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
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.ae/2011/01/certified-two-new-ow-divers-jon-nichols.html. 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.