Tuesday, January 25, 2011

29 Dec 2010 - Farewell Sabah

Good time doesn't last and we're heading for home. We proceed to the airport after a simple buffet breakfast at the hotel. Nothing fancyful but I guess it's not a fair comparison after getting pampered at the resort. As per my estimation, my check-in luggage was just 200 grams shy of 25kg! So glad we're doing a group check in. Phew! After checking in, many of us go crazy with souvenir t-shirts. Haha.. I wonder why we all love buying and wearing dive related t-shirts on a dive trip. It's not as if the rest doesn't know we're divers. Regardless, I too have gotten a few pieces for myself. :p

Our flight goes to KL for a transit at the LCCT (Ha! What a mouthful. Low cost carrier terminal! Maybe it sounds better than just budget terminal?). Transit time was much longer on our return flight so we managed to head to the canteen for lunch. The nice thing about the terminal is the availability of free wifi (1 hr). Got a little delay for our flight so it's more shopping for me. So glad to spot the Reese's peanut butter chocolate! Tried it once previously and couldn't find it anywhere so I quickly grabbed two packs. If anyone saw it for sale at any supermarket in Singapore, please let me know. I'm addicted! :p

Again I had a close call with excess carry on luggage when the person in front was pulled over to have his smaller bag weighed. Phew..

And that's the end of the trip. Nothing much to "report" for this final day of the trip but perhaps just a little recollection. Overall, I'll say it's a wonderful trip for me, a first time visitor to Sipadan. I came prepared with the mindset that the visibility may be crap and the weather may not hold up. The visibility was indeed pretty bad on some dives but still within expectation but I certainly have a bonus with the weather which was just great! There was a couple of disappointment, particularly with the no show of the videographer which we've booked in advance, or the much reduced sightings or even absence of some marine creatures. But still I saw most of what I've hope to see, even for just a fleeting moment. The swirling barracudas definitely takes the cake and will stay in my memory for a long long time to come. Honestly, I think 3+ days on the resort is just too short to fully enjoy the place. There's still many more dive sites that we haven't explored and many more things that I wanted try but doesn't have enough time to do so.  Apart from the diving, I was hoping to do some snorkelling around the crystal clear water just around the resort, to kayak around the resort and to just simply chill at the sandbank to enjoy the breeze and sunset. Rates at Kapalai is among the higher end among the resorts around Sipadan area but it's worth the experience. I just feel so cut off from the world and the environment is just so peaceful and relaxing. I enjoyed even the simple act of just walking along the boardwalk around the resort, being surrounded by water and the large number of starfish. Kapalai, a truly wonderful place to relax and recharge.

As a parting note, I just found out about some shark fining activity going on around Sipadan area. If you could spare a second, please help to sign the following petition for the Malaysia authorities to take action before it's all too late. The link to the petition can be found at  I've put up my petition (see below), I hope you can show your support too. Thank you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

28 Dec 2010 - Dive 12 to 13 at Mabul and Kapalai

Dive 12 - Paradise 1 (Mabul) 

Dive: 81
Duration: 69mins
Avg Depth: 11.9m
Max Depth: 13.7m

This was potentially one of the best dive of the trip but ended up a fustrating one. Murphy decides to pay me a visit. Soon after descent, the DM show us a pair of ghost pipefish. Oh boy, after so long I finally saw them for the first time! Totally thrilled and happy to see these and I started to take a shot. Wait? No flash. Checked the settings and make sure the forced flash is on. Nope still no flash.. Took out the sync cord  and give it a good shake, turn off and on the camera.. The flash just didn't trigger. Then it finally hit me! Damn! I didn't pop up the flash (mechanical trigger) on the camera after I took it out the night before. I always did a test fire each time after I took the camera out and I missed it this time! You can literally hear my cursing and swearing at myself and the camera underwater. Ok, now I just gotta salvage the situation and make the best out of it. I promptly proceed to dismantle my focus light and use that for illumination. Apart from the initial pair of halimeda ghost pipefish, there was also a ornate ghost pipefish and a zebra snout seahorse. Then we spotted a very cute juvenile shortfin lionfish. The tinest I've seen so far for this species and it sure was cute. Just about smaller than the size of a Ricola candy. Next I saw a waspfish for the first time. And the finale was seeing 2 halimeda ghost pipefish and 1 ornate ghost pipefish all together. It's really such a pity that the strobe cannot be fired to get the full colours of these amazingly beautiful creatures. A painful lesson to me for sure.

