Return to Samilan Islands

After all the revelry and party we departed the wild side of Patong Bay and headed northwest for the 60 mile crossing to the Samilan Islands National Park. The National Park was established in 1982, the 43rd National Park in Thailand. It is a no fishing zone and strict protection of the environment is enforced in other words, diving paradise.

The islands were formed 65 million years ago making them the only thing around me older than I am, hahah. Interestingly the islands form was made by glacial ice, now there is climate change! Hard to think of ice being here sitting in my swim suit a bit warm at 7 am.

One of the islands is owned by one of the Princesses, an avid diver. Last year Her Majesty came to the other island to dive and we were all graciously asked to leave. I was happy to accommodate Her Majesty and found it fun to think of her diving where I had just been.

This year I brought my own three princesses. We now had Anya with us, who hails from the land of Czars and great novels, Russia. She has brought a tiny ukulele and a golden voice. She is joined by Sam, from the land of the Beatles and Shakespeare and longtime crew July the Argentinian, our own Evita. So again I have a world crew. The girls all seemed to bond instantly and a great crew has formed. To my benefit the combined cooking talents meld well. We had a scrumptious Russian soup for dinner after the night dive last night. We all could smell the wonders from the galley as soon as we surfaced.

We hit the island known as Ko Miang first and picked up a mooring. I took Anya on an intro dive to see how she did, she was fresh out of Open Water. As expected she did just fine and we surfaced to find Furthur bobbing about in the swell. I noticed all the livaboard dive boats had moored on the other end of the island to we took the hint and moved. A new mooring secured and much more comfortable we dropped the dinghy and went to see what we could find down below.

Diving on Furthur is different than a local commercial dive boat, we are often exploring and not going to well-known sites. This is a mixed bag as often the dives are a dud and I cut them short or there is too much current or too deep, all things we learn from each dive. We also have the glory of discovering new and wonderful places for our first time. I do not go completely blind; I do research, ask locals and follow the commercial dive boats like a hawk.

First we took a large mooring and dropped down the line only to find it was in very deep water. We retreated to shallower water but found strong currents so I let Sam and Julie do their first unguided dive. Like a mother hen I gave them a barrage of instructions and sent them off. We picked them up downstream and they were gleeful for the experience.

The next morning the girls all wanted an early start so I woke them and the sleepily prepared for a dive. We went back to the same place but at slack tide. We explored the shallow reef which is, as Sam said, an aquarium. A huge variety of reef fish make this their home. The coral is spectacular and the visibility almost endless, in other words a perfect dive.

On the way back the Honda outboard, you know the one I just had completely serviced, died. We got a tow back to Furthur from a dive guide and I started to go to work, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance equipped I began the process. I discovered the gas I had bought at the marina had a strange color and smell and may be the culprit. I changed the plugs and drained the carburetors and still no luck. I considered the options with not dinghy. My first impulse was to head back to Phuket for the repairs, but we had come along ways and really wanted to dive here all week. We did a dive or two from the mooring. I had observed the livaboard boats all heading to the next island and followed suit. We found a great anchorage with moorings and excellent diving right under the boat.

After two wonderful day dives we did the night dive along with a mass of divers off the other boats, dive lights filled the sea as we descended. We even found a group doing a safety stop on our mooring line, I am sure they did not know they were on the wrong boat, we only have three dive torches so I had the girls draw straws and poor Anya lost so she stayed on the boat, hence the afore mentioned Russian soup.

This night dive was the best one I have done in SE Asia, for reasons I do not know, the fish “go to bed” at night here and night diving has been somewhat disappointing. On this dive we saw a mass amount of fish and some really big ones. The girls spotted a turtle just under the boat as we returned.

We seemed to have salvaged the trip in spite of the dead outboard. I have been considering a new outboard for a while, the Honda is totally unreliable and way to heavy. About the time I am going to chuck it overboard it runs for a while. I think this is its last straw, a Yamaha is in our future.

