Author: Rob C
Questions swirled all week about the ‘social distancing’ rules, which made planning for our Dive Manager (the fearless Andy McNiven) all the more difficult. Would we need to implement distancing measures on the boat? What limits would there be to the number of people on the boat? Would our departure point, ABC, allow non-members to use the pontoon? It was all so confusing….
But as the Committee sorted out the larger factors of how the club would manage the boat loading from the pontoon at ABC, the details of the expedition started to emerge; 18 divers, two non-divers, plus Mr. Niven (from this point forward referred to as ‘Bandy’) who would sacrifice his precious dive time to focus only on the managing the dive.
As for the rest, Mike would run DL training for Dan and Simon; Rob would give a refresher training to our newest member, Luke; Cath, Al and Hannah would go for a photo-fun dive; Alex and Jordi would be twins-on-twins together; Chris and Andy E (‘Randy’) would also be taking a photo-fun dive and checking Randy’s new camera housing (ooooh la la!); and then the remaining divers Abel, Andy C (‘Candy’), Cath W (nickname pending), Gu and James would simply be fun diving.
Everyone met at ABC on time and ready to load the Island Junks boat. The great thing about diving from the IJ boat is that there is loads of comfortable seating. The drawback is that we have to load all of our own tanks and weights onto the boat. With 18 divers (one dropped out, if you did the math), and 4 extra tanks, that’s basically 40 tanks to lift-and-load. It’s backbreaking work, but it was done with precision and speed despite not being a perfect chain. Before ABC could notice our presence, we were disembarked ensuring that the ABC pontoon was wiped down and free of COVID.
The junk exited the harbor and came to a slow drift just outside so that our Dive Manager could take roll call. Fortunately, everyone was on the boat so we didn’t need to turn back. And in fact, more of us were present on the boat than were on the DM list... well, we’re not really sure if there really ever was a list because he kept looking at his iPhone hoping that Alexa would take over. But never mind. We were all there.
Next came the dive briefing, which was equally planned. Fortunately, the key to the day (which everyone understood) was going to be lunch, tables booked for 2pm at the Po Toi restaurant. This meant we had to be very diligent with our diving operations. Everyone agreed, no faffing allowed. We had an important lunch date.
Next was the matter of a dive site. Who better to ask to ask than our Diving Officer, Mikey B? Mike announced that we were headed off to Mat Chau (well, we think that’s what he said), which is on the southwest side of Po Toi and conveniently close to the island restaurant. We didn’t really understand much of what Mike after that, but we trust him and were happy that someone had a plan. With our buddy pairs aligned and energized for our first post-lockdown dive, everyone leapt into action and started readying their kit in a flurry o-ring popping of activity.
For those who don’t know, Mat Chau is the small island outcrop that is slightly detached from Po Toi. It sticks out far enough from Po Toi to make it seem like a peninsula that points directly towards the open ocean. When facing south, other than ships passing by, there is nothing but open ocean. This can make it a challenging spot with the winds are southerly, but on a beautiful and calm day like this with hardly a ship passing by, it was ideal. Thanks Mikey. Good call on the site.
At this point, I generally ignored what other people were doing on the boat and focused instead on Luke and myself. Luke qualified to dive a couple of decades ago with an obscure agency somewhere in New Zealand. He had some dives under his belt, and a dive holiday to Palau in the early 2000’s, but beyond that this was all new to him. But he’s a pilot, and that makes him smarter than the rest of us, and certainly smart enough not to do stupid shit that gets people in trouble. So, I figured he was going to be an easy student.
Fast forward now to the actual diving. I was hoping that it would be great viz… and it was. We dropped down to 20m quickly where there was quite a bit of silt kicked up, but once we climbed to 15m the viz opened up to about 7-10m. There were starry boxfish, lots of silvery fish, crabs, an octopus tucked in a hole, clown fish, and loads of soft branch coral that lit up red like candles when you pointed your torch at it.
Photo credit (above two): Mike B
Everyone had a crackin’ dive (to borrow a Brit phrase). Smiles all around. Loads of talk about eels and cuttlefish. And we managed to wrap up the diving by 2pm and were headed towards lunch immediately.
As it turns out, the restaurant at Po Toi was doing a great job of seating people at 8 to a table in order to comply with social distancing. We filled up three tables, and the rest of the restaurant was packed with people practicing social distancing…. not! Everyone was taking a field trip to the outer island to get away from the COVID lock down. With the beer flowing, food ordered, the good times just kept on rolling, and everyone generally forgot about the woes of the world.
With the beer flowing, food ordered, the good times just kept on rolling, and everyone generally forgot about the woes of the world.
Post lunch there was some discussion around the quality of the food. Many people were raving that it tasted better than before. A few others said it was awful. And yet, we all ate the same food. Go figure. I thought it was excellent, especially the steamed prawns. But I was super hungry. And the Tsing Tao tasted particularly good as well.
We made it back to ABC by 5pm, offloaded the boat quickly, thanks Bandy for his efforts, then all dispersed quickly for our homes. Back to life under COVID.