Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fun diving with Whalesharks and other impressive creatures in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventures

I've been doing a lot of diving lately but I've been working on an article for TESL-EJ which I just finished and this has put me behind  in my dive blogging. Meanwhile I've got videos still backlogged from the previous week's dive trip in May. Oon Friday / Saturday May 15 / 16 I conducted an advanced course on Dibba Rock at Blue Planet Diving.  I'm hoping to get these posts and videos up shortly, but for the record, these would be:

My logged dives #1359-1363

But this past weekend the diving was quite special, and with that article out of the way, I'm posting

May 15-16, 2015, my logged dives #1364-1367

This weekend I had long planned to conduct an open water course but one of the students had an ear problem that the doctor would not sign him off on, so both students postponed their course to June.

I went ahead to Dibba and crossed the border to the humble yet dynamic compound of Nomad Ocean Adventure. Happily and coincidentally, I chanced to meet some good friends there from Al Ain, divemaster David Muirhead, and experienced instructors Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire, and I was invited onto their boat. We departed next day for Lima Rock, which we dived on both Friday and Saturday. There had been whalesharks spotted in the vicinity the past few weeks and when the whalesharks are around, there's always the chance we will see one. The visibility was as good as I've seen it for a long time. Check out this video:

This video is a compilation of a stunning dive conducted on Friday, when we swam with a whaleshark, and one on Saturday where we saw an eagle ray but no whale sharks (though there was one seen that day nearer shore on the headland opposite Lima Rock, off Ras Hamra).  

Our first dive on Friday May 14 was on Ras Sanut, what we also call Wonderwall. On this day the visibility was remarkably good. The video starts with Gerry McGuire easing through the water with no wetsuit, and me in my 5 mm !!!, followed by his buddy Bruce Ora and then by my buddy, David Muirhead, who joined me in a selfie at the start of the dive. From there the diving was full of marine life, as can be seen from the video:

Below is the video from our dive on Octopus Rock May 15. Visibility was excellent and current benign. David Muirhead and I followed Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire to the east of the rock down to where the seahorses were (or as we observed, the seahorse was). David and I worked our way back up to where Abdullah was taking photos of flatworms and nudibranchs (he'd found several in a 10 meter square area). We found lots of moray eels, and batfish being cleaned by their blue wrasse friends. The dominant fish here are the blue "red-tooth" triggers, but there are jacks schooling in shallow water near the top of the rock, and I ended my dive amidst a large school of beguiling batfish. See for yourself:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fun diving Dibba Rock and Inchcape 2 with friends Jay and Robin Fortin

My logged dives #1357-1358

On May 2, 2015, I joined my friends Jay and Robin Fortin for a day of diving with Divers Down. Jay and Robin were staying at the Miramar Hotel on Al Aqah Beach, UAE, and that's where the dive shop was. We did two dives, one on Dibba Rock, and the other on Inchcape 2. These are my GoPro videos of the two  dives.

I went down on Friday and met Jay and Robin for dinner at the Miramar and then drove over to a nearby beach where I had scoped out the parking / sleeping possibilities on the way down. Nights were reasonably cool and I had the back of my 4x4 made into a bed so I could just park and crawl in it. But I had to move from my first spot because people were driving up and down there all night, even though I was parked a few hundred meters off the beach. So I moved to the beach right next to the Miramar, parked down a track leading to the beach, and slept fine there until in the morning I was awakened by the sound of car engines. This turned out to be fishermen who were using wenches on the front of those cars to haul in their nets. The net they were hauling in surrounded me on both sides of my car, I guess I was parked in their favorite fishing spot. In any event when I made ready to move they let one rope slack so I could drive over it.

I was the first customer at the Miramar for their buffet breakfast where I was joined eventually by Jay and Robin. We passed time at breakfast till time to go diving. Divers Down were making trips out and back at 9:00, noon, and 3:00, and we went on the first two trips. Visibility had been good at Dibba Rock the day before so this was their first destination. It's a place I have dived often over the years, in good times and bad, but life is bouncing back there now and it's one of the best sites again on that coastline (which really speaks to the deterioration of the other sites in the area, compared to what they used to be). Still the dive shops are packed with people wanting to go diving.

Here is my video from the Dibba Rock dive -

We returned to Divers Down base at the Miramar Hotel and switched tanks for our second dive, this one planned for the Inchcape 2. I had explained to Robin and Jay that I planned to dive this one in an unorthodox manner. We would spend about 20 minutes on the wreck, which would give us time to peruse the deck for whatever critters might be hiding there. The encrustations are home to scorpion fish, nudibranchs, seahorses, and lots of small things good at camouflage.  But after 20 minutes you'll find most of the crocodile fish and rays in the sand that are lurking there, and you'll have covered the deck from bow to stern, time to head for the coastline.

