Friday, July 22, 2016

Diving Lighthouse Lagoon and Ambergris Caye in Belize

My logged dives 1462-1477

Bobbi and I needed a break - from work the month of July to visit family in Katy, Texas - and from family to pop down to Belize for a week of diving on the Barrier Reef there, something you do because you can :-) 

We arrived in Belize July 15, 2016 and dived the next 6 days. Our last dive was on July 20.


Bobbi had found a dive shop there using Trip Advisor that had no derogatory reviews. It was called Belize Pro Dive Center http://www.belizeprodivecenter.com/ and the manager Emeliano promptly replied to every email we sent and answered all our questions scattered throughout each mail, and often that's the shop that gets our business, because when you're planning a trip on short notice, timely information is critical. Emeliano even replied the evening when we booked a Blue Hole trip our second day there and canceled diving with Belize Pro Dive Center that day. He said no problem, and assured us we'd get a pick up at our hotel the following morning.

Belize is known for its nurse sharks, which are everywhere on the parts of the barrier reef where we were taken. Belize is starting to be infested by lion fish, which dive centers in the Caribbean are trying to control by culling them. Consequently, divemasters sometimes carry spears and when they spear a lion fish, they feed it to the nurse sharks, which delights tourists almost as much as it does the nurse sharks. It also encourages the nurse sharks to associate people with food so they follow divers around, and come quite close to them. The dive guides model how to pet them, and many divers find them cute and irresistible. Indeed they seem to enjoy contact with humans, as you can see in the video of our dive at Esmeralda Canyons. One of the nurse sharks cuddles up with dive guide Bernie's fins, and you can see Bernie instructing me to pet only the top side, not the bottom, because they might bite if they think you are feeding them.

Here is a list of dives we did. I'll upload the videos as I get around to them

Friday July 15

Borderline, my 1462nd logged dive

So named because it was the last dive site on the border of the Hol Chan game park, this is where we got introduced to and first petted nurse sharks, diving with Giovanni, whose moniker Gio was etched in ersatz diamonds on his dive suit.

B and D, my 1463rd logged dive

We saw dolphins here, making this the most phenomenal dive of the week, and my camera was out of charge, diving with Gio.

Saturday July 16, Lighthouse Lagoon with Aqua Scuba, diving with Juan

Blue Hole, my 1464th logged dive

We didn't know how else to get there, so we booked a dive to Lighthouse Reef Atoll with Aqua Scuba Center, on the beach in San Pedro. It was about a 3 hour boat ride with Aqua Scuba to Caulker Caye to pick up more divers and then travel on twin inboard engines to the atoll.

This would be a rite of passage for many of the open water and newly advanced divers among the two dozen entering the water on each of our dives. At the end of this dive my computer showed 41.2 meters, but vis was poor and there wasn't much to see until the safety stop.  Apart from that, the hole was just that, green water down to some over-rated stalactites and stalagmites, nothing special,
On YouTube, https://youtu.be/2sPF4Qlpmgs


Bobbi and I are in our late 60s, but we dive and jog regularly and keep ourselves fit and tuned for scuba. My air consumption is not bad and Bobbi's is negligible. There were a pair of older couples on board, the ladies quite obese and clearly not fit, and I'm always concerned the dive crew will try to logically group us together. However, they weren't so organized. They made an attempt to say this divemaster would go in first with these people (point, point, point) and that one would take the ones over there (I think it was 3 groups of 7) but in the end it got kind of mixed around. There was one divemaster named Juan who said he'd take whoever would swim over to him, and there were 5 or 6 young people in his group, so we stuck by him and all descended together. For the second dive we made sure we kept that grouping, which was quite compatible for all concerned, and by the third dive, the groups were set.

There's not much concern with air in Belize. We were almost shocked our first day when our dives with Belize Pro Dive Center were called at 40 minutes, each of us with half tanks remaining. Apart from the Blue Hole, the dives were usually to about 25 meters, whatever that is in feet, around 80 I think. Even the heaviest breathers could usually make it 40 minutes with 50 bar left in the tank, so 40 min was the standard dive time there, 45 minutes once the divemasters got to know us, or even 50 with a safety stop, but never more than that. We got used to it, but we would have preferred longer dives.

We are fortunate where we dive regularly in UAE and Oman that we can dive unguided as long as we like as long as we're back on the surface in an hour or so before they think to declare an emergency and come searching for us. The problem with resort diving is that the best dive centers are extremely safety conscious, they can't possibly know their customers, and most of the divers they get need to be monitored, and expect to be. We understand how in the interest of safety for all they have to cater to unskilled divers. That's good if you dive infrequently on holiday and not confident of your skills. If that's you, you're in excellent hands with Belize Pro Dive Center.

