Friday, October 9, 2015

A day in the life of a diver in Musandam: Octopus Rock and Lima Rock South

My logged dives #1388-89

After an exhausting work week I was happy to get home at 1:30 on Thursday, get packed, and get rolling on the highway through Shwaib to Madam, Dhaid, Masafi, and Dibba where we pitched up at the border and waited for Sampat to come along with our permits. It was hardly busy when we crossed just at dusk. Alcohol? the guard asked. "No," I replied. "I will check," his compatriot asserted. "Tfudel" I said, indicating the car. Be my guest. The guard handed back my papers through the window. His compatriot made no move to leave his kiosk and carry out inspection, so we drove on through the border and arrived at Nomad Ocean Adventure 5 minutes later.

We were looking forward to a chill weekend, starting right after a quick 5 km jog down to the Golden Tulip at the end of the beach and back again. Sweaty from our jog we relaxed in the pool. Buffet dinner was served by the time we exited and showered. There weren't many people around. Those who were went to bed early. Bobbi and I stayed online for a while in the commons room and then went to bed and right to sleep.

Next day the weather was ideal for diving, still balmy out, no need for warm clothes on the boat the hour out and back to and from the dive sites. Our first dive was at Octopus Rock, what we used to call The Stack. Most people like the dive and it's a treat to go there because it attracts currents, so we usually don't go when there are any students on the boat. 

Even today Hassan, the dive guide for the day, almost didn't take us there because there were two open water divers on board. But one had had over 300 dives, his friend just 35, but in the end Hassan took us there, for a very pleasant dive.

Because I was diving with two ladies who hardly breathe air, Kelly Harris had joined Bobbi and I that morning, I got to play with the site and vary from my usual route. When the current is lax I like to keep the rock on the right and lead north into the descending ridges to the north of the rock, then move to the north-heading ridge and follow that, reef on the left. We get down to around 20 meters as we round it and come back up its other side heading south. The trick then is to know where to pop over the ridge so as to swim across sand back to Octopus Rock just to the east. This is sometimes where we end our dive when some in our group run low on air, so we circle the rock at decreasing depth letting those who need to go to the surface.

Today it was a little different. There was current present so I led the the east, Octopus Rock on our left. If the current had been strong we could have escaped to the ridges running to depth in that direction and hidden from it that way. But today it let us work our way to the north past schools of trigger fish and fusiliers. We kept a reasonable depth 15-18 meters as we crossed the north of the rock and kept heading west to the next ridge over, where i found an intimidating chameleon scorpion fish. Then we swam slowly to where that ridge lets us round it and came up its back side. There were more triggers here, and jacks, and as we popped over the ridge I came down on a batfish being cleaned by wrasse. Visibility was good and we could see Octopus Rock just over the sand. That's not always the case, sometimes I just go blind to the east. 

But this brought us to the rock where again there is abundant fish-life, especially the blue triggers, and some morays, including  a large honeycomb eel.

My group were just coming down to 100 bar here so I felt we could explore a little to the east of the rock. I led us that way to the nearest finger of ridge that plunged invitingly to depth. It was too late in the dive to go to the sand and easy to get disoriented without paying close attention to a compass. But our way back was west so I led in that direction and came out just south of the rock. Now we could expend time and gas spiraling up and around the rock, where batfish moved in close to check us out.

I've been to the dentist a couple of times in the last year over a decayed molar. The first time was last Christmas, an emergency with pain that the dentist resolved by cutting away the rotted parts, leaving a hole in my tooth. It never really gave problems after that and the college I work for does not provide dental insurance, so I never went in for the root canal work the doctor had intended to do. But ten months later, it started to become annoying, I was constantly having to remove food bits from the hole, so I went in to have that cemented over just last week. Now on this dive, I came up with pain in my tooth but thought it was from the way I was biting on the regulator. In any event, the pain went away over lunch on the boat, and on the next dive I was careful to bite on the regulator mouthpiece in my good jaw, and even held the hose in such as way that would position the reg in my mouth so I could better do this.

The second dive was on Lima Rock South. We started from the west end of the rock intending to dive to the east point with the reef on our left. Hassan thought the current would be less than at Octopus Rock and when he entered the water he said it was pushing to the east, the way we wanted to go. Other divers entering the water said the visibility beneath us was excellent.

