Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The bottom of the sea (or: our career as salvage specialists)

There was an opportunity to make money: a little Christmas bonus that would be very well received by the Ketoro crew, having recently impoverished themselves at the duty-free shops of Langkawi, in preparation for festive-season visitors. Said shops are fun just to explore, let alone use for shelf-stocking: this one is Chinese-owned, frequented by all population groups on the island and resplendent (alongside the Chinese lanterns) in decorations appropriate to the current religious festival: in this case, Christmas season. 
It was here that a staff-member at the till, with red Christmas hat atop her Muslim headgear, said “At Christmas we’re all a little bit Christian”.

There was also a need to obtain revenue to offset the cost of everything on the boat that has succumbed to that dreaded four-letter word: here Rolf displays kitchen tap fittings that were clearly no longer doing their job (shiny replacements on left)
and also on display is the dive-tank compressor, which has given up completely; the compressor left us a reminder of its existence in the rust stains on the deck.
The opportunity for earnings? A yacht had lost its anchor at an island near Langkawi and a reward of RM3000 (Malaysian Ringgits; about SAR7200.00) was being offered. The coordinates were available, depth given and easily dive-able, and we had intended to anchor over at that island overnight anyway, on our way up to Phuket. So began our career as salvage specialists!

We sailed to Ko Tarutao and our esteemed skipper did an outstanding job of getting Ketoro exactly to the given waypoint, so that we dropped anchor 3m from the given coordinates, thus supposedly 3m from the anchor, our prize. We celebrated our future earnings with a magnificent sunset (also celebrating because this was our first sail since visiting home, and the first time we had been free on anchor for over 3 months).

Dawn dawned (as it does!) crisp and clear and beautiful so we waited in eager anticipation until the sun was high enough to give us good visibility.
Preparations were made, after considerable forethought. Some of the essentials are pictured below… dive gear, rope to be our guide and OOB (object over-board marker) for marking the spot when the treasure was found.
What the photograph does not show is the pliers and de-rusting spray lubricant used on everything before any fitting would function or valve would open, nor the scuba regulator that was discarded (faulty pressure gauge… probably corroded!?)… nor the weight belts, which we forgot in OUR rustiness!

So.... how did the job go? Underwater visibility turned out to be less than 1 metre, with swirling mud and dense particulates – even before the bottom mud was stirred up. Undeterred, we tied a 20 metre length of rope to our anchor (which had fully sunk, i.e. disappeared, into the muddy bottom) and used this to grope our way around in a circular search pattern, first remaining above ground and trying to SEE below us but then giving that up and relying on the dragging rope to catch any protruding objects (like errant anchors) that we missed in the swirling mud. To no avail – after about 90 minutes and empty scuba tanks we declared pre-lunch / post breakfast drinks to have arrived and toasted to an inglorious end to our careers as salvage experts… at the bottom of the sea with the forsaken anchor (and possibly to be joined at some deeper ocean point by the compressor!)

The rest of our trip up to Phuket was marvellous: we took it slowly, anchoring every night, often at places we have not previously visited
and thoroughly enjoying the beauty of these islands with their magnificent limestone karst formations (used as great climbing walls),
beautiful caves and hongs (this below taken from inside Emerald Cave, a hong accessed by swimming through 80m of black tunnel, exit seen below),
clear seas and good snorkelling. It was somewhat unnerving to fall off the dinghy to snorkel around rocks (below, near the boat) and land in the midst of a group of the biggest barracuda we have ever seen (with a ravenous glint in their eyes; I always cover my rings in fear when seeing barracuda as I have heard they are attracted by a sparkle…) but encouraging to learn that there are indeed still a few large fish still around in Thai waters. In fact, we landed a huge Spanish mackerel that we will enjoy for a while to come.

We now eagerly await Christmas, January, February and March to share our Langkawi provisions with visiting families: Barry and Kay, Erik and Di, Mark and Livi, then Sonja and Delwin: anyone know of salvage we can use this new crew to make an attempt on?