Saturday, August 5, 2017

Whale sharks are back, and leopard sharks and rays in the Daymaniyat Islands,

Logged dives #1556-1559

Friday and Saturday, August 4-5, 2017

Summer time in the Arabian peninsula and you could say the livin' is easy, except it's so darned hot out. But in such conditions one obvious solution is to take advantage of two facts. One is that a peninsula is surrounded by water 25 degrees cooler than its adjacent land  mass, and the other is that hotels in the region offer bargain prices to attract customers during what here is their off season. So it was that on Thursday after work Bobbi and I packed our dive gear into our car and drove over the border to Sohar and then took the road east as far as Mussanah, about halfway to Muscat, where we checked into the Millennium Resort Hotel there, and where there is an excellent dive center, SeaOman, which has boats with engines powerful enough to get us to the westernmost Daymaniyat Islands in a little over an hour.

Our trip on Friday Aug 4 took us a bit longer than an hour because whale sharks  were spotted en route, so Richard, the manager of SeaOman, stopped the boat and let us scramble overboard to swim with them.

Coral Garden off Jun Island and Doc's Wall off Little Jun

Once we'd enjoyed the whale sharks, we motored along past Sira and Jun islands to a site off Little Jun called Doc's wall. This can be a productive site for leopard sharks, who like to rest in the shadow of the schooling yellow snapper fish, so when you see those, you swim through them and look in the sand. This has been my experience before, but not today. Visibility was not particularly good, and we saw little to impress us apart from schools of fusiliers and grey and honeycombed morays.

However, on the second dive, visibility still poor, our dive guide Saeed started banging his tank. When we found  him just out of view in the murky water, he showed us a large leopard shark resting at an unusual angle on the reef. Saeed was leading an open water diver named Marco, but because of the poor vis all the buddy teams as they entered the water had moved off separately, out of sight of one another, so only Saeed, Marco, and Bobbi and I saw this particular leopard shark.

Bobbi and I continued left around Sira Island but where we came to some boulders just off the reef we were supposed to keep on our left, I led us over to explore the boulders to the right, and I found more of them in a northeast direction, pretty, but not much of note, until we had rounded the end of them and were tracking back to the southwest, where we came upon a black marble ray. We went around him without disturbing him.

I didn't get pictures of any of our second dive because one of my GoPros had flooded our last dive with Nomad Ocean Adventures, and so I was using just my Hero 3, so I had brought a charger on the boat to charge it between dives. Everyone was kitting up quickly and going in off the back of the boat as I unplugged the charger and put the GoPro back in its case and attached it to my BCD. But the charge light refused to go off, and in that state the camera would not function, would not switch on. I needed to get in the water, no delays allowed as the boat held its position in the surge near the rocky outcrop, so I hoped the charge light would go off, maybe when the camera cooled down in the water. But it didn't, the charging light remained on the entire dive, though it was not charging (the power source had been removed) and I couldn't take videos on that dive. Once we were back on the boat, I pried the battery loose from the camera, it powered down and switched off, and when I replaced the battery it switched on normally. That night I charged it normally, and the next day it functioned fine.

So the video above has clips from the dive on Doc's wall, where we saw the interesting black and white nudibranchs on the top at 5 meters, and then clips from out first dive Saturday on Coral Garden, along the northeast corner of Jun Island. Once you arrive at the eastern point you have the option of continuing on around Jun Island, or heading east across the sand to come onto Little Jun after about 5 minutes of finning and 20 bar less in your tank than you started the trek with, so it's possibly not worth it, but it was on the other side that I saw and filmed the feathertail ray as I surprised him in the sand.

Creatures in the video above: 
The two whale sharks we snorkeled with before our dives, and then a scorpion fish, several gray and honeycomb morays, a spiny rock lobster, the feathertail ray on the approach to Little Jun, schools of fusiliers on Doc's wall, and a black and white nudibranch on the top of the wall.

