When I searched for a definition of ‘expedition’, Mr. Google told me,
a journey undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war.
With the exception of the last purpose, it is safe to say that SCDC ventured on a true dive expedition over the weekend of February 15 & 16, 2020. Indeed, this was an journey of exploration as none of us had ever worked with this particular dive operator or spent much if any time on Grass Island. And there was indeed research at hand, as we planned to take meticulous notes on what we had discovered in order to determine whether this would be a viable diving option for the Club. But considering that war is hell, it definitely wasn’t that because we had a lovely weekend that was full of laughter and good times.
For those who don’t know, Grass Island is located due north of Sai Kung East Country Park just outside of Hoi Ha Wan. The Club hasn’t been here in recent times because we usually take small boats from Sam Mun Tsai in Tai Po and pass by it on our way towards Sha Pei or Breakers Reef. But Grass Island used to be a regular lunch stop for the Club when we dived from a standard sized junk that left from Tai Mei Tuk, especially in the winter when few people were on the boat and our dives lasted only 30 minutes because everyone was in wetsuits.
Given that this was a completely new experience for all of us, there were plenty of logistics that needed to be sorted out. First was how to meet the dive operator because the pick-up point was the pier inside Sai Kung Country park which requires a permit to enter with a private car. Fortunately, the dive operator was able to arrange that for us and the guard at the gate happily let us through after we completed a form which captured lots of personal details and probably had some fine print indemnifying the government in case we decided to go on a rampage in our vehicles.
With forms completed and visitor passes on dashboards, off we drove through the park towards Wong Shek Pier. On the way we passed the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village where loads of people who are possibly infected with the Coronavirus are currently quarantined in order to ensure they don’t infect the rest of the city. The road takes you up a small mountain and then opens up to a beautiful view of Long Harbor, and then winds down towards Hoi Ha Wan and Wong Shek Pier. Given the city’s addiction to car racing, it makes sense that the park is generally closed to private cars.
Parking was a bit of a challenge, but Rob’s micro-Cube-car fit snugly between two poorly parked sedans, whereas Mike’s monster BM’er had to be dumped illegally up the road where he could find space enough to park. Maddy, Marcus and Dan all arrived by taxi from the city, which turned out to be easier than anyone expected. Note #1; transport to the departure pier was successful and quite easy.
Next was to identify the dive operator who was scheduled to meet our boat. Cath called and sure enough, he arrived within minutes in a small speedboat that would also be our dive boat. We loaded our gear, plus cameras, and headed across the bay towards Grass Island where we landed at the harbor of Tap Mun on a pier directly in front of the operator’s building. Tap Mun is a small harbor town and is very quaint and in a semi stay of decay, disarray, repair and refresh. Typical to Tap Mun houses, the dive operator was working from a small house made of poured concrete with a large courtyard where we could wash and hang our dive gear and also (as we discovered) would have dining tables set out for our lunch and dinner. Given that this was an overnight expedition (did I forget to mention that?), we were shown the bunk room with 3 bunk beds that could sleep all six of us. That would be me (Rob), Cath and Mike, Dan and Maddy, and Marcus, a recently arrived transplant from Austria who was diving with us for the first time and probably as unsure about us as he was about Hong Kong and diving here.
With sleeping arrangements sorted, it was time to dive. We were introduced to another group of 6 divers who would be joining us on the boat, making a total of 12 divers on a boat that comfortably carries 8. Whatever. It was snug and a bit challenging to all squeeze on that boat, but fortunately it was a very short ride over to the Artificial Reef outside of Hoi Ha Wan. After some very tricky maneuvering to get everyone kitted up and in the water, all 12 divers were down and exploring the wreck.
The viz was, well, not so good. No surprise there. But it was still enjoyable to survey the wreck and make some effort at taking photos. (Later after reviewing my photos, none were worth keeping). There were a couple of nudibranch sightings, but otherwise an uneventful 50 minute dive. Once all of us were back in the boat, it was a quick trip over to the west side of Port Island, a site that is familiar to us with a moderately sandy bottom and coral. The viz was slightly better, but again it was not an earth shattering dive my any means. After 50 minutes, we were all back on the boat and headed to Tap Mun.
