The other day we got bumped from the Sam’s Tours boat (perks of diving at the local rate) and so decided to check out the other big shop, Fish and Fins. We had no idea where it was though, even after driving pretty much every bit of Koror and Malakal. I figured it had to be someplace really obvious we’d been passing all along that just wasn’t clearly marked. After driving the main road down the length of Koror and Malakal and still not finding it, we started driving around, looking for a poster with a phone number to call. They have their name out all over the place. We were just passing the supreme court building when I said we should turn down that road; we hadn’t explored much of it yet. Right as we were about to take the turn, we saw one of the Fish and Fins vans driving in the opposite direction. Quick let’s follow it!

We pulled a quick U-turn and before too long, caught up to the van painted like a giant dive flag. It was about to pull into a resort so we pulled up alongside it for a moment to grab the phone number splashed across the side. I dialed the number and got directions to the shop, which it turned out was just past the turn at the supreme court building we had been about to take. Welcome to life without 3G to look stuff up.

The owner of Fish and Fins, an Italian lady, was there to show us her shop when we showed up. Her husband was a maritime architect or something of the sort and had designed all the dive boats himself, so she was very intent on showing us their “superior” design. Each boat was equipped with benches, all facing forward instead of one long row of benches down either length of the boat. Two people per bench, tank holders behind each place to sit so that everyone had their own personal place to set up, and everyone could back roll off the side of the boat from their seat so that there wasn’t any waiting in line to get off the boat. It all sounded like a good idea in theory.

We were also happy to learn that unlike at Sam’s Tours, our local rate here didn’t make us bumpable if there were last minute sign ups. That and our lunch would be provided. To counteract that though, the local rate was $15 more expensive then at Sam’s.

Nitrox tanks were free as seems to be the norm here. The dives are all fairly deep so it would suck for a whole group to have to follow the profile of one diver who was breathing air. Nitrox, a mix of air that is higher than 21% oxygen, allows you to spend more time at depth and usually costs a fair bit extra when it’s not as important. I suppose when you’re trying to encourage everyone to use it though it has to be free. So we happily signed the paperwork to use enriched air, only to be told by the humorless desk employee, “Nitrox is free, but analyzation isn’t." We all burst out laughing, certain she could’t be serious. She didn’t crack a smile. Before you use a tank of nitrox you have to analyze it to see what the exact percentage of oxygen is, as that will effect how deep you can dive. The news that they charged for analyzation was like saying, Here, have a free cup of coffee but you have to pay to pour it. Another humorless lady behind the desk snapped in, “What she didn’t tell you is that analyzation is $.50.” Who cares how much it costs? The principle is still ridiculous.

We boarded the boat the next day to learn that we were going to be going back to Ulong area, the same area we had been on every previous dive. It must be the go-to area here. Every dive shop has one. We had asked the owner what their go-to area was and she had proudly stated that they go all over the place. Of course all dive shop owners think that. One of the shops I worked for in Thailand the owner would have the names of every dive site up on the schedule. When it was time to go out though we only ever went to about four different sites.

Our first dive was back at the tunnel, then we took an hour surface break on the boat, and then headed to Ulong Channel. We bankrolled into the water and descended straight down, then swam a little ways to the corner where we hooked in. We had just finished constructing our own personal reef hooks so I was eager to test mine out. By the time I saw the signal to hook in, mostly everyone had already found their spots on the sloping wall of coral, including Fletch who had found a perfect spot up front and on an elevated chunk of coral. I quickly scanned our fairly large group of divers, looking for a spot where I would be able to see but wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s view. Mostly everyone was beyond where I was, so I ended up staying in the same area, looked around for a dead bit of coral, found a satisfactory spot, hooked the reef hook in, and let the string go. I looked up and saw a dazzling display of sharks swimming around the corner, only Fletch in his nice spot was directly in my line of sight. Oh well, that shouldn’t be a problem. Five minutes later I realized I had to move.

I let some air out of my bcd, pulled myself back down the line, and unhooked the hook and swam closer to the front of the crowd, careful to make sure no one was directly behind me. I found a new spot farther down the slope and closer to the front, but ended up having to crane my neck a good deal to look up where everything was happening. Maybe I should have made my line longer. I sat there for several more minutes, increasingly uncomfortable but trying my best not to be bothered. Fletch looked down at me and saw my position and pointed at another spot closer to him. I tried to follow the direction he was pointing but after hooking in, realized there was a massive sea fan exactly in the spot where I would be hanging. That wasn’t going to work. Fletch motioned at me again to take his spot, such a gentleman, and I enjoyed the best seat in the house for the last few minutes.