We found that to be the case when we finally went in. I was last in and was swimming to join Kelly and Bobbi when some snorkelers by the boat told me I had dropped my tank banger and they could see it on a rock ten meters below. At about that moment the two open water divers surfaced and shouted to us that they wanted to join us. I wanted to retrieve my rod while I could see it, so I dropped down to get it. I saw Bobbi and Kelly above and saw that they had thought through the fact that they should join me rather than expect me to surface. I also saw the open water divers following behind them.

Actually it was only one o/w diver. His buddy had had ear problems and had aborted the dive (he was all the time on the boat puffing on a e-cigarette device, likely the cause of his sinus issues). The one with the 300 dives had no buddy and was joining us. This was inappropriate because we were not diving his profile. O/w divers are limited to 18 meters. Everyone else on the boat could exceed that.

I was told later that this diver joined yet another group, and signaled to Bobbi what he was doing. In any event he wasn't with us when we pushed down to 26 meters. We gradually ascended along the boring wall and soon came up on the gap before the point. 

The current had been pushing us to and fro, an exhausting sort of dive, but we all had over 100 bar when we found ourselves being swept off the point at around 16 meters, except for an old fishnet I knew was there and directed everyone down to so we could hold on in the current. The fish life is often exciting here, but today not so. We were joined by some very curious bat fish, you'll meet them in the video, and a school of jacks was congregated just off the point. I didn't dare swim over to them. It looked like that would be a one-way trip.

It was all we could do to pull on rocks and fin back against the current and find 10 and then 5 meters in lighter current back from the point to do a safety stop in. Here again we were annoyed by batfish :-) just kidding. Marvelous creatures!  We surfaced at 51 minutes, the ladies both at 50 bar, me a bit less. The ladies didn't seem to enjoy the dive all that much, too stressful, unpredictable.

I had a problem again with tooth pain. It was very uncomfortable on the boat ride back and I didn't feel like talking. But it had subsided a bit by the time we reached harbor, and that evening, I felt up for another jog to the Golden Tulip and back. It was clearly caused by an air bubble in the space beneath the cap on my tooth expanding on the ascent from 26 meters to the surface, an almost four-fold expansion. We were all contemplating aborting diving the next day but I decided I'd give it the night and maybe it would go anyway.

However the night was not all that comfortable. I had arrived on Thursday with a tooth in stable condition and after the air bubble expansion, my tooth was throbbing in the night. I had no way of knowing what depth was causing the problem, if a two-fold expansion from 10 meters to the surface was dangerous, or if 15 meters was too much. I decided during wakeful moments that night that I would not dive the next day, and Bobbi and I departed that morning.

If we had made that decision the evening before, Kelly was talking like she would leave as well. The dives had not been that great on the Friday. However, next morning as long as she was there, she decided to stay. So we didn't dive Saturday and she did. While posting this blog, we read this on Facebook, from Kelly's dive on Saturday.:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fun diving with sharks, turtles, and rays off Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1386-87

Our good friend Nicki Blower has just eased back into UAE after a brief exit and so for our Eid staycation or playcation Bobbi and I decided to have her down to Al Ain for a couple of nights. When she arrived on Wednesday we took her for a jog in Jimi and Al Qattara oases and then got her up at 5 a.m. for a drive over to Dibba for diving on Thursday. We drove back Thursday evening because all the accommodation on that side as much as quadruples in price during Eid holidays, and we had an all you can eat fish dinner at the Danat Hotel in Al Ain that evening rather than pay the exorbitant accommodation costs in Dibba. Next day Friday we took her to the bus station for her ride back to Abu Dhabi and retrieved our car from Danat parking, and came home and blogged our dives.

