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January 1997 Vol. 23, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving on a Singapore Layover

from the January, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

You might think that Singapore, an economic hub only 80 miles north of the equator, surrounded by Malaysia and Indonesia and hosting legions of travelers, would offer good local diving to those who would like to get wet. Sorry, the world's second-busiest shipping port and a host of oil refineries make diving nonexistent. However, there is an answer for those who find themselves on a weekend layover.

The Reclaim II, owned and operated by Steve and Jason Marsden, a genial pair of U.K. university-trained marine biologists in their twenties, dives north of Bintan Island, northeast across the Straits of Singapore. These islands have been open to divers only in the past two years. Before that, they were closed by the Indonesian government after some enthusiastic underwater treasure hunters were accused of stealing government property.

Good Diving, Okay Food

The Reclaim II, a 65-foot, Malay-style, wooden boat built five years ago, is kept in excellent condition and is comfortable enough for short trips. Food is adequate, except for the sorrowful breakfast selection. Another major drawback is the compressor on deck; when it's running, the sound is impossible to escape. But aside from the fact that it's one of the few games in town, there are some pluses, and you are diving.

Entry is a three-foot drop off the side, and there's a stern ladder. A nice touch is the availability of short, 60-cf tanks for smaller divers. Oxygen is on board, and the boat has the usual complement of modern navigational equipment.

At a site called the Dolmen, I swam through a passage formed by giant granite blocks, reminiscent of a Druid burial mound, covered with a carpet of stunning soft corals. Another site, Tiger Shark Rock, displayed an astonishing number of huge Didactis anemones, with three different species of clownfish and an enormous brown moray.

Over 50 species of nudibranchs reside in the area; I found 6 in eight dives. During my short trip I spotted a school of squid, had an encounter with a friendly cuttlefish, investigated some strange white holuthurians swarming a barrel sponge while several two-foot bumphead parrotfish meandered by, and enjoyed the usual mixture of butterflies and damselfish.

When and Where

The dive season runs from April to the end of October, but May-June and September-October are the best months. Starting this year, the boat will operate out of the Nongsa Marina on Bintan. A fast ferry leaving every morning from the Singapore Ferry Centre will get you there in about an hour. The Reclaim II makes only three-day trips, so you'll need a long weekend layover. There's another day boat called the Typhoon, a little catamaran used for day diving on some islands just off Singapore, but I don't recommend it -- zero viz and little life.

No, the diving off Bintan Island doesn't compare with other parts of Indonesia, such as Manado and the Banda Sea. Visibility rarely exceeds 30 feet and there are few large fish. But the bottom line is that, if you are coming through the city on business and want to squeeze in some diving, this is the best way to do it.

The Marsdens will rent you a BC and regs, so bring only what you really need. Contact the Marsden Brothers at 011-65-778-8287, fax 011-65-773-2265, 25 Faber Park, Singapore 129113. Three days, two nights: $304. C. B.

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