By Rob C
It was a momentous occasion that happened with little fanfare. The first official SCDC dive of 2021, the first club dive in the year of the Ox, and the first club dive since the government introduced strict social distancing rules nearly three months earlier.
As was originally planned on the 2021 dive calendar, Rob C was the assigned Dive Manager (DM) to take a small boat out of Sam Mun Tsai in Tai Po. Joining him were Al D, Luke P and Sam F, along with the usual suspects in the police line-up, Mike and Cath. We all met at the Sam Mun Tsai public pier at 8am sharp, arriving by a van and red taxi from the city, plus one green taxi to carry Rob from the hinterland of Fanling.
Photos: Rob C
The weather was perfect for diving, giving us blue skies, a warm temperature of 23 degrees, and the slightest hint of a breeze from the east which otherwise left the sea surface glassy and reflective. We collected our tanks from the Sam Mun Tsai village shop, and then loaded what seemed to be enough kit to furnish a studio apartment onto the six-seater speed boat, which ferried us over to the ‘fish farm’ floating platform.
With half of the crew preparing side-mount kits to be used for an ultimate faffing competition to be held later in the day, the sensible half went with the classic (and supremely efficient) single-tank setup that requires less preparation and faster entry into the water. With tanks prepared and loaded into the boat, a fashion show then ensued where the latest seasonal dry suits were paraded across the makeshift catwalk between the floating pontoons.
Mike was draped in the latest black Kevlar fabric to show-off the slimming effect that could be achieved with darker colors, whereas Luke sported a classic crushed neoprene DUI that the critics agreed would never go out of style. Sam showcased a sporty suit with matching boots that are the envy of the season, while Rob donned a slightly oversized membrane suit with a loud red sash that was neither stylish nor sporty, but certainly practical. The star of the show, however, was Al who went for a ‘wet and wild’ ensemble that featured a hidden double-breasted heating vest under multiple layers of standard neoprene, a combination that sparked much debate amongst the critics but will likely set a new trend.
Then they were off and bound for the artificial reef (AR) outside of Hoi Ha! This was to be a quickie 30-minute dive, using only half a tank in order to have a peek at the big fish inhabiting the wreck while leaving enough gas for a second dive off the same tank. Thanks to our captain, and his onboard sonar, a shot line was dropped perfectly on top of the wreck. The Side-Mounters hopped into the water and started to faff competitively, whereas the Single-Tanker’s rolled off the boat in unison and garnered a perfect score to take the first prize. Within minutes, all were descended onto the wreck and to our delight, we had 7m of decent visibility with loads of fish large and small. There was no disappointment.
As we had all taken the solemn ’30 minute oath’ and held true to our words, we surfaced with (mostly) half-full tanks to spare and started to pull ourselves back onboard. Although the Side-Mounters had lost the entry competition, the Single-Tankers lost points on their exit by overweighting one side of the boat and losing their balance, which caused a mis-step and near fall. The judges gave the Single-Tankers a penalty for the error which impacted their score. With both teams tied for points, everyone remained kitted (except for Rob, who needed a wee) and motored to the northeastern side of Round Island (otherwise known as Rob’s Knob) for our second dive.
Round Island was suggested as a dive site by Mike so that we could check out the sargassum weed that starts to grow quickly at this time of year. When we arrived, the water visibility was even better than on the first dive, but there was no sargassum weed to be seen. Nonetheless, we stuck to our plan which was to do a shallow dive and explore the site using the gas from the first dive. As both teams were well prepared, the Side-Mounters and the Single-Tankers both scored well on their water entry.
Photos: Rob C, Al D, Al D
Although not a challenging dive, the site provided plenty of rocks and hiding places for many small creatures. With a good torch, hunting between rocks and seeing what fish and other life was tucked away was a fun game of hide-n-seek with fish and shrimp. After 40 minutes at 4m, the single tank divers had drained their gas so both teams made their way back to the boat. Once onboard, we voted unanimously to stay and enjoy the tranquility of Round Island while we ate our lunch.