Diving on Dibba Rock is bouncing back. Visibility was great for the 9:30 dive, where we were just four on the boat, Bobbi, Nicki, and I plus a lady named Anastasia from Moscow whom we were assigned to guide. She enjoyed her dives, claimed to see two sharks and a turtle rather than one shark the rest of us saw on that dive, but the three of us saw the sharks and turtles and rays when we went diving again on Dibba Rock at 1:30 that afternoon. We saw much more besides, as you can see as well from our video. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Diving Musandam for Dan Miles's 100th Dive

My logged dives #1382-85

Dan Miles got in touch recently to ask if we would accompany him and Molly Carter on Dan's 100th ever dive. The timing was over the weekend before eid break, not ideal for us, but we're never sure of our eid holidays until the last minute.  In the event, it turned out my school was indeed out for the whole week (so this trip comprised the most fun part of our eid vacation) but for Dan and Molly, it turned out their anticipated Tue, Wed, Thu holiday was shortened to just two days, Wed and Thu, for most schools in the UAE.  Good thing we went diving when we did.

We made arrangements to spend the weekend at Nomad Ocean Adventures, and Dan's 100th dive was our second on the Friday, which happened to be at Lima Rock. Molly and Dan had prepared a banner for the occasion which they unfurled as we descended on the dive. Fortunately I had a camera handy, or perhaps that's why they asked me along :-)

Dives on Lima Rock can be challenging. This one was not bad for current but there was enough of one to make us be careful as we explored the point, but not enough to lure the fishes in great numbers. We saw a few jacks and batfish, but no barracudas or devil rays, no eagle rays darting out suddenly as sometimes happens. Molly did quite well with current and buoyancy (I certified her recently and blogged it here:

Our first dive of the day was actually our best. It was off Ras Morovi, north side. Brad proposed to drop in to the east of the bay and lead the divers west into the bay and then north at the far side. Bobbi and I did the same except that we started our dive heading east to deeper water as far as what I call the quarry, an alcove that looks like it was quarried from the surrounding rock. It's on the video. We found a honeycomb moray on that side and a marble ray under a rock. Back into the bay we passed over table coral and found a feather-tail ray in the sand. On the way to the surface we found many crayfish in the rocks, including one wandering about outside his lair. Nice dive.

The next day our first dive was at Lulu Island, which is sometimes home to eagle rays, but on this day there was not much home apart from a scorpion fish and some morays. The current was strong as we rounded the ridge and the dive was not all that pleasant although the last of it where we escaped the current in the coral gardens to the south of the island was pretty for diving.  I'm not sure if I'll put the video up at YouTube; thinking about it, but not right now.

Our last dive was at Ras Hamra. It was a lovely dive as you can see from the video below and included an encounter with a circling turtle.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fun diving Daymaniyat Islands, the usual buddies and a leopard shark

My logged dives #1378-81

Another September rolls around and was time again to go diving with our usual group of friends from around the UAE for this time of year. Jay Fortin kicks us off by announcing he'll be flying in from Bahrain, and David Muirhead and Bruce Ora agree to meet him wherever he wants to dive. Same as for this time last year, we chose Daymaniyats in Oman

Rhea Lynn had just moved from UAE to Muscat but was pleased to drive the two hours west to meet us coming down three hours heading southeast. Kelly Harris drove down to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi and rode the rest of the way with Bobbi and I. Walter Crammerstetter turned up with his lady Roberta, and a few others I hadn't met before joined us as well. 

The weather showed a moderate breeze from the north which could be a problem when diving from a sandy beach facing that direction, according to Windyty for Daymaniyat Islands,23.785,58.586,10
except we would be diving from a proper marina, and there was no swell, both good signs, and in the end, we had no problem:

Euro-Divers had just abandoned their base at Al Sawadi Beach Resort, which was gouging them on commission for using the premises to the point where they had decided to shift operations to the Millennium Hotel in Mussanah, Oman, 30 minutes by boat or car from the resort. At this writing Al Sawadi is now without a dive center for the first time in recent memory. Mussanah is that much closer to us in UAE but that much farther out of Muscat, and a twice as long a boat ride from the western Daymaniyats as well, see map 

Because of this it was not possible to persuade Euro-Divers to take us even further away to the Aquarium or Police Rock. Even when diving from Al Sawadi the preponderance of our diving has been in the western Daymaniyats, Sira, Jun, Waleed Jun. Those are great sites but we've dived them dozens of times. It's less likely diving from Mussanah that we'll be able to break that routine. The alternative is to add two hours to our drive time, 4 hours round trip, to use the operators in the Seeb / Muscat area, whose focus will be on the eastern Daymaniyats.