Zebra Snout Seahorse (Hippocampus barbouri) at Paradise 1 (13m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Juvenile Shortfin Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus) at Paradise 1 (12m) - Mabul, Malaysia
Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)  at Paradise 1 (13m) - Mabul, Malaysia
Dive 12 - Kapalai House Reef

Dive: 82
Duration: 53mins
Avg Depth: 12.6m
Max Depth: 18.6m

We descended around house #5 to the right of Kapalai housereef. Saw a couple of different shrimps at various locations and I have some fun getting their photos. Along the way I also saw a couple of jawfish which I initially thought was just some blennies. Too bad they aren't incubating any eggs. And finally a giant frogfish greeted us goodbye just before we ascended and end our dive for this trip. There are certainly more that I wished to see here but nonetheless, it's still a great trip. Looking forward to be back for more in the future. 

Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco) at Kapalai house reef (13m) - Kapalai, Malaysia

Peacock-tail Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) at Kapalai house reef (14m) - Kapalai, Malaysia

28 Dec 2010 - Murphy comes visiting at Mabul

It was our last day at the beautiful resort on Kapalai. Having missed the sunrise the last few days on the resort, there's no way I'm going to let this last chance slips. Still, I woke up later than I wanted. Very quickly, I grabbed the camera and got out of the room. I was late! The light was already slowly creeping up on the horizon. Without much time to scout for a good location, I just settle on a spot and start shooting. Phew. There's barely enough time to squeeze in a timelapse of the sunrise. The haste was evident in the timelapse video which was quite jerky at the start as I was manually triggering the camera by hand while setting up the intervalometer. :p

Sunrise at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Sunrise at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Early morning at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Helipad in the early morning at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

As there's still some time before breakfast, we managed to spend some time for some final shots around the resort. By now, we got quite used to the usual routine. Breakfast around 7.30am at the dining hall before gathering at the dive centre for our dives. As we're checking out after lunch, we could only have two dives in the morning. The first dive was back to Mabul island and that's when Murphy struck! Honestly, that was among best dive this trip besides the sipadan dives. But anything that can go wrong, will go wrong! The whole fiasco made me quite upset with myself for that silly little mistake. Due to time constraint, our second dive was at Kapalai just around the resort (house number 5).

It was quite a rush after the dive. The dive centre takes care of rinsing our dive gear and sending it back to our room. Speaking of efficiency! It wasn't long after we reached back at our room before the crew turn up with our gear. Fortunately for us, there was a good breeze with the sun out in full glory. Thus we can lay our wet dive gear out to dry in the sun before we head out for a quick lunch. Surprisingly when we got back, our gear were almost dry. The gear could easily adds a couple of kg in baggage if left wet. The crew promptly swing by to pick up our luggages. Taking a last look, I reluctantly leave the room and heads towards the jetty. The speedboat is already waiting for us. After a quick goodbye with our two DMs (Lito & Yvonne), we got onto the boat. When we arrived back at Semporna jetty, it was starting to drizzle a little. We have been so fortunate! The night before we came over to Kapalai, it was raining so heavily at Semporna and the weatherman warned of rain and thunderstorm over the next few day. But it was all well and sunny the entire duration when we're there.

We have a quick pitstop at the resort office on Semporna before taking the hour long van ride to Belmont Marco Polo Hotel in Tawau. It was already late afternoon by the time we arrived at the hotel. Had a little rest before everyone heads out for some seafood dinner. I heard seafood was cheap and nice there but I can't comment on the quality since I'm a vegetarian. But the veggies and tofu was really nice I think, especially the special "homemade" tofu. So smooth and tasty. Just splendid! Some of them stayed on for a drink while I retired back to the hotel for an early rest. All the late nights and early mornings is taking its toll and I'm getting tired.

Friday, January 21, 2011

27 Dec 2010 - Dive 8 to 11 at Si Amil, Danawan, Mabul and Kapalai

Dive 8 - East Fort (Siamil) 

Dive: 77
Duration: 50mins
Avg Depth: 15.7m
Max Depth: 23.5m

Visibility was again pretty bad at this dive, particularly towards the deeper end. Finally we found a frogfish in the dive. I've heard from a friend who was here the previous year that they're practically everywhere. Perhaps the changing weather from the current La Nina cycle is causing the reduced numbers of all the creatures. First the vastly reduced number of sharks and turtles at Sipadan. And the reduced encounter with the frogfish. Even the mandarin fish at Kapalai have "shifted house" from what the DM says. Despite that, this was still a wonderful dive as I saw for the first time a juvenile pinnate batfish. Unfortunately I didn't have a decent shot due to the poor visibility. The juvenile was just so beautiful with its orange red margin all around its body and fin.It wasn't wary of us and was just calmly swiming around in a figure of 8 path. One strange observation was that I heard some continous growling sound while I was around the batfish but I'm not certain if it was coming from the fish or something else. On hindsight, I should have done a video clip instead.

