Deep Sea Diving India
DIVE INDIA at Havlock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Come experience Deep Sea Diving in India at Havlock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands with DIVE INDIA
So far, muck diving has been synonymous with Lembeh in Sulawesi. Well, the Andamans is a geographical extension of the same region, and we – especially Vikas and Sayeed – have been exploring the macro realm quite intently, looking to expand the scope of what is available here.
During the season, we found a few “firsts” for the Andamans – electric clam, frogfish and devil stinger. And now that the off-season is slowly coming upon us, we have been doing some exploring… and this past week, we found the archetypical muck diving site: black sand, no rocks or coral, just lots of sea urchins and massive feather stars. And while here, 2 exciting new discoveries: ambonscorpionfish (!!!) and robust ghost pipefish!
With an average depth of 18m, and sloping down to 60m plus on one side, this site is accessible to all diver levels and we are also planning to do blue-water dives off from here, hoping to find hammerheads (fingers crossed). Will keep the world posted on what happens!
The site name is V16 for now, and it will be on our schedule of regular dive sites from next season.
So Vikas and I spent 3 days, sitting at the Port Blair port, waiting to get everything sorted so that we could lower our boat into the water (a process which, if one removes the waiting time, took an actual 20 minutes of effort). Yesterday morning, we woke up at 4:00am and headed over to the pier, departing Port Blair by 5, just at the crack of dawn.
Flat calm seas, beautiful lighting, a few sleepy gulls and Mako, purring along with her engines at mid-revs. A couple of bursts of speed got the speed up to well over 40knots and put big smiles on our face.
Today, Gregorio and his friends from Spain, who’ve been diving with us for the past 8-9 days, became the first divers to go on a dive trip on Mako – a sunrise dive at Johnny’s Gorge. Departing at 5am, we were there by 5:20am and had an amazing dive. A couple of the divers claimed this was their best dive ever (and these are people who have dived Galapagos and Sipadan, mind you), for the sheer wealth of fish life on the site.
So, this is what the future holds for DiveIndia this season — dawn dives, expedition trips to Barren Island, Invisible Banks, Campbell Shoal; extended range of day trip from Havelock to include North Button, Port Blair and Neil Island (including the drop-offs around Neil, where supposedly big sharks hang). These will be exclusive trips – 4-6 divers, 1 guide and 2 or 3 tanks, depending on where we go.
At the risk of sounding like we are tooting our own horn (we are, I admit, but I think we’ve earned it ), we can safely say this represents another evolution in what diving in the Andamans has to offer. The first was the new sites discovered by Johnny, Dixon and Jackson; the next was the North Safaris and now this.
As of now, we will be running day trips to virtually all sites visited by liveaboards, and a lot of other sites that they don’t know about (there’s that local expertise coming into play again). And you get to experience the magic of the Andamans as well…
Yep, it’s been a while since our last blog, but I think this one was worth it. We’ll be posting videos and clips online very soon as well.
Woof – I cannot believe it: we are going to complete 10 years, as of this December.
I’ve mentioned this story before – our first year,we had 2-3 consecutive days of 10-11 divers and I was panicking – I stayed late in the office, obsessively double- and triple-checking everything to make sure that all was in order and there’d be no screw-ups.
And now, as we start our 10th season, the baby DIVEIndia store in Neil is about to go through the same metamorphosis – after a year or so of running under the radar, we are finally opening the Neil dive center “officially”. Finally!
One thing we’ve refused to do is go down the full corporate way, and bring in investors, etc. That would help us grow faster, for sure, but then we would become Just Another Commercial Dive Center, and god knows, the world (or heck, even the Andamans) doesnt need that. So the Neil dive center is going to follow the footsteps of our Havelock dive center, albeit with the benefit of 10 years of experience added to what was, back then, just a general/vague idea on how things *should* be run. Given how well things have gone in Havelock, I reckon those arent bad footsteps after all.
