Trip Report 7-12 August 2013 (original version – previously lost)

After an amazing five days diving Mabul, Kapalai and Sipadan islands in Sabah, Malaysia and the events that unfolded, I really don’t know where to begin.


We saw so many fish and macro life it was just incredible. We did not know whether to look left, right up or down. Every time we did there was something to see.  The dive guides were going crazy pointing out interesting fish life using their overly annoying rattling things.  Which I started to ignore after the third dive, especially when they were trying to get us out of the water after 45 minutes.


There was 11 in the group and we took two different flights from Singapore.  For the first time in a long time, I was early to arrive at Singapore’s Changi International Airport and sat down to wait for the rest.  When Sarah arrived she mentioned Robert, it was at his point I just remembered his dive gear was at home still.  Luckily I live close and was able to have it delivered within 15 minutes.


Being safe with life jackets Francios, Eliode, Regina, Sophie, Phil, Georgie, Sean, Rory, Sarah, Robert and I all meet at Kota Kinabula airport around 630am for our flight to Tawau. This was then followed by a bus and boat trip to the dive rig just off Mabul Island.  It was a long hectic day that most of us forgot about, once we finally got to dive Mabul that day.




During the dive briefing given to us by Suki, we were told many rules. One was – “Don’t be late! If we are planning to dive at 8am, please be ready at 7.30am.  The boat depart without you if you are late.”


The next morning dives were scheduled to depart at 8am, so following the rule we were all ready by 7.30am only to learn that 8am in Malaysia is not the same as 8am elsewhere. We finally left around 8.30am, which we now termed at as 8am Malaysia time.  We thought it was going to be the way it worked all week and it did, only once did we depart on time and this was the only time I was not ready.   We stared asking Suki are we departing on Malaysia time or another time?  Malaysia truly Asia.


We did a total of 13 boats dives and a few people, Phil mostly, did a number of extra dives under the rig itself.  Phil was trying to break some world record for the number of dives per day.


We did 10 dives at Mabul and Kapalai and the macro life was awesome. Not to forget that we also saw at least 10 turtles per dive and we saw all of the following on most dives. Madarin fish, baby octopus, large and small frog fish, seahorses, pipe fish, mantis shrimp, various small crabs, tiny yellow box fish, juvenile sweet lip, crocodile fish, cuttlefish fish, scorpion leaf fish, razor fish, scorpion fish, lion fish, moray eels, schooling fusiliers and numerous other fish.


Turtle with a small fish living in its shellWe came across this one turtle that was using the mooring line to scratch the back of its shell. We came across the same turtle on the last dive of the weekend too and it was still resting on one of the many artificial reefs, in this case to top of an old dive boat.  We had been trying to get the guides to do longer and longer dives and finally on the last dive we stayed for 83 minutes.



Phil and Georgie did a Poseidon mk6 Closed Circuit Rebreather “try dive” and dived both Paradise 1 and 2 combined dive sites for 96 minutes.


Oil Rig for accommodationWe were staying on a refurbished oil rig, which was comfortable and convenient for the dives we did, a little rusty but ok.

The dive deck is massive so we were never cramped for room and always had plenty of space to eat and chat.

I enjoyed staying there, it was just like being on the Mata Ikan but on stilts.



Unfortunately the lift that you would normally use to board the dive boat was broken and we had to use the rear stairs which was not ideal and made getting on and off a little bit difficult. A few people bumped theirs heads, well mostly Sarah, who appeared to be on some sort or injury spell.  The previous week she had fractured her finger on a dive deck ladder.  She got it caught between the ladder and the boat.  This trip she did a back roll from the boat and rolled completely around and ascended into the boat head first. Sarah said it went all white for a while, luckily there were plenty of people in the water to help her again!


Yellow Frog Fish

The visibility at Mabul and Kapalai was not great, at best 8-15 metres with a lot of silt.  But none of this stopped us from having and great time spotting all the small stuff.






Glass shrimp


Recently I had prescriptions bifocal lenses fitted to my mask by the guys at

So this made spotting the small stuff a lot easier and taking pictures was also easier too.

No old man jokes please!



Beautiful fan coralAfter the one and a half days of looking for small stuff we were all excited about completing 5 day dives at Sipadan on Saturday.  Luckily it was a beautiful day with clear skies and not many waves at all.  The 20 minute boat ride seemed to take forever and Sophie was ready in a flash after we had signed in at Sipadan. They keep records of who has dived there and they only allow 120 divers per day.  On the way to Sipadan we spotted a blue marlin jumping out of the water and landing on its side, no doubt smashing its prey with its long beak.  “Going to be a good day,” someone said.


Sophie back rolled off the boat followed closely by the rest of the group. Sarah decided to do giant strides from the front of the boat the rest of the week.  She also needed assistance from most people to put on her wetsuit due to her dislocated little finger.


A shark with no teethThe first dive was a bit disappointing with only a few sharks, but the viz was good at 15-20 metres.  I was wondering what has happened to Sipadan, where were the schooling fish? I think everyone was thinking the same.

The dive guides decided to dive Shark Alley instead of Barracuda Point, due to the high number of boats already there.




Sean Rory and Sophie with big eyed trevallyThe next dive was a Barracuda Point and we were dropped right into a massive school of big eyed trevally, or jacks as the locals call them.  There must have been a 1,000 or more. So many that I could not see the rest of the group for at least 5 minutes. I was trapped inside the swirling mass of trevally.




I eventually found Sarah, who signaled that she could not see far, moving her hand up and down in front of her face.  It is the only way you want to experience 1 metre viz.  I mean the actual viz was 30 metres, but the fish blocked seeing any further than a metre.  It was just awesome! I must have taken 5 minutes of video.  We finally found a way out and found the rest of the group, who were doing the same.


