If you’re a diver in Malaysia, you’ve heard of Sipadan – the best dive site in Malaysia and one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. If you’ve heard of Sipadan, you’ve heard of Seaventures Dive Resort, the dive rig. And if you’ve heard of Seaventures dive rig, you’ve heard that it has free unlimited house reef dives.
My cheap backpacker’s ass was sold at “unlimited free diving”, which was why ever since I passed my snorkel test as an open water diver eons years ago, I put Sipadan on my bucket list.
I was finally marking my 100th dive, and who better to dive with than the legendary dive rig that had piqued my curiousity for years? Lo and behold, I made the giant leap to book a six-day dive package in Sipadan with Seaventures.
Sharks, barracudas and humpheads, here I come!
The low-down on Seaventures dive rig
There was something beautiful about the Seaventures story that caught my imagination – it was an oil rig, something so destructive to the marine environment, transformed into a dive rig that now champions marine conservation.
Stationed off Pulau Mabul, Seaventures is now the only dive rig in Malaysia and the world. An all-inclusive dive resort, it provides trips to Pulau Mabul, the Kapalai atoll and guaranteed dives in Pulau Sipadan. (The Sipadan Island Marine Park sets a limit of 120 visitors a day, so divers/snorkellers need to book a guaranteed spot in advance.)
On the boat ride from Semporna to the Seaventures dive rig, I kept thinking that this transformation is the story I will discover. To my surprise, that is not the Seaventures story.
Exploring the dive rig’s facilities
“How do we get up there?” we asked when our boat arrived at the lofty rig standing majestically in the Celebes Sea.
“Naik elevator (Ride the elevator),” the boatman said, we thought he was joking.
He wasn’t; there was an actual elevator that hoists divers up and down the rig, and even into the house reef below! We hopped from the wavy boat to the sturdy elevator which then ascended us to the heavens above. By ‘heavens’ I mean the three-storey rig.
I was thrilled to be at Seaventures, not only for diving in Sipadan but also for the opportunity to see how an offshore rig was designed.
The first thing we saw as the elevator reached the deck was the friendly crew applauding our arrival. I felt like a jet-lagged superstar. Behind the smiling crew, a large dive deck complete with everything a diver needs – nitrox tanks, dive equipment, camera charging station, and a shower area.
Right opposite the air compressor, there were delicious home-cooked meals, a bar, and a dessert fridge with the best creme brulee you can get in the open seas. I wolfed 5 creme brulees in one dinner sitting, and 3 chocolate mousses in another!
The WiFi-ed rooms were clean and comfortable, and the air-conditioning a nice refuge from the heat and wind outside. My only real gripe was the slight salty bath water due to the reverse osmosis system. The saltwater showers were awkward at first but I got used to it after a couple of days.
I love that the dive rig walks the talk as a Green Fins dive center. The reverse osmosis filtration system is environmentally friendly, there was not a single plastic water bottle nor plastic straw in sight, and the dive crew often hold clean up dives to protect their “office”.
You probably won’t enjoy Seaventures if you’re not a diver. There’s not much to do here except eat, sleep, dive, repeat; no pool to swim in lest you jump off the rig. But if you’re a diver looking for some good down time, Seaventures is perfect.
The best way to describe staying in Seaventures is that it’s like staying on a stationary liveaboard. During your surface intervals, you can get a tan at the helipad-turned-sundeck, play pool or mahjong in the games room, or take a nap in the hammocks. If diving isn’t tiring enough, there’s a small gym and if diving is too tiring, you can get a massage.
To seal this off as a diver’s dream: 360-view of crystal blue water with breathtaking sunsets, shadows of fishes swimming under us, and a pretty darn great house reef.
Seaventures’ free house reef dives
Our day at Seaventures starts early in the morning with the crew taking us out for 3 boat dives either in Sipadan, or Mabul and Kapalai. We booked a package that guaranteed us 1 dive day in Sipadan but because it was the low-season in early February, dive manager Pete surprised us with 3 great days in Sipadan!
In the afternoon after our boat dives, we’d return to the rig to chill out, take the free boat shuttle to Mabul and explored the Bajau village, or continued on with our 4th or 5th dive at the house reef.
My cheap-ass picked free house reef dive each and every day, and I’m glad I did.
I was blown away by how great the Seaventures house reef was! Dare I say it? It was even more memorable than Sipadan. If Sipadan dive sites are the main course, the Seaventures house reef, Mabul and Kapalai are the desserts. While Sipadan is filled with colourful pelagic fishes, the sandy banks of Mabul and Kapalai are where the memorable tiny critters are at.
From the itty-bittiest baby scorpionfish, the most elegant Spanish dancers, psychedelic nudibranch the size of my big toe, to turtles and moray eels the size of dinner tables, the macro diving here was excellent and the night dives were breathtaking! My favourite moment was meeting the resident goliath grouper who lives under the rig. It was larger than two obese man hugging each other and scarier than any shark I saw in Sipadan!