Before we went in the dive guide conducted the boat briefing which was to spend the entire time on the wreck. As people were kitting up I told him we would finish up in the bay. What I really like about diving in UAE is that you are not guided if you don't want to be. The dive guide said fine, thanks for telling him.

The wreck is slightly deeper than Robin's open water depth max so we spent little time at the bottom, but to head for shore on a s/w heading we had to stay a bit off the sand until the bottom came up to meet us. After 5 min on compass I looked around for jawfish and caught a glimpse of one just popping back in his hole because one of the other divers didn't see him in time and they are quite shy of people overhead. They are incredible creatures, live in holes, have long eel-like bodies, but the most most people see of them is their heads, which are like, as David Muirhead says, whack-a-moles. They will turn side to side checking out divers surrounding their holes. They have great mouths swarming with cleaner shrimp. When divers get to close, they go way down in their holes.

We continued into the bay finding the ubiquitous moray eels. At the back of the bay, in shallow water brilliant with light, there are some lovely table corals. It's a pretty dive, here's the video:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fun Diving Musandam at Nomad Ocean Adventure: Lima Rock, Wonder Wall, Octopus Rock, and Morovi Island

My logged dives #1353-1356

Here are some videos from a pleasant dive weekend back on home turf, or waters, or whatever that stuff was, wth Nomad Ocean Adventure, the weekend of April 17-18, 2118. We went as a group comprising Nicki Blower, Chris Gawronski, Kelly Harris, Bobbi and I, and one of my open water students, Bonnie Swesey. We were possibly diving with Bonnie for the last time for a while, since she is heading off to a new life in Honduras, where the diving is superb (so we hope to visit her there one day).

It's always good to be back home with Nomad, good food and sound sleeping, especially when our responsibilities are nothng more than to conduct safe dives. Our sites and dive times were negotiable, no one telling us where to go or when to come up, and the last day I suggested to our Nomad Pro Cedrick that we do our last dive on the outside ocean side of Morovi Island, where currents can be interesting, but there's lots of blue coral and blue triggers on a 20 meter wall with no telling what's in the sand (and he agreed, so we got to choose a rarely dived site, and Cedrick seemed quite happy with the choice - he's working at Nomad temporarily, commissioned to paint a mural of a whale shark on one of the walls there). We didn't see much on the wall ourselves, but we certainly enjoyed these dive sites:

April 17 - 

  • Dive 1 - North side of Lima Rock, decent vis and lots of interesting creatures there
  • Dive 2 - Wonderwall (Ras Sanut) poor vis, chilly, and a couple of giant rays (worth seeing)
In the video posted here, all shots are taken on Lima Rock, except the video of the huge ray at Ras Sanut, in poor visibility

April 18
Nicki was sick last day and we were joined on our dives by a lady from Finland, a petite (but tatooed) guard on the Ukraine / Russian border, down for a first visit to UAE, and discovering the diving is not bad here :-)

  • Dive 1 - Octopus Rock, always a great dive, only a slight current, great vis, great fish life

  • Dive 2 - Outer (east side) Morovi Island, good vis, tricky currents especially where we ended at the south corner, but a pretty dive. It's especially nice when you can move back north in the channel itself. We saw some baraccuda there today (they love current), and at other times rays, including eagle rays. But today the current prevented our northward progress and we had to end the dive on the corner.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fun holiday diving in Raja Ampat Indonesia April 5-9, 2015

My logged dives #1343-1352

I'm writing this on the restaurant veranda at Raja Ampat Dive Resort on an afternoon of pouring rain. Fortunately it was sunny and bright this morning for the most awesome day of diving we've done in a long time, and we even managed to get our dive gear in out of the sun as the first drops fell. But we didn't expect an hours-long deluge. My 1 GB data roaming package just ran out while we were stuck here, and we have to get our gear from where we parked it under a thatched roof up to our room so we can pack, pay up, sleep, and be off in the morning for the long haul back to Abu Dhabi. That seems to be our biggest concern while the world is dripping water outside, but hopefully the rain will pass.

We'd been looking forward to this holiday for a long time. Bobbi has become a good travel agent in her retirement. She spends weeks prior to my holidays finding the most appropriate dive locations for us and booking us into them, and this time it was Raja Ampat, just off west Iryan Jaya, a place from where many of our friends have been sending back glowing reports.

It was hard to book a place because it's Easter holidays in many parts of the world, many are traveling at this time, and in Raja Ampat most resorts expect you to stay with them for a week and don't want to talk to you if you can't meet their once-weekly pickup date. Of the few who are cheaper and more flexible, RADR boasted 24 hour electricity and flexibility on dates, and turned out to be friendly and accommodating. Their accommodation was basic (wooden cabins, no locks on doors, fan-cooled) but comfortable (beds to melt in, quiet apart from jungle noises). Food was great, and diving was as-you-like-it. They had a modem with blinking lights but no Internet the whole time we were there, but I managed to use my cell phone as a data hub for as long as my 1 GB pre-paid roaming lasted.