The Mousetrap between Sira and Jun islands

Our last dive on Saturday was on the Mousetrap reef between Sira and Jun Islands. We encountered a huge black ray early in the dive and then came on a smaller marble ray, both of whom entertained us with ripple effects. While some of our group were looking for small stuff, and finding it in the anenomes and on the rocks, Bobbi and I followed the guide Saeed, who was leading a couple of young shebaab on a mission which I presumed was to find a resting leopard shark. He succeeded and this time my camera was working, so we maneuvered about the shark, but left it undisturbed until the other divers arrived with their array of floodlights and then the shark took off and headed up  and over the reef at the top of the wall. We found numerous nudibranchs and anemone shrimp, and we finished the dive with a turtle that almost kissed Nicki. This was our most lovely dive of the weekend despite poor vis, a great end to our  2-day, 4-dive weekend.

This map of our dive locations is from

You can find  this map at this URL:

We were diving this weekend with SeaOman from Millennium Resort Mussanah, Oman

The divers in our group were myself, Nicki Blower, Peter Mainka, Philippe Lecompte, Eric Courtonne, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

GoPro videography was by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Diving the S57 with Tvrtko in Pelješac, Croatia

Logged dive 1555

July 9, 2017, diving on the German torpedo boat S-57

Diving with Dive Center Barbara, Žuljana, Pelješac

The video here,, shows most of the experience of diving on the S-57. I include the boat ride out, take you for a good look around the boat, and then show you what it looks like closer to shore. I don't know how representative of Croatia it is, because this was the only dive I did here, but this will give you an idea of what to expect in case you'd like to try diving in Croatia yourself, and of course you can go onto YouTube and find hundreds more videos like this one from the hundreds of dive spots around the coastline and islands in the Adriatic that grace this beautiful country.

This video gives the location of the S-57 as Trstenik

I met Tvrtko in Oman, on this dive, one of our last with Nomad Ocean Adventure.

As it was his first time in Musandam, Bobbi and I guided him on the dive and he thought he might like to see us again in Croatia, so he invited us to come there one day. Meanwhile Donald Trump and his flail-out-at-anything administration had decided to ban laptops and tablets on direct flights from the UAE to the USA. This ban was useless to begin with, designed really to annoy Muslims, and it has since been lifted from flights in and out of UAE, but it was still in effect when it came time for us to plan our summer holiday from UAE.

That plan was to fly Qatar Airways to stop off and see our grandkids in Doha on our way from UAE to the states, but Trump's next brilliant ploy, in the course of agreeing to supply billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis, was to support his business partners in their stance that Qatar was a threat to stability in the region, and back the Saudi's blockade on that country put into force just days after Trump's visit there, and which UAE joined, so we could no longer go to Qatar, let alone use their airline to go anywhere, since it could no longer land in UAE, and that is how we had little choice but to use a European carrier to fly us there to break our journey (so we could carry devices on the plane and in the process take Tvrtko up on his offer of hosting us in a dive venture).

Tvrtko was vacationing with his sister Žvjezdana as we progressed from Dubrovnik to Split, to Zadar, and as far north and east as Karlovac and Ogulin to meet an online acquaintance Marijana Smolčec and her family before heading back to the coast at Rejka and then continuing south to Paklenica Park for a walk in the Velebit mountains before heading back to Split and catching a ferry to Korčula where Tvrtko met us at the ferry landing in Vela Kula. In his car he drove us the length of the island (in a little over half an hour) to Lumbarda, a quiet little town on a bay with clean Adriatic waters lapping up on ubiquitous beaches. Tvrtko had found us a lovely apartment with suite of rooms for just 60 Euros a night right in the center of town, with fully equipped kitchen, foyer with bath, and a bedroom surrounded by treetops that blew in the breeze when we moved out to the balcony where, after a shopping trip to the nearby supermarket, we drank Turkish coffee and took light meals European style of ham, cheese, pates, fresh vegetables, and sweet watermelon.

Tvrtko drove us to the old walled town of Korčula one day and the next managed to arrange diving off Pelješac, a mountainous peninsula surrounded by azure waters which had served as a theater of operations in many wars, including WWII, where the S-57 was deployed to attack allied shipping, but was caught and sunk by a British torpedo boat. Now its stern lies in about 40 meters of water on a slope that brings its bow and topdeck up to 25 meters. It's well preserved in reasonably clear water that was around 19 degrees C when we visited. Its frame is clearly intact and its innards well exposed. It has a couple of torpedoes (live, I am told) resting prominently on the stern of the ship. It has a machine gun turret on deck that Tvrtko demonstrates (in the video) can be rotated and aimed at nothing in particular, as there are few fish on the wreck, though a large sea bream was seen fleetingly, and someone back on board after the dive mentioned an eel.