Giant frog fish (Antennarius Commerson) at East Fort (22m) - Siamil, Malaysia

Tube dwelling anemones (Ceriantharia sp.) at East Fort (13m) - Siamil, Malaysia

Dive 9 - Danawan Reef (Siamil) 

Dive: 78
Duration: 55mins
Avg Depth: 13.5m
Max Depth: 20.7m

The visibility was still pretty bad. As usual, I was towards the rear of the group and the DM found a black frogfish ahead. By the time I catch up, the poor fellow was already covered with all the sand and silt that was kicked up. Looks like it's will be yet another time to try some shots on a black frogfish. Halfway through the dive, a white leaf scorpian fish was spotted inside a small opening between some rocks. After waiting my turn, I spent some time trying to get a shot of the scorpianfish. And during this time, my dive comp went into deco for around 2 minutes before I realised it. The depth at which it occured was at 17m. Damn! Totally didn't expect to go into an unplanned deco dive. It wasn't too bad as I noticed it early and have more than sufficient air to complete the deco obligation. Wasting no time, I quickly move to shallower depth. Finally the deco time was cleared just in time before the group ascend. Lesson learnt to be more mindful of my NDL time esp when being focused on some interesting subjects.

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Danawan reef (17m) - Danawan, Malaysia

Dive 10 - Lobster Wall (Mabul)

Dive: 79
Duration: 50mins
Avg Depth: 14.4m
Max Depth: 22.6m

Upon descending, I saw the DM concentrating on a small seafan. I'm pretty sure he found a pygmy seahorse but I couldn't see where it was so I just waited beside until he pointed it out. Gosh, finally saw my 1st pygmy seahorse and it was indeed small! Probably about the size of a grain of rice or just a tad bigger than that. With the macro filter in place, it sure wasn't easy trying to catch this fellow on the cameara. At that magnification, the moment you look at it and back at the camera, you can't find it on your screen anymore. Phew. In retrospective, maybe it is easier to use a fine stick as a pointer to locate the subject and moving it out of the way just before taking a snap. A two person tag team should work better for this I guess. Also saw a couple of very pretty nudibranch but unfortunately as it was on a wall, all I have are ass shots as I do not want to reposition them for a shot. 

Willan's chromodoris (Chromodoris willani) at Lobster Wall (10m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Female spinecheek anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) at at Lobster Wall (5m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Dive 11 - Kapalai House Reef

Dive: 80
Duration: 40mins
Avg Depth: 9.9m
Max Depth: 13.4m

A very short night dive at the housereef. We could have stayed much longer given the very shallow depth but some of the other divers was clearing their AOW prior to the night dives and hence have run out of air earlier. Saw a super fat moray eel at the start of the dive. I think it was just irritated with all our lights that it decides to swim out of its hole. That's when I realised how fat it actually was. The fattest I've seen by far and it's a pity I didn't have it on camera or video. Apart from that, also saw a couple of very well camouflaged scorpianfish at the bottom.  And quite a number of tiny shrimps and crabs among the corals and crevices too.

Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) at Kapalai house reef during night dive (3m) - Kapalai, Malaysia

Thursday, January 20, 2011

27 Dec 2010 - Last night on Kapalai

It was a beautiful morning here at Kapalai. Nice morning to sleep in except for the natural alarm clock provided by the numerous gossiping herons outside the resorts. I bet they're boasting to each other about the size of their catches for their breakfast. As there's still some time before our breakfast, I couldn't resist getting out to the balcony to get my hands on some shots of our noisy neighbours while they're having their fish party.

Got a little too engrossed with the birds photography that I've forgotten the time. Very quickly, we head out to the dining hall for our breakfast, which again was quite a spread. For some reason, I love the fried bee hoon and the breads which was warm and moist inside.  It's hard not to gain weight here! Fortunately I was out late so I didn't have the luxury of time to stuff myself silly with all the yummy food.