Unfortunately my body clock had wound down by the time we got to Raja Ampat. I was in Toronto the last week in March, in freezing temperatures. I delivered 4 presentations, and flew home soon after the last one, arriving home in Al Ain after midnight, purposely overslept work but got there as soon as I woke up, dealt with end of semester reports in addition to covering other people's classes through to end of week, came home exhausted, packed dive gear, etc, and got 4 hours sleep before having to get up to drive 1.5 hours to the airport in Abu Dhabi.

With so little time to recover from jet lag, my body protested in earnest the morning of packing the car at 5 a.m and I started to feel feverish, so I grabbed a thermometer, discovered I had a slight fever, and brought it with me to monitor my body for the rest of the trip. We drove to Abu Dhabi, parked at a sister college, took a taxi to the airport, and then caught a flight to Jakarta, delayed due to the previous day's severe dust storms in UAE. We reached Jakarta around midnight but had to get our bags through customs and sit with them in a coffee shop for some hours before boarding domestic at 5 a.m. So we missed the night's sleep and by now my fever was over 38.

It didn't help that we had to change planes in Makassar before catching one to our destination airport Sarong. That was tedious, but went ok, and RADR had sent a meet and greet to collect us on landing, but it was only to pack us in a car for a drive to the harbor, because we still had a 2-hour trip by boat to Waisai, the port on the island where the resort was. The resort was actually full the day we arrived so it had been arranged for us to be taken to a hotel in town to sleep and await pick up for diving in the morning. The hotel was basic and almost empty, but comfortable enough for a tired traveler, and sleeping there was really all I wanted to do, so worn out from the trip and feverish. However, we couldn't help but notice it was next to what looked to be a main mosque and we knew what that meant. That is we thought we knew what that meant. We thought it meant that although we were too tired to stay awake till sunset, we might be disturbed in our sleep. But our heads had no sooner hit the pillow and had wesuccumbed to the stress of the trip when at 6:05 p.m. the prayer call began on highest volume. We try to be understanding about these things and we know we are in another country, another culture, and we must be tolerant visitors, but this lasted for 1 hour 30 minutes, and we just lay through it, too weary to do anything else, even go out for food. It's probably a good thing we didn't because when it stopped we shut down as well and slept. We slept for 9 hours when at 4:30 the call resumed for morning prayer. This one lasted 45 min, by which time we needed to get up because our ride was coming at 7:00.

By now my fever was 38.5 and I knew I was not really fit for diving, but we had booked three dives for that day and I had found a web site to say that there was no need to seek medical help until a fever reached 103 F or 39.4 C. So we soldiered on despite a continuation of errors. We were greeted at the resort, moved into our cabin, handed forms to fill out, and shown onto a boat. The odd thing was we never saw any other divers there until the day we left, we had the dive shop and resort to ourselves. The only other divers we encountered there were the manager and his visiting daughter. However, the people in the accommodation the day before had gone on a trip that morning and taken all the weight. That was the first thing we noticed, we had to go to another resort to get more weight. When they got the boat started, that is, two 40 hp motors they tried one after another but the boatman knew his equipment and finally managed to squeeze enough gas and oil into the right places with the lid off both engines to get one puttering and we were off to pick up weight and rev out to the dive site.

We did the two morning dives at places called Mioskun and Friwen Bonda, good ones, with our first ever glimpse of wobbegong sharks. When I saw my first one under a rock, our dive guide Rocky reached in to grab its curly-queue tail and pull it out where I could get better pictures. I got a great shot of him doing that but another thing going wrong that day was the SD card in my camera was failing and my computer later refused to read it, nor could the GoPro recognize it after that, so all our shots were lost on our first dive. We have two Go-Pros though, each with an SD card and we usually use one the first dive, and then the next one the second. So we have the shots from our second dive, second GoPro. And after that we just kept switching the cards over so we had a camera working and fresh batteries every dive.

But my body batteries were in serious discharge. When we returned to port for lunch, I managed to get my equipment washed but it was all I could do to get back up to the room, find my fever was now 39.3, just a notch off critical, and take the decision to call off diving till further notice and go to bed. Forget the third, dive, I didn't even have lunch. Nor dinner. Nor breakfast next morning. Someone brought bananas, I didn't eat those. I only drank the cokes Bobbi brought me and I stayed in bed for 24 hours, monitoring my fever which hovered in the 38 range through the morning. Finally next afternoon, the fever broke in a sweat. I went to dinner. The manager Andy suggested we join him and his daughter for a three dive trip the next day. It would be an all-day outing, not sure if I was up for it yet, but manager's choice of dive sites sounded tempting, so we agreed.