The dive had to be a short one at that depth. Tvrtko and I got to within a blink-blinking minute of NDL around 25 minutes into the dive, as measured on Bobbi's Aladdin computer (though the Zoop I was wearing on my other wrist still gave me 3 minutes at that point). Tvrtko and I took our time coming up alongside the ship, and we could see the other divers hovering overhead. They waited for us so as a group we could move into shallower water, and we took a long time at 5 meters to have ample time for a conservative safety stop. Then the divers moved toward the dive boat where I spent another few minutes at 3 meters beneath the hull waiting for others ahead of me to get back on board. I guess we were ten or a dozen in all. When I clamored back up the ladder, I had 48 minutes on my dive computer. I had come up from depth with half a tank remaining and emerged with about 70 bar showing.

It was an enjoyable dive. I had been concerned about cold. I had rented a full length 5 mm suit and had requested an additional 3 mm shorty (which I was assured I wouldn't need). I took it anyway for psychological reasons, asked for 8 kg weight and was given 9 for the extra layer of wetsuit. Then it occurred to me I was using a heavy steel tank and I considered dropping the extra kilo, but then decided for this one dive I would rather be overweight than sorry, and my weighting turned out to be about right, though I could probably have managed on 8 kg. As far as temperature was concerned, I was pleasantly cool throughout the dive, but never cold, was never concerned enough to think about it.

The only down side to the experience was that the somewhat worn but still serviceable shoes I had removed in order to replace them with dive boots, and left where I had removed them at the dive center, developed legs of their own and disappeared of their own accord and were never seen again by me. I'm pretty sure that this was not the fault of any Croatian, surely not of any diver or anyone else at the dive center, but the little beach town of Žuljana had a constant stream of pedestrian traffic, most of it tourist, and I guess someone saw a pair of decent Asics running shoes and decided to try them on.

Fortunately I had a pair of flip-flops with me, but these are not good for distance walking, and shoes are one of those things, like a jacket in winter, that if you lose it you feel the loss of what you had taken for granted, in so many decisions about where you can go and what your limits are until you can replace the vital item and put your life back on even keel. I managed ok with the flip-flops getting to dinner in a half hour walk along the beach later that evening, and in the morning Tvrtko brought me a pair of old shoes that fit perfectly and would serve for getting me around the rest of the trip until I could get to Houston and replace the running shoes I had lost with a new pair from the same shop I had bought the old ones from two years previously (mission by now accomplished :-).

That's all about diving in Croatia. If you want to find out more about travel in Croatia, read on :)

Traveling in Croatia

Despite the minor perturbation of lost shoes, Croatia proved to be an overall nice experience. Bobbi and I got to Dubrovnik from Abu Dhabi by way of Frankfurt and spent three nights in the district of Gruz a couple of kilometers along the coast north west of the walled old city. Gruz is a good choice for staying in Dubrovnik, if you don't stay in the old city, because it's a healthy walking distance (45 minutes) but more importantly, Gruz is where the bus station is and where the ferries leave for most other destinations. It's also a good base for a day walk around Lapad, lovely for getting overheated and cooling off in the cool Adriatic on one of the many beaches along the way, in case you want a day-break from the summer crowds at Dubrovnik.

We had booked a room in a guest house, what they call Apartmans in Croatia, rooms in someone's house. Ours was called Katarina, and it was midway up or down a hill, depending on how you approached it, above the bay at Gruz. It was 35 Euros a night, had a shared bath, and a double bed in a small room with aircon. Katarina and her husband were very friendly but spoke no English, so were not much help, except that they provided us with glasses and bottle openers when we went walking in the heat and returned with beers and ciders purchased for a dollar each half liter at the Tommy supermarket (a ubiquitous chain in Croatia, there was one at the top and bottom of the hillside where we stayed). We soon identified the beers we liked, Crno (dark) and Rezano (the word means 'cut' and it was mid-flavor between a light and a dark beer; there were also similar ambers). Bobbi liked the apple ciders which, unlike British ones, were light and tasted like fizzy apple juice. They were very refreshing after walking.