But there are still a few things I reckon we could do better. As we’ve grown rapidly in the last few years, we face some internal change ourselves. Our fully-flexible operational approach of the past is going to require a little re-working and we will have to put in some policies and guidelines, so as to keep things ticking along smoothly. The trick, of course, remains in finding the right balance of flexibility (so if a diver walks in and says, “hey, I loved today’s dive – I want to go back there tomorrow”, we can accommodate him) vs structure (shoot me if we become another bureaucratic dive center where “this is the plan for the next week, you will follow it and you will like it”).
A few changes we have planned:
1/ Improving our briefings. Our Burmese dive guides are fantastic spotters and have really good awareness of everything going on around them, but due to language and socio-cultural differences, their briefings can be a little spotty. Now, the fact remains that a group with 2 buddy teams probably doesn’t require the same level of detailed/rigorous briefings as a group with 10-12 dives, but still, it is always a good idea for divers to have as much information as possible. It would be too easy to just hire expat DMs, but I think responsible business practices mean giving back to the local community by providing them an upward path in the industry; not only that, the local dive guides are simply really, really good. I’ve been diving for 22 years now, am an Instructor Trainer/Course Director and most of our Burmese dive pros are better dive guides than me (and those who aren’t, will probably be in a year or two). So instead of taking the easy way, we are going to be continuously working with the dive guides on improving their communication skills, and providing them with the tools to make their lives easier – the most important one being maps of the dive sites.
2/ Adjust processes: The biggest challenge for us has always been the planning vs flexibility trade-off. I know dive centers that plan the whole week in advance. Classroom times for courses are strictly defined, course planning is done well in advance, etc, etc. This makes life easier in terms of operations, things run smoothly and everything seems professional. I have never really bought into this – I think our goal, as a dive center, is not to make life easier for ourselves, but to make life as convenient a possible for our customers. So if you want to come and watch the Open Water video at a different time, then, within reason, we want to accommodate that. If you dive for a bit and then want to visit a different dive site from what is planned… hey, you’re paying us, you get to decide where you want to go.
The obvious downside of this, of course, is that sometimes things do get turned around a bit too much. Some people interpret flexibility and lack of rigid structure as being unprofessional. And fair enough – sometimes, divers dont really have a strong preference on what they want to do, but are happy to follow along the plan, whatever it is.
So one of the things we are working on right now is how to find that right balance.
3/ Feedback forms: So far, we’ve been running on gut feel on what we are doing correctly and what we aren’t. Because a lot of our divers come hang out in the cafe later, we get feedback directly from them. But as we expand, we want to make sure we are capturing information in a systematic manner.
4/ Dive center re-design: Vikas and Melissa have been scheming like Pinky and the Brain on this, and we are all waiting to see what comes out of this. Those ugly floor tiles are most likely going to stay for another year, though, unfortunately.
5/ Neil to open on moderate scale: we are going to launch the Neil dive center with 6 rooms and enough diving gear to support projected business. And once everything is up and running, we’ll start actively marketing Neil packages as stand-alone dive+stay options, not merely as an add-on to Havelock (although that option will always remain).
6/ Expand the instructor training side of Diveindia – we are India’s first Instructor Training facility, offering on-site instructor training courses since 2009. And now we are India’s only multi-agency Instructor Training facility, offering both NAUI and SSI Instructor Training courses, with 2 full-time instructor trainers/course directors on staff. One thing we want to do is make the Andamans a regional hub for instructor training, but with a different – and as far as we can tell, completely unique – approach to how instructor courses are taught. More info on this to come at the appropriate time.
And then there are our usual off-season initiatives:
– Pooling the best practices from the various instructors, so that each instructor is able to improve his/her training.
– Staff training – certifying our boat staff as divers, emergency responders and also rescue divers.