They were great spots, starting with Manta Sandy, where there was a manta on hand to entertain the swarm of divers who were positioned behind a line of rocks in the sand. It was wonderfully entertaining, and at the end the manta came right at and over us, granting us the Facebook shot of the day. 

Back on the boat, we stopped for coffee at a shelter under construction or under dilapidation, hard to tell, on an otherwise empty beach. The idea in such stops was to not only consume coffee, but to vent nitrogen for at least an hour to have safe levels of absorbed gas in our tissues in preparation for the next dive, which at that moment was on West Monswar, not far from Kri Island. I don't remember much about that dive, will have to check the videos (ah, now I see, sharks :-), but it was Bobbi's favorite of the day because it was so full of fish. Lunch was passed on a ridiculously white sand bar with blue-green water all around, our launching point for Kri reef. Kri was reputed to be one of the most colorful reefs around, probably superb as a morning dive, but afternoon vis and light took its toll, I was coughing during the dive, and for my first day after serious illness it was one dive too many.

Rocky, our first-day guide, proposed another three dive day for a us next day, but I was concerned about having another 3 dive all day outing. So again we accepted when the manager invited us to accompany him and his daughter on a trip to the passage next day. The Passage ... We envisaged a channel between islands full of pelagic fish drawn to the current on the thriving reefs there. What we found instead was a landscape of mushroom islands funneling into something like a river that separated two separate land masses which, if you didn't know that, could have been two banks to a fast-running stream. There was current, but silt as well, in a flow largely devoid of fish. There were nudibranchs and flatworms and small creatures that our guides delighted in pointing out to us, on each of the two dives we did there. And both dives started in caves, which were easily silted and not all that interesting. It was muck diving and possibly worth seeing if you were getting bored with the sharks and mantas on the truly remarkable reefs in the wider ocean there. 

Bobbi and I were so disappointed with it that we agreed to a third dive after all that day just so we could see some fish. For this we were taken just 5 or 10 min from the dive resort to the 5 Rocks marking the harbor on the island opposite. Vis was not so good but we saw some sharks and rays and at the top of the reef there were beautiful colorful soft coral swim-throughs that I got on film.

Again that third dive knackered me. Bobbi and I didn't even bother with Internet. We had dinner and went to bed around 9 and slept solidly till 7. Sleep as always was fantastic at RADR.

And that brings us to today, the most remarkable dives of the week. Blue Magic and Sardines. At Blue Magic we dropped in on a black tip, a good sign, found schools of barracuda, tunas running among them. White tips lounged on the sand bottom. Wobbegongs rested where they wanted or scurried here and there. Jacks frolicked. Tiny crabs inched across anenomes. On Sardines, our dive ended in barracudas and esp. bump headed parrot fish gnoshing as much coral as they could. Relentless robot destroyers of coral, they move like a herd of hump-headed bulls circumnavigating reefs and lagoons taking days or however long they need to get from one end to the the other and start over, somehow justifying it through being one with the ecosystem.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Discover Scuba Diving for Lynne Kennetz, Kevin Knapp, and Debby Jang, Pearl Island, Feb 27, 2015

My logged dive #1342

Crazy weekend, February isn't the most stable time to go diving in UAE or Musandam. Bobbi and I had made plans to go to Nomad Ocean Adventure for this weekend in particular because it would be the last for Antonio and Rosien, who were ending a year at Nomad Ocean Adventure and about to take off on a bycycle tour starting in Iran and ending up in Spain in the coming many months or however long it takes, so this would be their last weekend at NOA. They were planning a zombie party for the occasion, and despite our doubts about the necessity of that, Bobbi and I like them and wanted to see them off, so we booked into our favorite Vance Special room 301. The Windguru report seemed promising, though it noted a touch of precipitation for Friday. Winds were to be light, about the same Saturday, not at all like the previous weekend, when diving was cancelled. We pitched up at Nomad expecting smooth sailing next two days, and some rare fun diving for Bobbi and I.

First surprise was to see Keith and Mark Kennetz at Nomad, students I had taught in a previous winter weekend in January, 2011, long ago
. They had visiting relatives in tow, Mark's tall Korean girlfriend Debby and their sister Lynne, and her husband Kevin. Lynne was interested in maybe doing a discover scuba course. Bobbi encouraged this nonsense so I checked out the possibilities. Antonio had maneuvered us onto his boat with all advanced divers and was planning to go to Octopus Rock, but I found I could do the discover course if we changed to the Kennetz's boat, which was cateriing to people doing a variety of courses for the weekend at shallow dive sites. I went back to inform Lynne and next thing I knew the three of them wanted to do it. Actually it was fine with me because I think it's a privilege to teach diving, and I like introducing people to the sport. So we started on the paperwork right away, got their gear together and left it by the pool, and regrouped there at 7 a.m. next morning.