Our first walk was along the road to the old town of Dubrovnik, which was something of a circus at that time of year, end of June, but apparently more subdued in June than in mid July and August, when you probably wouldn't want to be there for long. It was a gem of a town, with a gleaming clean pedestrian street and a public fountain of cool drinkable water just inside the north city gate (one of the best things about Croatia, clean cool water for drinking and swimming, everywhere; and there were other ornate fountains in the old city where people were gratefully topping up their water bottles). But businesses catering to tourists everywhere detracted from the town's charm, with prices of which $20 each to walk the extensive city walls was typical, a bit over the top. We tried climbing stairs in town but found it impossible to see over the walls unless you paid, but you could walk around the outside, and there you found beach-goers, not on beaches, the town was built on rock, but with ladders bolted into the rock so swimmers could climb down and swim in the refreshingly cold water and then get back out without getting any sand on their feet, and you didn't even need a towel, you'd be dry in no time. This easy access to water was one of the nicest things about Croatia, something that gives the entire country a carefree Mediterranean atmosphere in summer time.

Other things I thought were pleasantly surprising about Croatia were its cleanliness everywhere, and the honesty, reliability, and friendliness of its people. The rooms we stayed in all adhered to high quality standards with even unexpected extras, like small bottles of homemade schnapps in one place we stayed in Korčula, and there was WiFi most everywhere, in our rooms, in the restaurants and bars we patronized, and in most though not all of the buses (but never on the ferries; wonder why not - and only 15 min of free wifi at Dubrovnic's Cipli airport, with an invitation to pay for something that was purposely broken after that, a last gouge at tourist wallets that seemed unnecessary and not the impression your country wants to leave on its departing guests who all get their browsing interrupted unexpectedly - in my case I had to save this post at the next airport in Frankfurt).

Many of our friends were visiting Croatia at about the time we were. Some got on ferries and traveled around the islands, and some got cars and drove to Montenegro and perhaps to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We were thinking of doing that and then going by bus overnight from there to Zagreb and coming back through Croatia to catch our onward flight from Dubrovnik, but after a couple of days dropping now and then by car rental agencies and considering what was involved, we decided we'd be better off taking buses and avoiding the traffic jams, long border crossings, exorbitant petrol prices, and the sheer tedium of such a trip, even if you really did want to reach that small beach town, find parking, and then get a meal and (if you weren't driving) a glass of wine. Also, we had constrained ourselves to being in Ogulin not far from Zagreb at a certain time, and on Korčula toward the end of our trip, so there wasn't time for doing much more than visiting the salient cities of Split, Trogir, Šibenik, Zadar, and Rijeka, and making side trips to Krka waterfalls and Paklenica for hiking. Krka was beautiful and interesting, on a par with the natural phenomena in Yellowstone Park, but so crowded that we decided not to visit Plitvice Lakes, though we could have, but we didn't want a repeat of our Krka experience in high season.

We preferred to relax on buses, use the wifi to research our next destination, get rooms from and Expedia pretty much on the fly, and eat where the food seemed good. In Dubrovnik, Gruz, we started off on pizza and risotto, not sure how far our money would take us in a land with some pretentious restaurants where you can spend a hundred bucks for two plus plus for wine or beer, but once we got to Split we found the Buffet Fife at the opposite end of the Riva from Diocletian's Palace, where there were more tourists than locals, but everyone eating authentic Croatian meat and potato dishes and enjoying Croatian beer for reasonable prices, and from there we enjoyed Croatian fare in Ogulin, but tended toward fish as we moved down the coast in Stari Grad (Paklenica) and Korčula, eating fresh oysters with Tvrtko and Žvjezdana, and ending our visit with a copious fish platter at a well-recommended restaurant in Cavtat, on the coast just 5 km from the airport.

Tvrtko also drove us around to wineries on Pelješac, and we often took red or white house wines in restaurants, which could cost 80 to 120 kuna, about $15 to $20 for the liter, but as we found out, we could get very good wine in supermarkets for just a few dollars, and beers there as well, for a dollar for the best ones. Schnapps are not hard to come by in Croatia as many people own their own stills. The Smolčec's gave us some home-made Šlievovic (plum liquor) to carry around on our travels out of Ogulin, and we tasted medvic (honey liquor) there as well. Our accommodation in Korčula came with a schnapps of some kind, enough that we could pour what we didn't drink there into a coke bottle and carry it to Cavtat with us.

