Galleons of scuba de­lights

Want a quick dive trip to the Philip­pines? Check out this is­land close to Manila which has a good mix of co­ral and fish life.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OUTDOORS - Story by BRIAN MOH Pic­tures by Brian Moh, Hol­i­day Asia Divers Re­sort and Michelle Bang.

PUERTO Galera is listed in the “Club of the Most Beau­ti­ful Bays of the World”, and is one of the most pop­u­lar dive des­ti­na­tions in the Philip­pines.

Most of the div­ing ac­tion can be found in Sa­bang Bay and near White Beach. Those who want the com­forts of city life while en­joy­ing their div­ing now have an­other op­tion to con­sider: Puerto Galera, some 130km south-west of Manila.

The words Puerto Galera lit­er­ally mean “Port of the Galleons” and in the early 16th century, Spa­niards dis­cov­ered this place as a safe haven for their ships dur­ing ty­phoons.

Af­ter land­ing at Manila In­ter­na­tional Air­port, my friends and I were trans­ferred via van to Pas­say City, where we hopped onto a bus to Batan­gas Pier, a jour­ney of some 90 min­utes.

Then we caught a boat, and af­ter go­ing against strong cur­rents for about an hour, we reached Sa­bang Bay. It was a par­adise of fine, white, soft–as–cot­ton, sandy beaches

The Philip­pines is the world’s third largest English-speak­ing na­tion, and it’s also ranked as the “eighth friendli­est coun­try” in the world, so com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the lo­cals was not an is­sue at all. In­deed, they were will­ing to give us a help­ing hand when­ever we needed.

Soon, we headed out to find the Asia Divers Dive Re­sort, which has enough ac­tiv­i­ties keep guests of all ages oc­cu­pied. Ac­cord­ing to its staff in­struc­tor Al­li­son Ma­nis, “There are over 30 dive sites around the is­land, just within 15 min­utes of the re­sort. We of­fer great div­ing, rang­ing in depth from 10m to 82m to suit all lev­els of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Pack­age rates in­clu­sive of meals range from US$700 (RM2,310) to US$1200 (RM3,960).

We started our first dive at 1.30pm at Si­nandi­gan Wall. I was once told by Vin­cent Chong, a PADI in­struc­tor and owner of Drag­onet Div­ing cen­tre in Kuala Lumpur, that the corals here are one of the best he has ever seen in his div­ing ca­reer.

In­deed, there was plenty of ma­rine life and beau­ti­ful, colourful hard and soft corals. We also saw many va­ri­eties of nudi­branches, sur­geon­fish and yes, even sea snakes.

There were many op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­dulge in macro pho­tog­ra­phy, and we took our time snap­ping pho­tos be­fore end­ing our dive 45

min­utes later.

Our sec­ond dive was at Alma Jane, right off the Asia Divers pier. It’s a fan­tas­tic dive site as a 30m cargo ves­sel was sunk here in 2003. And it landed up­right. At a depth of 30m, there was good vis­i­bil­ity and plenty of ma­rine life had taken up res­i­dence around the wreck, in­clud­ing sweet­lips, snap­pers, lion­fish, box­fish and rab­bit­fish.

While wait­ing for my night dive, I asked Ma­nis how she ended up at this par­adise is­land.

“I used to work for the Cana­dian Em­bassy in Manila, I started com­ing down here on the week­ends. It was a great es­cape from the city crowds and I en­joyed amaz­ing div­ing here with my buddy. Even­tu­ally I ended up stay­ing,” she said.

Af­ter a light din­ner and a sun­set stroll, we con­tin­ued with a night dive, ex­plor­ing the Sa­bang Wreck at a depth of 18m.

This is ac­tu­ally an area which in­cludes three wrecks. One of them is an old Chi­nese fish­ing boat, the home of very friendly bat­fish, as well as large sur­geon­fish and lion­fish.

Af­ter this great night dive, we ended up un­wind­ing at the Point Bar with some wine, where many dive sto­ries are told with flour­ish. There where we met Al­lan Nash, the founder of Asia Divers dive re­sort.

He was work­ing as a con­struc­tion su­per­vi­sor in Hong Kong in the 1980s when he de­cided that he wanted to sail around Asia for some time.

“I re­signed from my job and told the com­pany I would see them in two years. Then I went to a yacht club to ask if any­one needed help sail­ing their boat in Asia. I met up with an Amer­i­can guy with a 42 foot boat leav­ing for Puerto Galera,” re­called Nash.

“Five days af­ter leav­ing Hong Kong, we caught sight of the Philip­pine is­land of San Fer­nando. From then on, it all went wrong and I had the worst trip you could imag­ine. There was a typhoon and we al­most lost the boat on a reef com­ing into Su­bic Bay with­out har­bour guides. Af­ter sev­eral days there, we headed to Puerto Galera, and fi­nally ar­rived af­ter 20 days.”

Nash had not dived for a few years but af­ter he met with free­lance in­struc­tor Dave Pen­man at a dive shop, he took it up again. He be­came an in­struc­tor in 1987, work­ing for a dive shop known as the Reef Raiders. But the fol­low­ing year, the dive shop was burnt down.

“I was job­less, but I did not want to go back to work­ing in the real world,” he said. “So I sug­gested to Dave if he would like to start a dive shop, and he agreed. We worked day and night to re­cover what­ever we could af­ter the fire.

“With a hand­ful of dive equip­ment, we also bor­rowed a thou­sand dol­lars, and we were up and run­ning.

“We used the name Reef Rangers un­til one of the own­ers came back and asked us to change the name. With that, Asia Divers was born. We have come a long way af­ter 25 years.”

Wak­ing up bright and early on the sec­ond day of my Puerto Galera jaunt, I boarded a speed boat to Verde Is­land, re­puted to have one of the best wall dives in the Philip­pines.

We had ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity dur­ing our two dives there, and there was a colourful and very healthy mix of hard and soft corals. There was also a wide va­ri­ety of ma­rine fish- es, like the gi­ant puf­fer­fish and gi­ant Clark’s anemone­fish.

Ac­cord­ing to Alan Lim, the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Pa­cific Dome Travel Net­work in Kuala Lumpur, Puerto Galera has ex­cel­lent corals.

“Nowa­days, I usu­ally ask my bud­dies to dive in Puerto Galera if they want a quick div­ing trip within easy reach of Manila,” he said.

Just as we were set­tling into the is­land way of life, three days flew by. That morn­ing, af­ter a great break­fast at Arthur’s Restau­rant, we left Puerto Galera with heavy hearts.

I told my­self that I had to re­turn to this lovely is­land.

Verde Is­land has a healthy mix of hard and soft corals, abun­dant fish life and ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity. – asia divers dive re­sort

amaz­ing ma­rine life awaits at the Si­nandi­gan Wall dive site.

the asia divers re­sort is equipped with a large pri­vate div­ing

a Si­nandi­gan

the Si­nandi­gan Wall dive site has plenty of beau­ti­ful corals.

dive site.

pri­vate div­ing plat­form where boats can eas­ily dock.

a colourful nudibranch or sea slug at the Si­nandi­gan Wall dive site.

an outrig­ger boat at Sa­bang bay.

Sa­bang bay has lots of eater­ies to chill out at.

the Sa­bang wreck area has three sunken boats that sit at a depth of 18m.

Verde Is­land is one of the best wall dive sites in the re­gion.

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