When it was time, we unhooked and moved on to drift down the channel. The current was much stronger that day, and we flew by almost too quickly to see anything. I positioned myself like I was sitting in an invisible recliner chair and enjoyed the ride. A little while later Kyle started tumbling along the sandy bottom like he was tumble weed being pushed along by the wind. The effect was quite humorous. I saw Fletch up ahead and swam to catch up to him. A ridge separated the channel in two and the group disappeared on the other side of the ridge. A cool looking fish kept me from swimming over the ridge right away, but I could still see Fletch’s bubbles. When I finally did swim over the ridge, Fletch and the rest of the group were already out of sight, along with their bubbles. I swam against the current for a minute waiting for Kyle to catch up, not wanting to be completely on my own.

It was then that I noticed my wireless transmitter, a device that sends a signal from my tank to my computer to let me know how much air I have left, had failed. The last signal it had sent was half a tank. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned. I’ve never come close to using a full tank of air, in fact I usually come up with at least half a tank. I’m not used to drift diving though and the fact that I was breathing heavier then usual set me on edge. I’d lost the group. I didn’t know how much air I had. My brain automatically kicked into problem-solving mode. Stay close to Kyle incase I did happen to run out of air. Worst case scenario I’d send up my surface marker buoy and ascend, then meet everyone at the surface after the dive.

Kyle didn’t seem at all phased by the fact that we had lost the rest of the group so I didn’t let it bother me either. We continued being swept along in the swift current, down the channel. At one point I almost drifted straight into a yellow margin triggerfish, mouth open with teeth showing in an awful grin and trigger hoisted. I quickly kicked away and to the side only to find myself face to face with another triggerfish. Upon scanning the area they were everywhere, dozens and dozens of them in every direction. This sandy channel was obviously filled with trigger pits.

I’ve heard that nowhere in the world are the triggerfish as aggressive as they are in Koh Tao, so since that is my only experience with triggerfish, I tend to get pretty jumpy around them. They are terrifying fish. Screw making horror films about sharks, the real stars of those should be triggerfish. They get to be about the size of large house cats, and are extremely territorial. When they get cranky, there is a telltale trigger on top of their head that pops up. When they feel the need to defend their territory, they will swim straight at you, faster than you can blink with their scary sharp teeth. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting their masks broken and needing head stitches. They are vicious animals.

I looked around and was surrounded by triggerfish, all the pretty pastel colors of the yellow margin variety. I was suddenly very aware of the rate at which I was consuming my air supply. Slow deep breaths. Supposedly they’re not as aggressive here. They all seemed to be staring straight at me with triggers raised though. All the while I was being swept down the channel while I desperately tried to zig zag my way around them. I felt like I was in a video game. Find the group. Don’t run out of air. Don’t get triggered.

Finally, ahead in the distance, Kyle and I spotted one lone diver clinging onto a rock on the sandy bottom to keep the current from sweeping him away. It was one of our divemasters, who let go of the rock when we were close enough to form a group with him. We were swept along until we reached Fletch, who strangely started veering off to the left while Kyle and our divemaster went right. I tried to catch up with Fletch, wondering if that had been a mistake as he is a much stronger swimmer than your average diver, me included, and I was already out of breath from dodging triggerfish. Slow down and stay at a distance to conserve my dwindling supply of air? Or try to catch up so that my buddy was there if I did run out of air? I really need to invest in a analog air gauge to save this from happening again in the future. Wireless transmitters are awesome in theory but the technology just is not there yet.

I finally did catch up with Fletch just in time for him to zag back across to the right in the direction where Kyle and the divemaster had headed. I glanced down at my computer and saw that our dive time was now at 67 minutes. Why were we still down? My computer managed to get an updated reading from the transmitter before blinking the FAIL sign again. I was down to half of what is considered low-on-air, by far the most I’ve ever bled a tank, but enough to set my mind at ease that I had enough to finish the dive. We started our three-minute safety stop and ascended to the surface. I basked in the sun for a moment, happy to once again have an unlimited supply of air around me.

We made our way to Ulong Beach for lunch. The dive shop provided us with bento boxes filled with grilled fish which was room temperature by that point, rice, and a side of some sort of mashed veggie dish that was oddly good. There hadn’t been any portugese-man-of-wars in the water that day but a few were still washed up on the beach and drying in the sunlight. As I was walking back to the boat I felt a sudden electric shock on my ankle and instantly knew what it was. I bent over to scrape off a bit of tentacle that was smaller than a strand of thread. You wouldn’t think dead baby jellyfish tentacle that had been baking in the sun for the past few days would do too much damage but the little spot on my ankle still felt like someone was pouring lemon juice over an open cut. Those things are outrageous.

After lunch we made our way back to the dive shop. The facing forward benches and lack of wind that day made the ride much more enjoyable and snoozeable.