BEST TIME FOR SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans
One of the downsides of having been diving for a while is that sometimes, it is easy to take the ocean’s wonders for granted – yes, the diving is still enjoyable but that sense of wide-eyed wonder is lost. The more you dive, the more cool things you see, the less you tend to be excited by the common, everyday stuff – which, if you take a step back and think about it, is pretty damn amazing. On any given scuba dive here in the Andamans, you can see well over a hundred species of marine life. Translate that to seeing 100 different animals in a national park, or 100 different birds in a morning walk.
The same thing happens with the Andamans. After going out for an evening walk with the dogs daily for nearly 10 years, it is easy to take the long stretch of quiet, untouched beach, the clear azure waters and all the interesting marine life in the low tide rock pools for granted. It’s human nature, after all.
Still, sometimes, it is nice to “see” things from fresh eyes. Rajdeep Bhattacharyya came to do his open water course with us, and has written a beautifully evocative post on his first experience at diving. It puts a smile on my face, and it reminds me of my own first dive (in a pool – where the feeling of weightlessness had me hooked to the sport instantly) and the first dive where I saw fish (dive #30, in Florida). So, with the author’s permission, here is a link: https://www.wingd.ca/swimming-fish-andaman/
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.
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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Back when I first came and dived the Andamans in 2000-2001, there were a lot more sharks here. For example, Minerva Ledge used to be full of sharks – the question wasn’t whether you see any, but how many and how many species.
Compared to back then, the number of sharks have decreased significantly. In fact, finding Johnny’s Gorge and Jackson’s Bar was a big morale booster for our team, as it showed that there still were some sharks left.
However, some positive shark news – this season, we have started seeing a lot more leopard sharks. I dont think I saw *any* leopard sharks in my first 4-5 years in the Andamans… and for the next few years, I think it was only a few sightings every season.
But this season, they are regulars – we’ve been spotting them at Parr Ridge a lot, and also on Pilot Reef and South Pilot Reef. These are all sites that are accessible to divers of all certification levels and experience, as an added bonus!
Back in 2002, I was teaching a class at Minerva Ledge with 3 Open Water students.
Back then, there used to be a lot more sharks on this reef and the question wasnt whether we’d see any sharks, but how many and which species. As with most beginners, my students had some concerns about being in the water with sharks, and I gave them my usual spiel: sharks arent dangerous, we are not normal prey, we are too big for most sharks, etc. etc.
We get in the water, and sure enough, we see a white tip cruise by. And then a black tip some time later. By now, my students are converted – they are very excited about the sharks and no longer scared. Towards the end of the dive, yet another white tip goes by – and a few seconds later, one of my students points to the right into the blue and signals “shark.”
I look, expecting to see a white tip and sure enough, there is one swimming towards us. I nod and return to scanning the front, as I am hoping to get a manta today.
Then a small voice pipes in my head, saying “wait a minute – wrong proportions…” I look again, and the shark is coming toward us. Directly towards us. Fins down. Which is an aggressive territorial display.
“Wait a minute,” I remember thinking, “where does a white tip get off being aggressive to three divers”?
Then the initial voice in my head pipes up again “hey… WRONG proportions. Hellooo!”
Right – when looked more closely, this shark just seemed to be a lot bulkier. And not only that, it was a lot bigger. And at that moment, it turned and showed us its size – it was a 4m+ bullshark! Yes, I know bullsharks don’t get bigger than 3m or so – but this was 4m+ and I will stake my diving reputation on it (heck, most people who’ve seen it put it at 5m+, but that is a bit exaggerated). And my divers and I had just been told off in no uncertain terms by Big Guy that we were in his territory. Rather than upset him, we turned around and head back in towards the reef, and that was all we saw of him on this dive.
Over the next few years, Bob the Bullshark would make a reappearance a couple of times each season. Each time, it was at the same site and the same deal: comes straight in, fins down, in a territorial display, turning away a good 10m or so away. We always appreciated the polite warning and would make sure we didn’t hang around for a second pass (and certainly not the third pass, which might involve a “smile”).
And each sighting was absolutely, gloriously epic – there are few things in this world as graceful as an enormous, powerful shark with rippling muscles and gliding by faster than anyone can swim with the merest flick of its tail. It was humbling and it was moving – we were witnessing one of nature’s 2 perfect creations in its element (the other being the crocodile) – and I mean “perfect creation” literally: the shark has not changed or evolved over 350 million years. It is perfect and cannot be improved upon.
The last 3+ seasons, Bob has been AWOL. We put it down to him falling a victim to the local shark fishermen (thanks to the demand for turning this amazingly beautiful animal into soup).
However, a couple of days ago, two of our divers and one of our DMs saw a big shark at a site that is about 250m away from Bob’s old stomping grounds. Initially, we were not sure whether it was a grey reef shark (which has been sighted here occasionally) or a bullshark (which has never been sighted here). Speaking to the divers and comparing notes on size, shape, etc., I am pretty confident it was a big bullshark.
Could Bob be back? I for one certainly hope so – if there ever was a Christmas present that would thrill me beyond belief, this would be it. And at the risk of anthropomorphizing too much, I do wonder if somewhere in that predator mind of his, Bob remembers us?
Welcome back, Bob – we missed you!
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.