Just two minutes of online research will show that the best diving spot in Thailand is Richelieu Rock. It was apparently discovered and named by the late Jacques Cousteau, but the true Romanic naming of the location is open to debate. Richelieu Rock is a wonderful dive site that at low tide offers colourful marine life from the surface all the way down to the sandy bottom, 30m.+ below. The Rock is covered with hard & soft coral, most of which are soft and purple in colour. There are literally thousands of creatures who live their whole lives on Richelieu Rock. These include reef fish and invertebrates. From the Yellow Tiger Seahorse (Hippocampus comes) and Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) at 30m. & 27m. respectively, to the dozens of Pink Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideaion) all over the dive site. The dive site is always surrounded by huge schools of Jacks, Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis) and Barracuda, and of course the big boys (Whale Sharks & Manta Rays) visit from time to time. Finally, there are nearly always some bottom dwellers, such as several species of rays and Guitar Sharks in the depths.
So, why wouldn’t you want to go there and see for yourself? Well, quite a lot of people do want to go, and these include novice divers & non-divers. Unfortunately, Richelieu Rock is not suitable for inexperienced divers or snorkellers.
Why can’t new divers or snorkellers enjoy Richelieu Rock?
- Exposed location
- Lots of boats
- Getting down to the site
- Fair for others
Richelieu Rock is a great dive site for a reason. It is located far out at sea, with nothing (no islands or other pinnacles) nearby and the surrounding water is very deep. Therefore, lots of marine life is attracted to The Rock. But you have to also consider that the waves and sea currents can be strong. Plus lots of diving boats visit every day of the season.
The exposed location of Richelieu Rock means that new and inexperienced divers automatically feel uneasy. The location is ideal for marine life, which is attracted to the location, but for humans it’s not so nice. A liveaboard diving boat will take several hours to reach Richelieu but is stable & comfortable. A speedboat can get there in less than 90 minutes, but will spend the day bobbing around at the surface. Unless you’re an experienced diver and comfortable on a boat, it’s not the place for you.
Because Richelieu Rock is out in open sea, it can’t get any shelter from an island, and there are often waves, all year round. Your boat will be moving at the surface before you jump in, when you try to climb back out of the water, and while you’re trying to enjoy your surface interval.
One of the main reasons why Richelieu Rock is so rich in diverse marine life is because currents bring vital nutrients up from deeper water. These currents are not a problem for experienced divers, because they know how to deal with them without panicking. But an inexperienced diver is very likely to become excited and use their air more quickly than necessary.
Lots of Boats
There are always several boats at Richelieu Rock, but there are limited places for them to stop to let their divers to jump in or climb out of the water. There are two mooring lines, but most times only one is used, and boat captains often jostle or compete for the moorings. Snorkellers are not suited for Richelieu Rock because even if they’re experienced free divers who can descend 10+ metres, they still need to surface for air. The boat traffic, in addition to surface currents and waves, makes snorkelling at Richelieu Rock dangerous.
Getting down to the site
The main reason that new divers shouldn’t visit Richelieu Rock is the necessity of getting down to the dive site quickly. Experienced divers can quickly jump in, clear their masks, do a final buddy ok, empty their BCDs and descend to the Rock following their dive guide. All of this can & should be done in less than one minute. Yes, the dive site protrudes the surface at low tide, but even then you need to get down away from boats’ propellers at the surface. New and inexperienced divers nearly always need more time to become calm at the surface after jumping in, clean their masks, remember which button on their BCD deflates, and then remember to descend properly. At most other dive sites this delay isn’t a big deal, but at Richelieu Rock it wastes valuable time.
Fair for others
If you’re in a dive group, it is not fair for others if you’re affecting their enjoyment or dive time. A novice diver usually takes more time (and uses air unnecessarily) just descending the first 10 metres, and then will often bang into divers or the reef during the dive. Finally, new divers are always heavy on air consumption. So the dive guide will need to end the dive according to the air consumption of the diver who gets low first. Imagine if you’re a good diver and you have plenty of air left and someone in your group gets low after 25-35 minutes, and your dive has to end! And this happens at the best dive site you have ever visited! You would not be very happy, especially considering the cost of diving at Richelieu Rock. Now you may be thinking that ‘dive groups are made up of divers of similar certification levels & experience.’ They are! And that’s why it’s not suitable for novice or inexperienced divers to dive at Richelieu Rock. Unless a whole group of 4 novice divers can make up a group or they hire a private guide, then there will always be regular divers who suffer from being part of a group with new divers. Do yourself and everyone else a favour and wait until you have at least 20 logged dives’ experience before joining a trip to Richelieu Rock. You may find dive operators who are happy to accept you as a novice, but these guys are only happy to collect your money. They don’t really care about the reef, or their other guests.