Monday, 28 September 2009

Diving Pulau Pulau Sembilan

Since the yard disaster continued and we were held for ransom until payment in full I was again stuck in Lumut yet another weekend. I was meeting Chan for dinner on Friday and he asked if I would be interested in going diving the next Sunday together with his hooligans, this time at the Sembilan Islands. These Islands are a group of nine (hence the name Sembilan (9)) located south of Pangkor Island.

Map of the Sembilans

As Chan went there already on Saturday for camping I came out with Ah Pok on Tuna II that went fishing with some other guys. At 7am Ah Pok picked me up and we went via the morning market to stockup on food and drink. We left early Sunday morning to one of the bigger Pulau Saga that had a fresh water stream too. On the way I got dejavu experience as we hit a heavy rainstorm but after that the weather turned partly overcast with sunshine.

The camp was rigged up as a big tarp in an inverted “V” to cover a raised dais where people lined up like sardines to sleep. I met Chan and was immediately thrust an Anchor in hand and as people had had breakfast we loaded onto the boat and headed for our divesites.

Beach at Pulau Lalang

Our first site was “Black Rock”, a cliff just barely jutting out of the sea with a rusty marker to warn seafarers of the navigational danger. Chan warned me of getting close to the rocks as the swell would grind me to corned beef against the barnacles and whatnot. Without saying I could see what he meant. We geared up and plopped into the drink and down I went.

The Black Rock

The 1st 10m visibility was no more than 2-3m and when going deeper it improved a bit to perhaps 5-6m, current was zero. I could hear spear guns going off like rapid fire and thought that the fishing must be good. Chan had loaned me an underwater camera so I could entertain myself while diving. Having a visibility of only 5-6m the photography was limited to close up shots only but it kept me busy. At 25m depth everything looked to be only different shades of green but whenever the flash would go off I could see the real color of every plant and organism I shot. The bottom was very rocky and had nice nooks and crannies for the fish to hide in, the corals were not that plentiful but there were loads of oysters the size of palm of my hand. I think Chan had speared the most fish during the 1st round, at least there was a queen fish, a barracuda, a bat fish and a golden grouper.

Link to my underwater pics

Ah Chan and in between dive brew

Our next dive we shifted to “White Rock”, a much bigger rock islet with a white light house on it. Ah Pok was dispatched to go onto the Island to look for birds nest. Chan told me that if they found something it was of very good quality. Unfortunately after a few minutes Ah Pok came back empty handed – somebody had looted the Island before us.

Ah Pok looking for birds nest

We got back to our diving business and geared up, Chan just told me to follow the Island nothing special to look out for. I went down again with same visibility as on White Rock, only addition was that I could feel the swell at times pushing me around even at 20m depth. I glimpsed some big fish swimming around me as well as loads of smaller tropical fish. Here was same amount of soft corals and sea urchins as well as the rope like grass thingies growing up from the seabed. I was shooting away on my camera and admiring the steep cliff walls and crevices that was present here too. Sadly, the visibility did not allow for any large scale pictures.

The White Rock

When coming up it was again Anchor time and soon enough the guys were gearing up for the 3rd and last dive, same venue. As our decompression had been so short I stayed at abt 12m depth and prowled the cliffs for something to look at. After awhile I stumbled upon a small ray-fish sleeping under a rock. It was the 1st to see in these waters although I had seen plenty of them in the Maldives before. Other than that I can’t say that the dive was that eventful, same poor visibility and swell pushing me around. In good visibility I bet the view would be marvelous. I came up and it was time for late lunch at the base camp.

Lunch at camp

At the camp I took advantage of the freshwater spring and showered the salt off. It was time for another Anchor and some roasted duck on rice. As usual food always tastes great in the great outdoors and with good company. The conversation was going in rapid fire Cantonese and I could not understand a thing, but it did not matter, Chan translated the best bits.

