Diving Sail Rock
Sail Rock is the most renown dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. And it’s kind of let fame go to it’s head. From Koh Tao, you can only get here via special pricey trips that some dive shops run once a week or so.
I’ve been to Sail Rock twice now, once while working and once for a very indulgent treat: a fun dive trip with Mark and divemaster trainee friend Kat. Mark and I came armed with one still camera and one video camera and had fun switching off and documenting the day.
Diving for fun, and diving alone with two friends who are both dive professionals, is such a different experience than diving for work or even for fun but being led by a stranger. We are all self declared “slow divers” and have no qualms about spending seven minutes of dive time staring at a fish and trying to figure out what celebrities they remind us of (or maybe that was just me doing the last part?)
The trip starts with a two hour journey to the dive site, which looks so spectacularly unspectacular that you’re gearing up thinking, “Really? This is it?
Then you descend the sides of the pinnacle, and you are surrounded by the largest schools of fish you’ve ever seen in your life, and you think, yes, this is it.
Sail Rock boasts four sides of beautiful walls to explore, a vertical swim through chimney (featured in the video below), and several plateaus teeming with life. Even diving slowly and going deep when we please, we can make it around the Rock in one tank.
Unfortunately, the visibility this day was pretty disappointing, as you can see from the photo above, taken by Mark, which is otherwise a fantastic photo of an eel swimming through the coral. Sail Rock may be known for it’s large schools of fish, but in these conditions it’s best to look for the small stuff. As I’ve said before, when visibility is poor, it’s best to focus on macro-shots, as it puts less debris between you and the camera.
Sail Rock is a deep dive site, so colors can get quite distorted. You can color correct with Photoshop and other editing programs, but what I really needed for these photos was a strobe (an underwater camera flash) to bring back in the color.
For a while Mark and I switched off still camera and video camera and Mark had his first go at underwater videography. I think being behind a camera is such a thrill, it’s even fun watching someone else discover it for the first time.
The best part of diving for me (and I think most people) is finding the marine life. Especially when you can find things that look like a character out of the movie Avatar. While I don’t logically believe in aliens (though “Underwater UFO” is one of my top incoming Google search terms), I don’t really see how there can be any other explanation for the existence of the nudibranch species.
Most surfaces underwater are rough and textured, so this slick shiny shell caught my eye immediately. I love its dramatic placement in the jaws of a clam.
The anemones on the left were such a sight. The current kept them whipping around like spaghetti. You can get an even better idea in the video below. The photo on the right features just a basic Pin Cushion Sea star, but I love the variety in color and composition.
Can you spot the crab in this photo? One shell wasn’t enough for him so he’s taken shelter in an even larger one.
Are you sick of looking at fish yet? As I mentioned, we were also shooting video.
I tried hard to narrow it down as I know the attention span of most internet users is up long before six minutes. But there was so much great footage, this was the best I could do. It’s worth a watch!
A trip to Sail Rock should be on the must-dive list for any scuba enthusiast heading through the Gulf of Thailand. Trips run daily from Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, which don’t have many dive sites of their own, but it’s easy to visit from the dive mecca of Koh Tao as well.
Contact Roctopus Dive in Koh Tao to get yourself out to Sail Rock. Standard trips are 3,000 baht and include two dives, equipment, a divemaster, and breakfast and lunch.
Amazing photos! You must have used a very professional underwater camera.
Hey Sam, actually not too professional! As I mentioned to Kris above, the underwater still shots are with a relatively inexpensive set up of a Canon 1300 powershot and the associated Canon housing. I think I paid $360 for both!
OK…..you must have a gig with National Geographic to be getting all these great aquatic shots
You are very flattering! In all honesty none of these photos I was very happy with 🙂 I guess we hold ourselves to a higher standard that anyone else.
am I the only one who couldn’t find the video link for this post???
Hey Steve, Youtube has been giving me some embedding issues. It should be up now, sorry about that!
Wow, your underwater shots came out really well. I’ve tried a few times with no luck, but I was using a crappy disposable underwater camera. Might have to invest in a real rig…
The underwater still shots are with a relatively inexpensive set up of a Canon 1300 powershot and the associated Canon housing. I think I paid $360 for both!
These macro shots are incredible! My fave is of the nudibranch. 🙂
They are the coolest little creatures! And there are so many different kinds…
You were actually lucky enough to have a day with decent vis at Sail Rock. We went diving there last weeekend but was quite murky sadly ;(
I’ve been twice now and I’ve thought the vis was pretty mediocre both times. But I’m spoiled after doing way too much diving in Grand Cayman- which features glass-like water year ’round!
But is there as much to see in the waters around Grand Cayman? On a good day round Sail Rock it is packed out with marine life.
It depends, Dave! In the fall the coves at Eden Rock are filled with silversides, and there is nothing like it. All year round you have pretty much guaranteed stingray sightings at Stingray City. And turtles are pretty much a daily occurrence around the island. It definitely doesn’t match up to the major schools of fish you see at Sail Rock though, you are right!
WOW! First things first:these photos are stunning!
I’m actually in Koh Samui and passed my PADI Open Water Diving today. I went scuba diving in Koh Tao four times like Mango Bay and Chumphon Pinnacle (which was just awesome, I heard that it is one of the most challenging dive sites in Koh Tao) and now I’m struggling, should I go to Sail Rock? Do you think it is worth the money? 🙂
Btw you blog & lifestyle is awesome!
Sail Rock is DEFINITELY worth the money! 🙂 It is the premier dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. I think anyone passionate about diving needs to get there at least once. Go for it, Noé — and let me know what you think! 🙂