Silhouette of a passing heron from my balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Passing heron from my balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Next stop is to the dive centre after the breakfast where we get changed into our wetsuit before getting onto the boat. For non Sipadan diving days, the standard schedule appears to be 2 boat dives in the morning, followed by 1 boat dive after lunch. Thereafter you're free to do unlimited housereef dive if you're in the mood. All you need to do is to put your name up on a board with the expected time of your dive and your gear will be prepared. After you're done from your housereef dive, just erased your name so they know you're back. This looks like a wonderful arrangement that seems to work pretty  well to handle the fair amount of guests (it's the peak Christmas season) while we're there.

The morning dives for this morning is to Si Amil island and Danawan island which is located slightly further away than Mabul and Sipadan. Just like the dives at Sipadan, the resort have another boat to bring us some tea and snacks while we rest at the island during our surface interval. Lunch is back at Kapalai and it's off to the nearer Mabul island for our third dive. And finally we end the day with an additional night dive at the housereef.

There's still some time before dinner so we head back to the room for a washup. Being our last night on the resort, I didn't want to waste any opportunities and thus set up my camera for another star trail shoot on the balcony before I head out for diner.

Startrails from my balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

During diner, the video captured for today's group at Sipadan was put up for viewing. That really got a number of us really disappointed given the no show the day before. We didn't stay too long after dinner as we need to get our stuffs packed for our departure the next day. Back at the room, I was busy switching task between packing my stuffs, preparing the camera and underwater housing for the next day and doing various shoots. Naturally, I'm not a good multitasker and that resulted in a stupid blunder which comes back to haunt me the next day.

The water below the balcony for each room is beautifully lit and you may get to see some fishes and stuffs getting around or even the occasional turtle too. Being curious about what might pass by, I quickly set up the camera to point at the sea below our balcony for some timelapse shots. Looks like it's a quiet night with just one lone fish around throughout the shot.

Planned to set up for a final star trail shot before heading to bed but the sky wasn't cooperating with clouds aplenty in the sky. Not giving up, I just go ahead to aim the camera towards the horizon for some timelapse of the cloud and water movement. Surprisingly, the results came out pretty well. The time lapse video below comprises of 402 shots captured from 23:57 to 03:53, and compressed into the 1:20 mins video. Quite a busy scene with many stuffs occuring. At times, you see fishes (those streak of lights in the water) swimming by. The changing water surface.. The clouds rolling in and thunder flashing. And at the top, you can even see some stars moving at spots where it's not covered by clouds. But you probably need to open it up in youtube and view it fullscreen in HD mode to see the stars though. See if you like it too. :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

26 Dec 2010 - Dive 4 to 7 at Sipadan!

Dive 4 - Coral Gardens (Sipadan) 

Dive: 73
Duration: 47mins
Avg Depth: 12.2m
Max Depth: 20.7m

Finally the dive that I've been so looking forward to. So excited am I for my first dive at Sipadan island that I actually forgotten my fins! Phew.. I'm very sure I took the fin and placed it beside me. Then I proceed to defog my mask, clipped off my camera, mask on, reg on and here I go with a backward roll. Woohoooo!! Ooops... Wait, where's my fin??? Haha.. I think in mid air while rolling in, I can almost hear someone shouting in slow-motion, "Fiiiinnnnnn...."! It sure was embarrassing and there isn't a crevice I can hide my face in. Phew.. With that red faced moment behind me, I started the dive. Soon upon descend, I saw a jellyfish in midwater and grab a couple of quick shots before continuing the dive. I'm glad I did as that turn out to be among one of the favourites pix from the trip. :)

Jellyfish  at Coral Gardens (9m) - Sipadan, Malaysia
The initial part of the dive started with quite a bit of finning/drifting along the wall until they came up to the shallows before the end of the dive. Visibility was better than the day before but wasn't exactly great. Occasionally we did see a passing reef shark or turtle from above or below us. I was almost somewhat disappointed having not seen anything after all the finning until we came up to the shallows. That's when things starts happening. At one point we saw a school of barracudas passing through. Not the swirling tornadoes and also, it happened too quickly for a decent shot. Then finally I have my first close encounter with a free roaming reef shark. It was initially lying there on the bottom while we approached. It took off while we lie in position, waiting for it to return, and it did! Not a big fellow but it was a nice encounter.

Whitetip reef shark  (Triaenodon obesus) at Coral Gardens (10m) - Sipadan, Malaysia

As we're ending our dives, we also saw the famous train of bumphead parrotfish passing through. It was a distance away so again, no chance for any nice shots by the time I fin into position. Unfortunately that was the only sightings of the bumphead for this trip. There's also some folks snokeling around where we ascended. 

