This week’s guides on board Emperor Orion were the well-seasoned Boat Managers, Russ and Chris, local expert Sakeel, and relative new-comer to the Fleet, Jacky. Our discerning guests hailed from around the world including from America, Russia, UK, Australia, Czechoslovakia and Slovakia…a powerhouse of nationalities!
We started this trip on an absolute high, jumping in at LANKAN MANTA POINT and encountering 11 MANTAS! The underwater atmosphere was electric as we watched in awe as these grandiose creautures swooped and barrel-rolled in the waters in front of us whilst waiting their turn to be cleaned. For those ahead in the cleaning queue, it was impressive to watch just how quickly the little army of cleaner wrasse picked and nibbled these mammoth creatures clean. Equally interesting was to see just how sensitive these sizeable mantas are, as they twitched and trembled as the wrasses nibbled too hard. Yet again, the Orion Team set the diving bar high for the rest of the trip.
A confirmed favourite spot amongst the entire Emperor Dive Team, Maaya Thila is host to a plethora of incredible corals, a guide-book’s worth of marine life and currents that can either be of rollercoaster speed to absolutely zilch. Today at Maaya we smiled our way through the dive as the site showed us just why it is a favourite. The giant trevallies were making the rounds of the reef and stayed away from the edge of the thila keeping an eye on all the smaller prey in the vicinity. There were, in turn, a few dogtooth tunas keeping a hungry eye on the trevallies. There was plenty of shark action in the blue as the large grey reef sharks, accompanied by white tips and a few black tips, swam back and forth in the medium current. For those diving with Chris at Maaya, they had the incredible encounter with two silvertip sharks who came racing towards the reef and then back into the blue at lightning speed. A few hearts beat a little faster for those few seconds!
Russ is a man who can describe each dive location to perfection; where you’ll jump, what you’ll see, which fish reside where but when it comes to diving at FISH HEAD his briefings are slightly shortened as he describes what we will see, “Nothing needs to be explained about this site. The name says it all. An all-time favourite with the guides.” We saw huge schools of everything, great visibility, a little current…FANTASTIC. Russ was of course, totally right!
Another firm favourite is the delightful little wreck at Fesdu. Today’s conditions were near perfect and allowed us to thoroughly explore the structure before moving finishing the dive on the nearby reef. The two resident mantis shrimps are still burrowing their holes in the sandy bottom on the starboard side and don’t seem to mind the presence of the juvenile ribbon eel who has taken up residence a few feet away. The hordes of fish swarming around the wreck create a shimmering effect of tones of silver as the sunlight dances on their scales, really quite mesmerizing. The multitudes of glassfish are quite spectacular, and despite having a good look we cannot find the secret creatures whom they are hiding! Best of all today was seeing the recently-spotted tiny frogfish, as he tried his best to camouflage himself against the soft sponge.
There are several fish who, despite having the most intricate and beautiful colourful markings, appear to be ungainly in the water and blunder their way across reefs but still manage to raise a smile with our guests. The Napoleon wrasse. For some reason today at HIMENDHOO THILA there seemed to be a Napoleon wrasse convention as there were at least six counted throughout the dive! One group of divers were followed for almost the entire dive by one such fish who lumbered alongside them, keeping his boggly eyes trained on each guest. We also saw a few Napoleons in the deeper waters but our attention was soon taken away from these inelegant creatures as a perfect squadron of 10 EAGLE RAYS passed over our heads. This was a wonderful sight as they were beautifully silhouetted against the blue tones of the ocean.
What started out as a small current gradually increased in strength as the minutes ticked by all too quickly at the Kandu this morning. With the faster current came the bigger boys, including some very sizeable grey reef sharks and some aggressive looking dogtooth tunas. We hooked in in order to watch the shark show in comfort and soon saw some white tip sharks joining the group. It is always amazing to watch sharks in their natural habitat and to see how they use the water columns and current sot their advantage. Watching them today it was very obvious as to why they are the apex predator on the reef – their nonchalant demeanour is actually hiding the fact that they are watching every single movement that every marine creature is making, both on and off the reef. Their bearing is very imposing and they are simply a joy to watch. As the dive continued a few eagle rays passed swiftly overhead and, as one group were preparing to unhook and finish their dive, they were treated to the appearance of a lone manta swimming slowly by.
All too soon or trip came to an end and it was hard to believe that another week had passed. The diving was superb and all guests were extremely happy with what they had seen; a few first encounters with mantas which made for unforgettable memories. With the perfect combination of a fantastic boat, an extremely knowledgeable and personable Dive Team, delicious cuisine and an array of well-chosen beverages, another week on board Emperor Orion was a resounding success!