Being so prone to seasickness, I never thought I would find myself on a liveaboard, spending four days and four nights on a floating 'dive resort'. By the miracle of the seasickness patch, I found myself aboard the White Manta, a 22-metre purpose-built diving boat. I was to spend four whole days at open sea, diving the gorgeous, sunny Similan Islands off the coast of Thailand! I imagined azure waters, crystal-clear viz, pelagic fishes, peace and quiet, and most of all, a fantastic new experience. I did have a fantastic experience, but not without little hitches and weird experiences. Here's an honest recount of my first liveaboard experience. Perhaps this could prepare you for a liveaboard experience if you've never done it before.
One warm November evening, I boarded the White Manta feeling a little bit disheartened, because it turned out the boat was filled to the max. There were 21 paying customers and 10 crewmembers. Can you imagine 31 people on a 22x9 metre, three-story boat? Open a tin of sardines and that's how it looked like at the time. As we gathered on the dining deck for our first briefing, I looked around and wondered, how was I going to survive four days and nights cooped up in a boat with all these people? In the end, it turned out to be OK, because not everybody will be in the same place at the same time. There are three decks after all, so nobody killed anybody after four days in close proximity.
The initial boat briefing was a true shocker. Vincent, the owner of the boat, dished out the details before the boat left shore:
- Conserve water
The boat doesn't have a seawater desalination facility, so the boat carried just enough water for the whole trip. He told us that they'd never run out of freshwater in the middle of a journey, but stressed that we need to limit our usage of freshwater. No prolonged showers, no running water while brushing out teeth, and no excessive dousing after dives. In the next four days, I was terrified of running out of water. But as Vincent predicted, we did have enough water ' perhaps because everybody else was just as terrified, thus used water sparingly.
- No dumping of toilet paper in the bowl
Seriously. They had marine toilets, which means whatever is flushed goes straight out to sea. There were bins provided to deposit used toilet paper, and Vincent assured us that the bins will be emptied regularly. I couldn't help dreading opening the bins, though, in fear of unsightly bits of God-knows-what inside. I also had unnerving visions of diving in and encountering stuff being flushed out of the toilet (eeekkkkk!!). Fortunately none of these happened to me.
- Do not hog the bathrooms
There were only two showers with loos and one independent loo on the boat.
This particular piece of information made me a little faint. Twenty-one people sharing three loos? The crew had their own shower/loo, but still' My apprehension soon escalated ' in the next four days I managed to get a shower or a wee whenever I needed to.
- Watch where the wind is blowing then you're smoking
Because smoking is not allowed inside the cabins, it had to be done in open air. The smokers were warned that they need to blow the smoke away from other passengers. Quite reasonable, I thought, but was definitely a challenge to put in practice! Unless you can control the direction of the wind, this is impossible to do. There's always some smoke accidentally blowing in someone else's face. My solution was to smoke on the sundeck where there are always few people.
- No drinking and diving
This is just common sense, really. But you'll be surprised how some people left their common sense on shore. A good dive operator will watch their guests and strictly impose a ban on diving right after a person lets a drop of alcohol touch their tongue.
- Dive conservatively
Considering that the nearest medical facility or decompression chamber is hours (sometimes days) away, diving should always be conducted within the limitations of your training and configuration. Decompression dives are not allowed unless you have the right training and equipment for it. Deep dives on single tanks are a big no-no; your divemaster sometimes checks your computer (which is compulsory on a liveaboard) to make sure you dived the plan. If you exceeded your limits, the divemaster has the right to ban you from the subsequent dives.
It is also wise to consider the following points before embarking on a journey to the unknown:
- Bring some form of entertainment
Usually the boat would have some means of entertainment such as DVDs and board games, even some magazines to read. However, you can still bring a good book with you just in case. A personal CD player (with earphones!) can also be a lifesaver after a full day of the same CD on a loop from the boat's speakers.
- Bring alternative food
Although most liveaboards promise sumptuous buffets, it would do you good to have a plan B. Bring some 'comfort food' such as chocolates, biscuits, even instant meals/beverages so you don't get bored of one chef's cooking method.
- Pack earplugs, sleeping mask, and seasickness cure
The sound of the boat's engine, your roommate snoring, bright daylight, and other miscellaneous disturbances could hamper your much-needed sleep. Earplugs and a sleeping mask easily solve all these so you can snooze in peace. Seasickness cure (pills/patches) can also make your journey so much more pleasant ' you never know how it can affect you until you're on a boat for a few days in a row.
- Service your equipment and bring spares.
Prevention is definitely better than cure ' what do you do when your regulator fails and nobody has a spare nor a way to fix it? Get your equipment in working order so you can maximize your enjoyment on board. Also, bring spares if you can. An extra mask, booties, batteries, etc. will save you a lot of hassles.
A liveaboard is a truly amazing experience if you plan and do it right. Spend a little preparing and have a journey of a lifetime!