So as we look back on our trip there, we found Croatia to be a thoroughly enjoyable country where you can travel as you like or as you can afford. We found it most interesting to visit when we had friends to visit there and could see the country a little through the eyes of its inhabitants. We found we could spend a lot of money if we wished, or we could avoid doing that and get some exercise walking a lot, swimming when we felt like it in the clean and bracingly cool Adriatic. We could balance dining in restaurants with shopping in markets for meats and cheeses to breakfast on in our room; and fruits and vegetables, garden fresh tomatoes, and watermellon to rival the 'arbus' in Uzbekistan, sweet and refreshing when kept in the fridge. Most of the apartments we stayed in had fully equipped kitchens, with stoves and pots for Turkish coffee, so we didn't even lack for our caffeine hype in the morning, before we could get out to the coffee bars and enjoy a cappuccino. We found progressively better accommodations the further we got from Dubrovnik, and slightly more expensive for the better quality. Our cheapest accommodation was Katarina in Gruz (shared bath, family noise) and our best was Shell Beach Apartments on Korčula, with a terrace overlooking a bay with boat traffic, noise blessedly damped by double glazing on the doors and windows, just a 15 min walk from the old town.

Our favorite town was Split, with its Roman ruins blended in with a living museum in the old market city, and the music and acrobats on the Riva corniche. Zadar was interesting for its sea organ and monuments on the peninsula with boats plying on three sides of the old walls and seawall. Trogir was similar but smaller, and Šibenik would have been a great place to base for Krka falls, another historic city with pristine countryside (but we had taken rooms in Split for 3 nights and so based ourselves there, slightly inconvenient with redundant bus rides). Paklenica was a great place to spend a day hiking, a little disorienting at first (too little signage, a common problem in Croatia) but once we'd worked it out, we understood the ideal way we should have done it, and still managed to get in an energetic but not at all challenging walk, and Stari Grad was a pleasant place to base and cool off in the sea after the walk. Days last forever in summer, so plenty of time for walking swimming, and having sunset meals by the sea.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Last dives at Nomad Ocean Adventures: Musandam Island, Ras Lima, and Lima North, June 2, 2017

My logged dives #1552-1554
June 2, 2017

So last weekend in May wasn't our last with Nomad Ocean Adventures after all. Chris decided to post to Facebook an invitation to his best customers to come out for one more weekend, proposing a three-tank dive to the northermost dive sites in the vicinity of Khasab on Friday. Gary and Sandra took him up on it, and Khaled Sultani, reknowned underwater photography. Our good friend Nicki got a ride with Steven Board, and she buddied with Bobbi and I.

These are some of the people in the video above showing the picturesque approach to Fanaku, the last island out past Musandam Island. On my left is Khaled with his mother of all cameras, though he also carries a GoPro in his pocket. Chris is sitting just forward of him, Bobbi to my right with guests Bruno and Kat, and Nicki next to me. Ahmed is the boat captain.Then I shoot another segment showing the rippling in the channel caused my some mighty strong currents, that throw up spray as the boat cuts through the multiple forces of nature, including wind and waves.

Unfortunatly it was not much better at Fanaku, so we didn't dive there that day, but retreated back to Musandam Island, or possibly Ras Hindi Qabr, where we took shelter in a bay and went on a nondescript dive in the water murky with algae. Nevertheless we saw a pair of nudibranchs, a flounder, and a green moray eel curled up in a rock.

The wind was stiff from the south by now, and we beat into it as far back as White Rock before taking shelter in a bay where we had gone diving with an Al Marsa liveaboard once. I don't remember the diving being anything special there, though it had been their destination for our first dive. But Chris was sensing stress in his two engines. The boat was loaded with three tanks per diver, seas and wind were against us, and wisdom precluded lingering that far north, so we continued our retreat all the way back to Lima Headland, where we found shelter an hour from help if needed, and did our second dive there.