We caught Euro-Divers at a transition time, one of their boats had just been sent to port to fix a faulty fuel pump, the boat they were able to send for us was a little rickety (e.g. top canopy jury rigged and unstable, a supporting bar worked itself loose, fell unexpectedly, and hit Bobbi square on the head, not good to let that happen to the wife of a blogger :-). Stan, the graying but ramrod fit French dive pro, was fun to dive with in the end but annoyed us at first with trying to keep everyone strictly together at the surface (became a problem in current) before descending en mass, though he lightened up as we all learned to get along during the course of the weekend. 

One thing we all love about diving locally is the operators mostly know us, we know the sites, and as long as we all get back on the surface in an hour everyone is happy. This is what I have come to realize is my greatest disappointment in diving internationally, the control they place on you, which I accept and understand to be necessary, since they don't know you and deal with a lot of characters ranging from inept to cowboy. But diving on our turf, it's usually a different atmosphere, we are trusted, the guides take a laisez-faire approach, we are all responsible and usually follow the same current anyway. 

In retrospect, overall, Stan did his best with what he had and I hope to dive with him again. For the record, Oman Sail also runs dive trips from the Millennium marina and has good reviews on Trip Advisor:

As we continued our dives, I found I stuck pretty close to Stan. He knew the sites well, enjoyed diving as much as I do, and was good at finding the micro critters. Hopefully as Euro-Divers settles into the Millennium they'll get their boats in order, not tell people they don't have gas to to get to the farther dive sites (the remedy for that is carry more gas, assess a per-diver surcharge if you have to, if it's competitive).

As for the diving, it was excellent. We started on Jun Island, north side, heading west with the reef on our left, and winding up in the bay with the white sand beach we aren't suppose to go onto, except some people do. The next dive was on the small island to the east, Waleed Jun.

Next morning Stan chose Sira for us, which started out with a leopard shark and ended shallow over lovely table coral. Our next dive was in the part of Waleed Jun where the artificial reef has become overgrown with table coral. 

The video above speaks for itself, - it's a compilation of best clips from the four dives over the two days.

Bobbi and Rhea were glad to be diving together again

Euro-Divers website shows a lovely manta on its blurb for Oman We see devil or mobular rays there sometimes, but never mantas.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fun diving on Dibba Rock with Nomad Fujairah - and some sharks

My logged dive #1377

Bobbi and I hadn't been diving in a while. We avoided diving during our summer holiday, passing some time in Spain where I presented at a conference, and even though we spent some time in Malaysia, in Penang, for our son, Dusty's wedding to Michelle on Batu Farrenghi. It was the wrong time of year for diving on Lankawi just to the north of there, and we had reason to fly to Hong Kong, so we went there instead, and found we enjoyed it quite a bit. We were back in UAE in time for  our 40th wedding anniversary celebration, which we celebrated starting Thursday in Abu Dhabi and carried on non-stop through our actual anniversary Saturday, Aug 15, enjoying our favorite hotels and haunts in Abu Dhabi.

The next weekend I had planned to finish up a dive course for a couple of students at Nomad Ocean Adventure who cancelled, but Bobbi and I went ahead, driving over Thu Aug 20, and finding Lauren and Brad at Nomad had prepared a 40th anniversary (cup) cake for us, as well as treating us to a night on Nomad in one of the "chalets" there, a treat to be savored after a long first week back at work. Morning however dawned with news of high winds and whitecaps in the Lima area, and after calling up to Lima and checking and re-checking conditions several times, the diving in Musandam was cancelled.

But Nomad have just started a business south of the border at Royal Beach in Fujairah, where Freestyle divers used to be, so we decided to drive over there, though crossing the border back to UAE would be a 1-way trip due to the overly-complex permit system that stipulates single entry only on the day specified in the permit. When we arrived at Nomad at 11 am, about half an hour by car, the boat had just left for the Inchcape wreck, not that we wanted to go there, and it gave us time to have lunch at the Royal Beach restaurant before kitting up for a dive at 1300.