Dive 5 - Hanging Garden (Sipadan)

Dive: 74
Duration: 51mins
Avg Depth: 13.7m
Max Depth: 22m

2nd dive at Sipadan. It was again mostly finning/drifting along the wall. The least interesting dive among the four Sipadan dives. My memory card came up almost empty. There wasn't a single pelagic, shark or turtle that I've caught. OMG, how can this be happening? No turtles at Sipadan? I hope I won't be the joker who never saw a turtle at Sipadan. What I heard from those who were there previously in Sipadan, the number of sharks and turtles encounter was very much lesser this time round. Indeed, I've heard previously that people will stop pointing out the sharks and turtles at Sipadan as they soon got sicked of them being around everywhere. Now I'm eagerly anticipating, where's all the sharks and turtles? Keeping my finger crossed that my luck will change for the better in the next 2 dives there.

Dive 6 - Barracuda Point (Sipadan)

Dive: 75
Duration: 53mins
Avg Depth: 11.9m
Max Depth: 17.1m

Oh yes, the famous barracuda point in Sipadan. This has to be it! But nope, still no barracudas after all the finning. But this was definitely more interesting than the previous dive. I was getting desparate. Saw a shark at a distance and I just take a snap, never mind if its just going to be a crap shot. Then finally I saw a big school of big eye trevallies and a school of another fish. As I was way behind, didn't really have time to adjust and get a decent shot. In the end I just opt to take some video of it. Still finding it hard to do a decent wide angle shoot on my current setup anyway. Then further down it gets really interesting. Before me, I finally saw a numer of garden eels for the first time! Always wanted to see and get some shots of them. But that's not all. Gosh! Now, beside the eels is a resting turtle. And behind the turtle is a resting white tip reef shark.  It's such a torture deciding which to shoot. Phew. There's a little current slowly picking up and it's getting a little tricky to stay still for the garden eels. After a while, I just couldn't resist the turtle and shark pair. It's the closest I've gotten yet to a white tip that has totally ignore us. Oh boy, I need a wide angle lense!

Spotted garden eel (Heteroconger hassi) at Barracuda Pt (16m) - Sipadan, Malaysia

Dive 7 - Drop Off (Sipadan)

Dive: 76
Duration: 53mins
Avg Depth: 12.6m
Max Depth: 20.7m

Reluctantly, it was the last and final dive at Sipadan island for our trip. Our group has opt to drop in at the drop off and fin towards barracuda point. There was quite a bit of rubbish where we jump in. And right where we descent, there was a school of jacks. But for some unknown reason, the group seems to have totally ignored them and continue descending. Didn't have a chance to fin towards them for a shot. Damn! First destination was to the entrance of turtle tomb. The sea has taken its toll on the famous "No Entrance" signboard that everyone seems to have a pix of, The words and the picture of the skull on the signage has mostly faded. We stay a while at just the entrance area before continuing our journey towards barracuda point. Along the way, I chanced upon a titan trigger fish. It was busy feeding on corals and I guess it wasn't nesting. Thus I slowly inch forward for a shot. Even though it wasn't aggressive, I was still ever ready to put my fin out in case it decides to charge at me. That fellow just gives me the creep. Phew. Also saw a turtle in a nice pose on a rock. Just like a gatekeeper to what I'm going to see next!

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Barracuda Point (13m) - Sipadan, Malaysia

Was quite disappointed that the dive is finally coming to the end and I've still not saw what I was very much hoping for, the school of swirling barracudas. Then just at the very end I saw the DM signaling to us.. Tornadoes!! Oh yes!!! The DM pointed out into the blue. Far ahead I faintly saw another two divers in the distance already. My air show just about 50 bars remaining. Grrrrr.. What the heck, it should at least last a while for a little rendezvous with the cuddas before I am totally out. And off we go charging out into the blue. And then there it was, right in front of my eyes, the swirling barracudas! The feeling was just so magical! I slowly inch closer and closer to the tornado wall, alternating between photos and videos. The adrenaline rush seeing the barracudas zooming pass me was just awesome. And then it just magically happens! Momentarily the wall seems to have opened up and there I was right inside the wall. Checking the video after the dive, that moment lasted just a couple of seconds but while I was engulfed, time seems to have come to a total standstill. The couple of seconds feels like an eternity. Sensing that my air is low, the barracudas made a quick exit and it's time to come up for my safety stop, ending the dive with just merely 10-20 bars remaining. I must say the barracudas have more than made up for all the earlier disappointments, making the trip a truly worthwhile experience for me. 