Oh, I neglected to mention that everyone was wearing dry suits. So, if you were wondering at the beginning of this long-winded blog why we were crazy to be diving in February, that’s the reason. And the water was indeed very cold.
After a quick wash-up, we were seated and served a fine lunch that was home cooked. Given that the plan was to do a third dive at night, and it was only 3pm, Rob did the sensible thing and took a nap while the rest decided to ‘go for a walk’ that was probably far too long. By the time evening was approaching, Maddy and Dan were quite parched from their ‘walk’ and decided that drinking beer was more sensible than diving. But the rest of us ventured on, kitted up and loaded into the boat. I took the prize for forgetting something and having to ask the boat to go back so that I could grab my hood. Ooops.
The night dive was near the harbor, but it was dark and I couldn’t even see the land. Nonetheless, we dropped in and discovered that the vis had improved significantly to about 4 meters. Mike and Cath saw the largest squid ever seen in Hong Kong waters along with an octopus. Marcus saw many crocodile fish, and Rob simply looked at rocks and didn’t find too much. Again, my photos weren’t worth keeping. But we all lasted an hour in the water, then climbed back on the boat and headed back to Tap Mun where Maddy and Dan were still trying to determine whether Blue Girl or Tsing Tao had more hoppy overtones.
Below Photos by Cath Chu
Below Photos by Mike B
Below Photos by Markus
Similar to lunch, dinner was served outdoor on folding tables and was simple home cooked dishes of rice, spare ribs, chicken and seaweed soup. There was a beautiful calm and tranquility to Tap Mun which we spoiled with French pop music that Mike had on his iPhone. We mixed our beer and wine, Catch pulled out some cheese and crackers, and we chatted about silly stuff all evening and had a good laugh.
By the time we were ready for bed, the air was dead still and there was not a sound to be heard from anyone in Tap Mun village. But our dive operator informed us that the weather would change overnight and that we should be sure that all of our dive gear, especially our dry suits, were secured. It seemed unnecessary at the time, but little did we know what was in store.
With everything stored, we crawled into our bunk beds which we all agree were more comfortable than sleeping in a tent on a beach (note #2, more comfortable than dive camp). And given that we didn’t need to prepare our own food, we were more relaxed and ready for bed (note #3, food was good). With the lights out, earplugs secured to defend against Mike’s snoring, we all quickly drifted off to sleep.
All hell broke loose. So, it turns out that hell was part of this story after all.
The heavens opened and the rain came down hard. It crashed on the metal roof. And it pounded the courtyard. And the wind howled. If anything hadn’t been tied down outside, it was surely in the harbor.
The wind howled until morning. When Cath cracked open the door around 7am she discovered things had been blown around and fallen over but were not as wet as we had feared. The sky was clearing, but the wind was not letting up. Just outside the harbor we could see large swells with whitecaps. Not good for diving. Oh, it was also a lot colder.
We found a small breakfast joint open in the village and ordered egg sandwiches, noodles, and coffee. As we ate we discussed our options for the day and then took a vote. 6 to nil were in favor of cancelling the dives and catch the ferry back to Wong Shek Pier. With that decision made, we paid our bills, packed our kit and headed over to the main pier to catch the 11am ferry.
Except for one other passenger, we were alone on the ferry. And it was a beautiful ride and we all reflected on how enjoyable the weekend was despite not being able to dive on Sunday. Additionally, Dan had a million dollar to setup a commercial website and sell second-hand dive equipment (which was up and running by late afternoon). After 30 minutes, the ferry arrived at Wong Shek Pier where we were greeted by about 100 people who were looking to escape the city and the coronavirus with a day trip out to Grass Island. I couldn’t blame them, as I truly felt like I had escaped the insanity of the city and thought that maybe spending the afternoon in Tap Mun would be enjoyable.
We packed our cars, stuffed Marcus, Maddy and Dan into a taxi, and then headed on home. And when I got home, I sat down to read the news, where there was an article about a doctor in quarantine at Lady MacLehose. And he described the shock of having to be sent to quarantine, but that for the past two weeks he had been enjoying the solitude of the country park and getting his rest in this incredible peaceful and tranquil setting. And in my own way, I knew exactly what he meant.
SCDC 2006 v.s. 2020 - "Rob the survivor!!"