For best viewing, toggle your YouTube settings to HD. See how using this screen shot

Since diving was cancelled on the Musandam side, all the divers had left there, but few followed us over to Dibba, just a student who could complete her open water course on Dibba Rock with AB, her instructor, and Jean-Luc Fadou, a friendly French diver who had often been with us on boat trips to Musandam. Following our old habits, Bobbi and I had got on the boat before everyone else and were sitting there all kitted up when the dive pro came aboard to let us know we were missing our briefing back on shore. But he seemed prepared to let it go, and just informed us that our dive time would be 40 minutes. Dibba Rock is a very shallow site and when I expressed suprise, he said, no problem, how long would you like to dive? I said, an hour, the pro agreed to so inform the boatman, and when we passed that information on to Jean-Luc, he asked if he could join us as a threesome. So we wouldn't inconvenience the others, we made sure we were first in the water.

That's not all that had changed at Dibba Rock. The old 8 meter mooring was no longer there and the new one on that side was just near the rock in the shallows off the east side of the island. According I changed my plan. I had planned to go deep to 8 meters and then out in the sand to look for rays, then double back to the shallow side of the rock and look for sharks that often like to cruise in the very shallow water there, just one or two meters. Since we were dropped in the shallows I decided to make the near side of the rock our first destination, possibly circumvent the rock, and come up on the rays at the end of the dive.

So in the video above you see us swimming very shallow keeping an eye out for sharks, but then finding them, several of them, in deeper water to the northwest of the rock. They were a pleasant surprise. If you wish to see them clearly in the video, toggle your YouTube settings to HD. See how to do this using this screen shot

We carried on around the back side of the island but didn't find much apart from a couple of coy cuttlefish. We avoided going deep due to the chill below the thermocline (I was wearing only lycra and rash vest, it was 30 degrees toward the surface). I found a gap into the shallows leading to where we had dropped in at the start of the dive but again due to the chill I tried to follow the ridge around on the inside where it was shallow and warm. It seemed the ridge did not cooperate, it never turned south so I went that way on my compass over sand. I began to suspect I had overshot the ridge and turned west to come out on some reefs that turned out to be not the ones I was looking for. I was confused and it was near the end of the dive, but heading the way I was leading we came out on some attractive coral and surfaced right at 60 minutes on my computer.

Late that night I was going over the dive in my sleep. I awoke to realize that we were too shallow when I had turned west to try to find the reef from that direction.  I should have turned east and then I would have found the deeper water and perhaps the rays. I'll know next time :-)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Completed the PADI Open Water Course in Musandam, dives 3 & 4 for Jihaine Alibi and Roula Rbeiz

My logged dives #1375-1376
Divers certified #225-226

Bobbi and I flew in from Barcelona on a red-eye from Berlin, arriving in Abu Dhabi Thursday morning at 6 a.m. There was no one at immigration hardly and our bags came up quickly on the carousel. We grabbed one of those expensive airport limousines outside, the only option now at AUH, but only took it a few kilometers to Khalifa City Women's College, the HCT branch where we had arranged to leave our car. An hour and a half later, about a quarter after 8 a.m., we were home in Al Ain. We dropped into bed and slept until 3 pm.

We caught up on household matters that night and next morning drove the three hours over to Dibba to meet Jihaine Alibi and Roula Rbeiz with intent to finish their pool work that day at Nomad Ocean Adventure, and dive the next. All worked out well, and we were bathed before dusk and ready to enjoy an enjoyable social evening with our many friends there, especially Steven Board showing us the ebook he was creating containing his underwater still photos, remarkable. We slipped away early though and had another great sleep.

Next morning, we were on the boat in mid-summer 43 degree heat, chugging down water, and cooling off only when the boat got under way. But seas were smooth out to the dive site. We had chosen Ras Morovi as the first destination because it is so benignly shallow, yet interesting for divers of all levels. We had also agreed to set up a CESA buoy at our first lunch stop so that we could conduct our last dive at Lima Rock.

We started with skills in the sand in the back of the bay at Ras Morovi. The ladies are both superstars at hovering and got though that skill just fine. There was some anxiety over mask clearing but this too was performed to perfection by both students, and we started our dive. Buoyancy was good and under control and the visibilty was excellent. Ras Morovi begins with a lovely reef teeming with fishes and turns a corner shallow to where large crayfish can sometimes be found in the crevices of a cave there, as can be seen on the video. The video shows another diver videoing a pipefish and ignoring a blue trigger fish that appears to be guarding an egg nest, as it's quite agitated.  Next up, a school of squids practicing underwater ballet, and a moray flexing his jaws as we were about to enter our safety stop and submersible marker buoy deployment.