After the meal people started packing up the camp and I went for a stroll along the beach. The sand was clear but at the HW mark there was the usual human debris, old peieces of rope, empty bottles, slippers and so on. Abt 100m along the beach I came to a shrine that fishermen use to make offerings for a good catch. There was 9 chinese Gods in the shrine so it ought to make a strong case for a good catch. A bit further along the beach I stumbled upon a 1m long monitor lizard running into the thicket, probably as surprised by me as I of it.

The fishermens shrine

Finally the beach ended into a small rock formation that I did not want to scale as it was soon time to go back. I noticed at the water edge was sem submerged rocks that was covered in 15cm long sea limpets, they looked like armored sponges and they sure stuck to the stone like superglue. Anyway, it was time and I turned back walking along the beach to the boat just in time. We headed back to Lumut and everybody was sort of nodding off after such a heavy weekend.

The superglued organism

On the way back, Pa Ling Tau in front

Once arrived to Lumut I discovered I had forgotten my footwear on Tuna II so I was going barefeet. The boat was hauled up, emptied of gear and washed with fresh water, the loot was cleaned out and divvied up. Finally Ah Pok gave me a ride back to my hotel where I collapsed onto my bed until John called me to join him for dinner.

The loot
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Monday, 14 September 2009

Diving at Pulau Jarak

Our drydock here is turning to disaster by the yard but I will get back to that later, anyway, last sunday I was invited to go for diving at Pulau Jarak and since the yard is hardly working I briefed my C/E and 1/O for my absense for the day.

I left my hotel early in the morning lugging my dive gear. I was picked up by Mr. Chan, my newest acquaintance here in Lumut, we went to a local eatery and got some noodles for breakfast and then we headed for the marina opposite Grade 1 shipyard. We arrived soon enough and I saw the diveboat on a trolley being stocked up with divegear, food, fuel and whatnot. The boat was a abt 12m open monohull, same shape as they use in Maldives except that in Maldives they use mostly covered boats. Astern was fitted 2x200HP 4-stroke Yamaha outboards.

Soon also other participants started to arrive and at last the crowd was abt 12 guys, all cheerily chatting in Cantonese with the phrase "tiu lei" splattered everywhere. Finally, the boat was set to go and the marina tractor floated us down the slipway and we started off towards Pulau Jarak.

Pottering out to sea along the Lumut waterfront

The weather was fine and I sat with Mr. Chan at the fwd bench chatting and I was thrust a can of cold "Anchor" beer into my hand. It was abt 9am so the day was starting fine. The boat "Tuna II" was making 25kts in calm seas, but after we've passed Pulau Pangkor and headed out for open seas the waves started to grow higher. After some time we started to get overspray on the bow and I changed my wet T-shirt for my rashie. All the time the Cantonese discussion was raging as guys were changing opinions or whatever so I could not help myself asking Chan what "tiu lei" means as it was repeated so often and I could not recall it from my years in Hong Kong. The reply cannot be typed in here...

Our happy pilot

By this time large dark clouds were looming in the horizon and we we're headed straight towards them. It did not take long for the waves to grow up to 2m and we started getting torrential rain over us. We all huddled in the stern where there was at least some shelter. This is the bad point of having an open boat...

Finally we arrived at Pulau Jarak after some 2hrs drive (~40'). Pulau Jarak is a forested small Island that on the Chart of Straits of Malacca looks like a button in the middle of the channel. The Malaysian Military has posted a small outpost and garrison on it to control piracy in the area. The shores were lined with boulders of different sizes and the jungle came straight to shoreline. It looked pretty impenetrable, at least not with bare hands, so dense is the brush.

Pulau Jarak

The rain and wind had stopped as we had passed through the weather front, the waves were still pretty high though so it was decided to dive at the inner reef first. We all geared up, some of the guys had spearguns and Mr. Chan told me how the Eastern inner reef is formed so I could get some bearings and then said this is all solo diving. No problem, a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do. I jumped in after Chan and he quickly disappeared in search of prey.