Half Moon Wall, my 1465th logged dive


The video shows our best dive of the day at Half Moon Wall, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize. It features a reef shark and eagle ray in one memorable tableau. I got close to a lone black barracuda, and got close to a feather-tail ray in a field of garden eels. We were stalked by a friendly, or perhaps opportunistic, grouper throughout the dive. On YouTube at
https://youtu.be/iDxWibmOw78

Aquarium, my 1466th logged dive



This video shows our last dive on a long day out at the Aquarium, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Belize, It wasn't a particularly exciting dive, but we saw a turtle, a moray, and lots of fish at the mooring at the end of the dive (presumably, the aquarium). On YouTube, https://youtu.be/vMJz0y-t-wA

Sunday July 17, back on Ambergris Caye

Ramon's Canyon, my 1467th logged dive

led by Dimas, whom I liked to call DiMonster, lots of nurse sharks, https://youtu.be/FXbX8ugbDGw


Paradise Canyons, my 1468th logged dive

diving with Gio, link on YouTube,
https://youtu.be/jgyNobKfWmY


This dive seems to have had a preponderance of nurse sharks, yielding interesting videography, like watching carp in a Japanese garden pool. We ended with a remora joining us on our safety stop.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve, my 1469th logged dive
and Zone D shark feeding (snorkeling) with Santiago

One of the set 'tours' on Ambergris Caye is the 'combo' dive in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is mainly a snorkel trip for non-scuba day trippers, combined with a shark feed experience. As a dive Hol Chan is restrictive and subdued compared to deeper dives on the barrier reef, but it still presents some mellow fish tableaux and the occasional turtle (here a loggerhead and a hawksbill). I tried to capture the flavor in these videos, including the snorkelers hovering overhead, on YouTube
https://youtu.be/snQ2LL036X8


Chumming produces a shark and ray feeding frenzy in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Zone D, Belize, Sunday July 17, 2016. We snorkel in amidst the scrum in the chum,
https://youtu.be/lDJoqObiDoc

Our guide Santiago explained that the shark feeding spot was a traditional one, where fishermen often went to clean their catch, attracting dense balls of thrashing nurse sharks. Now the tourist industry was emulating the process by chumming the water while tourists don snorkels and join the fray. The result is photogenic.


One of the delights of the trip was the constant banter kept up by Santiago, our dive guide. Pulling up to Hol Chan and parking near a dozen other boats, he told us this was his secret site (it was funny at the time). He told the ladies not to worry (these were MAN eating sharks). He liked to tell people to roll over backwards on the count of three, and then he'd say THREE, and topple them in the water. He had us thinking that Victoria Canyons was called Victoria's Secret until we went there a second time and learned better.

Monday July 18

Tackle Box Canyons, my 1470th logged dive




This dive began with Luiz leading into the canyons but Bobbi and I went up to the reef top to see what the nurse sharks were up to. It appeared someone was feeding them because they were running riot up there. Gio said they chum there to attract Caribbean reef sharks. We saw one of those on our dive but too distant to get on video. Apart from that, we saw more nurse sharks, and were dogged by a disoriented ramora on our ascent, diving with Luiz,
https://youtu.be/SmV8WXJ7tzw

Victoria Canyons, my 1471st logged dive


On this day we were diving with a new family, with Luiz, who took some time to help the ladies with their buoyancy. While he was distracted and I was bored, I noticed an eagle ray skimming a nearby reef top. My air went down from just below 3000 to 2000 by the time I'd recovered my breathing, but I did get the video when the ray slowed down so I could catch up, video above and on YouTube at:
https://youtu.be/OlznByMgfpY

Tuesday July 19

Tackle Box again, my 1472nd logged dive





Touching encounters with nurse sharks on our second visit to Tackle Box, Ambergris Caye, Belize, Tuesday July 19, 2016, https://youtu.be/vIZQ64VD8Mw

Tuffy Canyon, my 1473rd logged dive

Also called Toffee Canyons on this map http://ambergriscaye.com/maps/art/Ambergris_Caye_Dive_Mapsm.jpg,
We saw an eagle ray close up, with Orlando, posted here and on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/NP4tUKdXlq4


Esmeralda Canyon, my 1474th logged dive

diving with Bernie, video link
https://youtu.be/mR1oanGuvUA


Bobbi and I did this as an afternoon 3rd dive of the day and were accompanied by among others a father and his young son. You can see that it's an entertainment dive, with divemaster Bernie finding a mantis shrimp and enlarging its hole so we can see it better, and uncovering a sea biscuit for us. One interesting insight into the culture here is evident in the small nurse shark that followed us around and lay in the sand at our fins when the focus of the divers was on other things, such as the damsel fish in one segment. A highlight of this dive was an eagle ray that reared up off the reef and made a graceful exit with me chasing after it.

Wednesday July 20

Cypress Tunnel, my 1475th logged dive

The tunnel was a long swim through about 20 meters, diving with Gio. There are just a few shots here from Cypress Canyons, where a cowboy diver who can be seen in the video grabbing the nurse sharks, dove too deep, and ruined everyone's dive by letting his young son go into deco (I don't know how old the kid was, but depth limit for junior advanced divers is 21 meters, and they were down at 30, where his kid was actively chasing after the sharks as they passed by). The two of them can be seen in the videos of our dive to Esmeralda the day before.

Video segments after that are from D and B Canyons.


