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Avoids Black Spots
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Our group of four left the U.K. on the 8th April for 21 days in Malaysian Borneo diving Sipadan, Mabul, Kapali and Lankayan Island. 26 hours of continuous travel later (3 flights, one minicoach) and we arrived at the sea port of Semporna and the Seafest Hotel. Now the Seafest is (unusually) a “dry” hotel so it was off to the Floating Dragon over water complex and the Pearl Restaurant for Tiger beers and one of the best seafood meals ever.
Next morning we boarded the Celebes Explorer. Now this livaboard may not be as new as most of the Red Sea boats but the spacious cabins, excellent Malaysian food and relaxed friendly crew made the whole 7 days a pleasure. The two local guides, Tom and Jerry have over 20 years experience and this really paid off on the 16 dives at Sipadan and the night and reef dives at Mabul and Kapali. Dives are conducted from two hard bottomed tenders and one could stay with the guide or do your own thing. As a group of video/photo divers we were able to do our very slow dives well away from others off the boat.
It is immediately apparent why Sipadan has it’s reputation as a world class site as soon as your head goes under the waves. On many a single dive we would see the same number of different underwater life as it would take a week to see in the Maldives or Red Sea.
Hawksbill and Green Turtles by the dozen.
Hammerhead, Grey, White Tip, Black Tip, Nurse and Leopard sharks.
Big shoals of Bumphead Parrotfish, Chevron Barracuda, Silver Jacks and Grey Snapper.
Frogfish,Leafish, Ghost Pipefish, Mandarinfish and many types of cleaner shrimps and crabs.
Stunning coral covered walls alive with all the more common reef fish.

Day 9 and 24 dives later saw us off from Semporna back to Tawau and an internal flight to Sandakan and overnight stay in the stunning Sabah Hotel. Although only 20 minutes from the town centre it sits in natural rainforest with bedroom views over the tree canopy. Another great Malaysian meal together with more Tiger beer and we were ready for the morning high speed launch transfer to Lankayan Island some 20 miles out in the Sulu Sea.
Imagine a typical Maldivian island but with only 40 or so visitors, very spacious well appointed stilted beach villa’s and cheerful relaxed staff and you can see why it has one of the highest ratings in Trip Advisor.
The dive centre is located at the end of the jetty and was of an even higher standard of equipment, layout and staffing than our favourite German run centres in the Red Sea and Maldives. The guides are all Malaysian and the centre is a training school for local divers to qualify as DM/Instructors.
Our guide for the 9 days of diving was Ben (who doubled as guitarist in the bar each evening) Once again his knowledge of the sites proved invaluable in finding and filming some of the rare “weird and wonderful” this region is famed for.
White Tip, Black Tip, Nurse and multiple (close enough but not touched) Leopard sharks.
Asiatic Blue Spot and Marbled sting rays.
Leafish, Jawfish, Cleaner Shrimps.
Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid.
To many different types of Nudibranchs to mention.

The reefs all sit in a marine protected national park and there condition is probably the best I have seen anywhere since the El Nino of ’97/8. On many a safety stop the corals and sponges stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. Massive table and brain corals, vast expanses of healthy live staghorn together with a myriad of coloured sponges made the minutes fly by.
On a sadder note it was common on the morning dives to hear the far away thump of the blast fishermen dynamiting the inshore waters off Sandakan.

Lankayan also boasts a fully manned turtle sanctuary and every evening we were there one or more turtles would land and lay.
On two evenings we watched hatchings and the mad beach scramble of some 100 fifty pence sized infants into the safety of the lagoon.
A further 27 dives later and day 20 saw us leave the island back to Sandakan and an internal flight to KL. Overnight in the luxury of the Pan Pacific Hotel then the morning flight back to London. Every Malaysian Airlines flights, both international and domestic were a pleasure with excellent service, great food, punctual and no issues with our extensive baggage. Malaysian airport officials (security and immigration) have to be the most friendly and helpful in the business making moving around within the country effortless. Infact the only travel annoyances were experienced (surprise surprise) in the U.K. On exit an over zealous security officer saw three of us pass hand luggage screening with our regulators then pounced on the fourth and claimed she had never seen a diving reg before and so started a 20 minute piece by piece search of luggage. On our return to Heathrow we waited over an hour before the baggage belt even started then it was one bag every 30 seconds to empty a full 747!!
21 days out of the U.K.
53 dives each.
4 hours of video footage.
1,000 stills.
New for trip Cressi Flex BCD plus Miflex hoses an absolute all time equipment combination winner-proof that less is more. Or in the case of the Flex a lot less for more.

Will post some highlights in a week or two after some savage editing.
 
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