Schooling blackfin barracudas (Sphyraena qenie) at Barracuda Point (12m) - Sipadan, Malaysia

A compilation of some of the underwater actions from the Sipadan dives is found in the attached video except for the last portion which was taken sadly on the last diving day but that's another story to be shared later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

26 Dec 2010 - Early Sipadan dives and a lazy afternoon

Ohaiyo Gozaimasu! Boxing day 2010 and it was the Sipadan dives for our group. This is what everyone is here for and surely is the highlight for our trip. With just 120 permits for divers per day at Sipadan and being around the peak Christmas holiday, we couldn't get more dives at Sipadan even if we wanted. The day started early so as to squeeze in 4 dives at Sipadan in the morning. I'm not sure why we need such tight schedule but I suspect its all due to some business decision to maximize their profitability.

All of us sleepy heads gathered at the dive centre around 05:30 in the morning, eagerly looking forward to our Sipadan dives. Our gear are already loaded into the boat by the time we reached the dive centre. But the videographer that we've booked to capture our Sipadan dives is nowhere to be found! I believe they tried to call him but couldn't get a response. Was told then he join up on the later boat to get our video for the subsequent dives. With that, we moved off and it didn't take long before we arrived at Sipadan island where we got onto the island for registration. The mozzies are out in full strength while we're waiting to get registered for our permit. Guess it's a good idea to find a "decoy" by standing next to someone in a shortie. But if you're the one wearing a shortie, tough! Give the mozzies some love, they must have been hungry with just 120 visitors a day. Slurp!

Finally, feeding time is over for the mozzies and we got into water at about a quarter pass 6. A minor "incident" for me starting the dive but that didn't borther me the least once I got on my way. Great diving at Sipadan with walls that extends all the way down 600 metres. We returned to Sipadan island after our first dive. By now, the mozzies are gone and it's our turn for breakfast. Thereafter it's three more dives around Sipadan and we're done diving for the day. Previously you can still continue with the unlimited housereef dives after the morning at Sipadan. However they have since banned additional housereef dive after doing the morning Sipadan dives due to numerous DCS cases ending up in the chamber. The only major hiccup for the 4 dives today was the no show of the videographer. He could still join up later as there's a couple of boats bringing food but he didn't. And neither was there any explaination given for the no show, which absolutely was unprofessional. Especially after we've confirmed the booking and have reminded him about the shoot. It sure made a lot of us very  disappointed about it, especially when we subsequently saw the video of another group taken on the following day.

Anyway, we have lunch back on Kapalai and it's a free & easy afternoon after that. I've initially planned to do some snokelling and also to try some over-under shots of the resort from the water. But due to the little sleep I got the couple of nights before and the early morning, I ended up in dozing off and sleeped the afternoon away. Hardly felt I had a wink before the alarm sounds for us to do some sunset shooting around the resort. I thought it was rather cool to see some folks enjoying soccer on a mini sand bank surrounded by water. Really is so glad to be out here for the beautiful sunset from the sandbank platform. The feeling was just so serene and peaceful. What more can I asked for? Hm.. K, perhaps a couple of gorgeous babes in "strawskirt" fanning me with giant palm leaves and peeling me some grapes will be nice? Oooops. Stop dreaming already dude! :p

Kayaking and soccer on a sandbank at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Sunset at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Very soon, the sun sets. While time and tide waits for no man, neither does the food on the buffet table. Dinner as usual is served around 19:30 so I quickly rushed back for a quick shower before joining the battle. A hungry man is an angry man! Well, but the food is worth the rush. Yummy!

Dining hall at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Dusk on the sandbank  at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

Despite the afternoon nap, I'm still feeling quite tired and sleepy. Time to visit the Zzzz monster I guess. Again, did a quick setup for another star trails, this time pointing up just off the roof of my  balcony. This time round, I did remember to switch the sound off the intervalometer. Unfortunately the moon came into the frame halfway through the shooting and hence I could only stacked together a much smaller number of shots for a shorter trail. The moving moon (overexposed) can be seen in the time lapsed video though.