– Annual gear maintenance – I dont know what it is, but our depth gauges always take a beating and have a life expectancy of about 20% of normal. Last year, we also received a bunch of non-standard O-rings that, while functional, weren’t optimal. We replaced them ad-hoc through the season but are doing a more systematic change now
– New gear for Neil and Havelock. The best part of the season – unpacking all those boxes and boxes of goodies. Christmas in the Andamans does come in August
One thing that is still on the cards but has been pushed back to next year is retail. I am not particularly keen on selling scuba equipment in the Andamans simply because the cost factor makes it economically unviable. It would be far cheaper for people to just import the gear themselves from the US or UK. And if we dont believe in the product that we are selling, what’s the point? But there are some bits of gear that we can sell which offer good value for our customers and provide us with enough return to make it worth our time/trouble: masks, straps, wetsuits, drybags. We do plan to start selling them, but it is on hold for one more year, till we are able to find a reliable import agent in Kolkata or Chennai who can handle this for us.
Our goal is quite simple – to be a better, safer dive center each year. If there is anything you’d like to see us add – please let us know via email.
PS: A couple of people have asked me if we plan to have dogs in Neil. It is quite ironic, given the celebrity status Frodo and Sam have acquired on the Interwebz, that I had initially hesitated to get them because I wasn’t sure whether keeping dogs in a resort was a good idea or not. While the Beasts have turned out to be quite a draw, we have no plans of ever keeping dogs merely for marketing. So no, no dogs in Neil, unfortunately, unless I move there – in which case, there will be 3 dogs in Neil (and none in Havelock).
It is a cliche and a truism that all good things come to an end – but that doesn’t make Ev’s departure from the DiveIndia nest any easier.
Ev aka “McNamanta” first came to our resort when she was just a wee bonnie lass and we had just opened our resort. That season and the next few, she became a repeat customer and did a bunch of dives with us. Then one day, she was leading dives and before we knew what had happened, she adroitly went from customer to employee and had all of us wrapped around her finger. Not that we were complaining, mind you.
Those of you who have dived with her know her as a very patient and empathetic instructor, always cheerful and smiling, and always excited to see her students develop into qualified divers. Those of us who have worked with her know her a genuinely nice, warm and caring person – the sort of person we were – and are – privileged to have as a friend.
After almost half a decade of good times, drunk times, hungover times, “Wtf was THAT?” times, occasionally grumpy times and epic times (ending the year with a staff sunset dive at Johnny’s Gorge, for one) she’s now off, starting a new chapter in her life back in Ireland.
We are very happy for her and wish her all the best, but we will also miss her here (plus, neither Vikas nor Sayeed can carry off a dress with as much panache as her!).
Hope to see you back here sooner rather than later, Evie – else we will have to consider kidnapping you and bringing you back here. Consider yourself warned!
It’s been a wet December and early Feb. Hell, it’s been wet and windy since September, come to think of it. The usual lull in rainfall and wind between Sep-Nov did not happen.
That was good for Frodo and Sam, who enjoyed the cooler weather. Personally, I enjoyed this weather as well. Those of you who live in North European climes, or even northern US, may find this hard to believe, but there really can be such a thing as “too much sun.”
Still, we exist to keep you, dear diver, happy and this weather was not conducive to the best diving. Rough seas meant that many days, we were limited to nearer sites. When the seas calmed down, the rains persisted – and this meant bedraggled and cold divers coming back from the dive. Afternoon booze sales were through the roof, though.
Well, it has been dry for a while now and the sun is out, and looks like it is here to stay. And so is the manta that has been hanging around Broken Ledge the past few days.
And the metaphorical sun has started to shine as well: our spares and new gear for the season has finally arrived – only 2.5 months late due to a collection of screw-ups that even I have a hard time believing. And I was informed that our new boat, custom made for us in Dubai, has arrived in Chennai and the process of clearing customs has started.
Tuesday, we go looking for a new site whose existence we have suspected for some time. Let’s see if the sun continues to shine
It took a recent visit to the website and a look at the Neil section to realize how amazingly behind schedule we are.