Chris asked us to keep our dive time to 45 minutes, but I have to admit to cheating a little. The dive began in green water, but after we'd found a cuttlefish and a slipper lobster, we came on a turtle nearer the point, and here the water was becoming blue. The fish were getting bigger and I took my time getting my marker buoy up, and angled slowly up over the point getting into position for the safety stop. Three minutes into that by my most conservative computer (I was carrying three, long story) we surfaced with 55 minutes time elapsed.

We headed across the channel to Lima Rock north where Chris asked us to keep our dive time to 30 minutes, and depth to 18 meters. It seemed restrictive at the time but he had called it pretty perfectly, as his timings and the realities of getting home from there ended up getting us into the harbor just short of sundown. Also, we had reduced our surface interval to 40 minutes, so we didn't have all that much no deco time. The dive was pleasant. We saw speckled fish, a raging crayfish, a large honeycomb moray guarding a dive weight in front of a swimthrough (which bottomed out at almost 20 meters, woops). At 30 minutes Nicki pointed to her watch so I got my buoy out, kicked along just above the sand while I unfurled it, blew into it, and five minutes later had managed to get it up to the surface. Now we had to follow it up from depth, another 5 minutes, and then endure the 3 minute surface interval. Meanwhile a large jack scooted by, and I filmed fusiliers at the safety stop. At the surface the boat was still picking up other divers. I showed 45 minutes on my computer, so all us pros were balancing each other's needs pretty accurately.

This was all bittersweet diving considering the fond farewell to Nomad Ocean Adventures, doing their best, as ever, and last dives with Chris Chellapermal, getting in his last plunges with the company he founded and managed so remarkably.

We were planning to dive the next day, and get an early start on it, but the coast guard was delaying signing off on trips to the north. Eventually the huge ferry to Khasab returned to port, having had to abort its trip across the seas we would need to travel, and that was the end of diving that weekend.

We last saw Chris and his family and Nomad staff and their last customers who were waiting on a ride to the airport, all in the pool together, We headed back to Al Ain where it's been anti-climactic ever since.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Diving on Nomad Ocean Adventure's penultimate weekend of operation: With Anand Mantri and Bobbi on Ras Morovi and Lima Rock

My logged dives #1548-1551
May 26-27, 2017

Bobbi and I have been diving almost every weekend lately with Nomad Ocean Adventures. It's an hour glass with sand running out at this point. This was supposed to be the last weekend of operation, but owner Chris Chellapermal is having trouble breaking his diving habit and has declared one final outing the first week of June, just for his friends and past clients of the dive center, with Friday scheduled as a 3-dive trip to the far north Musandam, and Saturday, no telling.

Most of Chris's staff have left so Chris has been inviting me and other instructors down to guide boats and teach students in return for free diving and room and board, so Bobbi and I have been making hay while the sun shines, going every weekend, and can't get enough of it frankly. We're all going to be in serious withdrawl in June as we hunker down and prepare our escapes for summer break in July, something we need to start planning sooner than later.

We've dived 6 of the past 7 weekends, pausing only for a weekend off to run up to Doha and see our new grandson. We're planning to dive next weekend as well but that will likely be it for a while. Enjoy the videos.

Lima Rock

The above set of video clips were taken while diving on Lima Rock, mostly the south side, in Musandam, Oman, accompanied by former dive student Anand Mantri, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

The first clip is from the boat on Friday, actually on the north side. Next clip is our descent on the south side on Saturday with batfish, bannerfish, and devil rays passing by at 25 meters. Then more batfsh, jacks, pretty corals, nice visibility. There is a clip from the north in there as well, and a moray that lives on that side.

Ras Morovi

Devil rays were cruising the peaceful bay where we usually put in at Ras Morovi. Three of them appeared at various points on our southern leg heading around the point. The feather tail was on the other side, near the grotto, but the terrain there is very similar to the bay, and we often see these rays there, so I edited accordingly.

The puffer was sitting in front of the crayfish cave. He headed over the shoulder where the beautiful corals are that lead into a world of blue trigger fish, angel fish, sergeant majors, and fusiliers popping in and out of the black and green whip coral, with moray eels down in the sand where the ghost fish traps are turning to rust. As we head back over the reef a third devil ray passes and takes flight.

