The more accessible the world gets, the less we remember this island. It’s a good thing Team Victorinox offers a quick refresher.
Progress – has there ever been as double-edged a sword? In the span of a single morning, you could be in Northern Vietnam crisscrossing Hoi An’s historic town centre by bicycle. Or capturing beach side selfies with the limestone megaliths of Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island. Even testing your grit hiking up Jogjakarta’s Mount Merapi. Such is the unequaled reach of everyone’s favourite budget airline. On the other hand, model disruptors like Tony Fernandes & Co. have indirectly relegated islands like Tioman to has-been status. Still, as seducing as these Asean localities might sound, there are pockets on Tioman I guarantee will marvel you beyond expectations.
Put together by the marketing brains behind Victorinox Swiss Army, invitees included media folk, influential bloggers and professional happy people (TV host and brand ambassador Baki Zainal, iM4U deejay Fiza Saad and some Chinese TV personalities with a revulsion for carbs). We were put up at Berjaya’s ageing but homely Tioman Resort, a sprawling property from which we would launch our undersea adventures.
Wrapped together with our little island jaunt was an introduction to the I.N.O.X. Professional Diver range. While not spanking new, they’ve launched a carbon version of this steel favourite. Made all but bomb proof, these Swiss Ronda caliber 715 quartz movements are superbly robust, standing up to abuse that would tear a regular mechanical to shreds (Victorinox has a series of 130 stress tests to prove the point). Water resistant to 200 meters, the pragmatic folks at Victorinox have made several improvements over the outgoing model, namely increasing the steel case from 43mm to 45mm, designing a diver-style rotating bezel and adding a transparent bezel protector should you require. The last accessory is a cool addition because it offers a lens effect over the dial, making it appear larger and easier to read underwater.
Day one began was a dip just off shore, as we nailed an artificial reef builder to the seabed, at about 15 feet. This is basically a steel frame with plastic mesh for corals to populate and breed. The perfect opportunity for a group photo. Nothing too stressful, nothing too exciting, apart from some frenzied marshalling by the dive masters, lining us up for an undersea group photo. It’s a good thing the folks from Udive, partners of the events, came out in full force to lend their expertise. Special shoutout to them and the incredible patience it took to pull it off without a hitch.
The best experience was yet to come. After lunch we took a speedboat to a rocky outcrop called Labas. We were told to expect a cave-diving experience, which, depending on how often you dive, sounded exactly like the fun dive they said it would be, or a stress dive (as one astute blogger put it) for those with less than perfect scuba confidence. Since it had been years for me, and I’d taken the refresher course just hours earlier, I panicked quietly but decided to go along anyways. Puffing coolly on ciggarettes and looking for all the world like I belonged, the boat stopped just shy of a collection of boulders, jutting out of the water. Once underwater you could see the massive proportion of these rocks, some the size of small cars and some as large as buses, resting on top of one another as if someone had just dropped them there.
Some of the divers were wearing their colourfully strapped I.N.O.X. watches, but this dive would be a cakewalk for these hardcore timepieces. Encased in steel and sapphire crystal, the watch is H2O resistant to 200 metres (or 656 feet), the minimum depth rating. I suspect anything more required extensive re-engineering and would’ve pushed the price way up. As it stands, you can get a basic model for less than RM2,000.
Now it goes without saying that everyone gets all snobbish about mechanical versus quartz watches. Truly, very few actually appreciate just how tough a quartz-movement based watch can be. In fact, the weakest part of the watch would’ve been it’s moving hands. The I.N.O.X. range has been boiled, frozen, blasted with rock and sad, run over by tanks and even placed in a centrifuge environment with forces up to 12 G’s just to prove they were made to outlast the final homo sapien.
Finning around for a few minutes, inhaling and exhaling sporadically but never getting my buoyancy right, the lead diver pointed toward a crevice. One by one, we’d slip through the rocks and into a scene that might’ve inspired an underwater version of Frances Burnett’s classic, The Secret Garden. Our group of eight entered into a hidden coral bed, protectively fenced by the massive rock wall we swam through. All over were flowering corals in vibrant colours and schools of fish patrolling their portion of paradise. We went in a circle, around a colossal boulder, sunlight highlighting vivid nudibranchs, spotted rays, puffer fish and the occasional moray eel.
You’d never peg Tioman as a diver’s haven, and yet everyone, even the pros, emerged with eyes wide open in wonder. That night we were treated to an awesome beach-side barbecue and ice cold beer courtesy of the awesome people at Berjaya Tioman Resort. What a way to cap a reintroduction to this still pristine place and Victorinox’s excellent value I.N.O.X. professional diver’s watches.