Asia

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Galleons of scuba delights

An outrigger boat at Sabang Bay. -- Pictures by Brian Moh, Holiday Asia Divers Resort and Michelle Bang

An outrigger boat at Sabang Bay. -- Pictures by Brian Moh, Holiday Asia Divers Resort and Michelle Bang

Want a quick dive trip to the Philippines? Check out this island close to Manila which has a good mix of coral and fish life.

PUERTO Galera is listed in the “Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World”, and is one of the most popular dive destinations in the Philippines.

Most of the diving action can be found in Sabang Bay and near White Beach. Those who want the comforts of city life while enjoying their diving now have another option to consider: Puerto Galera, some 130km south-west of Manila.

The words Puerto Galera literally mean “Port of the Galleons” and in the early 16th century, Spaniards discovered this place as a safe haven for their ships during typhoons.

After landing at Manila International Airport, my friends and I were transferred via van to Passay City, where we hopped onto a bus to Batangas Pier, a journey of some 90 minutes.

Verde Island has a healthy mix of hard and soft corals, abundant fish life and excellent visibility. – Asia Divers Dive Resort.

Then we caught a boat, and after going against strong currents for about an hour, we reached Sabang Bay. It was a paradise of fine, white, soft–as–cotton, sandy beaches

The Philippines is the world’s third largest English-speaking nation, and it’s also ranked as the “eighth friendliest country” in the world, so communication with the locals was not an issue at all. Indeed, they were willing to give us a helping hand whenever we needed.

Soon, we headed out to find the Asia Divers Dive Resort, which has enough activities keep guests of all ages occupied. According to its staff instructor Allison Manis, “There are over 30 dive sites around the island, just within 15 minutes of the resort. We offer great diving, ranging in depth from 10m to 82m to suit all levels of certification.”

Package rates inclusive of meals range from US$700 (RM2,310) to US$1200 (RM3,960).

We started our first dive at 1.30pm at Sinandigan Wall. I was once told by Vincent Chong, a PADI instructor and owner of Dragonet Diving centre in Kuala Lumpur, that the corals here are one of the best he has ever seen in his diving career.

Indeed, there was plenty of marine life and beautiful, colourful hard and soft corals. We also saw many varieties of nudibranches, surgeonfish and yes, even sea snakes.

Amazing marine life awaits at the Sinandigan Wall dive site.
Amazing marine life awaits at the Sinandigan Wall dive site.

There were many opportunities to indulge in macro photography, and we took our time snapping photos before ending our dive 45 minutes later.

Our second dive was at Alma Jane, right off the Asia Divers pier. It’s a fantastic dive site as a 30m cargo vessel was sunk here in 2003. And it landed upright. At a depth of 30m, there was good visibility and plenty of marine life had taken up residence around the wreck, including sweetlips, snappers, lionfish, boxfish and rabbitfish.

While waiting for my night dive, I asked Manis how she ended up at this paradise island.

“I used to work for the Canadian Embassy in Manila, I started coming down here on the weekends. It was a great escape from the city crowds and I enjoyed amazing diving here with my buddy. Eventually I ended up staying,” she said.

After a light dinner and a sunset stroll, we continued with a night dive, exploring the Sabang Wreck at a depth of 18m.

This is actually an area which includes three wrecks. One of them is an old Chinese fishing boat, the home of very friendly batfish, as well as large surgeonfish and lionfish.

The Asia Divers resort is equipped with a large private diving platform where boats can easily dock.
The Asia Divers resort is equipped with a large private diving platform where boats can easily dock.

After this great night dive, we ended up unwinding at the Point Bar with some wine, where many dive stories are told with flourish. There where we met Allan Nash, the founder of Asia Divers dive resort.

He was working as a construction supervisor in Hong Kong in the 1980s when he decided that he wanted to sail around Asia for some time.

“I resigned from my job and told the company I would see them in two years. Then I went to a yacht club to ask if anyone needed help sailing their boat in Asia. I met up with an American guy with a 42 foot boat leaving for Puerto Galera,” recalled Nash.

“Five days after leaving Hong Kong, we caught sight of the Philippine island of San Fernando. From then on, it all went wrong and I had the worst trip you could imagine. There was a typhoon and we almost lost the boat on a reef coming into Subic Bay without harbour guides. After several days there, we headed to Puerto Galera, and finally arrived after 20 days.”

Nash had not dived for a few years but after he met with freelance instructor Dave Penman at a dive shop, he took it up again. He became an instructor in 1987, working for a dive shop known as the Reef Raiders. But the following year, the dive shop was burnt down.

Verde Island is one of the best wall dive sites in the region.

“I was jobless, but I did not want to go back to working in the real world,” he said. “So I suggested to Dave if he would like to start a dive shop, and he agreed. We worked day and night to recover whatever we could after the fire.

“With a handful of dive equipment, we also borrowed a thousand dollars, and we were up and running.

“We used the name Reef Rangers until one of the owners came back and asked us to change the name. With that, Asia Divers was born. We have come a long way after 25 years.”

Waking up bright and early on the second day of my Puerto Galera jaunt, I boarded a speed boat to Verde Island, reputed to have one of the best wall dives in the Philippines.

We had excellent visibility during our two dives there, and there was a colourful and very healthy mix of hard and soft corals. There was also a wide variety of marine fishes, like the giant pufferfish and giant Clark’s anemonefish.

According to Alan Lim, the Managing Director of Pacific Dome Travel Network in Kuala Lumpur, Puerto Galera has excellent corals.

The Sabang wreck area has three sunken boats that sit at a depth of 18m.

“Nowadays, I usually ask my buddies to dive in Puerto Galera if they want a quick diving trip within easy reach of Manila,” he said.

Just as we were settling into the island way of life, three days flew by. That morning, after a great breakfast at Arthur’s Restaurant, we left Puerto Galera with heavy hearts.

I told myself that I had to return to this lovely island.

Manila International Airport is the main gateway to Puerto Galera. Major airlines serving it include Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia Zest Airlines. For more information on dive trips there, email limpcster@gmail.com.


Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Diving , Scuba

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