality being sunny blue skies, it was an optimistic bunch of 16 divers, 3 passengers and 1 snorkeler that dragged themselves out of bed on Sunday morning and converged at ABC. Well… 19 of them did. The snorkeler was late and received a hearty round of applause for his efforts.
Under the guidance of our DM from Merseyside, a place well known for cheeky scousers and the Beatles, and he is definitely not the latter. The DM had deliberately kept the dive site a mystery right up until it was too late to jump ship. He was hoping to hedge his bets and drop lucky, and after thoroughly assessing the prevailing offshore weather conditions and seaworthiness of our vessel, he announced we were off to Waglan. Clearly this DM had a desire to stretch out his old sea legs and test the mettle of our passengers from overseas and some of our regulars too. The gentle rock of the waves escalated into the stomach churning motions of a fairground pirate ship as we headed out away from the shelter of the island. Who doesn’t enjoy being out playing chicken with Force 5 north easterlies, swells of up to 2m and a tropical cyclone looming? It was no match for our DM. Until it was.
We didn’t make it to Waglan. Only once the bags were physically restrained with ropes on deck and guests’ breakfasts unceremoniously dumped into buckets was the call made – about 400m from Waglan - that it wasn’t to be. Charts were consulted and the boat turned to head for plan B. Po Toi. A rather deep side of Po Toi at that. The anchor line wasn’t long enough and we were set adrift albeit in calmer waters. Plan C was quickly devised and we were headed to Mat Chau, amid catcalls to our rather helpful DM that already had too many chances to find a dive site, he might as well give up and we go to lunch – tempting as by this time it was almost lunchtime.
The old adage held true and it was third time lucky for our seafaring DM. The first diver was in the water at 11:14am, the fact his buddy was last off the boat was a minor concern - no prizes for guessing which know-it-all Wigonian that was! As the second wave divers whiled away the next 50 minutes top side, the four buddy pairs below were busy spotting Hong Kong’s friendly critters: a bold little octopus, flying gurnard, morays, and an apparently rare pineapple fish that even got our nudi-obsessed veterinarian enthusing about an aquatic craniate for once.
Trouble began as our team started to surface. Hungry competitors finishing a nearby yacht race had clearly forgotten the rules of the road, so to speak, in their haste to get to lunch. Not one, but two A flags went unnoticed as yacht after yacht sailed over our divers’ heads. Raised voices, whistles, the boat’s horn and frantic waving were met with disdain but with no other yachts on the horizon, wave 2 got underway with vows to find the anchor line on the way home. The best laid plans and all that….
More trouble came when two pairs of divers on the second wave thought it was a clever idea to practise deco stops with some top surface current. Clearly these divers hadn’t read the conditions properly, letting themselves drift away from the boat, and almost round the corner. The cry for McNiven to wake up, go fetch, and in a split second he was chasing down the DSMBs . Eventually, each of the drifting divers was rescued and endured the walk of shame of having to be rescued by one of the oldest, and fittest blokes on the boat.
In light of the situation, the decision was taken to switch sites between dives. A quick jaunt around the corner put us on the South East side of Mat Chau and safely out of the way of the satiated sailors returning post lunch. Alas, it put us directly in the way of those force 5 north easterlies! More fun for the sea sick passengers!
The second dive was a relatively speedy affair. Time was ticking on and the trusty husband and wife crew were visibly irritated by our day’s adventures. Some of us saw rocks, rocks and more rocks. Others saw day pretending to be night below 15m as they drifted along plains of mud.
With everyone back on board, the anchor was promptly hoisted and we were soon on our merry way back to Aberdeen. Who knew junks could motor!? Beers and bubbles were consumed across much calmer seas. A fitting end to what is likely to be a much talked about outing! A big thank you to our DM and ADM combo and enthusiastic surface snorkeler - looking forward to seeing you all on the boat again soon!