Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sipadan -- Mabul

They say that 6/7ths of the planet are covered by water. That's a lot of water. I haven't had the chance to explore all of it yet. Maybe just 1/6677 of it, but I've been fortunate to dive in some really nice portions of it. I've been to the Red Sea, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Costa Rica, Phuket and Florida. I even dove within sight of a nuclear reactor in Kenting, Taiwan. There are many places I've yet to dive, but Sipadan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sipadan) is the second best place after the Red Sea I've ever been to and Baracuda Point (http://www.dive-the-world.com/diving-sites-malaysia-sipadan-island-barracuda-point.php) the single best dive site I've had the pleasure to dive.


Each diver has his or her own preferences. Some like the big things. Some like the little things. Some like coral. Some like rocks. Some like caves and dive throughs. Others like open water. About the only thing that can spoil even the best dives is poor visibility. The visibility in Sipadan, since this was rather late in the season, was poor to average, 5-15 meters, but even with that the Island did not disappoint.



As the name implies there are the barracudas, but that's only a small portion of the story. In my first dive I encountered turtles, white tip reef sharks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitetip_reef_shark), bumphead parrot fish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_humphead_parrotfish), jacks, leaf scorpion fish (http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2006/12/fish), nudi branch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudibranch) and on and on and on. Basically Barracuda Point is like an underwater visual buffet of almost everything Sipadan has to offer.



Sipadan is a protected area and only 120 divers are permitted on the island each day. There are no resorts on Sipadan itself so you have to stay on one of the neighboring islands. Usually either Mabul or Kapalai. I used Dive the World (http://www.dive-the-world.com/) to book the vacation and opted for Mabul (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabul) and Borneo Divers Mabul Resort (http://www.borneodivers.info/). Good choices on all accounts. I had used Dive the World for the Phuket trip and wasn't disappointed and they delivered on all accounts on the Sipadan trip as well. The price was a little on the high end, but ultimately worth it.



This was my first exposure to BDMR, but they too delivered on all accounts. The rooms were clean, the AC worked and the food was good. Okay. So my standards might not be as high as some, but its the diving that is the star attraction and that's what BDMR is for. Besides any place with dogs is okay with me. The diving was well organized and the guides professional and knowledgeable. Dove mostly with Maadil and Lorenco and both are excellent at what they do.



The best test of any resort is how they react when things go wrong. When the scheduled divemaster for one of the dives didn't show up and the other boat left without some of us BDRM just set up another boat for us and we caught up to the boat already on its way to the island hopped on board and continued our dives without any problems.



Each resort is allotted a certain amount of permits, so with that in mind I had booked 8 days just to make sure that I get at least one day of diving in Sipadan. As luck would have it this being the low season and the one advantage of being a solo traveler I actually dove Sipadan 5 days in a row. Each day included four dives and at least one dive was to Barracuda Point and each time it was something new. Its not that the other dive sites are not worth diving, but Barracuda point is truly something special. Even the most experienced and jaded of the divers on the island all came up with big grins and excited chatter after each dive. In addition to Barracuda Point we also dove South Point, Hanging Gardens, Turtle Tomb, Dropoff, Mid Reef, White Tip Avenue and Coral Gardens. Mid Reef was probably my second favorite, but all of the other sites were quite good as well. Besides you never know what you will see on any given dive. On our dive to Coral Gardens we came across the biggest manta ray I had ever seen. Easily around 10-15 feet. It just hung there for a few minutes as we all gaped at it in amazement. The biggest problem was the visibility. I'd love to dive Mid Reef in high visibility since the amount of coral and rock formations would really be something in good light and visibility.



Eventually my Sipadan luck ran out and on the last day on Mabul we did local dives. I almost gave up after Old House Reef and was going to pass up the rest of the diving since the visibility was so poor. Maybe 3 meters at best, but the second dive was going to be to the Seaventures Rig (http://www.seaventuresdive.com/) and curiosity got the best of me. Seaventures is an old oil rig that has been turned into a dive resort just off the coast of Mabul. Glad I did. The visibility was much better, 5-10 meters, and saw some things I've never seen before like the crocodile fish (http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=466) as well as a lot of the usual suspects like leaf scorpion fish, stone fish, nudi branch and eels. Overall, while the diving off Mabul is certainly not as spectacular as Sipadan if Sipadan is not an option then Mabul will do. As to Mabul Island itself. Really not much to do. Dive, eat, drink, repeat. I've heard of sleepy fishing villages, but that's basically what it is. Okay. Maybe not so sleepy since there are a lot kids running around doing the things that kids do.



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