I was down on a rocky bottom with corals here and there and could see huge boulders lined with corals and attached to them was clams of various species, lots of them. I also saw loads of fish in various sizes. While slowly swimming along the reef watching the action I found a lead weight and a meat chopper on the seabed. I collected them to throw away. Intermittently I could hear the "thwack" of the speargun when other guys were pursuing their prey. After abt 40min I ran out of air and had to surface, not a spectacular dive but the boulder scenery was nice.

Between dives relax

After up on the boat and having changed a fresh tank to my gear I was gain offered a cold "Anchor", it went down with the other guys while watching them hauling onboard their catch which was promptly chucked in a huge icebox. The waves had come down so it was decided to go and dive the outer reef. It is located abt 200m N of the Island, we dropped anchor and geared up. Instructions were to follow the anchor line down. There was a slight current at surface but at the bottom abt 20m was ok, I could again see the big boulder formations with plenty of corals et al. Some rocks were heavily draped in torn fishing nets, this area is also popular with the trawlers. Once down I searched around slowly and saw a big crab hiding in a crevice. I started swimming along the rock wall observing big funnel and fan corals, there was also long rope like plants growing up from the bottom as well as tree like green corals. In abt 30min my air was out so I had to surface, I had also picked up a few oysters to contribute to the loot.

My handpicked oyster

Same routine happened again with the "Anchor" amid shouts of "Tiu lei". Chan told me they always competed who gets the biggest fish and he had to prove himself on the last dive. We drove around the Island to the Western side and anchored for lunch.

Pulau Jarak

Lunch was beer, roast duck and rice with dried fish and Chinese croissants. Very taste after 2 dives. After a short rest we geared up again and dove off. Here the reef is very close to shore and has cliff like drop offs with huge boulders sprayed around. Swimming around them was like entering a maze. Again I could hear the thudding of spear guns and I saw actually 2 guys off 10m from when I saw a big Coral Grouper under a rock, I took my knife and banged my tank to get their attention and pointed under the rock, it was actually Chan that came and he speared the fish in no-time.

By the time he had secured the fish on his BCD and loaded the spear gun again a school of Queen fish had approached us, so Chan just hoisted the gun and speared the closest one, the other fish swam in consternation around us and disappeared, Chan's prey was not giving up but tried to swim off too, Chan had his hands full not to loose his grip on the gun handle. Chan quickly pulled the gun to himself and then the line attached to the spear and forced the fish on the sea bottom while threading it on his BCD while removing the spear.

I swam on and while coming around to the Northern side of the reef I was hit by a strong oncoming current so I decided to back track and just explore the small area I had just been scouring. Rest of the dive was pretty same as before and I was anyway short of air soon so I surfaced after 20min underwater. I swam back to the boat and waited for the other guys to arrive. It did not take long as the whole bunch was onboard and the anchor was hoisted, it was getting time to get back home.

Homewards bound

We rounded to the South of the Island and I saw an Army Garrison placed there. A few guys came out of the huts and on a small beach outcrop I could see an armed sentry in a watch tower. The hutments more like resembled chalets of a resort, the soldiers on the Island really had a peaceful place for themselves (I bet they did not appreciate it that much after one month rotations). We approached the jetty and handed over a 10kg ikan bakar or something that looked like a tuna. Chan told me the soldiers only get rations to live on and I could not even see a dinghy that they could use for fishing. I guess the army does not encourage such activities when they should be looking for pirates. We waved the boys goodbye and headed back for the mainland.

Another happy diver

By this time it was partly overcast so the ride was smooth. One guy started to carve up a Rainbow Runner fish into sushi. Soon enough we were washing down raw fish dipped in Wasabi and soya sauce with beer. Everybody was happy and in happy spirits. After an uneventful trip back (we finished last drops of beer just in the channel) to the marina the boat was hauled up and the laboring part began.

Elvis carving up sushi

The boat was emptied of all dive gear, the fish was laid out and gutted, engines were flushed with fresh water. Finally after everything was stowed and fish divvied up we left back for home. Those who have been diving knows how much it exhausts one. I came to my hotel, dragged my gear in the middle of the floor and passed out on bed.

Our diveboat and loot

What a lovely way to spend a sunday...
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