The Hidden Promises of “Hin Bai”
Most commonly known as “Sail Rock“, Hin Bai is the most famous dive site of the Gulf of Thailand. It’s around a 90 minute boat ride to get there from Koh Tao. The rock rises out from the blue water and drops all the way down to 40 meters below the surface. A boat ride filled with tales of barracudas, whalesharks, and Sail Rock’s famous ‘chimney’ make for a journey of anticipation and expectation.
But let’s go back to the start of the day first….
Our journey starts with a quiet morning in Mae Haad, a few clouds in the sky but not enough to hide the still present Moon. At 7am we hear the Boatmaster pronounce “boats are ready!” and we make our down the beach and onto the dive boat. 10 minutes later, roll call is over and we are on our way. Everyone onboard is excited.
Half an hour later, people are relaxing and doing their thing – some are deep into their music, some fall back to sleep, some are having yet another cup of coffee. Koh Tao is far away now, we’re cruising on the flat calm water. Finally, the rock appears, tiny at first but growing by the minute. By the time moor up everyone is geared up and ready to jump in.
Today is going to be a good day.
For the first dive, my buddy William and I decide to skip the chimney at the start of our dive, saving the best for last. The chimney is a vertical swim through that you can enter at 5 meters then descend down until you reach the exit, 13 meters deeper.
The visibility is not great but also not too bad, we’ve had some pretty challenging dives in the past weeks with the rain and stronger than usual current due to the recently passed monsoon. But today the weather and conditions are good.
Looking for the Big One
Following the dropping walls of the rock, we go around the dive site slowly taking a good 45 minutes to complete this beautiful circular route. Stopping on the way to witness a massive school of butterfly fish, a rare sight since they’re known to usually hang out in pairs. Groupers watch our progress, seemingly sitting still on the walls trying to blend into the rock.
The first yellow tailed barracudas appear for a quick visit from the blue which are closely followed by some larger chevron barracudas. In the ever-perpetual search of seeing something else, something new or even bigger, we keep swimming away from them. Luckily for us, they’ll hang around the rock until our return. This is my buddy’s and I first ever dive here.
Yes, we’re wishing for a whale shark, but the site itself it grandiose enough for us as is.
Safety stop, swim back and switch tanks. The surface interval awaits us, but so is a gigantesque meal. A fantastic Massaman curry, veggies and rice. Another benefit of diving Thailand. The amazing food! But all we’re eager to do is to jump back in as soon as possible. After an hour surface time on the boat, we gear up again for our second dive.
Ding Ding – Round 2
Buddy check, fins and mask on, camera in hand, reg in. Let’s jump in. As we swim to the buoy line, a school of batfish teases us from below. Quick check on the compass, let’s drop down here and let’s follow the batfish. A good thirty of them are dragging us away from Sail Rock and when they’re done showing off they guide us back to the rock. A good start to the dive.
We keep swimming alongside the wall until we witness a massive school of yellow tailed trevallies. There are so many of them. And then appears the school of chevrons once more completely surrounding us. One look over to my buddy William, tells me we’re on the same page and both enjoying this moment; we’re not going to go around the rock this time we are staying here and hanging out with the barracudas. Chevrons around us, yellow tailed below. Pure bliss for over 40 minutes.
Not Long Enough
Each time they disappear we do not have long to wait before they return. We take a few minutes to focus on the coral, anemones, groupers, angel fish, butterfly fish and all the stunning marine life that Hin Bai has to offer. But as soon as the barracudas reappear we tag along, witnessing their dagger-like teeth from up-close and being mesmerized by their impressive coordinated ballet.
There must be hundreds of them which is perfect for my buddy as it is his hundredth dive. But the end comes too soon as we reach the point when we need to do a safety stop. However, they’re not done with us, teasing us, trying to drag us down again to lengthen our dive and our time with them.
Sure, we didn’t see our whale shark on this dive. We didn’t even go through the famous chimney. But this was probably my best dive so far from my 150 dives I’ve done.
This pretty much sums up Sail Rock. Don’t expect to see everything this magical dive site has to offer. To do that takes ‘100’s of dives’ as more experienced PADI Pros have commented to me but, your dive is still going to be blissful. And once you have dived Sail Rock once, all there is left for you to do now is to simply go back!
Author: Marie Killinger (PADI DM #389090)