I'm not accustomed to teaching DSD but Brad contributed his advice, and all I had to do was get them to read something overnight, explain it to them in the morning, kit their gear for them, and then get wet and lead them gradually from snorkeling to snorkeling with scuba gear, and then those first tentative breaths underwater. They were soon swimming into the deep end with relative ease and then accomplishing the DSD skill set. A little more buoyancy practice and we were out of the pool and on our way to the harbor.

Kevin had noted earlier a nasty wall of cumulus over the mountain but no one else seemed concerned, the boat ride out was fairly dry, a little choppy, and soon we were pulling up behind Pearl Island. We kitted slowly, letting the discovery students take their time, and were the last in the water. The first ones in had gone in on smooth seas, but by the time my group was overboard, a gale was whipping the boat along the island and the boatman Hassan was having to motor to regain position. All in the water, I had my group shelter where they wouldn't be swept by the wind, but the wind was churning waves and surge and I thought it best to get down as quickly as possible.

This was tricky. Due to the 24 degree water we were all in 5 mm, the DSD's for the first time ever in any kind of wetsuit. They had all taken 6 kg in the pool and I had given them 8 for the ocean, but all were having trouble getting that under water. The boatman had sped off once he had delivered his payload, due to the sudden change in weather, and now there was no way to get more weight, as is normally the case in good weather when the boat stays put. I figured we could do it, we just had to get the newbies down a few meters. It was like pushing yo-yos down and making them stay. I was coming up behind them and dumping air from over their shoulders, pushing down on their tanks, and blowing bubbles for all I was worth. Fortunately we had a smooth rock bottom with hardly any coral to damage and not many urchins, and once down there, their buoyancy was about right. A rope trailing up from a fish pot provided a line I could get them to grab to sort out ear problems without returning to the surface. Bobbi was useful in corralling upward-bound divers while I stayed down with the two who were holding position. Eventually we got them onto the reef where we could watch that they didn't rise too high in the water and keep them at about 8 to ten meters, enough to keep their 5 mm neoprene compressed.

We headed north along the reef which got better as the bottom got deeper. We came on a pipe fish, a cluster of nudibranchs, lion fish, a number of morays, sea stars crawling through mid-water, and a crayfish poking feelers out of a rock. Toward the end of the dive we came on swarms of blue trigger fish, angel fish, bannerfish, schools of fusiliers, even a school of impish squid right at the end of the dive. When the first diver went low on air after 42 min. we surfaced in surge we found a rainstorm had set in, and the sea was raging all around us The wind was sweeping us past waves cresting over us and crashing on the rocks of the island. But I could see the wind was blowing us clear of this and into a relatively calm patch further back from the point. I shouted out that everything was fine and encouraged my team to aim for the gap. Soon we were ushered through, and gestures from the boat on the horizon told us to keep heading that way. We got the pickup in very rough seas and were soon back aboard. There we were told that the boat had been revving its engines trying to recall us, but not in a place we could hear them.

Rose and Abbie had decided to abort further diving and head straight back to Dibba, but that was not to be. Waves crashing over the gunwales were foundering the boat before being drained from the scuppers. Hassan the captain decided to beat for the nearest shelter, Lima harbor, just off our starboard. We almost surfed there, being careful to pull back before the waves washed over us.Eventually we made it in, not the first dive boat to do so. We tied up to a dhow full of divers who had also come here for shelter.

Our plan, as far as it was possible to make one, was to wait out the passing storm and resume our journey home. But the rain intensified and went on for much of an hour, and we could see spray crashing the other side of the protective seawall, and large waves being dissipated at the harbor entrance. A cold wind blew without letup. We had on our wetsuits from diving but these were not good insulation from chill air. Meanwhile we found that our dive bags and anything in them, dry clothes for example (not to mention my mobile phone and mp3 player) had been submerged with the boat filled with water and almost washed overboard. It soon came time for me to decide, stay dry in a wetsuit that was rapidly losing heat to an incessant wind, or put on wet clothes and put up with chill shock for a while until the wind and last beams of sunlight could dry them.

By the time I had made that decision, it was growing obvious that the seas would not abate in time for us to have a daylight margin of safety in case we couldn't make it back to Dibba. Meanwhile reports were coming in by phone from other boats that it was not possible to enter Dibba Harbor. We learned later that one boat did make it there but that another beat back to Zighy bay and sheltered there, then tried to return to the sea but were turned back by a police boat. Its passengers spent the night at Zighy bay, a possible treat for them since it's home to an exclusive resort that doesn't allow visitors and charges a fortune for simple things, but it would have had tosuccor people washed up there under circumstances not of their own accord.

Meanwhile, in Lima, one of the dive boats tried to leave the harbor but turned back and rejoined us with that disheartening news. The waves remained daunting, and reports of sea conditions south were not encouraging, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to spend the night in the remote village of Lima.

