Thursday, April 27, 2006

Deep wreck diving in Thailand?

Two and a half years ago I got trimix certified and followed an advanced wreck diving course in the Philippines. So it was about time to put the two together. But where? Having been invited on an exploratory deep wreck diving expedition in Sri Lanka, I needed a place relatively nearby where I could refresh my skills, in preferably similar conditions. Subic bay in the Philippines not being my favourite place, I checked out my options in Thailand.

Even though Thailand doesn't immediately pop up as a possible destination when thinking about technical diving. There's some deep diving going on on its west coast, with Mark Ellyatt having put Phuket on the tec diving map thanks to his 313m deep record dive, but there are -as yet- no wrecks to speak of. And on the east side, the Gulf of Thailand is a rather unknown place when it comes to wreck diving. That is, until you start looking a bit deeper.

Somehow, a Google search resulted in a link to the M/V Trident. And it immediately caught my interest, offering exactly what I was looking for: exploratory deep wreck diving! Co-owned by Jamie McLeod (tec instructor trainer) and Stewart Oehl (tec instructor), two British expats living on Koh Tao, the M/V Trident is currently the only ship organizing deep wreck diving expeditions in the Gulf of Thailand. Besides the owners, there's also Michael (tec diver), another British expat, who acts as divemaster & gas blender, and of course there's the ship's Thai crew: captain, cook, engineer & deckhand.

In less than a year Jamie & Stewart have found over a dozen wrecks, lying in 50-70m deep water. From wooden fishing boats to cargo vessels to WWII war ships. And they've got plenty more marks and sonar glitches to check out. One wreck in particular has gotten them a lot of media attention, both good and bad: the USS Lagarto, a WWII United States submarine sunk by the Japanese in May 1945 and now lying 70m below the waves. Considered a war grave, it's alas a no go site.

Thanks to the M/V Trident, the Gulf of Thailand is indeed becoming a serious wreck diving area, with virgin undived wrecks waiting to be found.

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