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.
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.
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.
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...