Saturday, September 20, 2014

Certified Greg Raglow and Omar Ibrahim in PADI Open Water at Nomad Ocean Adventure, diving in Musandam Sept 19-20

My logged dives #1308-1311

More diving this weekend, this time to train Greg Raglow and Omar Ibrahim in the wiles of PADI Open Water diving at our favorite dive center Nomad Ocean Adventure. Our group at one point included four o/w students plus a refresher diver, so Nomad were kind enough to allow me to engage a divemaster for a weekend of free diving. The one who jumped up and said "Me, me, pick me!" was Nicki Blower. Meanwhile attrition took its toll as we counted down the days to the course and we were eventually down to just two students, Drs. Greg Raglow and Omar Ibrahim, plus Bobbi and Nicki and me, so it turned out to be a comfortable grouping, as pictured below:

Having just two students is just right. It gives us lots of time to deal with the vagaries of getting the students to NOA, getting them in the water (till midnight first night), getting a few hours sleep and up at dawn for two more pool modules, then two dives on Friday, back to the dive center and more pool work till dinner time. Next day was easier; after a good long sleep, we just had the final two dives on Saturday. Happy divers at the end, the two on the left both newly crowned PADI Open Water certified.

Diving Friday Sept 19 at Ras Morovi and Lima Headland

The first day it was just us in a boat with another instructor Pierre and his one student so we were able to tailor our dive sites to those most suitable for an open water course. We noticed a lot of brown algae in the water on the way out but at the bay north of Ras Morovi conditions didn't seem so bad, so we started there, and found decent vis at 5 meters. We didn't go below 12 meters.our first day. I wore only a full lycra and a rash vest, and didn't feel the chill except at our deepest points. We motored over to Ras Lima for the second dive and after the usual lunch of mystery meat wraps and delicious pasta salad we decided vis wasn't so bad there, so we did our second dive from our lunch spot. Here is the video.

Diving Saturday Sept 20 at Lima Rock and Octopus Rock

Diving next day was quite good for an open water course. Two divers on our boat had been to Lima Rock the day before but said it was awesome and were eager to repeat it despite the fact they had got caught in current off the east point. Sea conditions the previous day had been choppy but motoring up the coast of Musandam was smooth on the Saturday and we decided after checking out Lima Rock to go ahead and dive it. We have to be careful of currents there, but if they're not ripping, sticking to the center is usually ok, as long as you make your turn around point appropriately. We started the dive near the west tip and found a surface current pulling us in that direction, so we went down not knowing what to expect but found it much reduced under water so we were able to make our way easily to the east. I was planning a 15-16 meter dive but there was a huge honeycomb moray at 18 meters so we went on a 56 minute NDL, but the dive for the students was shorter than that, and I delivered them to the surface at 45 min while being harassed by batfish. Bobbi and Nicki waited below, where I rejoined them. The most interesting moments are in the video here.

We don't normally do Octopus Rock on an open water course, but Antonio who was managing the divers on board had been there yesterday and found decent vis and mild current conditions, so to my pleasant surprise we ended up there for our second dive. It's one of my favorite sites in Musandam. We did some skills including compass work at the beginning of the dive, so didn't start our tour until 15 minutes into our time below, and we encountered a slight current against our northerly direction, so more air was consumed than in ideal conditions, and 40 min into the dive I broke off from the group with Omar and let Bobbi and Nicki take Greg as their buddy. Omar and I went to the top of a reef where we were entertained by schools of trevally and batfish getting the wrasse makeover. The others surfaced 15 minutes after we did, well to the west. Everyone seemed happy, those with greatest success were crowned for their achievements, and we hope to see them back in the water again soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fun Diving in Daymaniyats: Bobbi, Vance, Jay Fortin, David Muirhead, Doug Cook, Jana Hanova, and Dino Savva

My logged dives #1304-1307

We met our friends at the new Euro Divers center at Al Sawadi Beach Resort and headed onto our boat. Sea conditions were choppy and hindered our progress and spray washed into the boat on the trip outbound, but the weather was warm so all was very pleasant. We were clamoring to go to the Aquarium but the boat put in at Three Sisters not far from there to let the weather calm down a bit. 

Here's the video from our two dives on the first day ...

Friday, September 12, 2014 - Three Sisters and Aquarium

Saturday, September 13, 2014 - A lovely pinnacle and Sirah Island

I called the pinnacle Rays' Reef because of the rays living there. It was on our way out to Sira Island from the resort, the nearest thing diveable. It was a great place, check out the video. I'll try and find the proper name for the reef.