D and B, my 1476th logged dive

at Bobbi's request, tiny turtle, again with Gio
Both these dives are in one video, https://youtu.be/VeOvP_CS9Mk

Victoria Canyons again, my 1477th logged dive




This was our 3rd trip to Victoria Canyons - where again DiMonster led deep. Bobbi and I skimmed the reef tops, and we saw the eagle ray there up close. Then I chased a lone barracuda through an amusement park ride swim-thru, and experienced a touching nurse shark farewell (bye nurse sharks, sniff sniff - see you next time) led by Luiz, https://youtu.be/IGiqkLSpLh8

Thursday July 21

boat back to Belize City and American Airlines on up to Houston

Getting there and hanging out

Briefly, about logistics, we landed in Belize on an American Airlines flight, less that $700 round trip the two of us (but we had to fly to Dallas from Houston and on to Belize from there, a hassle, but $300 off the direct flights from Houston). In Belize Emeliano had assured us we could hop a plane to San Pedro, lots going, or if we were lucky, we might make the 5:30 pm express boat. We got our bags through customs fairly quickly and were on the curbside at the airport just after 4:30, but big surprise, no taxis.  The friendly Belize guy who organized cabs (they call everyone 'guys' in Belize) assured us one would come soon and we were next in line for a cab, after one lady waiting, so we gave him $25 and waited our turn. A big crowd rushed the first cab which came at a quarter till 5, the friendly cab 'guy' had a good heart but little control, so the next in line and Bobbi and I managed to board the 3rd cab though we'd paid collectively $50 for it. To boot, a young lady joined us without paying anyone. The driver shrugged and off we went for the harbor, arriving just in time for the boat. Normally they go to Caye Caulker and then to San Pedro but this one went directly to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and arrived around sunset. A friendly cab guy approached us there and offered to take us to our hotel south of town for $10, but that was Belize dollars, so it was $5 US, and that turns out to be the standard price so no rip offs, a pretty straightforward transfer to airport to hotel a boat ride away.

About the hotel, it was called Caribbean Villas and the office closed at 7 pm which was before we arrived, but the security guard was found. He had been informed we were coming and took us to the second room back from the beach on the ground floor. The room was nice and cool, had a safe and fridge, cable TV and wifi barely working on the lanai. We had a beer at the bar, got walking directions to a good restaurant up the beach (lobster salad, yum) and walked home only to notice that the hotel was a 4 story wooden structure and people on the upper floors clomped about at all hours. So next day we scored an upper floor room, 4A, the first room nearest the beach on the topmost floor. Now WE made all the noise clomping about to use the toilet in the middle of the night. The view was lovely, it was much quieter (for us), and the wifi worked fine in our room up there. Not only that but the staff went out of their way to replace the false king with a crack in the middle with a real king bed from elsewhere in the hotel. We had booked three nights there in advance but this won us over and we ended up staying there the whole time. The only thing I noticed was this was an obviously flammable wooden structure yet there were no fire escapes. I didn't mention this to Bobbi. Anyway, a hurricane was more likely than a fire.

The best restaurant in San Pedro to our tastes was Waraguma on Middle Street downtown. Emiliano recommended it as a great place to get lobster burrito, which was $27 belize (US $13.50) and had a whole lobster tail lying upside a burrito itself stuffed with lobster chunks. It was too filling though so the next time we went there (yep, a return trip) we had the two lobster tails grilled for $45 Belizian, which Bobbi and I shared. Ladies working there had grills going and were making papusas stuffed with chicken, pork, or almost any kind of seafood, or combinations ($10 belizian for the latter, the most expensive). We also tried Hidden Treasure, Rain over the bridge in the north caye, El Fogon and Elvi's kitchen. All were good but twice the price of the exquisite simplicity and wholesome goodness of Waraguma.

According to Trip Advisor the best place to eat on the caye is Robin's Kitchen just across the street from Rico's and our dive center. This is a good place to go if you are out biking and want to stop and eat at tables on the sand, no frills whatsoever (and byob). The lady in the shack there produced good down home Jamaica Jack Chicken which was tasty and cheap, but when I went to pay I noticed a big cockroach on the wall over the preparation area, so I'm not sure if I would rate it best on the peninsula. Worth a try, but not the best.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Devilish Diving in Musandam - Greg Raglow begins AOW course on Octopus Rock, devil rays at Ras Morovi and Lima Headland

My logged dives #1456-1461

Friday, June 17 & Sat Jun 18, 2016


The first video shows a compilation of 3 dives done on June 17, 2016 on a liveaboard dhow arranged by Emirates Dive center. Bobbi and I were diving with Greg Raglow, who was starting his PADI advanced open water course with his deep dive on Octopus Rock. That's where I took the cameo of a batfish being cleaned and where we found our first school of jacks, which I placed at the end of the video, which actually ends with my shots of surfacing from our 2nd dive on Ras Morovi.

That next dive was on the channel side of the island just east of Ras Morovi. Here we saw the free-swimming moray, the big marble ray, and the devil rays covorting in the channel. I video'd the fish life on the south point as we were ascending and used it at the end of the video here, where it appears we were ending one long dive.

Our third dive was on Lima headland. I had requested Lima Rock but didn't mind once I was in the water since the headland was hopping. I put the videos for this dive at the start of the compilation because they show us descending in swim-throughs, followed just 10 minutes into the dive by at least 20 devil rays swooping onto the reef from deeper water. I chased them, caught up with them at 20 meters, and got them to pose for me for a few seconds until they worked out the guy in the back with the camera wasn't one of them :-) We saw the slipper lobster (cigale, or scyllarides latus) near the point at Lima headland.