Cath pulled out a chicken tikka wrap that she had made using leftovers from Thursday night at ABC, to which she had added veggies that she woke up early to grill that morning. Rob pulled out his own sandwich wrap, sausage and grilled veggies, which he clearly did not make because his culinary skills are severely lacking. But both sandwich wraps prompted many questions and comments as to whether wraps were required on SCDC dives (they are not, but they are recommended due to their ease of portability).
With stomachs filled, and bladders relieved, we fired up the engine and sped down to a submerged pinnacle called Sha Pei that lies to the east of Grass Island. Again, thanks to our captain and his trusty sonar, we dropped anchor perfectly on top of the pinnacle. The wind was picking up, as was the current, so we all agreed to use the anchor line on our descent and return to the boat. In this final event, the judges would score points based on how well we leveraged the anchor line on our final ascent.
With tanks nearly empty, we headed back to the anchor line for the final round of competition. First to arrive were Sam and Rob. Rob gazed at the line carefully to get positioned with a DSMB deployment. But wait! What’s this? Sam has grasped the anchor and pulled, releasing it from its grip on the rock! With the anchor now dragging across the seafloor, it suddenly lurched, pulled up and sped away. Without an anchor line, the final competition was now freestyle event!
Photo: Al D
Rob surfaced, but Sam arrived first. The sea conditions had gotten a bit wild and our trusty captain was quickly drifting away while he tried to pull the anchor onboard and start the engine. With the boat under control, our captain managed to reposition next to the competitors who readied themselves for the final set. Rob, who was on team Side-Mount, tried to steady himself, but finding that the umbilical for his torch was wrapped around his long hose, started faffing and quickly lost points. Sam, who was on team Single-Tank, leapt ahead and gallantly pulled himself onboard to take the first round.
Not realising that the rules of competition had changed, Mike and Luke deployed a DSMB about 20 meters away from the boat when the anchor line could not be found. Mike, who was on team Side-Mount, surfaced and quickly realised that the competition rules had changed to a freestyle event which required some extra creativity in order to take the prize. With the boat sided up next to him, Mike first handed his PPVCLS-XL2 (personal professional video camera and lighting system) to Rob, then released his tanks which were handed up to our captain. Then in a show of strength and determination, Mike extended his arms and grabbed the ladder firmly. He then swung his leg upward in an arch that would be the envy of a Radio City Rockette, and as a true team, Rob grabbed Mike’s fin and pulled it off to free his foot. Mike then kicked his opposite leg forward, and with the same grace and power, arched his leg upwards as Rob pulled and released the fin from the other foot. Bonus points were awarded to team Side-Mount for their teamwork.
Meanwhile, Cath and Al had completely forgotten about the competition and had instead
found a ‘large anchor’ (their words) which they marked with a DSMB. Once both of them were back onboard, Rob grabbed the marker buoy and started to haul up the line, wondering how such a large anchor could be pulled up by one person on such a thin line. Then the thin line was attached to a thick rope, which he pulled and discovered led to an anchor that had shrunk considerably in size over the past few minutes. But it was still an anchor, and a useful one at that, which was given to the captain as the prize of the day.
Photos: Rob C
It was now time to head back to shore. We found a sheltered spot to de-kit, then passed by the police barrier check-point (with our masks on, as good citizens) and sped over to the town pier where we dropped off our empty tanks. Back to the fish farm platform, we washed off our gear and (thanks to Mike and Al) enjoyed beers and relaxed. With the afternoon drawing to a close, the speed boat ferried us back to the public pier where John ‘the Van Man’ greeted us at 4:45pm sharp. Rob quickly paid for the tanks, and then grabbed a convenient green taxi and was home by 5:15pm. He hung his kit to dry by 5:30pm, finished a shower by 5:40pm, and lay down in bed at 5:45pm for a two-hour nap.
And because he is getting to be an old man, Rob enjoyed his nap just as much as his diving.
Some of the facts may have been altered for dramatic effect.