I’ll be honest, there was a small catch to the free house reef dives – we had to do it on our own without their DMs guiding us. There was an orientation dive and safety measures in place to make sure we don’t get swept away to the Philippines, though diving unaccompanied could be a little daunting for new divers. Not to worry, new divers can always pay a small fee for a DM to guide them.
Surface intervals with the Seaventures dive crew
Between sunbathing or eating, the best thing to during surface intervals is exchanging stories with the dive crew. The stories they have of the things they’ve seen in Sipadan, ohhh it will light a fire for diving no amount of ocean water can put out.
I was once obsessed with diving, so much so I did my Divemasters in Phuket despite having no intentions to work in diving. But over the years, diving took a backseat as solo backpacking consumed me. I had forgotten how fun it was to eat, sleep, dive, repeat.
Seaventures has curated such a passionate crew of divers, mostly locals, who are doing this job not only for money but also for the god damn love of diving. It’s infectious. Prod them a little, buy them a beer, and they’ll tell you the days where hammerheads ruled Sipadan; that dive they got caught in a “washing machine” current; the barracuda storms; the mysteries of the turtle tomb…
Add in guests who are hardcore divers, the kind who keep more photos of fishes than photos of their kids, and you have deep conversations about diving, travelling, and the wonders of the ocean floor.
Suddenly I found myself yearning for a flight ticket to Malapascua to see thresher sharks and another to Bali to see mola mola. One conversation with Pete and I was planning for a second trip here to do a cavern diver course just so I can enter the Sipadan’s famed turtle tomb.
Despite all the fun I had at Seaventures, I was pretty pissed when it was time to leave. I didn’t get that story about the oil rig to dive rig transformation that I was looking for. What am I possibly going to write for this blog?!
As I babble my way to the end of this blogpost, it hit me – the Seaventures’ story was never about the rig. What makes Seaventures special is not this metal structure, but the stories the divers, the divemasters, and the boatmen have to tell.
For Mitchell, it was about assisting the Blue Planet crew (yes, the one with Sir David Attenborough!) who stayed on the rig for two weeks diving everyday just to get one shot of male humphead parrotfishes bumping heads.
For Pete, it was diving around the world to find a home in Sipadan.
For Seaventures’ hotel manager Ramesh who rarely dives but is surrounded by divers, it was about finding conversations that for once, do not revolve around diving!
The Seaventures’ story is about a group of divers so passionate with diving that they will make the most jaded and blasé of divers fall in love with this wonderful, wonderful sport.
And if you really need any more convincing that Seaventures will take good care of you, all I have to say is if it’s good enough for Blue Planet, it’s good enough for me.
Mei’s top tips for diving with Seaventures dive rig:
- How to get there: Fly in to Tawau. Seaventures provides free transportation from Tawau airport or town to Semporna jetty which is about an hour’s drive. From Semporna, you will take a boat to the rig.
- Go off-season: The off-season is in Aug, and Nov to early Feb. It has poorer visibility and stronger currents, but it’s less busy. This means less divers = less competition for Sipadan permits = more chances for you to get additional days in Sipadan! I went during the off-season and managed to get two extra days in Sipadan. We didn’t get perfect weather, but we still got good dives!
- Go high-season: The best time to dive in Sipadan is during high season in mid-March to May. It has the best diving conditions but it will be packed and fully booked. You will not get additional dives in Sipadan and you’ll need to book at least half a year in advance to secure your spot.
- Get experienced: The currents in Sipadan is very, very strong and unpredictable, so know how to handle the currents or you will not have a good time. I highly recommend getting your Advanced Open Water and ace your buoyancy for the dives to be more enjoyable!
- Keep warm: The water here is quite cold. If you get cold easily, bring a full suit and a dive cap.
- Bring your own snacks and other supplies: The nearest convenience store is on Pulau Mabul, which is a 5 minute shuttle boat away. There’s always something to munch at the buffet table, but the snack choices are limited. If you’re a snacker, bring your own chips and chocolate.
- Dive Mabul and Kapalai: Sipadan is the best dive site, but don’t dismiss the diving around the rig.
- Go night diving: It’s worth it even if you have to pay for a DM to guide you.
- Bring your own dive computer: Due to safety reasons, you’re not allowed to dive Sipadan without a dive computer. Bring a torchlight too as it comes in handy for lobster “hunting”. You can rent these at the dive center but it could get pricey.
- Don’t kill the corals: Sipadan Island Marine Park is a strictly protected site and a no-glove zone. Please be careful when diving, leave your grabby hands to yourself and don’t accidentally kill a coral. Sometimes marine park dive marshalls will join in the dive to monitor divers’ behaviour, so don’t get yourself or your DM in trouble by stepping on corals.
Disclaimer: This was a partially sponsored trip but thoughts expressed here are 100% my own (Rule 1 of travel blogging: don’t endorse crap). I enjoyed my time at Seaventures Dive Resort – experienced crew, good food, comfy rooms, and a thoughtfully set-up dive centre, they will go the length to make sure you have a good holiday.
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