I've dived many wrecks now. But Irako will always be special; by far the most intimidating of Coron's ships due to her depth, darkness and limited visibility. I know her well now, but her novelty has not yet worn off. Some of the wrecks I could dive blindfolded, but there are still areas of Irako I am yet to visit. She still has the capacity to frighten me at times.
Due to the amount of plankton in the water at times, whale sharks have occasionally been sighted off her bows. She sits in 42m of cloudy water, and once 10m away from her, you're in the blue. Finding the dive boat again is one thing, seeing one of these huge creatures requires more luck. Bjorn from Dive Cal saw one last year, Miro had seen a few this year. Me? None.
Today would be different. I'd guided a Slovenian couple, both Divemasters too, through Irako's transmission room and kitchen corridors...a great dive in itself. I'd promised them a viewing of the huge school of jacks who swim in two balls, in a figure of eight formation, on the bow of the ship. Exiting the wreck and swimming around the bow gun mounting, there was no sign of them. I indicated we should head back to the masts, where the boat was anchored to the wreck with a shotline: the jacks were always there if not on the bow. No sign of them as the masts came into view. I was puzzled.
One of my divers pointed beyond me, and I turned to see a school of smaller fish right behind me. I nodded to say I'd seen them. Then he gave me an open shrug and tapped his mask and pointed at me, to say Did you see? The fish? I thought. I shrugged, tapped my mask to say See what? He made a blade of his hand and put it to his forehead to say Shark. I shook my head and whirled around: nothing. I felt like crying...a week before I left Coron, and a whale shark had swum right behind me, unnoticed. Looking up at the direction of the shotline, I could figure out exactly where our boat sat. It's standard practice to follow the line up, but there was no current. I shrugged and then pointed my arm in various directions to ask him Where? He stopped me when I was indicating where he'd last seen it, and I beckoned him and his wife over. Let's go. His eyes crinkled behind his mask: I knew he was grinning.
We headed away from the wreck. A couple of divers from the other group were intrigued, and followed. Irako disappeared into the gloom behind us, and 12m above us I could see our boat. Flashes of reflected light ahead...the jacks. My heart pounded...I'd known something was up when they hadn't been feeding around the wreck. As I drifted through the school, a huge shape cruised below me, dots of silver across its huge back, mouth agape. A whale shark, remorra fish and cleaners in attendance. I pointed down, looking back at the divers behind me. Turning back around, there was another...two of these elegant beasts chasing each other's tails. The larger one was 5-7m, the smaller one 4-6m. As one, everyone was checking their air supply and decompression times. How long do I have? I dropped a few metres to get a closer look. The few minutes I spent watching these beauties felt like an hour; it is truly an incredible privilege to share personal space with animals like this.
I ascended slightly, swimming away from the boat with the sharks. Check the gauge again. Check the computer. I was pushing it, and could get bent if I wasn't careful. Forcing myself up and beyond them, I missed a minute of my safety stop and came up with 5 Bar of air left (standard practice says 50 is prudent). A little reckless, but this doesn't happen every day.
Climbing back aboard the boat, everyone was elated; I've never heard so many Fucks on board before. A very special dive, and certainly one of the best moments of my life. My Dad had dived with them in the Maldives, and was close to tears talking about the experience. Now I knew why.