And finally, I got the video mix made of our last dive of the trip, on Sira Island just short of Jun. This one included all of us somewhere, I think, Bobbi and me, Jay Fortin, David Muirhead, Doug Cook, Jana Hanova, and Dino Savva. This video contains the video of all of us taking the turtle for a walk. Enjoy ...

How did we get here?

Jay Fortin had a meeting in Dubai and asked us if we could join him for diving since he had a weekend free not to prepare for it. Gail was away in Uganda, so Dave Muirhead arranged that on this designated weekend we would hook up in Oman and dive the Daymaniyat Islands, one of our favorite dive destinations in our area. Doug Cook decided  to join us from our Waspes HHH running group and he brought a UN staff member named Jana Hanova. David added a colleague named Dino, whom we also know from the Al Ain running group, making us 7 in a group that converged on Al Sawadi Beach Resort for 8 a.m. diving Friday September 12.

Jay flew in the night before from Bahrain where he works now and after 2 hours waiting to get through Seeb airport  managed to find his rental car and drive the hour to the resort. David and Dino drove down from Al Ain all the way to Al Sawadi where they over-nighted in the resort for $189 a night including two dinners. Doug and Jana opted to fly from Abu Dhabi to Muscat since they got nearly free tickets for air miles and a cheaper deal on the hotel, only $113 a night for two, with meals included, but they faced the two hour airport wait on arrival in Seeb plus the car rental plus the hour’s backtrack in the UAE direction to reach the resort (plus Doug could do only one dive Saturday because he was flying that evening back to Abu Dhabi).

Bobbi and I converged in the normal manner. I got off work early Thu afternoon and found Bobbi at home, we checked emails and packed, and left the house at around 5:30 p.m. By around 8:00 we had reached our favorite restaurant on the Batina coastal towns stretch, don’t know its name but I can give you its coordinates, and it’s to the right of a restaurant more obviously called FAMOUS. That one might be better known, or might not be, but the one we always stop at has chicken karai to die for. This stop is easy to find because the roundabout is always chocked with traffic, so we pull off the road into a chaos of vehicles playing bumper car on the slip road. We always head for the ATM around the corner from the gas station on the slip road, return to tank up at the pump, and then end up at the restaurant.

We were having our meal there when I got a call from an Oman number so I took it. It was Kiwi Lunden who had just discovered from something I’d posted online that we were diving Daymaniyats next day. She was diving there Saturday using Global Divers in Seeb, but was trying to see if she could join us. It was too late to book anything the next day so she’d have to join us in the morning on spec. Plus she was in Muscat, 2.5 hours drive from where we were having dinner. Too bad we hadn’t known earlier or we could have arranged for Jay to pick her up on his way from the airport. Long story short, we didn’t manage to work things out but we’ll see her weekend after next when she comes through Al Ain on her way to Dubai.

We had another hour to drive to reach the place we were staying, our favorite Batinah coast hostel the Suweiq Motel. It has clean rooms, and since the refurbishment, quiet too, no more backbeat bleed from the bars, which are something from a Felini film, or from Tatouine in Star Wars. If you like cold beverages and a change of scene, and are on your way to dive from UAE, it’s a great place to stop for the night, and just half an hour from Al Sawadi in the morning now that the sweeping elevated u-turn over the highway has finished construction.

I wrote that on the ride back to UAE from Oman, just pasted it here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Diving with Mermaids in Musandam, August 29-30, 2014

My logged dives #1300-1303

No one, not even me, seemed to notice that I made my 1300th logged dive with Bonnie Swesey, the kind lady who put Bobbi and I up, or put up with Bobbi and I, in her flat for Bobbi's last year teaching at ACS in Abu Dhabi while we both resided in Al Ain and Bobbi commuted occasionally, but not every  day, thanks to Bonnie's hospitality. In return I offered to help Bonnie get back into diving with an intensive refresher course. We didn't do an official course, I just took her diving, and by the end of it we had restored her to compos mentus with her basic diving skills.

Also in our group were my lovely wife Bobbi, our best dive buddy Nicki, and a newcomer to our team, Kelly. We dove for two weekend days, Friday and Saturday Aug 29-30 from Nomad Ocean Adventure in Dibba Oman, always a relaxing place to stay, eat, and check Facebook.