The fourth dive of the day was a night dive. On the dive, I noticed that a lion fish was using my spot light to help him find his prey so I helped him find another morsel. The first was by chance, the second was on me :-)

Then next morning we made an early morning dive on the north side of Lima Rock. Bobbi and I were first in the water on the first speedboat to reach Lima Rock on Saturday, June 18, 2016, and we found the rays undisturbed and squids playing in the water.


The video below shows our 6th and last dive on Saturday, June 18, 2016. We put in around the Fishhead Rock caves area , and found the rays undisturbed even there (and left them that way). We also came on a small turtle.



In all these dives, I'm diving with favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens, on a trip arranged by former students Joe Broeker, Keith Kennetz, and Jon Nichols, pictured at the end of the Lima Rock dive, and on the boat at the end of the caves one.



Monday, June 13, 2016

PADI Open Water Dive Course for Delphino and Christina on Artificial Reef, Sharm, and Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1452-1455

Friday, June 10 and Sat Jun 11, 2016

Certified divers #234-235

One of my colleagues at work, Delphino Ulysses Williams, asked if I could train him and his friend Christina Schweitzer in Open Water diving this hot Ramadhan weekend, and of course I agreed. How can I resist another opportunity to train new divers?

We had many complications arranging the weekend involving others with different agendas and Nomad Ocean Adventure's new Ramadhan schedule of sending out early morning and night boats only, which makes it almost impossible to bring divers up in time Thursday to get them through 3 pool modules and ready for an early morning dive. However they promised a 9:30 a.m. boat on Saturday (and the others with different agendas postponed to the following weekend) so it would be just the 4 of us, Delphino, Christina, and Bobbi and I. The student divers had booked their eLearning through Nomad, so we decided to start at Nomad Fujairah on Friday and arranged to cross the border and finish the course in Musandam the following day.



All went well the first day. It's hard to pace these courses. You never know how the students will respond to familiarization process in training. But Delphino and Christina had no problems snorkeling and they adapted well to SCUBA, and we had confined modules 1 and 2 out of the way well before the 2 pm dive to Artificial Reef. Module 3 still remained to be done and the rental boat (the Nomad boat was under engine repair) had to be returned before we would be ready, so we rounded out the somewhat exhausting day with a shore dive off Royal Beach, focusing on compass work in addition to the usual skills for that dive.

We crossed the border into Oman after dusk and ended up at Nomad Ocean Adventure there in time for dinner. The students requested an early start next morning in lieu of more pool work that night, so we met at 6 a.m. for briefing. We were at the pool at 6:30 but had to get gear together, so it was another hour before we hit the pool. Minor glitches prolonged things, and the time of the ocean dive was brought forward to 9:00 because there was not an early boat that day, and all divers were anxious to get away before we would be ready. We were done module 4 at 8:30 but were in the position of having to finish module 5 at the beach at Ras Morovi and then somehow getting in two more dives plus flexible skills including CESA, or, Bobbi's brilliant idea, return to Fujairah and finish off at Nomad there. The students elected to take things easy and not be rushed by more advanced divers. 

We stayed behind to finish the module 5 pool work in NoA's pool, the marvelous cook at Nomad insisted on making lunch for us (ours had gone on the boat he said) and it was only this that delayed Bobbi and my arrival at Nomad FUJ to 11 a.m. where we saw the boat just then leaving. But the kind people there, Kyle and Jess, assured us there would be another at noon, so we got on that one to Dibba Rock, where I managed to find us a sting ray, and Bobbi and I saw several sharks in the shallows, but in mediocre vis, not long enough in any one sighting to GoPro them.



Our last dive was to Sharm, what we most recently used to call Three Rocks, and before that (last century) Pinnacles. It was the location where I had certified Mohammed Chowdhury as a PADI Scuba Diver just a few weeks back (so you can see the video we made there for comparison). This day was a little more murky than that dive, but still Sharm has its charm.  The video of Delphino and Christina's dive for certification there, and the subsequent selfie, round out the story.



Friday, June 3, 2016

Far north with Nomad Ocean Adventure - Diving currents in Strait of Hormuz

My logged dives #1449-1451

Friday, June 3, 2016

For some reason, a lot of people have wanted to learn how to dive lately and Bobbi and I have been having a great time showing them how or upgrading their credentials from Open Water to Advanced. It seems like every weekend in May we had another group wanting to take dive courses, and it was great fun, but Bobbi and I needed a break. We were planning one the weekend of June 3-4 when we caught wind of a far north trip to Fanaku, and possibly Kachelu, the current-ridden gem rising above the waters at the edge of the Straits of Hormuz. The trip was with Nomad Ocean Adventure, and Chris Chellapermal himself would lead the dives. Brian was the only one other booked on the trip when we added our names, so we put a note out on our Froglegs Facebook group. Jean Michel "Dro" Madery answered the call and booked, plus his friend Jean Marc. Cecil drew the lucky card from the Nomad staff to join the boatload, and by 8:15 we were headed out the harbor and on our way on the scenic trip past the entire mountainous coastline of Musandam all the way through the archipelago of islands off Kassab, all the way to the Strait of Hormuz to the island of Fanaku, beyond which there were no other islands to be seen further north.