The NOA passengers left the boat and grouped on the dock. Abbie agreed to stay with the boats and Rose and Antonio would see what they could arrange in Lima using their cellphones connected to home base in Dibba, and home base was connected through a network of personal and business connections to people in Lima. At first the situation seemed quite unpleasant. This was a remote fishing village. There were no hotels here. There were dozens of passengers stranded here. Some had inadequate clothing, I had clothes but all were wet. Lacking much better to do, people started walking into town. The cold winter wind whipped in off the beach, chilling to the bone through wet clothes. This was unpleasant enough, the prospect of spending a night here without shelter less so.

It was Friday in a small town, but I was surprised by the number of cars. We couldn't imagine where they had come from, since we weren't aware of roads in and out of here, ferries maybe? The town looked Omani in character, schools, police station, shops, nice cinder block houses being built. We found a small shop open, and just down from the shop was a small restaurant. It was warm inside with plenty of tables.Food there seemed plentiful and turned out to be surprisingly good, spicy sub-continental, with heaping plates of rice and hot chapati.

Rose and Antonio had also taken charge of hospitality. They ordered the food and kept it coming, bank-rolled by one of the passengers who had brought money (and who was reimbursed next day at the dive center). Checking with the home office they got permission to buy blankets from the supermarket, where we all ended up to pick up dry clothes and toothpaste. I bought some dry socks, all the more I would need. Meanwhile, they were arranging to house us. It seems that someone in the town knew someone building a house near completion. It had half a dozen rooms done up iin outlandish wall paper, working toilets, and sand on the floor. We bought brooms to deal with that. I'm not sure if money changed hands for it or if the people there were just generous. One lady from our boat showed us her shoes. She had been walking in town barefoot because she had been stranded without any. One of the townspeople insisted she take his but they were way too large, so he called his wife and had her remove the shoes she was wearing, which she did unthinkingly. This was traditional Arab hospitality.

The blankets were good quality and made the bare floor just comfortable enough for sleeping. My clothes had almost dried on my body by then. We slept well apart from occasional bouts of snoring people sharing our room who were more exhausted than we were, or at least fell asleep first. The perpetrators shall remain nameless.

Probably the most amazing thing about the weekend was the attitude of those who shared it. No one complained. Rose and Antonio missed their zombie party but somehow this experience and particularly the way they managed it created a great memory of them. Everyone was content when the dawn broke to great views of the cliffs surrounding Lima in one direction, an orange sunrise over seascape the other. We filed out of our mansion at 6:30 and were soon picked up by locals who made sure everyone got back to the harbor 4 km distant from where we had slept. There Hassan was called, soon appeared sleepily, and soon had us back on the open sea, the drenching spray less a nuisance as the skies got brighter. We were back at Nomad by about 9:00 but no one seemed in a hurry to leave. The sun was shining on the tables in the courtyard where beverages unconsumed the night before appeared and the cheerful clients talked about the diving they did and we filled out paperwork on the DSD's, signed logbooks, and gave them their first dive center stamp. Sylviane was busy in the kitchen and the South African staff were manning the brai,and soon a filling lunch appeared. For something that could easily have been a disaster (rumors of dhows capsized and some missing at sea were trickling in, totally uncorroborated at this point) this weekend ended in happy camaraderie and the bonus of an early return home, another great weekend enjoyed at Nomad Ocean Adventure.

Here's Bobbi's take on what happened:

We went to Nomad's for a farewell party for Rosie and Antonio, two of our favorite dive masters there. It was supposed to be a Zombie theme. We arrived Thursday night, were going to dive Friday and Saturday and the party was to be Friday night.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Keith Kennetz came with his brother, his brother's girlfriend, his sister and her husband. Keith and his brother already knew how to dive as they are former students of Vance's so the three others (who were going to snorkel) decided to take a Discover Scuba course with Vance. So they went in the pool on Friday morning and we then got in the boat to dive. Rosien was guiding our boat.

The weather forecast predicted unsettled weather, but mostly in the afternoon. When we rolled off the boat, the wind picked up a bit. But it seemed o.k. so we all went down. When we got up from the dive, the sea had turned into huge swells, and the sky was dark. The boat driver managed to find us all through the swells and after we got aboard it started to pour down rain. We heard that our boat had filled with water while we were diving and all our belongings were soaked including Vance's new phone (which works, even so).  By this time, the seas were really rough. The captain managed to turn the boat into the port of the fishing town of Lima. It has roads but they lead to nowhere.  We tied up next to a dhow which had done the same thing. Then Antonio, who was guiding another boat pulled in for shelter too.

We kept waiting for the storm to subside so we could get back to Dibba but it didn't. It became apparent that it we were not going to make it back that night. We also had Rosie and Antonio, the stars of the Zombie party with us. We had eaten all the food for lunch so we decided to go into town to see if there was any food available. We knew there would be no hotels but were hoping for at least a little shop.

