Day Two Burma Banks 19/02/2013

I woke a couple of times during the night, the engine rumbling below my cabin. The constant noise a reminder of just how far from shore we were heading. Diving at Western Rocky had already taken us around 36 nautical miles from our departure point at Kaw Thuang. Western Rocky would be the last island we would see for the next 36 hours as we headed another 90 nautical miles out to sea.

Burma Tides & Sea Conditions

High Tide Low Tide
3:20am 1.7m
4:40pm 1.9m
9:00am 1.2m
11:10pm 1.4m
Wind: 2knt from Northeast Wave: 0.4m

Arriving at Silvertip Bank just before dawn I was surprised to see a couple of boats there, both were game fishing boats. They had spent the night at the bank and were due to depart to another bank further north west.

I was full of excitement during the dive briefing. I was also nervous. I had only been to the Burma Banks once before, two years previously with Andrea. No one else had any idea what to expect, no one else was fully aware of the risks involved with diving this far offshore. So far the tides had not been strong, but this far out the ocean conditions are very unpredictable. Squalls can blow up from nowhere creating swell and choppy waves, currents can be very strong. What’s happening on the surface is not always an indication of whats happening underwater, surface currents can move in the opposite direction to the currents below.

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Good surface cover is the key to safety at the banks. Dinghies should follow the groups closely with the main boat close behind. Two years ago the captain on MV Jazz had got it right. Other captains had told him of the long drift dives, he was nervous of losing divers and had therefore stuck to us like glue as we drifted almost 2 kilometres on the dives.

We had chosen the shallowest bank to start our day, the bank I considered offered the easiest conditions. Silvertip Bank rises from around 300 metres depth. The bank starts to flatten out at around 30 metres. From the edges to the centre it then rises slowly to around 12-15 metres. I am not sure how much area the bank covers, but from my previous dive I knew that with a favourable current you could drift from one edge to the other, I estimate around 2 kilometres.

Jumping in first I started to drift from the back of the boat.

DIVE ONE 7:52am

Silvertip Bank, Burma banks.

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The Burma Banks are not only a long way from shore, there is some distance between each one. Also, they are not reliably charted and the exact size of each bank is somewhat vague. After Silvertip Bank we set a course for Roe Bank just over ten nautical miles north west. We were heading further still from shore. We caught up with one of the game fishing boats here.

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I remember clearly my previous dive here. We had jumped in and after a short while the current changed direction. We were forced to cut the dive short as the current was pushing us off the bank. I did not want a repeat performance of this so the captain tried his best to locate the centre of the bank to give us plenty of distance to drift even if the current altered its course during the dive.

Roe Bank is on average slightly deeper than Silvertip Bank. The top is flat at a depth of 22-23 metres.

DIVE TWO 11:56am

Roe Bank, Burma banks.

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During lunch we headed north west to Rainbow Reef. This bank would be our furthest point from the mainland, a whopping 200kms from Kaw Thuang where we started from, well over 24 hours to the nearest recompression chamber.

After lunch a pod of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) visited the SY Diva Andaman, swimming along side and playing in the wake of the boat at the bow. They stayed a while as we cruised along. Apart from the Dolphins nothing else was in sight, just open ocean in every direction. With the sun almost directly over head it was easy to lose your sense of direction.

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It was soon time to dive again and we kitted up for our third and final dive at the Burma Banks. This dive at Rainbow Reef was going to be the deepest and most advanced dive of the day. I was worried when I learnt I would not have a dive master as assistant for this one. My group were really diving well, but at the Banks you really need all the staff you have available.

So, for only the second time in my life I found myself jumping into the open ocean far far from land. As I hit the water, the current had me, and off we went.

DIVE THREE 3:09pm

Rainbow Reef, Burma Banks.

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As the last divers boarded the SY Diva Andaman we set our course north east for the long 16 hour cruise to Black Rock. All in all we’d enjoyed a great day’s diving at the Burma Banks. Although the large shark populations that had given the Banks their reputation had been caught long ago by Chinese longliners, we’d still had a few exciting encounters with nurse sharks. I won’t forget my intimate moment betting bashed by the juvenile shark.

The day had exposed a few frail safety issues on the boat, but nothing we couldn’t learn from and put right for our next visit to the Burma Banks schedule for March 2013.