Whale shark, whale shark, whale shark! :)

Dropped $350 Cdn on dives in the Perhentian Islands in total, coming out with Advanced Diver certification. Of course, Advanced Diver certification means almost nothing, as I am completely shocked by how bad other divers with so-called “Advanced” cards were. They couldn’t remember the basic buddy check! Divers unable to cope with the slightest amount of current, constant swimming with their hands, putting mask on forehead with the risk of losing it in the water while fiddling with them frantically at the surface prior to descent, and separation from dive masters was the rule, not the exception. I hardly call myself a good diver, but I think I understand my limits.

Of course, separation from dive masters wasn’t that difficult, as I do regret doing my Advanced through Matahari Divers, and wish I had signed on with Turtle Bay Divers like Per did. My instructor Nic was fine, though young (exactly one year younger than me!), and I do obviously feel more safe with divers that have a decade of diving under their weight belts. But mainly it was the attitude of the other dive masters at Matahari towards safety and responsibility for the group concerned me a bit. Diving with Turtle Bay, their clearly explained dive plans eliminated all ambiguities. Doing it all over again, if I were to sign on for a week of diving at an island that could be a “dive-factory”, I would ask to sit in on a dive briefing before handing over my money.

Summary of my dives:

Peak Performance Buoyancy module – pretty much a rehash of what I already know, though was a nice easy dive to ease back into diving. 1-on-1 with my instructor Nic, which was nice.

Navigation module – required dive. Kind of B.S. Was some current out at D’Lagoon. The corals and marine life were alright, pales in comparison to Cozumel. The most interesting thing was seeing a group of military divers greeting us in the water. 1-on-1 again with Nic.

“Fun Dive” at Three Reefs with Matahari – one of the worst dives I’ve ever done, and the most stressful, even compared to the horrendous current I encountered in Cozumel (the difference being the dive op). First off, the dive plan wasn’t entirely clear to me, which set up the scene for stress. I descended with the instructor and a student, but halfway down –  equalizing very slowly as usual – I realized that they had no idea I was following, and that I was supposed to go with the other DM. They swam through a swim-through, almost disappearing due to the poor vis, and I panicked, trying to hurry behind them as quickly as possible so they would know I was there. Luckily the instructor spotted me. I spent the rest of the dive struggling for breath, trying to recover from that stress, and also trying to fight the insane current that the instructor tried to bring us through. At one point, the instructor was ahead of me by a few meters in the current. I was kicking as hard as I could yet remaining in one spot, and the student was even in more sad shape, behind me by another few meters. Finally the instructor drifts back towards us and we go another way. The corals and marine life were also pretty mediocre.

Wreck dive module at Sugarwreck– This time, there were two of us students swimming with Nic. Was shocked by how much the other diver sucked… Otherwise, the wreck was really impressive! Maybe being my first wreck? Saw a bamboo shark! And Cobia – fish that look like sharks.

“Fun Dive” at Sugarwreck again with Matahari – I enjoyed the wreck module, so I convinced Per to go on this dive. The DM (not Nic) told us not to worry about the buddy check?! And tried to hurry us down to the bottom. Understandingly, Per refused to dive with Matahari again, though I had to finish the rest of certification dives with them. The vis at Sugarwreck wasn’t as good as the first day. I rented an underwater digicam, though couldn’t get any good photos with the poor vis, took lots of videos.

Fun Dive with Turtle Bay – dived with Per at reef dive near Pinnacle. Very nice, slow dive. Lots of colourful soft coral, puffer fish, porcupine fish, box fish, clown fish (Nemo!), angel fish, butterfly fish, and so on!

My favorite – black spotted yellow boxfish!

Night dive module – not nearly as scary as I thought it would be! Nic took myself and a fun diver out to the reef just off the shore of our island. Started the dive at dusk. and unless I looked up and away from my torch, I really couldn’t tell that it was almost pitch black in the water and the sky above. The fish seemed a little scared of our lights though. Spotted two crabs and two cuttlefish! The coolest part was covering our torches with our bodies and running our hands through the water and seeing the phosphorescence light up!

Deep dive module at Pinnacle (Temple of the Sea) – the best dive by far! Again, I was the only student with Nic, though we had a full boat of fun divers. Arriving at the site, two boats of divers leaving said there was a whale shark! Extremely rare for Perhentian islands. Excited, we all wanted to get in as quickly as possible. Vis was poor due to the whale shark swimming around. At the bottom, we could hear the other DM’s banging their tanks but we couldn’t see what they were seeing due to the vis (later found out it was the whale shark). We descended further to my max. depth of 24m, did some skills tests, then went on a relaxed swim up and around the Pinnacle. Even more impressive than the other dive site with even more soft corals and fish. Saw a moral eel!

We ran into some “lost” divers who lost their DM! One guy I knew from doing his Advanced during the wreck module took his non-Advanced girlfriend down to 20m?! Nic, concerned about their depth, signaled them to check their gauges, and they signed back “OK” – unbelievable that they didn’t know basic dive signs! We returned them to their DM before continuing our dive. Again, I was shocked by how blase they and their DM were, and not at all concerned about exceeding their planned depth. At the surface I heard another pair of divers had also lost their DM?! I question whether the DM’s are just there to dive for themselves, and not at all concerned with the safety of their group.

Towards the end of the dive, emerging from the corner of my eye, I see the whale shark swimming by us! Excited, I tried to tug on Nic’s fin, but she spotted it as well. For about 30 seconds we swam alongside it, several meters away, before running into the rest of the divers swarming around it. It was a “small” whale shark, so likely just a baby.

Baby whale shark!

I am so jealous of Per’s dives on our last day, however! With Turtle Bay he did a deep dive at Secret Reef, followed by an afternoon dive at Pinnacle (which I couldn’t make it back for in time after my deep dive to join, or so I thought). He saw the baby whale shark for several minutes!! And he had rented a digicam, so he snapped some photos. And he has a professional video from a videographer who happened to be on his dive! Jealous, jealous, jealous.

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