Grey morays appear from under the brain coral, often in pairs, and a yellow mouth pokes out from coral on the sea bed. The videos end with good shots of Bobbi and Anand Mantri hovering in the water.

Farewell to Nomad

These videos were made while diving this weekend on Nomad Ocean Adventures' last publicly announced commercial weekend in business, May 26-27, 2017. We will miss the special ambiance that Chris Chellapermal has bestowed on operations at NoA, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

The picture below was taken by Anand Mantri in the Nomad majlis while I was trying to crank out some writing before Saturday diving. Click on the pic for a peek into my computer screen.

Chris kept telling me he was seeing Mobula rays this week and last when I thought they were devil rays, and it turns out we were both right.

According to Nine facts about devil rays from the PADI website
"There are actually nine different species of devil ray, all part of the genus Mobula"

and from Wikipedia: and

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Certifying divers in PADI Scuba Diver and Open Water at Nomad Ocean Adventure - Congratulations Niaz Basheer, Léa Morin, and Julia Resnicek

My logged dives #1544-1547
May 19-20, 2017

Nomad Ocean Adventures had me working intensively this weekend in return for free diving, meals, accommodation, and even a few Nomad special super slushies for both Bobbi and I. It was a great weekend; we enjoyed it immensely. Sad to know it's the next to last for our favorite dive center on the east coast UAE and Musandam, Oman. We've had great times and great diving here, and absolutely the best in that area since Dibba Rock got wiped by cyclones and red tide, 

Knackered from a day at work that started for me with 4:30 reveille Thursday and transitioned with a 3 hour drive from Al Ain to Dibba, I went to sleep before my open water student Niaz Basheer arrived at midnight, but I met him at 6 am for briefing and pool work. He had little trouble with the pool modules, and our boat wasn't leaving until 10. As it was just the two of us, we managed to get modules 1-3 done in the pool that morning, get ourselves dockside by maybe 10:30, and we were on our way to Ras Morovi before 11:00. 

My video shows feathertail rays everywhere in the sand at the start of the dive and once Niaz had completed his skills, we rounded the reef on the northbound leg. We had a heck of a current sweeping us over the saddle and around the corner, where we came upon yet another feathertail, and then clownfish, blue wrasse, and an eel as I moved into the grotto, just checking the cave there, but no rays were at home in that spot. 

Next stop was Ras Lima, where we dropped in on a mottled eel in shallow water, then moved down to depth and found a blue crayfish in the deeper wall. An eel emerges nearby but doesn't eat the kind of fish that shares his hole apparently. Bobbi and I ended the dive in the company of an unconcerned turtle.

We spent the evening with Chris and his wife Manesha and their two sons at dinner in a majlis where the old furniture had miraculously re-appeared, with the Nomad special super slushy-maker whirring away on a nearby table. Chris's mom Sylviane was there, so nice to see her again, and Pawlie from Norway, one of the staff, and Léa Morin, an intern from France, who would be my dive student the next day. She had completed all but her last dive and I was to be granted the pleasure of completing her course with her, and also with Julia Resnicek, with whom I had spent till almost 11 pm in the pool. I had just trained Niaz earlier that day, and met Julia, who was transitioning from the SSI system to PADI, and Chris had let me take her on as well, starting from about 6 in the evening, so by the time I sat down to dinner in the Majlis, I was working on autopilot, and ready for some slushies.

Léa had already completed her pool work for her course. For her it was only the last dive to do. Julia would be doing dives #3 and #4 with me to certify as a PADI open water diver on Saturday, May 20. Our dive sites were Octopus Rock, normally an advanced dive site, but today fortunately devoid of current, and Ras Morovi, where the current was present but not like the day before. You can see how it went in the video below.

Our first videos are from Ras Morovi, on Julia's final 4th dive for PADI o/w certification. Chris and Tareq are seen looking for small stuff just at the edge of our normal dive sites, which we're exploring on open water compass exercises with the two lady o/w candidates, Léa and Julia. We are diving with Mike, Julia's buddy, and Bobbi, mine. Our compass work turns up sting rays at the start of the dive, and rounding the corner past the saddle we stumble on yet another one. This is just short of the Grotto, where we come across a puffer, but checking the cave, no rays in there again today.