Click here for more on the incident referred to by Kevin

Our first dive was on Fanaku, north to south on the west face. We'd been there before. It drops over a coral lip to a deep wall, down to sand where Chris likes to lead. Bobbi and I hung at an intermediate depth because we saw a leopard shark once in the more shallow coral beds there.




From there we moved to Kachelu to check it out, but the current seemed like madness both ends of the island, so we had lunch in Sphinx bay on Musandam Island, named after a rock Chris orients on, and dived from there into what turned out to be an air crunching current dive - for me, at any rate. I signaled Chris I was at 50 when I was actually at more like 30 (ok, 500 psi). Bobbi still had 100 (bar).


video


Time to head home with a stop at Temple  Rock, in the vicinity of Mother of Mouse to east, which for me  was the best dive of the day. We started with a ray right after descent and ended with a moray that entertained everyone with rippling gyrations. The videos tell the story.



Here's Dro Madery's take on my filming the honeycomb moray in the video above



Saturday, May 28, 2016

Certified Mohammed Chowdhury as a PADI Scuba Diver at Divers Down, UAE

My logged dives #1449-1451

Friday-Sat, May 27-28, 2016

Certified diver #233


Our good friend Jay from good old days in UAE, now in Bahrain, flew to Dubai from there with two colleagues expressly for the purpose of having me train them in PADI open water diving.  Jay likes to stay at the Miramar so he asked me to arrange to train through Divers Down, the dive center based there. Bobbi and I thought what the heck we might as well stay there too. We decided to treat ourselves despite the fact that this would consume my earnings for the weekend. Another way of looking at it was, free stay at the Miramar for two nights with breakfast in return for simply training two divers. 

So Bobbi and I got there early Thursday, checked in at the Miramar, relaxed by the pool and beach, and had dinner at the beachside open-air veranda Bahari restaurant, and when Jay and Abdulhameed and Mohammed arrived around 10:30 pm we sat on our room patio and talked about what we would do in the morning. We didn’t talk long because our day would begin at 7 am, the earliest we could get breakfast.

I briefed the day at breakfast next morning, the students took tests and filled out forms, and then we walked beside the beach to the dive center for more forms and equipment, which we donned and walked to the pool. The plan was to get through as many of five pool modules as we could that morning, make the last dive of the day at 3 pm, then wrap up the pool modules that afternoon, and complete the course with three dives the following day.

As often happens, things don’t necessarily go to plan. It’s not unusual for people to take time to overcome instincts when breathing underwater, and aptitude for scuba depends to some extent on people’s prior experience snorkeling. Mohammed and Abdulhameed had purchased new ScubaPro snorkels with balls in the tip. I remember this design in my youth. The idea was that the ping pong ball (which is what they used in the 50’s) would lightly sit on the tip and prevent water getting in while allowing air through. But ScubaPro had designed some special ball that kept getting stuck and preventing air flow. It complicated our pool work, along with other acclimatization problems.

As a result we had to scale back our plan. By the time of the 4 pm dive both students had qualified to do their PADI o/w dive #1, but Mohammed would need more practice in the pool to allow him to do the next two dives. To top things off the long morning in the unshaded pool and not anticipating how much drinking water we would need left Abdulhameed too dehydrated to go on the Friday dive.  So just Mohammed and ended up as buddies on the late-afternoon trip to Three Rocks, along with Bobbi, Jay, and Greg Raglow, who has been joining us on some of our dives lately.



The dive on Three Rocks was at maximum depth 12 meters. This is the site we used to call the Pinnacles, and we used to drive our cars there at night and swim east to the exposed rocks for our night dives. We’ve met some stiff currents there in our many dives there, but today the sea was benign. A troupe of batfish have taken residence on the south east corner, and there are schools of other fish, pipe fish, morays, and even glass shrimp in some of the crevices.

That night over dinner (back at the easy-breezy Bahari again) we decided the best option for Mohammed and Abdulhameed was to go for the PADI Scuba Diver certification as a plan B. It’s 60% of the o/w course, requires 3 pool modules and two dives, plus certain flexible skills in the ocean and pool, and can be converted to PADI o/w by simply carrying on with the course later.

We were joined at dinner by Naira, who had completed hercourse the week before, and her boyfriend Chris, also a diver, visiting from Switzerland. They had arranged to dive at Nomad, diving Dibba Rock Saturday and Sunday. Naira, who was taking Sunday off work to dive there with Chris, reported seeing three sharks at once there on Sunday, when there wouldn’t have been so many people around.


Dibba Rock was where we went with Divers Down at 9 a.m. Saturday. We put in at the east mooring and went down the rope in fairly clear water. As we dropped on the rocks there a green moray wriggled across the plateau looking for a hole to hide in. We circled the rock looking for one of the snorkels which had been lost on descent (poor ScubaPro snorkel holder design as well, what’s wrong with the old reliable rubber bands, the real snorkel ‘keepers”). We decided it had been picked up by other divers from our boat (it had) and after completing our skills, we headed into the valley that led to the sand flat where the rays hang out. 