We joined with MSDT Rosien and two of her student divers, so our dive spots were conservative, but still enjoyable. Our first dive was at Ras Morovi where in the cove where we usually begin fishermen had strung a net right up against the reef so that Bonnie and I had to go over it. That was the easiest way without risking damaging it, pull it down to our level and then ease over it.  There is some tension between divers and fishermen. Nets on the reef are not good for it, and what's not good for the reef is not good for the fisheries. Still the fisherman has to feed his family, so despite the fact that fish are caught helplessly there, best not to interfere in the local economy, so we left the net alone. Bobbi and Nicki and Kelly were lagging behind Bonnie and I (we were going at Bonnie's pace to let her get comfortable) and  I'm not sure what they did at the net, but we didn't see them till after we had come to the surface. It was a pretty dive as usual. There is a cave at the start of the dive, an alcove really, that used to have a couple of crayfish in it, but then there was just one, and last few times I checked, none. Eaten I supposed, until on this  dive I found more big ones thriving in the rocks nearby. It's a pretty part of the dive, swirling with fish from the top of the reef down the wall to the blue. The video above begins with that view.

Our next dive was at Lima Rock, the  north side, which was calm relative to the south, which was getting swells. The north was calm enough for Rose's students, but she put us in with the usual warnings about currents at either end of the rock. We didn't see much on the dive (as I commented on our exit, which I put at the end of the video) but we did see the nudibranch there, and as we came to the eastern edge, we had some excitement as the current picked up. There is a point of no return there where you either go back or go with it. I was ahead of the group buddied with Bonnie. The others I thought were following but they went conservative and turned back. It wasn't a strong current, just a mild sweep toward the point, and with just Bonnie in tow it was easy to keep an eye on her. Often we find barracudas there, but not this time, not much to see on this trip. We hugged the reef as we went around the corner to where the wall begins to the west, but Bonnie was low on air and it's a sheer rock wall for 5 minutes, so I guided her through the gap back to the north side where we surfaced and picked up the others, as you see at the end of the video.

Next day the seas had calmed a lot though not enough for us to dive Lima Rock south with beginners, and maybe not that pleasant for experienced divers challenged by rolling seas. Many are susceptible to seasickness, so we dived the more peaceful Lima Headland and Ras Sanut on the way home. We saw rays in both places, cowtail or feathertail (is there a difference? we debated this over lunch on the boat). On Ras Lima Bobbi  called us all over to see a large coronet fish, and I found a large lionfish with whom I practiced buoyancy skills while I hovered next to him getting GoPro closeups. We saw a lot of crawfish as well and I ended the Ras Sanut dive at a shallow ledge where I found some crayfish and then panned to a swim-through where some batfish were sheltering. I swam through and on the other side found another crayfish. It's all on the film.

Not the best diving we've experienced here but good enough for a few video souvenirs. The weather was fine and sea temperatures amenable to shorties, though I was comfortable in 3 mm. It was great to get Bonnie back into diving and to dive with Nicki again and Kelly from ACS. Hope so see more of these people under water in the near future.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Certified Emanuel Jech and Sandra Gorman as PADI Open Water divers at Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam, OMAN

Vance certified Emanuel Jech and Sandra Gorman as PADI Open Water divers over a two day weekend Friday June 20 and Saturday June 21, 2014

My logged dives #1296-1299

Another great referral dive weekend, people I'd never met found out about me and booked a course that went wonderfully for all concerned.

Bobbi had her last day at work Thu June 19 so she drove down to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi and we thought we would lag behind Emanuel and Sandra, who left Abu Dhabi (where they live) an hour before we could escape Al Ain. But they got lost so we arrived at the border before they did. But the border was busy with (of all things) hay trucks, dozens of them, loads of hay, and expats trying to get across but turning back for whatever reason due to the real possibility of thorough searching. So we awaited Sandra and Emanuel at the border so we could give them a lift (since their car was not insured for Oman). We left anything we thought might compromise us at the border in their parked car and drove across clean. We arrived at Nomad after 8, dinner was served, so we ate and did paperwork and then went to the equipment room and pool and finally completed module 1 well after midnight.

We were up at 6 for coffee and briefing and we completed the next two modules in the pool before 9:30 next morning and we down at the boat harbor by about 10:00. People were patient with us, no one upset, and by 10:30 we were motoring to Ras Morovi for a nice dive on the north side of the headland. Vis was good and it was a typical first dive with buoyancy issues managed well by the students.