Luckily we found a little restaurant, probably the only one in town. Rosie bought all their appetizers on display, i.e. onion pakoras, etc. and the waiters started to bring out dish after dish of curries, plates of breads and rice, and warm tea. This meal warmed our bodies and it only cost 187 dirhams to feed 23 divers.

We then found the only store in town and bought some dry clothes. About the only suitable things we could find were these gray pajamas and blue socks. We looked like convicts in them. But the dry clothes felt great as we were soaked from the wind and rain. Rosie started to buy blankets for all of us as we had been invited to either sleep on the dhow in the open air or the girls were invited to sleep at a house. In the meantime, Antonio had met a local who had a friend who had a house that was under construction, almost completed with electricity, toilets and running water, but no furniture or carpets. He said that we could all stay there for the night.  Even a couple of locals picked us up and drove us to the house and transported our blankets. So we each got blankets and slept on the floor. Everyone was tired most people slept even though we had 6 to 8 people per room.

Next morning, we got up very early to race the weather. We managed to get back to Dibba and Nomad's. Sylviane told me that two dhows had capsized and 35 people were missing but I suspect that might be a rumor because there is nothing in the paper about it. The paper mentions that the coast guard rescued people off of two dhows, but nothing about them capsizing or people missing. I read that a fisherman has gone missing though.

In any case, we had a Zombie brunch which consisted of a barbecue and nice spread, jello shots, etc. and all is well that ends well. We only got 1 dive when we expecting to do 4, but at least we are all safe and sound. And we had a nice meal, got to be warm and dry and again, amazed at Omani hospitality.


This impacted our decision not to dive the following weekend ... 

March 5-7 - Was planning to teach an advanced dive course at Nomad Ocean Adventure
Weather has since got to looking iffy though, having second thoughts

At this site there were two bulletins that swayed our decision to cancel Wed Mar4 -
  • forecast bulletin
    After tomorrow, Friday -Partly cloudy / dusty weather over some areas, cloud amount will increase over Island & coastal areas at times. Northwesterly winds will continue to prevail over the country, with moderate to fresh breeze, strong at times over the sea, causing some blowing dust/haze over the open land areas & another fall of temperatures. Sea will be rough to very rough in the Arabian gulf, and moderate to rough over Oman Sea.
  • marine bulletin
    offshore waves in Oman sea 4 – 6/7 FT indicated for Friday, less inshore

This was the view on Wed which is when we finally cancelled.

Thu view, after the dive students cancelled their participation. It looks diminished slightly but the fact that it changes frequently suggests instability.

And the view on the day, much the same
2015-03-06_0949mar06.pngSee more below …




And this is how it came out in the end


March 12-14 - Vance attended TESOL Arabia conference in Dubai, no diving :-(

March 13, 2015 - I presented at TESOL Arabia: on Developing online listening exercises for natural English about how to listen to natural English samples, speak them back into Dictanote Chrome plugin to quickly produce accurate transcriptions, use those and media embed script to make Hot Potatoes multimedia exercises, then make those available to students via web or Blackboard with gradebook tracking, PC or iPad

March 19-21 - Preparing for next week’s conference presentations, including an online presentation March 21

March 26-28 - Vance attended TESOL International Conference in Toronto

And finally ...

April 2-4 and April 9-11 Holiday at last, went to Raja Ampat

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Conducted PADI O/W dive course for Ray and Karen Handy, Musandam Oman, Jan 30-31, 2015

My logged dives #1338 - 1341

It was Bobbi's turn for visa renewal so she was unable to accompany me when I traveled across the UAE to emerge at the Oman border with Musandam at Dibba and travel the few blocks to stay at Nomad Ocean Adventure for a few days. As normally happens when I teach diving, my students were either referred to me or found me online, communicated with me in email while I talked them through their eLearning and filling out the forms they would need, and we met for the first time at the dive center.

We wasted little time getting in the pool Thursday evening and working  through the first two pool modules, the goal being to finish the 3rd module in the morning so as to be able to do two ocean dives on Friday that would count for the course. This is the toughest part of the course, requiring late hour pool sessions, dinner and sleep, and then early rising in the cold dawn to get 2/3 of the way through the pool training before we could do two dives as per PADI standards. But once we'd finished Module 3 and were heading down to the harbor, we knew the rest of the weekend was going to be mostly fun.

