FROM CHRIS & DOROTHY GOODWIN, UK.
Thailand/Burma diving on the Ocean Rover, Jan 2005.
Further to the completion of our cruise on the Ocean Rover from 22nd Jan through to 2nd Feb 2005, we would like to provide feedback for your information and use as you see fit.
We actually booked this trip after the tragic events of the 26th December. We had originally intended to go elsewhere for our vacation, but one of the first websites that we checked on 26th December was yours and this made us remember how much we had enjoyed our last cruise with you in 2001, so we changed our plans and contacted Greg. Obviously after some of the unethical reporting on the internet about the 'state' of coral reefs in the Andaman sea, we were apprehensive, but wanted to come to the region to try to 'keep the dive industry afloat' (no pun intended) and to again experience all that the Ocean Rover has to offer.
Firstly, after the three dive holidays that we have had since our last trip on the Ocean Rover, we had forgotten what service was. The crew of the Ocean Rover are absolutely fantastic. They are always attentive, without being in the way. You never have to zip/unzip your own wetsuit, rinse your own camera or clear your equipment up. Everything just seems to magically get done without any fuss, but always with a smile. Meal times too also run like clockwork, with great friendly service and superb food. Our sincerest compliments to all. I am sure that you are extremely proud of the team and rightfully so. You set the standard that all others can only strive to achieve (most of them never will).
The dive guides / cruise directors are also as good as it gets. Hans and Mark are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and always keen to teach and help the guests, allowing as much freedom as possible, whilst ensuring that reef preservation is observed and safe diving practices are followed.
Since our last visit, there have been numerous 'tweaks' to the Ocean Rover - all of them beneficial. We had no criticisms before, but it is good to see that you seek to continually improve the service that you provide.
We can honestly say that the diving is at least as good as we remember. The Similans are an excellent first day, followed by the incredible Richelieu Rock. The Rock is absolutely encrusted with gorgeous soft corals and is teeming with life. There is no noticeable degradation at all - if anything it seems better than the last time we saw it.
Heading up into Burma, the first stop is the Three Islets. Not the most picturesque soft coral site on the trip, but teeming with interesting life. Again, no obvious signs of damage or degradation. Black rock was a personal favourite of ours when we last visited and nothing has changed there. It was also good to see the Banks again and experience the shark attraction - particularly as Max made a welcomed return visit.
After the five days of diving in Burmese waters we returned to Thailand for the last three days of the cruise. These three days at Richelieu Rock, Ko Tachai, Ko Bon and the Similans were great. Plenty of big fish sightings, macro opportunities, healthy coral and excellent visibility.
Five days diving in each country is actually a very good balance, allowing equal access to the differing styles of divesite. Thailand has some fantastic diving to offer and contains some of the cruise highlights. Richelieu Rock for example will probably stay etched in our minds longer than any other site on the trip. The final dive at the Similans (the shallow reef on the South West tip of Island No. 1) was an incredible way to close out the trip - a huge expanse of pristine coral, vast quantities of reef life & schooling fish and the viz was simply stunning.
The above is intended to be an unbiased, honest view of our cruise and the diving that we enjoyed. The dive guides at no time, steered us towards healthy sections of reef in order to avoid damaged sections - the itinerary was pretty much the same as our previous cruise and at each location, the entire dive site was navigated. I am sure, that localised damage exists at some of the dive sites in Similan and Surin, but unless you physically go looking for damage and choose sites that were more susceptible to damage (West facing channels etc.) then it really isn't apparent to divers - it all looks healthy and the overall scenery of the reefs is still world class.
We hope that the dive industry and indeed the entire region continues to show its incredible fortitude and thrives despite the media's appetite for sensationalism (no matter what the cost to livelihoods involved or even whether the story is factual). We are appalled at the recent irresponsible reporting by organisations like CBS who typically chose to look at a couple of dive sites (from the hundreds out there) and then condemned the local economy and in particular the diving industry, by graphically describing or at least implying widespread damage when this just is not the case. There is no doubt at all that Thailand and Burma still offer a multitude of world class dive sites - more than enough for any liveaboard itinerary.
In closing, we would like to also say a fond farewell to Mark Strickland. We can thank Mark for our desire to dive and take photographs in the vain hope that one day we actually turn out a quality image or video clip. His passion for all that he does and his enthusiasm are infectious. He was one of the reasons that we returned to the Ocean Rover and thoroughly enjoyed ten days with him. We were surprised and saddened to find out that this was his only trip of the season. I am sure that he will be missed by all. The good news though is that Hans is Mark's equal and I think that all of the guests feel that they have made a good new friend in him.
Chris & Dorothy Goodwin, UK.
QUOTES FROM PASSENGERS WHO WERE ON BOARD DURING THE TSUNAMI
"Over a year ago I was enchanted by the fabulous underwater images an acquaintance had captured on a recent trip in the Andaman Sea aboard the Ocean Rover. But the reality of the diving in this area far surpassed all of my expectations, even AFTER 26-December. While it would have been naïve to think that we wouldn’t encounter ANY reef damage, I was astonished at just how little we observed despite the devastation reported by many news agencies across the world.
None of this minimizes in any way the tragedy of this disaster on land in so many lives. Our hearts and thoughts were with all of the people in the area as we listened daily to reports of what was unfolding so near us. We were incredibly lucky to have experienced only strange currents but, had we encountered any large waves we had been fully prepared by the crew as, throughout the trip, our safety was a number one priority.
The resilience of the Thai people was evident in a post-trip visit to the Patong Beach area where a massive clean-up effort was in progress and most hotels and shops beyond the beach road were still open, with many along the beach soon to be repaired and/or rebuilt. Besides monetary support, the greatest assistance we can provide this hard-hit region is our support in the form of continued tourism. The Thai people remain the welcoming, friendly people they have always been and I’m sure the remarkable Ocean Rover crew will ensure you experience some of the most breathtaking diving, at the most pristine dive sites in the area, in the safest and most comfortable conditions." Kathy Carl, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
"I was quoted in the CBS story as saying that the diving looked like a bomb had gone off. I want to let everyone out there know that this was on ONE dive that I went on during the entire 11 day trip. The rest of the diving, both before and after the Tsunami, was some of the most pristine, beautiful diving that I have ever done. I want everyone out there to know that the diving in the Thailand area is still some of the best in the world. So rest assured that the Ocean Rover crew will continue to provide their customers with top level diving and a level of service seldom seen on many dive boats in the world!" Dustin Silvester, Utah, USA.
"We arrived back in Phuket, the trip was great, please spread the information the diving in Thailand is still wonderful with little effect from the Tsunami. We did not know the Tsunami occurred until we received a SAT phone call to the boat." Fred & Margo Silvester, Utah, USA.
"Exceptionally well-run operation with outstanding crew. We were there when the Tsunami hit. Fortunately, we did not experience any direct effects of the Tsunami. Throughout, safety precautions were sensibly balanced with the desire to accommodate our diving. We were able to visit some sites before and after the Tsunami hit them. It is true that SOME sites we visited, inshore Surin and Similans, showed extensive damage to hard coral. Fortunately, many other sites, particularly sea mounts (such as Richelieu Rock) and those in Burma experienced little or no visible damage. I am confident that the Ocean Rover crew will be able to continue to provide quality diving at very good sites, both in Thailand and Burma." David Shem-Tov, England, UK