We were lucky. We came across two rays. We also encountered a fish pot that had a pair of hungry morays in it and a few stressed fish finding it difficult to maintain the eternal game of evading the morays in such close proximity, with nowhere to shelter.

The way forward after our dive would also be stressful. The sun was intense and hot, and the sea was salty on the throat, so it was only Mohammed who joined me for open water flexible skills in deep water just off the beach (we had had the boat drop us near the edge of the swim area). We got these out of the way and returned to shore. But Mohammed still needed to complete some confined water module 3 skills before we could officially do a PADI o/w dive #2 and complete his PADI Scuba Diver rating. It was not easy, and he had to complete a 200 meter swim and 10 minute float as well. But he did it. 

We did our last dive at Three Rocks, as peaceful and relaxing as the day before. Mohammed encountered problems but kept his cool and worked through each in exactly the way that he had been trained to do over the past two days. I was quite proud of him when he completed his last flexible skill, a snorkel – regulator exchange on the surface, and we got him back on the boat a certified diver.






Saturday, May 21, 2016

Busy weekend certifying 3 open water divers Naira, Alfredo, and Rodrigo, and Cheryl Advanced o/w at Nomad Fujairah

My logged dives #1444-1448

Friday-Sat, May 20-21, 2016

Certified divers #229-232

Been doin’ a whole lotta divin’ lately ... The weekend of May 20-21, I certified 4 divers, three in open water and one advanced, at Nomad Fujairah. On this weekend we found renowned local underwater photographer Jean Michel "Dro" Madery at Nomad Fujairah. He posted this video on Facebook and gave me permission to repost at my blog.

video

The three o/w courses were all started at Nomad Ocean Adventure in Dibba Musandam (Oman), but not completed there for one reason or another. The two Spanish divers Rodrigo and Alfredo had started the course last June on a weekend where diving was canceled one day due to bad weather.  They had trained with Roula and Jahine, two Lebanese ladies who had returned to Musandam to complete the pool training and ocean dives, but the lads were never able to complete the course despite having booked (and having to cancel) on several occasions. One of them was even caught in an odd conundrum whereby his elearning expired mid-May, before we could book him for diving, so he would have to renew his academics before he could continue his training. And his training anniversary, when he would have to repeat his training as well, was coming up in June. We consulted a course director who approved my suggestion that we allow him to complete a paper-based regime to tick in the boxes on his training record. We were up to 2:30 a.m. the night before diving, getting it done, but we were at the dive center at 8 a.m. ready to hit the pool for training, so they could finalize their open water training in dives at 12:30 and 4:30 later that day, both on Dibba Rock.

These guys were joined by Naira who had had difficulties in her first day of training on her o/w course the week before but had overcome them spectacularly and was now keen to get her open water training behind her, so she joined Alfredo and Rodrigo in the pool and on our Dibba Rock dives that afternoon. Naira had trained with Cheryl who had successfully completed her course at NoA the weekend before but wanted to join Naira when she completed hers, and she opted to do so as an advanced dive student. So I spent the morning in the pool with Naira, Alfredo, and Rodrigo, and contrived to arrange our o/w dive program so as to combine courses to include advanced o/w dives for Cheryl.



Friday afternoon, we did our first dive on Dibba Rock as an advanced boat dive for Cheryl, and as open water training dive #3 for the three open water students, each of whom had already completed dives 1 and 2. Cheryl had brought along her friend Rakesh, who was a PADI rescue diver, so I had Cheryl do the topside boat-dive requirements on the way out (she was cued to ask, when it was mentioned in the briefing, where exactly the oxygen was kept, in case it would be needed). I briefed her to be sure and do a safety stop, also required for the dive, and set her and Rakesh to carry out their dive under my indirect supervision, and focused my full attention on my open water students, and the skills they would need to perform on their dive.

I started the dive by taking Alfredo on a CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent). Instructors may not leave o/w students unattended underwater or on the surface, so my idea was to take one student, have him exhale all the way to the surface, and then be joined by the other two students, who would enter the water at that point from the boat, and we would begin the dive all together. 

This worked well, but it would only produce two CESAs in two dives that day, so I was planning to finish Naira's the next day (Alfredo and Rodrigo were leaving after certifying on Friday). But Naira had a good idea. What if, she said, I took her on the second CESA. She didn't have ear problems so she could ascend on her CESA and go back down when I got Rodrigo in the water and took the two of them down and up again. That worked well, and with the two of them back on the surface, Alfredo joined us so we could begin our second dive.

I planned the 2nd dive that day to be Cheryl’s navigation dive. The site had originally been planned for artificial reef which is ideal for navigation, but it was shifted instead to Dibba Rock, which we dived from the east mooring, near where the stingray flats are. I proposed to my divers a plan whereby all would follow me for 30 meters over the sand while Cheryl calibrated that in time and fin kicks, and then led us back to the point where we had started, the valley just below where the mooring line was fixed on the rocks nearby.I wanted to do our compass work further out over the sand where the stingrays sometimes are so I moved the group from the valley out further to a rock outcrop I thought would be recognizable and which would put our navigation legs over featureless sand. Our groups then separated. Rakesh and Cheryl went to the north 30 meters and left a plastic bottle at the end of that leg, then returned on the reciprocal heading to the starting point. I took the open water students and had them navigate to the east. 30 meters is a little long for open water students to navigate, but they maintained their headings, and I dropped a bottle full of sand 30 meters east and, the o/w students navigated the reciprocal heading to meet up with Cheryl and Rakesh at the outcropping. 

