The last week has been spent pretty much following the same pattern – sleep, dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, sleep, dive…you get the picture!
Here’s how a typical day unfolded…
7.30am – wake up in our wooden chalet. Designed for practicality not romance – separate beds! Have a quick shower in what, at first glance, looks like an outside shower but is actually enclosed by mosquito wire so you get the feeling of showering outside but none of the bugs!
8am – breakfast in the resort dining room. Buffet-style service with mix of western and eastern foods – hash browns, baked beans, eggs, noodles, dim sum, fried mee. Toast, cereal, loads of fresh fruit. Tea, coffee, juice. Sit at hefty wooden benches with fans overhead to keep us cool and a view out onto the jetty and the sea.
8.30am – head to dive store to start kitting up, which basically involves finding our wetsuits and diving boots, putting them on and then finding our dive boat.
9am – on boat. Check our gear is all there and that our tanks have been set up properly. Find a space on the boat for the journey out to Sipadan (around 45 minutes) and chat to the other divers. Our boat had 10 people on it including us – 2 Italian couples, 1 Dutch couple and an English couple.
10am – arrive at Sipadan island, which is a national marine park and home to a group of soldiers who protect it (a couple of people were kidnapped here a few years ago – not sure why!). Get into full dive kit (tanks, weight belt, fins and mask). Get briefing from dive master about which way to go, likely currents, maximum depths and times allowed. Back roll off boat into the water (very James Bond!). Go diving!
Drop down to up to 30m deep and dive for up to 45 mins at a time, gradually ascending. Each dive varies but overall we see dozens of giant turtles, sometimes sleeping, sometimes swimming, sometimes heading to surface for their gulp of air (lasts them for hours!). Also see loads of reef sharks including a memorable sight of around 12 juveniles playing what looks like ring-a-ring-a-roses with each other! They look incredibly sweet but if I was a fish I might not be saying that! As well as ‘big stuff’, we see a huge variety of tropical fish including some big ones like bumphead parrotfish (mean looking!) and shoals of barricuda, plus lots of smaller things like clown fish (Nemo), angel fish, bat fish, clams, moray eels.
11am – back on boat after dive, remove kit and swap stories with other divers about what we’ve seen. Boat drops us off on Sipadan where the crew make us cups of tea & coffee and we sit around in the shade, chatting and relaxing while we have our ‘surface interval’ (time on surface to allow nitrogen that builds up in your body under pressure, to leave at a safe pace before you go back under pressure).
12noon – back on boat, quick transfer to 2nd dive site. Kit up again and go diving again!
1pm – after dive, boat takes us back to our resort island (Mabul) where we have a quick rinse off in the shower, lunch in the dining room (usually a range of curries, stir fries and some western-style food), maybe time for a spot of reading and then back out for the third dive of the day.
3pm – 3rd dive
4pm – back to chalet for shower, relaxing and reading on sun loungers on our deck.
6pm – option to go night diving – I did this one day, as part of my Advanced Open Water Diver course, which I completed over the course of the holiday. Although it’s knackering to do 4 dives in one day, it was really fabulous to be in the water after dark. I thought it would be really scary but actually it’s amazing how much you can see. The light of the moon makes a big difference and underwater torches illuminate things of course. On my night dive, I saw some amazing things that you just wouldn’t see during the day – loads of big crabs scuttling around on the bottom and the absolute highlight of the whole week – two separate nests, which looked like big bonfires waiting to be lit, one containing cuttlefish eggs and with 4 giant cuttlefish hovering around it and one with squid doing the same. If you’ve never seen cuttlefish or squid in the sea, it’s quite a sight – they are the most alien looking things I’ve ever seen, but absolutely beautiful with it. I wish I had a picture!
8pm – after showering for the final time today (!), it’s dinner time! More delicious curries and stir fries, washed down with a Tiger beer. Bit of chat with other divers and then off to bed.
11pm – sound asleep. Zzzzz….zzzzz…..