Sri Lanka, December 2014

I wanted to do a tour of Sri Lanka seeing the usual sites over Christmas, but I wanted to see if I could do some diving for a week before the tour. Nobody I knew had been there, but the Island Scuba website looked promising. At that time of year, because of the monsoon, the east coast is not usually diveable, so the south west area around Colombo looked my best bet. I emailed Island Scuba and arranged both the diving and accommodation with them. Arriving at the airport, there was a taxi counter operating a fixed fare based on destination, so getting down to Mount Lavinia was easy. It took a while because various roads were closed because the country was in the middle of a presidential election campaign.

I was staying in the Mount Bay hotel which was US$60 a night for a double with A/C and ensuite bathroom. WiFi was also available. The dive shop is located in the La Voile Blanche bar and restaurant on the beach. It was a 2 minute walk across the railway tracks from the hotel.

When I arrived, they were setting up a party on the beach. This went on all night, but the music wasn't loud enough to affect my sleep after the long flight from the UK. When I turned up to the dive shop the next morning to go diving, there were the last stragglers looking rather worse for wear. Apart from this night, the area was otherwise quite quiet at night. There were various bar/restaurants but they tended to be busier in the day then in the evening, so getting a meal and a few drinks was no problem, but there was no party scene.

Away from the beach, there were some more restaurants and shops, including a mini-mart with an instore bakery which was a good option for a cheap lunch. I also managed to buy a plug converter as, whilst some Sri Lankan sockets are the same as the UK, they also used the small round 3 pin plugs that we used to use ages ago.

I did 12 dives in all, every single one of them on a wreck. The diving is done from a RIB which is launched from the beach through the surf. The waves weren't that big, and though I did see a couple of people trying to surf them, the waves were usually "dumpers".

The first wreck I did is known as the Pecheur Breton, or more simply the Cargo Wreck. It lies more or less intact on its side in 35m. It's a large wreck and I dived it 3 times in all because it's conveniently located to do as a second dive on the way back from somewhere else. It's a bit enough wreck to do 3 times and still see new things. The bottom of the cargo holds have been blown out by storm damage, so you can swim through them to the other side of the wreck and check out the hull if the current allows. In the holds are the coral encrusted remains of some sort of vehicles.

The other wreck I did a similar number of times was the Medhufaru, which had been a Maldivian ship. It's a bit shallower and sits upright in 30m. It was carrying building materials and you can see the bags of cement, the cement mixers, a JCB and loads of pipes. In the bridge, there's also whats left of a PC. I was impressed by the number of fish on the wreck as there were shoals of them around the two masts, mostly fusiliers. When I got back on the boat, the guide said there were usually a lot more on it than that, so that must be quite a sight.

One day, we went out and did the Chief Dragon or Car Wreck. This was a car transport vessel and sits upright in 34m. There were a few places you could swim through and the remains of car chassis covered in sea life could be seen on the decks. I only did this once, and it is the wreck I would most have chosen to do it again. There were some big trevally and grouper on this wreck.

Also in the same area is a wreck know only as the Coal Ship. It lies in 26m, is quite small and is broken into two sections. It's a pretty dive though with big shoals of blue lined snapper and fusiliers.

The Nilgiri or tug wreck is lying upside down in 31m, but you can get inside it, though this means spending most of the dive at 31m, giving a short bottom time even on air. Being a tug, it has big twin props which are an impressive site and the upturned hull has some nice purple soft coral growth on it.

None of the wrecks are particularly old, though the Thermophylae Sierra is the newest having sunk in August 2012 after being anchored for 3 years whilst a legal battle went on. The masts actually stick out way above the surface and the bottom is 24m. There are cranes and plenty of rooms to swim into on this wreck. At one point, I was swimming though a galley with pots and plates scattered around.

The Taprobane East Wreck was further out and is much more broken with only the skeleton of the wreck remaining. It's a colourful site though with lots of coral growth. I also saw three Napoleons on it and the visibility was fantastic on the day I did it. It lies in 31m, but I could see it as soon as I put my head underwater.

They also have some deeper wrecks which would be nice to arrange for a future date, though that would probably require getting a group together. Nitrox was available, though the lack of qualified buddies restricted my use of it. The conditions varied hugely from one day to the next. Visibility was sometimes 30+m, sometimes 15m and the currents also varied a lot. On one dive, we did the cargo wreck and had to put ourselves down the shot line hand over hand as the current was so strong. Once on the wreck, there was plenty of shelter in the lee of the wreck, though swimming past the holds with the bottoms blown out was a bit interesting. Two days later, the same wreck, at more or less the same time of day, there was no current at all. Conditions have more to do with weather systems rather than tide.

Booking a week's diving without much to go on had been a bit of a gamble for me, but it's on that paid off. The water was warm (28C), the visibility varied from excellent to OK and these are proper wrecks, not small fishing boats sunk deliberately for divers. Island Scuba were very helpful and even looked after my kit for the 2 weeks I was on the tour, so I didn't have to lug it around the whole time.