It was at this point I noticed Phil zeroing in on something, I looked and saw these huge giant trevally’s under the main group.  So I started following them to get some footage, they were fast, but I managed to video them.


Barracuda SchoolThe trevally moved on and so did we and soon enough we found a school of several hundred barracuda.  They were all around again, not as close as the trevally but still close enough to loose most of the group again. Then I noticed in the deep water a white tip reef shark, we ended up seeing at least 40-50 sharks during the 5 dives.  We spent most of the first dive with the trevally and barracuda schools.  We managed to keep finding more schools as we moved along the reef.


The second dive was at Barracuda Point again for obvious reasons and we saw the trevally and barracuda again.  But this dive I wanted to get some shark footage, so I focused on sharks. The guide pointed to a large shark down deeper, I shot down after it.  It was a oceanic white tip about 2 meters long. I could not get close enough for any decent footage, so turned around a went back to the group.  I was about 15 metres below them at 32 metres.  Robert later said I went down after the shark so fast he was amazed how I did it.  My reply, “OMS slipstreams, Robert.”


We headed back to the rig, had lunch, loaded more tanks and went straight back to Sipadan.  Signed in again and decided to dive Turtle Cave and then head towards Barracuda Point again.  We were in the entrance of the cave waiting for some other divers to take some photos.


The guide decided they were taking too long and stirring up too much sand, so we went in.  Last time I was there we only went a few metres. This time we went all the way to back before the cave narrows too much.  It was quite exciting and it made me think about doing some cave dives, then I remembered that cave diving is for people who don’t want to live long.  We spent 15 minutes inside the cave and then headed back to Barracuda Point where we found more sharks and more barracuda.  The reef drop off is just sensational. Standing on the boat you can see the the top of the reef and the it just drops away to 600 metres. I wonder what is down there?


Sweet LipThe reef is covered in colourful coral and loads of reef fish, but no one really bothered to look at it.  Too many sharks and schooling fish to see.  During the Turtle Cave dive, Phil indicated that he had seen 10 turtles so far, for me, I signaled back only 4.  He then gave me a signal, I can’t really explain here anyway, but I ended up seeing at least 15 turtles. Phil the Turtle King claimed 20.



During the surface interval, we were standing on the marine park office jetty watching turtle after turtle coming up for air and heading back down again.  I thought to myself and then said to the group, “How cool would it be if we could hold our breath for a hour or two like turtles?”


The last dive at Sipadan was by far one of my best dives ever. We again jumped straight into the water near the schooling trevally and we also saw 3 huge schools of barracuda.  The current forced us to turn around and I’m glad we did.  I was videoing a shark when everyone was ascending and then told me to come up.  I was thinking, “What’s all the fuss about?” When I got there all I could see was a cloud of sand. I looked around and shrugged my shoulders, when someone gave me the bump head signal.  Oh!  I swam into the cloud of sand and almost ran into a 2 metre long bump head. I fumbled for my camera and hit the video button and followed them to clearer waters.  I hovered and watched them chomp on the rocks with their no doubt very strong teeth.  You could hear the noise each time one bump head took a bite.  There must have been 20 or more.


I was watching and videoing them, when they all quickly started to swim away, it was then I noted this massive Napoleon Wrasse swim right in front me, through the group.  The wrasse must be the boss because the bump heads moved off quickly.  One smaller bump head did not see the group leave and it was still eating and then, when it saw the Wrasse, it took off so fast, I thinking it was saying, “Wait for me, wait for me!”


The last night on the dive rig was a fun evening with singing, dancing and some stupid party tricks with brooms, beer bottles and Phil showed that he can do the splits.  It hurt me just watching him.  We managed to break the broom during the tug-a-war games.  We played a few games of pool and decided to go to bed earlyish due to the 5am wake up and the long journey home.


The next morning turned out to be a real adventure.  The boat to Sempora Jetty was meant to depart at 6am, but it did not arrive due to the heavy rain until 6.55am.  We left around 7am and had a bumpy wet ride across to the mainland.  Now running almost 90 minutes late we had to rush to get the flight from Tawau to Kota Kinabula, only to find out that it had been delayed by 90 minutes.  Our stopover at Kota Kinabalu was scheduled for three hours and was now reduced to 90 minutes.  We had to rush as soon as we hit the ground, collect bags, buy taxi tickets, board a taxi to Terminal 2 just 20 minutes away.  We pushed in front of all the other passengers waiting in line, checked in our dive bags and headed to the gate and boarded 10 minutes later.  Now happily on board after a crazy day with a 5am wake up, we started to relax.


I would like to add that no one in the group enjoyed seeing me in my stylish, but slightly worn out speedos and commented that I need to buy new ones. Not a new pair of speedos, some new shorts of sorts.  Speedos don’t seem to be in fashion anymore. I just don’t understand why not.  After the last dive I had a shower and put them on the floor when I was changing.  I went back to get them later only to find they were gone.  I suspect one of two things:

  1. Someone threw them out hoping never to see me wearing them again, or
  2. Someone wanted to keep them for themselves.


Glenda’s tip’s –  Remember that Air Asia does not sell beer.

For aging eyes, a great idea is to have a prescription mask. That way you can see those tiny things the guide is showing you.


Cheers, Gary

Thanks to Gary Savins for the use of your photos.

Additional videos of this trip can be found on YouTube – check out here
and here and here. Or just search for “Gary Savins” in the YouTube search box.

Looking for more photos – please click here