Our video shows us coming up the coast of Musandam and approaching LIma Rock. Our dive leaders had announced the first dive for  "Lima South" which I had assumed was Lima Rock south, one of my favorite dive sites in that area, but they actually meant the south side of the headland, which was also beautiful. However the current was running north to south and that side of the headland was not well protected, so my beginning divers were exposed to some stiff current their first time diving in salt water, plus a vertical drop of about 6 meters to reach the shallowest sand, which not both of them could do due to ear issues, so we had to be careful and couldn't join the bat fish schooling in the overhangs right away. We found a line leading to a fish pot and were able to follow that down by hanging on the line, working through beginner's ear and buoyancy problems aggravated by bubbly 5 mm neoprene. At the bottom we were able to shelter in the lee of a coral encrusted bommie and eventually come off that to grab a fishnet downstream and orient there. Then we worked our way along the bottom to where we could shelter in shallower water nearer the reef. By then my students were managing their buoyancy nicely, but I was careful to keep an eye on them and not vary depth much to prevent their neoprene bubbles expanding more than they might predict. It was a pretty dive and the Handy's were mightily impressed by the colorful coral and so many species of fish, but I was too busy with keeping things safe to take any photos.

Our second dive we started well into Ras Sanut, which has a south face protected from the current. Since we had calm water we started with controlled emergency swimming ascents which I conducted with just Karen in the water and then did Ray when he joined from the boat, with Karen following us down. When Ray ascended, we snorkeled to shallow water and descended in much calmer and more gently sloping conditions than on our first dive, so things went well on this one.

We began by dropping in over the coral fields in that part of the bay, did our exercises, found a pipe fish in the sand where I led to look for rays, then swam along the reef to find a honeycomb moray in the rocks. Later on, our video shows us following a turtle around. This was a nice dive, and Ray and Karen were quite confident by the end of it, buoyancy improving by the minute.

We motored back to Nomad and knocked out the last two pool modules by about the time dinner was prepared for us. We went to bed early and I got a great night's sleep.

Next day we started out in the bay at Ras Morovi, which is also well protected from current, so I decided to do some of our surface work there. Doing tired diver tows, we found a lion fish hovering in the water not far below. Then as we began our dive we came on several crayfish, including one in a lair where I often find them. In that area there were morays along the reef, where puffer fish led us over the edge to angelfish lazing back and forth amid the blue trigger fish.  We headed over the saddle and headed north over the cabbage coral, where we came onto a family of cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are always fun to watch and film. I took mamma and baby from various angles and had switched the GoPro off when momma responded to daddy's approach by going all white and spreading her tentacles invitingly (I suppose). By then I had got the GoPro back in gear but momma decided not to continue with so little privacy and as daddy backed off toward the rock he had sidled upfrom, momma settled down, and we didn't get any salacious video after all. But just around the corner was my favorite grotto, a pretty spot with soft corals where I've had some interesting ray and turtle encounters. I was just emerging from the cave at the end, disappointed, no rays today, but then banged the top of Ray's tank with my flashlight and pointed to a devil ray passing overhead. What a treat, it's easy to miss things like that by looking down most of the dive. My students were by now low on air so we went around the corner and ended the dive in the company of a turtle moving shallow over more red and orange soft coral.

Our final dive at Lulu Island was interesting not only for successfully completing the course, but for a turtle and a pair of scorpion fish. After we finished our final skills exercises we let ourselves go with the current and were carried around the outside of the wall curving off to the north. We encountered stiff current here but more interestingly, eagle rays, at least 4 of them. VIsibility was not the best and it takes a moment for me to fumble for and switch on my camera. Eagle rays are exceedingly graceful creatures if you catch them unawares, but once they see you they turn on full power and take off in a flash of muscle. You can barely make them out in the shots at the end of the video compilation, but in real life they were much more obvious and brought us quick seconds of thrill as we admired them slowly coming at us and then bolting impressively away.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fun diving in Musandam on Octopus Rock and Pearl Island with Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1336 - 1337

It's been a while since Bobbi and I have had a chance to dive together and both with valid visas to cross the border so we decided to head up to Musandam for a day out with our good friends at Nomad Ocean Adventure.

Our dive spots were Octopus Rock and Lu'lu or Pearl Island. It was a great day for Octopus. Fine weather for those of us who had jackets on the ride out, and 24-25 degrees in the water not a problem for 5 mm of wetsuit. Ok, let's go, here's the video from the first dive :-)

Our first dive began with a slip down the rock face to about 12 meters, passing some crustaceans that live in the rocks there. Next we come upon a pair of nudibranchs rudely disturbed in whatever it is nudibranchs do down there. Our dive guide Rosien helpfully pointed out a large sea horse in not too deep water. This rock is full of blue trigger fish milling all about and is home to batfish which enjoy the cleaning stations here. They are a little skittish about divers coming up on them while they are being cleaned but at a certain distance you can observer them enjoying the administrations of the little blue wrasse that eat the parasites off them. The lion fish here are very photogenic, especially when they hover mid-water. We saw also several moray eels and I filmed a huge school of jacks swirling about, surely targets of local fishermen.

Our next dive was on Lu'lu or Pearl Island. It wasn't a great dive but there are only two kinds of dives, good ones and great one. On this dive we saw a few moray eels and some wandering sea feathers, as you'll see in the video. Enjoy :-)