Startrails from my balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

25 Dec 2010 - Dives 1 to 3

Dive 1 - Kapalai housereef 

Dive: 70
Duration: 40mins
Avg Depth: 11.7m
Max Depth: 18m

First checkout dive at Kapalai housereef with a very relax entry from the jetty in front of the dive centre. When the tide is high enough, you can easily sit right at the edge of the jetty to don your fin and slide into the water. Or  you can just walk in. Being the first dive at the housereef, we're supposed to follow the guide to see where are all the interesting spots where stuffs have been spotted lately. However buddy was quite new and armed with a camera for the first time, was totally engrossed with the pix right after we descend. Vis was terrible and the main group follow the line down while buddy was still busy with his pictures. Subsequently buddy went to the left, following another group. By the time I got his attention, our group was long gone. We proceed to follow line down towards where the group was last seen but the line soon ended. Not certain which way the group went and seeing the bad visibility, I thought maybe it might not be a good idea to proceed forward given that my buddy was still relatively new. Hanging around the end of the line, I did spot at least 2 network pipefish at different locations. Pointed it out to buddy but the critter doesn't seems to interest him at all. After some time, the group finally emerged from the deeper end. Buddy have some difficulty remaining at 5m for his safety stop. Fortunately I was a little overweighted so managed to held on to him to complete the safety stop for an uneventful dive.

Network Pipefish (Corythoichthys flavofasciatus) at Kapalai House Reef (15m) - Kapalai, Malaysia

Dive 2 - Ribbon valley 1 (Mabul)

Dive: 71
Duration: 49mins
Avg Depth: 12.1m 
Max Depth: 20.4m

Saw a couple of creatures for the first time. Right on descend at Ribbon Valley, the DM showed us a ribbon eel! How nice is that? I sorely missed the first one I saw from a distance at Anilao and finally have a chance with it again. Finally saw the a crocodile flathead for the first time. It was certainly bigger than I thought it would be from the pictures I've seen previously. Also saw a pair of leaf scorpianfish for the first time. Vis wasn't fantastic at below 10m but still, a great dive seeing all those creatures for the first time. Had a silly moment during the dive. Buddy show me his guage and somehow I don't know why, I kept thinking it was showing 20 bar when it was actually 70 bar and we're still at around 15m or so. I even pulled out my octopus ready to share air when needed and signal to one of the instructor that my buddy was low on air. Gosh, so embarassing. I follow closely as the dive continues, all the while wondering how the hell did that 20 bar last so long. Phew.. Maybe it was me who is narced. :p

Ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) at Ribbon Valley 1 (5m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Crocodile Flathead (Cymbacephalus beauforti) at Ribbon Valley 1 (15m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Ribbon Valley 1 (20m) - Mabul, Malaysia

Dive 3 - Kapalai housereef  (Night dive)

Dive: 72
Duration: 55mins
Avg Depth: 13.6m
Max Depth: 23.5m

It was supposed to be a sunset dive but with some delay, it was mostly dark by the time we headed into the water. Current was also picking up and visibility was still pretty bad like our first dive here. As we all headed down separately, me and buddy headed along the line to the right into the current and back as we didn't saw anyone. Then we hang around at the shallow end for a while before we saw some of them coming up, presumably calling the dives. Strangely enough, we saw another DM heading down. He did a quick check on our air and we headed down the line to where the group have gone for the first dive. Went pass a couple of sunken boats which I don't recognized as I didn't managed to follow the group earlier in the day. We didn't really saw anything as we stick close to the line as the visibility was poor and there was some light current. Running a little low on air, I signal to the DM and we made our way back to the jetty. Not so fun when you're running low on air in a low vis night dive. As we approached the jetty, saw a few other group of divers that its almost like strolling through a busy intersection. I have like just about 10-20 bar of air left and what a relieve when the jetty is finally in sight. The area close to the jetty was quite brightly lit that you'll probably do just fine even without a torch around the jetty.

25 Dec 2010 - From Semporna to Kapalai

Good morning and Merry Christmas! Woke up early this morning for a quick photo session to catch the sunrise before our breadfast. Despite having checked the sunrise timing, I got out late for the shoot and the sun was already up. Nonetheless, we still have some beautiful colours in the sky and quickly setup for some shots. There's also a small fishing port behind our hotel but most of the activity has probably ceased by the time we got there. I guess the early bird gets the worm.

Sunrise at Semporna - Sabah, Malaysia

Small fishing port at Semporna - Sabah, Malaysia

I guess the rest of the groups are just about getting up by the time we're done with the photos. And it's time for some buffet breakfast at the hotel before we head out to the Sipadan-Kapalai Resort office at Semporna, which is just a short distance away. Compared to most other outfit, they seems to have the biggest jetty there on semporna.

