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From Kuala Lumpur I flew to Kota Kinabalu,
the capital city of Sabah which deserves a one or two day visit.
Next day, I flew to Tawau and then to Tarakan, an Indonesian village.

http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/born.jpg (map)

From Tarakan a small boat of Borneo Divers, powered by two 200 HP
monster-engines took us and what remained of our poor bones to the
island of Sangalaki in about 4 hours.  This island, still untouched,
is about the same size as the better known Sipadan.
There is a rain forest and a ring of white sand which can be covered in
about 20 minutes of walking.

http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/sang.jpg (map)

In the early morning one can watch the turtles crawling towards the sea,
after having laid their eggs in the sand or iguanas exiting the sea with
a big fish in their mouth.  Borneo Divers are the only ones to come to
that island every week with a limited number of divers.
We were four: an American named Paul, two Dutchmen, Hans and Ronald and
myself. The whole island for us.  The food was good and the weather
fine.
The sea around the Island is not deep.  All dives are easy and no deeper
than 25 m. The coral reef is very beautiful, full of hard and soft
corals.
I was particularly impressed by the white corals and anemones which
shined like spots of snow in a green mountain meadow.
See here some pictures of corals:

http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/coral2.jpg (white coral)

and white anemons:

http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/anemon11.jpg (white anemon)

The water wasn't very clear. This depends on the season.
Of course owing to the lack of walls and
strong currents, there were no pelagics such as barracudas, carangis and
sharks. Only some leopard shark and all the usual reef fish.
In addition there were many other interesting critters: nudibrancs,
crabs, cuttle fish and the ubiquitous turtles.
Here are some pictures.

http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/crab2.jpg (crab)
http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/lion2.jpg (lion)
http://131.114.9.20:8001/Foto/Sangalaki/turtle2.jpg (turtle)

Sangalaki is considered the land of manta rays.
However we saw them only once, without being able to approach them.
Near Sangalaki, there are many islands with interesting dive sites.
Kakaban Island is about 20 minutes away.
We dove in a place named Barracuda Point because it is permanently
occupied by a big school of barracudas.  There is a very strong current
there. Still early into the dive, at a depth of about 40 m,
I barely had time to shoot a few pictures when
the rope used for the ascent appeared in the clear water.
This rope was placed in order to help divers reach the surface in front
of a beautiful coral reef at the depth of about 10 m.
The ascent was very tiring.
Finning desperately against the current, one hand grasping the rope,
the other the camera, I was like a fan fluttering in the wind.
When I reached calm waters I had only 25 bars left.
After a safety stop and 18 bars left, I finally surfaced and got back on
the boat. Soon, everyone was back on deck. I asked Paul about the dive.
"Challenging" he quipped, but we hadn't yet done that of Maratua.
The next day, we were on our way to Maratua Island, one hour from
Sangalaki. When we arrived at the mouth of a splendid lagoon,
the sea was a bit rough.
We got ready for a drift dive.  Our DM, Nurhab told us to be prepared to
see hammerheads and other pelagic fish. I must explain that Nurhab and
staff insisted on taking care of everything: changing tanks,
installing BC's and regulators.
We only had to jump in the water in absolute safety, or so I thought.
As soon as I was in the water, I noted with satisfaction I was
descending very well.
Lately I was always behind, but this time I was leading the group!
To slow my descent, I pushed the infiator of the BC.  Nothing happened.
I pushed again.  Nothing doing!  At 30 m. and descending like a stone,
I tried one more time.  What the hell is happening?
Nurhab had forgotten to connect the BC! I started finning
furiously while inflating my BC orally.  I got back to about 20m
and met Nurhab, giving me the OK sign. I signalled something was wrong,
showing him the valve without the hose.  He gestured OK again.
Getting angry and I shook the valve under his nose.  At last he
understood. We were on again. That dive was surely born under
an unlucky star. I was preparing camera and strobe when a very
strong down current got hold of me.
As I shot down the wall, unable to grasp anything, I glimpsed above,
to see my trusty DM climbing the wall, using both hands.
I attempted using my free hand, finning vigorously.  Nothing doing.
The current was too strong. Then I let go the camera which is fastened
to my BC and began climbing too.
Breathless, wasting a lot of air, I suddenly became snagged.
My buddies were nowhere in sight. Sliding down a little,
I saw that my camera was entangled in a string, perhaps tied to the wall
by a preceding group of mountaincers.  Cutting it with my knife, I
resumed my ascent.
After endless minutes, miraculously, I faced an oasis of peace in
the form of a large crater, a hole in the wall. I crawled into it,
crouching under the ledge. I remained there a little while, recovering
my breath. A quick look at my console revealed that I had 40 bars left.
Fortunately, my Air Integrated Computer, a small silicon-based friend,
reassured me. I had no deco obligations and enough time for surfacing
safely. My right hand was burning and a dense black smoke was oozing
from my palm. It was blood.  My blood!  Closing my hand, I exited
the hole on the left side, where the current was weak.
From there I was able to reach a nice coral reef at about 10 m.
Like a faithful dog, Nurhab was there, greeting me with is eternal OK
sign.I showed him my wound which, he observed carefully,
repeatěng the OK sign.
"What a bonehead", I thought, and thoroughly fed up, I went directly to
the surface. On the boat, my hand was bleeding profusely.
The guys took out the first-aid kit.
Scissors, cotton, plasters, antiseptic were set aside and my wound
tended. Soon, everyone was on board and Nurhab launched his OK, as
usual. I asked if anyone had seen a hammerhead.
"No" was the short answer. There went another "challenging" dive.
As we entered the lagoon to eat, my state of mind was not too high.
I opted for a little snorkelling in the lagoon.
The water was shallow enough to allow the Unable to Swim Divers
President to cover a lot of the reef.
There were many small islands around me, each with even a smaller raín,
forests, full of birds and colourful crabs.
This was indeed paradise, a place to remain forever!
Two hours later, it was time for a second dive. I was a little
reluctant. Paul reassured me: "This morning, the tide was wrong.
Things should be smoother this time around".
The dive was great, as all dives should be, full of fish and beautiful
corals. I shot great pictures.  The next day, we returned to
Tarakan with the bone breaking boat.
The vacation had come to a close.

--
Giovanni (USD President)

_____
Giovanni Marola
Dept. of Information Engineering
University of Pisa
Scuba Page  http://marolaws.iet.unipi.it:8001/Isole/Italia2.html