I have always wanted to scuba dive, snorkelling is great but it just isn’t as interactive, as immersive as diving so I finally I took the plunge and enrolled, with a friend, to do my open water course.
We chose Sea Bees because along with being one of the most popular dive companies in Phuket and Southeast-Asia with a great reputation for high standards, they were also the friendliest.
Sea Bees is a big operation with between 80 and 100 staff, an office and support hotel in Phuket, another office and hotel at Khao Lak, a branch at the extremely posh JW Marriott Hotel at Mai Khao, a third Office in Pak Meng; a small town between Krabi and Trang, and six boats ranging from 19 metres to 26 metres long.
The course lasts for 4 days, we spent the first two days at the company’s Palm Garden Resort at the southern end of Phuket. Both mornings were devoted to classroom stuff, learning the basics. We had opted to do the Scuba School International (SSI) course as opposed to PADI. I was told there was little difference other than cost.
The classroom stuff was all very necessary and not at all daunting. Our instructor was Born, she is one of the few Thai female diving instructors on Phuket, and she is bloody marvellous. Born is pretty short, but tough. Really tough!
In their purpose built pool Born taught us how to swap our breathing apparatus, clear our masks, swim around with no masks, and how to remove our air tank, buoyancy compensator and weight belts, all underwater. I never realized it was so easy to change buoyancy in the water by simply breathing in (to go up) or breathing out (to go down). Once we both got the hang of that, we were 80% under control, or so we thought!
Our first open water dive was on the east side of Koh Racha, about 15 km south of Chalong, the weather could have been better, a light wind was making the darkened sea a little choppy whilst the broken clouds passed overhead. Wow, this was going to be our first real dive!
We checked each other’s equipment as required, popped a little air in our BC’s, held on to buckle and mask and plunged in. “Hey, this wasn’t too bad,”I thought, as I bobbed around on the surface, waiting for the sea to wriggle up inside my wet suit, and descending below the surface brought some calm to the whole situation.
Suddenly, though, keeping control of your buoyancy is not as easy as in the pool, when you catch your first glimpse of a school of fish you breathe in with excitement, causing you to shoot back up to the surface!!! Start again! Try to remain calm this time!!! Born and my buddy are right next to me so I know I am safe.
This first dive on Lucy’s Reef lasted 54 minutes, we got down to a depth of 15 metres and after my initial buoyancy incident all went well. After the dive we took lunch back on the boat. A quick snooze was followed by a debriefing by Born preparing us for our second dive on Staghorn Reef which turned out to be much more pleasurable and we finished off the day feeling quietly confident.
On our second day we headed out to Shark Point. We were lucky, the weather was beautiful and the water was absolutely crystal clear, the visibility was simply stunning. We saw schools of blue stripped snappers, squid, blue and yellow grouper, yellow trumpet fish, clown fish playing hide and seek in the stag horn, rabbit fish, turtles swimming by, and surprise, surprise, two large zebra sharks. Both sharks swam lazily through the divers, taking very little notice of us. One of them swam so close at one point that you could have reached out and touched its tail. The professional cameraman with our team followed both sharks for some time and said afterwards it was some of the best footage he had ever shot.
The second dive of the day was not so clear but we still managed to see lots of fish, including a variety of morays, the very rare frog fish, lots of lion fish, several bearded scorpion fish, many trigger fish and the rare peacock flounder!
We sat our written tests on the way back to shore, and we passed, mainly because of the excellent tuition from Born. She is an intuitive teacher, the return trip gave me a chance to find out how she got into diving.
Born fell in love with the sea in Rayong, near Pattaya, where she was studying to be an accountant. It changed her life and she got a job in a dive shop on Koh Samui, from there she moved to Phuket. She started a dive course for fun, loved it, and then got really serious. She became a SSI instructor in 2006, paying her way through the courses by working for the company.
Holger Schwab, the owner of Sea Bees Diving has been involved with diving all his life, initially with the army. He opened his first dive shop in the Canary Islands before working as an instructor in Egypt. He first came to Thailand as a backpacker in 1989.
When he took over Sea-Bees, 17 years ago, it was a small operation with no boats. After a great deal of dedication, especially to standards, he has three outlets, two dive resort and six boats. He still dives, especially during staff or instructor training and reckons he has around 1,500 dives to his credit. Two of his staff have more than 5,000 dives each proving their experience and dedication to the world of scuba!
Sea Bees Diving
Tel. +66 (0) 7638 1765
1/3 Moo9, Viset Road, Chalong, Phuket 83130, Thailand