Didn't take too long to get the logistics done and we're off to Kapalai on a 500 horsepower speedboat. Oh boy I can't wait! We arrived at Kapalai in no time and I'm thrilled with what I saw. Just like the relaxing resort that I always have in my dreams and here I am, finally! I didn't waste a second to enjoy the welcome drink and I'm off to look around. All the houses and walkway here are raised on stilts and surrounded by crystal clear water with fishes and many starfishes all around. It's hard to resist jumping in straight away.

Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

As our rooms are not yet ready, we proceed to retrieve our dive gear and leave our luggage in the games room. By the time we arrived at the dive center for the dive briefing, our gear are mostly rigged up. Finally, we hit the water around noon for our check-out dive at Kapalai house reef. I'll do separate blog entries for the dive logs to reduce the clutter here. And then it's buffet lunch at the resort dining area. Food is fantastic with quite a good selection even for a vegetarian. The rest have apparently also enjoyed the rest of the non-vegetarian options.

Finally, our room is ready and we got our stuffs transferred to our room. For a dive resort, I'll say the room's size is generous and it comes with a big attached washroom and a balcony, which is one of my favorite corner in the room where I did a number of my birds and star trails photography. Plenty of electrical sockets are available for all those power hungry folks with 1001 chargers on all their gadgets.

Balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

We have two more dives before our dinner. Dive plans for the next day is usually out in the evening and tomorrow's gonna be our big day to dive at Sipadan island itself! After dinner,  me and my dive buddy went around the resort to recce for any nice location dark location that I can do my star trails. The surrounding is too bright all around the resort. We heard from the staffs that the lights at the platform around the sandbank will be off but the area will be locked up at night. So no luck there either.

With that we head back for an early night to be ready for an early dive at Sipadan the next morning. Before turning in for the night, I set up my camera in the balcony and have my 1st attempt at star trail photography. Haha, made the mistake of not switching off the sound on the intervalometer so the whole night, I'm hearing ... click ... paused... clack.. beep beep beep.. *repeats*. But I'll say I'm pretty pleased with the final result.

Startrails from my balcony at Sipadan-Kapalai Resort - Sabah, Malaysia

It seems like the video was highly compressed by youtube that the stars all disappear when viewed via the above. You should still be able see some stars if you open the video in youtube (click twice on the above video), select the 1080p HD version and open it up to full screen. :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

24 Dec 2010 - Christmas Eve at Semporna

I'm the last to arrived at the airport for our connecting AirAsia flight to Tawau via KL. Given that its Christmas eve, the checkin counter was fully packed. Fortunately we're doing a group checkin as my luggage was over weighted at about 22kg. It will surely be worse coming back.

It was my first time on an AirAsia flight and my first flying in to KL. Didn't quite expected the long walk outside in the heat before getting from the aircraft into the terminal. We took a while to get through the custom which leaves us little time for any meal after going through the checkin for the onward flight to Tawau. I had a near miss with overweight cabin luggage when the person ahead in line was stopped to have his cabin bag weighted. Excluding the camera bag, mine was well over 10kg. Trying my best to stand as straight and making the backpack look as small as possible, I quickly walked through the gate. Phew.

Without any further incident, we arrived at Tawau and got through the custom in a jiffy. A van picked us up and we have about an hour drive up to Semporna, which is the gateway to Sipadan, Kapalai and Mabul island. We proceed for a simple dinner at one of the local coffeeshop after checking into Seafest Hotel. Semporna is a small and quiet fishing village and there is hardly a tinge of Christmas in the air. Dinner was thus a quick and quiet affair.

Most of the folks turn in for the night after dinner and some of us made use of the free Wifi in the hotel lounge area. Getting fed by countless waves of mozzies in the sleepy hotel certainly isn't the greatest way to spend the eve. While we're getting fed by the mozzies, the sky opened up and started raining cats and dogs. I did a quick check on the weather forecast by the Malaysian met station and saw something I really hate to see. It seems like it's going to rain a whole lot over the next few days over at Sipadan. Phew. Just got to keep my finger crossed that it'll turn out to be fine. Time for bed. I hope I can sleep. :)

Hello World!

Hello World!

Haha.. What can you expected from someone with an IT background other than the standard "Hello World" as their very first output?

Anyway, I've always wanted to document my trip experience and photos somewhere but have always procrastinated. Finally I've decided to get my lazy bum moving and get started. I'm still pretty new to this and is trying to get used to how this works. Still having a hard time deciding how to organize the trip. I guess I'll start with my most recent dive trip to Sipadan which will be covered over a couple of blog posts. It should probably be up over the next few days so stay tune. Ooops. Haha.. I doubt anybody is actually looking at a shiny new blog with almost zero contents yet. :p