I have discovered that once you leave the US Honda has not service and parts are hard to find. You rarely see one and the vast majority of fishermen and dive boats use Yamahas. The first Hondas I saw were in Thailand where many of the fast tour boats use 2 to 4 big ones, 200 plus horse power each. I wondered why they chose Honda as there was no functioning dealer here. What I heard was a couple of years ago Honda came to Thailand with an alluring credit program and sold many units. The Thai’s have learned to work on them and fabricate parts in the usual way. This year I see some have already been replaced by Yamaha and other brands. It is amazing to me that such a good company as Honda would have such lousy service in a huge market.

Undaunted by the dead outboard our diving from the different moorings pans out. We move to the next island north, Ko Samilan and do two more dives that day. We are getting three good dives a day in. This is a bit exhausting and I am kept busy filling tanks, soon the crew learns to help with this project.

I have watched July go from the first timid discovery dive I took her on at Gilli A. we went to maybe 5 meters and swam along a reef, she clutched my hand the whole way. Next she took the open water course from my friends and she leaped into the diving world head on. She quickly became an avid diver, I have about twenty dives with her. On one of the dives at Samilan I saw a nice gradual slope down below the 20 meters we were already at. The visibility was unlimited so a perfect chance to give July one more hallmark. I motioned for the other girls to stay where they were and for July to follow me, she was puzzled by came along. I watched the computer as the depth grew, 25, 28, 29 and finally 30.1 meters. July still did not know what I was up to until I showed her the depth. I gave her a hug and a high five and we ascended back up the slope to the waiting divers. 30 meters (100 ft) is a hallmark for any diver, so along with wreck dives, night dives and compass work she has done all the elements of an advanced diver. I am extremely proud of her progress and love of diving.

Back at the mooring we picked to spend the night we watched a glorious sunset while enjoying the traditional poo poo plater. A movement in the water caught my eye and I spotted a turtle on the surface 3 meters from the boat and showed Sam. The turtle came closer and we got all the girls watching. I have seen them come by the boat but this one took a real fancy to us it seems. He swam around the boat for a long time then came right up the swim step and stuck out his head to say hi. He repeated this cycle many times coming right up to the boat and the awaiting ewws and ahhs of the girls. Finally temptation was too much and Sam quietly slid into the water and swam with him for a long time, he seemed to enjoy the company. That night the gratitude sharing had no shortage of topics.

Ko Ban is the northern most island in the park and one we loved last year although it was really crowded and the boats moored so close we had to avoid bouncing together. This year as we have seen this entire trip, the traffic is way down. I am not sure this is due to the difference in timing, last year we hit here just before Christmas, or the economy. Regardless we enjoyed a much less crowded time and never had to worry about finding a good mooring.

The dives at Ko Ban are deep and along a wall, we did several. We saw huge fish, groopers, Napoleon Fish and an ugly Frog Fish. We saw many eels and some monstrous. This one posed with July.

With so many wonder places to pick for our last night the girls all wanted to return to the second spot we dove. We will be leaving tomorrow and a good thing, we are out of food, the girls have healthy appetites. We also have a dead Honda and the gen is still not quite right so back to the marina we go.

This has been a wonderful adventure, so many dives! Both Sam and July hit their 30th dive. We saw turtles, eels, octopus, and too many species of fish to ever count. The scenery both above and below the water is sublime, huge rock formations created in a time when the earth moved violently now make one full of awe.

This crew has been a complete joy. The girls melded well all the while taking excellent care of me and Furthur. July has grown to be a fantastic crew and took the lead role with the newer girls apprehensively at first but excellently as time went on. Sam will be joining us again in a few months for a longer stay after she finishes her term teaching, I look forward to her return. All three girls were so eager to dive as often as they could. I will dive any time and usually the crew wanes a bit on its diving enthusiasm but not these girls, they wore me out! So once again I have been blessed with a crew, a place and a time if ecstatic joy.