Bobbi had an accident climbing the ladder after the dive. She slipped and gashed her shin, but first aid was brought to bear and she was patched up well, but would have to sit out the next dive. After dealing with that we rounded the headland to the bay at Ras Morovi where lunch was served and I set about finding a fish trap in exactly 6 meters of water with a rope trailing off it to the surface, ideal for CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent. 

When the ladies had completed their CESA we motored over to Lima Rock North for our last dive. We began ours with about half an hour of surface work that no one else on the dive boat complained about later (I guess they must have waited for us for half an hour after their dives since we were down 52 minutes once we started diving, tolerant of them not to say anything). We took our time descending to work out ear problems but reached the sand bottom finally and started exploring. Visibility was almost like a pool and I pulled out my camera to record some fish life, but it wouldn't switch on. I had just recharged it but I think what I did was switch it on afterwards to check that the SD card was there and probably forgot to turn it off. I didn't check it before diving (wish I had). I also wish I had taken my other camera, but the last time I went diving with two cameras I grabbed the wrong one as an eagle ray flew by and missed the shot because that camera was switched off, so I deliberately left the one with some remaining charge behind. Live and learn.

Anyway this dive was spent descending, finding more crayfish, and then me remembering last time we were here the sand just got deeper and deeper as we went with the reef on our right, so I reversed us to about where we had put in and started having the ladies do compass work. We finished that right as one diver hit 50 bar so we ascended slowly and came out on a turtle nestled into a rock ledge right at 5 meters, a lovely place to do a safety stop. The turtle stayed where he was the whole time. I wish my camera had been working as it was shallow, with great vis, and would have made a colorful shot, green turtle, purple coral.

Bobbi saw two turtles from the boat she said later. We were surprised on surfacing to see that the seas had increased (actually, as predicted by the UAE weather authorities) and we rode home in salt spray. Bobbi and I had been considering staying the next day for more diving but we had to get her to an emergency room to clean her wound properly. It wasn't really an emergency so we drove back to Al Ain for it (though we did stop at the Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital just off the 311 highway at the end of the truck road - it had big red emergency signs but when we followed them we found the ER was closed - I think they meant it had not yet opened, as this is a brand new hospital).  Anyway we ended up at Ain Al Khaleej Hospital around the corner from our house in Al Ain where the staff there glued  (yes, glued!) Bobbi's wound back together, after congratulating us on having properly treated it at the site of the accident.

We found out next day when Bobbi emailed Nomad to tell them everything had turned out well with her wound that the boats had put out next morning but had been forced back after just one dive due to worsening seas, so we were not that disappointed that we couldn't stay. 

Meanwhile enjoy the video, and congratulations to Jihaine and Roula, whom I hope to see again soon on an advanced course.

You can find the logs of the first two dives of Roula and Jihaine's course here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fun diving Musandam with Bobbi, Molly Carter, Dan Miles, Bruce Ora, and David Muirhead

My logged dives #1371-1374

I had an open water course planned June 19-20 at Nomad Ocean Adventures Musandam for 5 students who postponed, so ended up diving with these guys

  1. Bruce Ora, PADI Instructor
  2. Vance Stevens, PADI instructor
  3. David Muirhead, PADI divemaster
  4. Dan Miles, PADI divemaster
  5. Bobbi Stevens, PADI rescue
  6. Molly Alice, o/w

Here’s the video:

Bobbi and Vance joined David Muirhead, Bruce Ora, Molly Alice Carter, and Dan Miles for a weekend of beating the June summer heat in UAE with the wet and wild of the waters off Musandam Oman. This video compilation exerpts dives on Lima Rock, Ras Morovi and Ras Sanut (Wonderwall). 

Missing from the video is an eagle ray that shot overhead and into the blue off Lima Rock. I was carrying two cameras and picked up the wrong one that was switched off (and those things are fast!). Another game you can play with the video is spot the blue snorkel (hint, it WAS hiding under a turtle; it is now in my possession by right of salvage :-). Enjoy

Some of the buddies posted on Facebook