Cheryl then took us east to where the o/w students had dropped their bottle and recovered it fine. She then finned north to complete the 2nd leg of the square, and headed west from there to find where she had left her bottle on her out-and-back leg. We never found it. Had we not had o/w students with us I would have had us conduct a search pattern to look for it, but some had low air and we needed to get on with it, so I had her close the square by heading south 30 meters. We noticed we were heading into a current, and this was altering our ability to navigate accurately. As the current was against us, when we arrived without finding our starting point, I continued tentatively. Eventually we found where we had left the CESA line tied to the mooring rope.

We sent Alfredo and Rodrigo off as certified divers and they returned to Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile Cheryl, Rakesh, Nicki, and I kitted up for Cheryl's advanced open water night dive, which you can join in the video here:


Note to self: avoid rookie errors. Hold light in FRONT of camera to prevent shadow from the camera, duh!!  Do NOT shine dive light directly on subject.


The next day began with Cheryl's advanced deep dive at the Inchcape wreck. You can see in the video how this went. Jean Michel "Dro Madery" was on this dive and he pointed out to Cheryl and I where the large honeycomb morays were. In the same movement he curled his finger in a seahorse sign and indicated a direction. He was holding a large camera, and I didn't see the curled finger, but I recognize the place where he went next as being the home of the seahorse in the video he took, which I've copied off FB. So Cheryl and I missed the seahorse, but we saw two large honeycomb moray eels in the course of a 20 min dive on Inchcape.



Cheryl completed her Advanced o/w course with a Peak Perfomance Buoyancy Dive on our final dive of the day, on Dibba Rock. We started at the Aquarium mooring, west side of the rock. I had briefed her on the dive beforehand, and she carried out the skills outlined in the briefing. Diving as a newly certified o/w student, Naira was getting quite comfortable in the water as well.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Open Water Dive Course for Cheryl Bradley and Naira Khalid from Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam

My logged dives #1440-1443

Friday-Sat, April 29-30, 2016

I started writing this in the car at 17:45 having just left Nomad Ocean Adventure after a taxing weekend training two open water divers and finding the tailback at the border that used to be a speed bump with no control to stretch for over a kilometer. We were going to be there a while, so I knocked this out while waiting.


Molly Carter, who completed both her open water and advanced courses with me, insisted her two colleagues Naira and Cheryl take their open water dive course from me and so we set it up to meet Thu Apr 28 at Nomad Ocean Adventure. Bobbi and I arrived first and relaxed while waiting and when the ladies arrived and checked into their room we went to the majlis for paperwork. It was dark when we went to the pool to get them fitted into dive gear, and darker still when we finally started the module one training. We worked on it till ten at night. Naira had a problem needing time and acclimatization to overcome and we decided to leave it till morning.

We found there was a problem with the border not delivering permits till 9:30 am Friday and Chris decided to set the dive time back two hours next day to 11 am rather than 9, which would be good for Naira and Cheryl since we'd have an extra couple of hours to complete modules 2 and 3 in the pool next morning. So we decided to sleep an hour late and meet at 7 for training (usually we start at 6). Once in the  pool, we worked on completing module 1 for Naira, but module 2 with its mask removal and replacement needed more time than we had, so we got only Cheryl through the two modules she needed to in order to do her o/w 1 and 2 dives that day. Naira tried really hard, but eventually we had to get ready for boating. I told her I would try to take her for more training in calm water during the surface interval between dives.

So it was just Cheryl and I on the first dive at Lima Rock north. Greg Raglow was with us and he and Bobbi went on ahead while Cheryl and I were making our way down to 12 meters. Lima is always a nice dive. On this day we saw squids that turned iridescent in front of our cameras, and coy morays in the rocks. We avoided the currents that would take us to the barracudas at the points.  Greg and Bobbi were doing the same, turned around when they felt current, and we met up with them mid-way for easy peaceful diving.

See the video above ^

Naira had gone snorkeling for experience while we were under water, and when we exited the water, people were eating lunch on board, so we didn’t move to a place where I could take Naira for confined water work during the surface interval. When the boat eventually moved it took us to the next dive site at Ras Sanut, or Wonderwall. We went to a shallow cove where the staff suggested Naria and Cheryl get down together and the boat would move more toward the point, drop other divers, and come back for Naira, so I could take Cheryl for her second dive. I couldn’t take Naira for an actual dive as she had not yet mastered mask clears.

It seemed a bit complicated but turned out to be a good move for all of us. We started in water we could stand in and went into just a couple of meters, but there were a lot of fish there and we just moved up and down the shallows as if in a swimming pool. We spent half an hour just letting Naira try out an authentic but controlled environment before I went up to see what was going on with Hassan, the boatman, and found him waiting for us there.  We escorted Naira to the boat and Cheryl and I went down for her o/w dive number two. We saw a big turtle on that excursion.