On the second dive we went to Lima headland, north side, where we put in at a bay where a dhow was moored. We set up CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent, where I was accused by the French instructor accompanying us of breaking coral in this exercise. I was using a sand valley between the coral but the instructor, who came by with his discover scuba students, said later he saw broken coral near where we were, and told me "maybe you kicked it." I was keeping a close eye on my students and on myself, and didn't appreciate being accused of breaking coral in a bay that dhows use for day trippers, and where fishermen had thrown their nets and strung rope all along the bottom, not good for the environment. However, I will follow the advice that in future, for CESA exercises, we steer clear of that area with its exquisite table coral.

On return to the dive center we had just two more pool sessions to complete that part of the course. We were done by dinner time and settled into a twelve hour break, just eating and relaxing and sleeping for eight or nine hours, great!

Saturday morning Emanuel and Sandra did their swim tests in the pool and we were first on the boat for a relaxed departure to Lima Rock. As the video shows, the weather was fine, we were dressed for warm water, there was much to see on our dives. Most importantly, the new divers gained in confidence and buoyancy control (you can see that in the video as well :-) and clearly had a great time, leading to the photo above, which Nomad intends to put in their next newsletter.

Here is an 11 min. video compilation of all 4 of our dives

Congratulations to Emanuel and Sandra, certified June 21, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Certified Joanne Meads PADI Open Water at Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam, OMAN

Vance Certified Joanne Meads as a PADI Open Water diver over a two day weekend
Friday June 6 and Saturday June 4, 2014

My logged dives #1292-1295

Write up may follow, but first the videos

PADI Open Water Dive #1 June 6 at Ras Morovi
Spent some time with a turtle

PADI Open Water Dive #2 June 6 at Ras Sanut
Cow tail stingray cruised the reef (in the first scene in the video
the rest of the video is from our dive next day at Ras Lima)

PADI Open Water Dive #3 June 7 at Lima Rock
Moray eels and schools of jacks

PADI Open Water Dive #4 June 7 at Ras Lima
Several sting rays, including this one which Vance filmed as Bobbi filmed Vance filming

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Certified Sérgio Simões PADI Advanced Open Water at Freestyle Divers, Dibba, UAE

Sunday May 25, 2014 

Vance conducting the last 3 dives in a PADI Advanced Open Water course

for Sérgio Simões,with Bobbi Stevens riding shotgun
My logged dives #1289-1291

Sunday was declared as an Islamic holiday in UAE and this gave us an opportunity to complete the Advanced O/W course I'd started with Sérgio Simões on July 13, 2013. Since he needed three dives to complete the course, we decided to do them in one day. Sérgio lives in Al Ain so we met at my house at 6 a.m. and all rode up together. We were at Lulu's in Dibba by 8:30 so we had time to stop off for breakfast prior  to rolling up at Freestyle Divers at 9 in the morning.

Our first dive of the day was the deep one, on the Inchcape 2, a wreck that Bobbi and I have dived dozens of times, but is always appealing, and the ideal challenge for an advanced deep or wreck dive. It's a set piece 20 minute 30 meter dive. It has a mooring buoy so is easy to find and descend on. Back in the day there were two resident honeycombed morays living there we used to call Fred and Frederika, so accustomed to divers that we used to stroke them. They disappeared after Gonu struck and were replaced by two small offspring who unfortunately succumbed to the months long red tide, and since then honeycomb sightings have not been common. Sometimes there are rays there, but none today, probably chased off by the crowds of divers on the small wreck. Still, it's a great experience for someone doing his 7th dive ever, and first time to 30 meters. 

Next on our list was the underwater navigation dive, and next on Freestyle's schedule was Dibba Rock. This shallow site can be ideal for navigation unless there is current tugging at the shallows, as there happened to be on this day. We were dropped in at the aquarium and started our navigation at the marker buoy tied off on one of the rocks there. I led from the aquarium 30 meters to the southwest with the reef on our left, except it wasn't a good 30 meters because we were swimming against the westerly current and when Sérgio turned around to lead us back he went past the marker because it was by then only 15 meters away.  We then tried a compass heading to the west and return to the east but again the return leg was much shorter than the way out (that is, 20+ kicks out and only 10 kicks return). Realizing we'd have to factor in a significant current Sérgio and I worked out on the slate that we should try the square 10 kicks to the north and 21 to the west, and so on. This worked except that on the third leg the current pushed us back onto the buoy line, so we ended up doing a triangle, not a square. It wasn't Sérgio's fault, his navigation was good and up to the challenge, so I congratulated him and we went off on a fun dive.