The page still read “we expect to launch in October 2009.” I sure hope none of my former clients are reading this – in a past life, I used to make a living as a consultant managing large projects (eg mobile start-ups) and was not completely incompetent at it either. So how did we go so badly wrong?
The answer to that last question is a sordid tale of unexpected capital expenses caused by new local regulations, various delays (including my favorite – a 2 month delay caused by shortage of sand. Really. I couldn’t make this stuff up, even I want to do so) and the usual cash flow management issues that independent SMEs like us – without a big, fat-cat list of investors – face as part of their growth.
But I think we are close to exhausting pretty much every excuse and potential cause of delay (and oh lord, I think i just jinxed myself into 2012 with this statement).
What is left is to complete the wiring (as soon as the contractor sends me a plan), the plumbing (all our commodes, loving hand-picked by yours truly based on long-term seating comfort for those days when you really can’t put down the book or magazine, had arrived broken and so we had to order new ones) and the dive equipment (which should arrive in a couple of weeks time).
Hmmm. Now that I think of it, 2012 may yet be a possibility. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and provided it doesn’t turn out to be the incoming train, we should be… (excuse me if you’ve heard this before) OPENING SOON. Believe me, we are just as eager to get it started as anyone else.
They say something about the best laid plans of men and mice. All I can do is quote the unmatchable Pinky, from Pinky and The Brain: Narf!
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I just realized it has been a really long time since I blogged anything…. well, that’s the off-season for you.
But this is the sort of blog post that is a lot of fun to write about, as we discovered yet another great site a few days ago. The site is as-yet un-named, but runs from 17-25m. It has the same type of craggy gorge-like features as Johnny’s Gorge (the top dive site of the Andamans, discovered by Johnny, our senior DM a few years ago) and is also packed with fish.
Today was our first dive there, and we found 2 turtles, large schools of reef fish, a massive giant grouper, jacks, etc. etc. The works. No sharks and surprisingly, no barracudas either, but given the location, we expect it to be fairly productive when it comes to teeth-per-fin ratio of the resident fish.
This site should compare to Johnny’s Gorge, Jackson’s Bar and Dixon’s Pinnacle in terms of topography and fishlife.
Discovered by Vikas and Dixon.
We’ve done a few of the safaris to the North now – and a pattern is emerging: excellent coral, superlative diving, big fish and a true sense of exploration. While we are still a ways away from being experts when it comes to knowing what we’ll find (give us the off-season to achieve that expertise!), we’ve can talk about some of the highlights so far.
We’ve been seeing a lot of sharks – grey reefies, leopard sharks, white and black tips as well as an occasional silvertip or two. We’ve also seen mantas and devils rays, and Sayeed lived up to his Tamil Heart-throb moniker by causing a HUGE leatherback turtle to fall in love with him.
We send Vikas over recently with a video camera and as soon as he is able to process the clips, we will put them online here and on Youtube.
8 years ago, when I first came to the Andamans, there were 4-5 dive sites in Havelock. When we started operations in the first year, we found a few new sites (South Button, the wreck of the Inchkett and more). Now, after 5 years of operation, a lot of the sites that were being dived in the first year are no longer visited, simply because we have found a lot of newer, better sites: Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon Pinnacle, Jackson’s Bar and more.
Finding these sites was the first big step forwards for diving in the Andamans, because these are truly world-quality sites, and since then, we have continually pushed this frontier forwards, adding a few new sites every year.
Now, we are pleased to announce fully-catered diving safaris to the North Andamans. Through the new locations, we will get access to a host of new sites that were previously the domain of liveaboards only. Personally, I am VERY excited about this development: to me, it signals the second big step forward for diving in the Andamans.
These diving safaris will start from January 2009. Please check the following page for more details:
DIVEIndia – Dive Safaris to the North Andamans.