Naira was transformed. She said she had had to clear her mask while she was following us around, and had managed it. She was eager to try it out in the pool where we got back to port. We went straight to the pool after diving.

The water in the pool was cool and refreshing. We started with the 200 meter swim. After that we did the duck diving exercise before putting on shorties and carrying on with our confined water work.

Cheryl had to complete the last two modules in order to do her last two ocean dives on Saturday and we set for Naira the goal of completing the mask clear in modules 1 and 2 and then doing what Cheryl had done that morning in order to do the first two dives of her course on Saturday.

Things went well after that. Naira had successfully overcome instinct and was able to clear the water from her mask without having to surface, so we moved her on to module two, where she now had to take her mask off and breathe for a minute without it before putting it back on and clearing the mask. She had cracked it now. She completed this skill with greatly improved confidence and competence.

We decided to push on into the night to complete all our confined water work in preparation for our dives the next day. For Naira, this would be what she had done with Cheryl earlier that day: establish neutral buoyancy and hover, give air to a diver using alternate air source and swim with that person, respond to air depletion by taking a buddy’s alternate air source, swimming, and surfacing with it, and finally horizontally simulating a controlled emergency swimming ascent.

To complete her final confined water module, Cheryl needed to do a different skill set. She needed to descend and remove and replace weights, remove and replace her scuba unit underwater, complete the last flexible skill of removing a low pressure inflator, and beforehand plan a simulated dive which would include her reviewing at least one previous skill.

This made it interesting. In order to complete the last module Cheryl had to plan the sequence of events that would cover all the agendas, and this is what we came up with. We would enter the water with a giant stride. The ladies would check each other for appropriate weighting. We would descend and set Naira to working on her hover and I would demonstrate and assist Cheryl with weight removal and replacement. Naira was able to hover much faster than anticipated so she observed and assisted while I demonstrated and Cheryl executed a BCD removal and replacement. We had decided next that Cheryl would review the skill of alternate air source breathing by taking Naira’s air, and Naira conducted her around the pool for several meters. Now Cheryl would do the low pressure hose removal on her own bcd, and resume swimming. I used the opportunity to trim Naira as well and with both ladies swimming neutrally buoyant I stopped Naira and shut off her air supply in the back. She knew to breathe until her air ran out and then go for Cheryl’s alternate air source. Both ladies were aware that neither of them would have use of their low pressure inflators, Cheryl’s because she had disconnected it, and Naira’s because she thought her air was switched off (I had actually turned it back on, literally behind her back). Therefore when they reached the surface on the ascent both would have to establish positive buoyancy using oral inflation. The ballet was choreographed well, and it was a pleasure to watch the ladies carry it out on the basis of Cheryl’s planning. They were both ready for the ocean now.

We finished the module with Naira’s CESA simulation, exited the pool, cleaned and stowed our gear, and went to dinner. We could sleep late in the morning, till almost 8 a.m. We were told we would be leaving the center at 9 a.m. for the boat to depart at 9:30. But at 9:30 there were people still in the swimming pool. Our group went to the harbor anyway where we were first on the boat. We had half an hour to organize our things and review our plan for the day before the others arrived. When they did, we were on our way by 10:30.

The dives went well. Both ladies showed they had learned a lot in 2 days of training. We dived from the Kayak Beach at Ras Morovi, starting in water shallow enough to stand in. But we moved to deeper water where both ladies did their required exercises for their course, and we swam against current to the crayfish cave where unfortunately none were home. That reef is beautiful though, full of teeming blue triggers. We followed the current over the saddle where the ladies pointed out morays for me to film. Turning north we headed over the cabbage coral, found no turtles, but saw a cowtail ray scurry ahead of us, disappearing more than once into the milky haze that reduced vis on this dive. We ended the dive with a CESA for Cheryl, which she conducted brilliantly from 7 meters.



The boat picked up Naira and left Cheryl and I to complete most of her surface work, so that the next dive, again on Ras Sanut, Cheryl had only to plan the dive and how we would work it around Naira’s o/w dive 2 requirements. We started with a compass navigation exercise at the surface for Naira so that she would have practice for a similar exercise under water. Down below we found a distinctive arched coral with a feather star sticking up from it and went 12 kick cycles south from that. There was a significant current pushing east so when the ladies turned around I tried to get them to hurry back north, since any delay was going to push us off our return leg. They delayed some and passed to the east of the rock on return and I thought they weren’t counting fin kicks but then they stopped and looked around. I pointed out the rock, predictably just up current from us.

We continued our dive with the current, constrained by PADI standards to going just 12 meters deep on Naira's ow dive 2. The current picked up as we neared the point, an interesting experience for beginning dive students. Here we encountered jacks and a few barracuda passing overhead. I had coached the ladies on dumping air as we went up the reef to our safety stop at 5 meters, a depth where a 5 mm wetsuit can become unexpectedly buoyant. They did a fine job coping with the current which at the end threatened to sweep us off the reef. But they stayed together and stayed down, and Naira was able to do her last exercise, surface on alternate air source, perfectly.