We went looking for sharks, like this one Dro Madery found recently and posted to Facebook. As can be seen in the photos, the sharks like the very shallow water close in to the rock, so we let the current nudge us to the east as we looked into the likely places. We turned up a few barracuda but nothing much else by the time we were in what appeared to me to be the shadow of the rock to our west. On this assumption I went looking for the gap leading to the back side of the rock but kept coming into shallow wall. We were in the shadow of the current as well so now we could push to the west but when we got more resistance in only two meters of water I decided to surface and see where we were. Surprise, we were to the west of the rock, not the east, as I had thought. so we had made a big circle around the front side.

The thing to do now was to head north, which was seriously difficult into the current, but eventually we found the aquarium and with deeper water got some relief from the current. We continued to the back side where we found a few morays at 12 meters depth. The current was pushing us along now so we went with it drift diving until Sérgio got low on air, so we went higher on the reef and burned off our three minute safety stop, with coronet fish serving as entertainment.

For our last dive we had requested the artificial reef that Andy had laid down some years before and which had been attracting animals ever since. For Sérgio it seemed an appropriate place for his underwater naturalist dive and his final dive for certification as a PADI advanced open water diver. Sami Al Haj gave us a briefing that described perfectly how we would follow the artifacts from a set of balls and geodesic structures to a line leading to a submerged boat and a pile of triangles with lots of places for fish to hide. At that place we found a delta ray, the kind that remains immobile even if you wave your hand over them to blow off the sand. There was no current here so I found a corner of the reef where we could do a square pattern. On the second leg Sérgio suddenly stopped and I thought he had become confused but we later found it was because he had seen a huge ray swim by just beyond our field of view. I was focused on the square because we were in sand now, no idea how to get back to where we had started apart from a perfectly executed square. It was a great feeling of accomplishment when we ended the exercise in exactly the place we had intended!

Congratulations to Sérgio Simões on completion of his PADI Advanced Open Water Dive course, Certification Date May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fun diving around Jun Island, Damaniyats, with Extra Divers, Al Sawadi, Oman

Saturday May 17, 2014 

Our team: Just Bobbi and I on a day out south of the border

My logged dives #1287-1288

We invited others to join us but in the end it was just me and Bobbi, my favorite dive buddy.

The Daymaniyat Islands are only slightly distant to us,a mere pop over the border and just three hours driving from Al Ain UAE, so it's fun to slip down there for a day trip, except we leave the day before, after a nice lie in on Friday, catch up on things we need to do at home, and cross the border after dusk. We continue on as far as a town half an hour past Sohar which we only recognize when we reach there where there is a roadside restaurant that serves a tasty and hot! (I burned my fingers on the wok, blisters!) chicken karai. Then we drive another 45 minutes to Suwaiq and the local color motel there, where beer is just a riyal a tall can, and the rooms are quiet and pleasant at 200 dirhams. We leave there at 7 a.m. which gets us to Al Sawadi by 8 a.m. having stopped for samosas and nescafe along the way.

Lately every time we arrive at Al Sawadi we've found ourselves on a boat going to Jun Island, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there are so many places to dive in the island chain. Next time we'll be more particular about our destination and which boat we are on -- we've noticed if you stay at the resort you can sign up for dives and get on the boat you want as the weekend trips are posted in advance, so we'll negotiate beforehand next time we go.

This time the boat went to Doc's Wall first dive and to "Coral Garden" the second. Doc's Wall is the extension from Jun, on the map above, that continues from the larger Jun island to its smaller neighbor to the east, where we end by rounding the smaller island to the south. It can be nice dive. Leopard sharks like to rest beneath the schools of yellow snappers and we often see rays here. Today we didn't see anything that special, but it was still a nice dive. On the second dive we dropped on the north of big Jun and rounded the channel between the two islands. This ends up in a shallow coral garden where the boats moor for the surface interval, so we had just snorkeled the area between dives and observed a turtle several meters down on the reef.

Between the two of us, Bobbi and I made a video compilation of the two dives. We saw a number of honeycomb morays with cleaner wrasse and other fish swimming safely near their articulated jaws. Behind one, Bobbi can be seen leading me to where there is a scorpion fish, and on one of the dives we found a pair of scorpion fish in the sand. We took pictures of some of the schools of fish, the yellow snappers, Bobbi in amongst the blue fusiliers, and a picturesque school of butterfly fish. I followed a coronet fish close over the raspberry reef and Bobbi got some more distant shots, including one of a pair of coronet fish kissing. At one point, I captured a free swimming green moray between lairs. Our footage includes a couple of cuttlefish, always in retreat from divers, and the artificial reef extension to the Coral Gardens where you can see the objects sunk there covered in impressive staghorn corals.