Next in the video is the start of our dive on Octopus Rock, which we actually did as the first dive of the day, Léa 's 4th and final o/w dive for certification, and Julia's 3rd. It's not long before we come across a number of moray eels, including a large honeycomb one. Trigger fish are everywhere on this dive as usual, and tiny blue wrasse have set up their cleaning stations. First customers are a pair of angel fish. We move into a school of  yellow striped fusiliers, and follow trigger fish and angel fish and parrots who lead us eventually to a batfish clearning station, but I pan out to the schools of jacks so as not to miss them, then back to the batfish getting the backscratch. Fusiliers burst back on the scene. The trigger fish are ever present. We move toward a school of snappers and find a pair of blue crayfish hiding in the rocks. More fusiliers blast by. 

Now we find another batfish enjoying a complete makeover and descend on him from above as fusiliers partially block our view. At our safety stop we find an eel hiding in the rocks and jacks passing overhead, and trigger fish schooling in the distance. We head toward the jacks as we count down our final three minutes of the dive, fusiliers bursting in from the left. Jacks and fusiliers end our dive, quite beautiful there on Octopus rock here at just 5 meters.

These video clips were taken while certifying PADI divers, diving with Nomad Ocean Adventures on May 19-20, 2017, accompanied by favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

GoPro videography by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mobula Rays at Ras Morovi while guiding dives in Musandam for Nomad Ocean Adventures

My logged dives #1540-1543
May 12-13, 2017

This weekend I was invited again to guide boats on diving trips for Nomad Ocean Adventures. Bobbi and I went up to Dibba and crossed the border into Oman right after work on Thursday. We checked into our room at the Nomad guesthouse, which the owner Chris calls the 'Vance Special'. We had a nice meal in the majlis and got a good night's sleep. In the morning Friday I helped guide a boat where Chris was on board, but so was his family, wife and two kids, so I relieved him of having to focus on the diving the whole time, and allowed him to take them snorkeling while we did our second dive.

Chris's choice of first dive site was Lima Rock south, one of my favorites. It can be a challenging dive if there is current present, and there was on this day, so we started at the west end of the south side and set to drifting to the east.  About mid way we encountered a back-current and I let it push us back the way we had come, but then I decided we could push through it, it wasn't that strong. So I led us out to the point, where the ropes are in the video above, and there was some resistance there, but not a raging current, so we were able to round to the other side and come up there. We were guiding a diver from Croatia named Tvrtko, and he thought it was a great dive.

The video contains views from our second dive on Ras Sanut as well. The last clip from Lima Rock is the batfish in the orange and blue soft corals at our safety stop, and after that we are diving at Ras Sanut, which we also call Wonder Wall. There were a lot of moray eels there, and in one segment, we found three different kinds in one small rock space. The video ends with me leaving my camera running inadvertently. I edited most of that away, but it gives you an upturned perspective and a closeup of the equipment we carry on our dives.

Next day, I was guiding the advanced divers on our boat on Ras Morovi and Lulu Island. The Ras Morovi dive was ONE OF THE BEST WE HAVE EVER HAD THERE. In particular we saw a flight of MOBULA RAYS right at the start of the dive, and I caught up with 4 of them and got decent video (above). We also saw friendly clownfish and a feathertail ray in the sand of the bay, crayfish, a turtle, various morays, a nudibranch, more rays, pipefish, scorpion fish, and lovely reefs. We were diving again with Tvrtko, and also Roman Kvasnyj from Russia, and another advanced diver named Sandie.

Our last dive Saturday was on Lu'lu' Island (the video above). There are a number of ways to do this dive. When I lead advanced divers I start on the west side of the main island, round it to the north, and then set out east over the sand bottom at around 16 meters. This takes us to the underwater base of an island a little less than ten minutes distant. We round that to its north and then follow it south outside a ring that, if you followed it around to the west and then turn north, would take you back where you started.

We didn't get that far. Our dive ended on a south facing western leg of the reef sadly covered in ghost nets, with fish trapped live in abandoned pots. Cuttlefish were out in force today. We also saw scorpion fish, morays, lionfish, and clowns so lonely they fly in the face of oncoming divers. Brittle stars were out walking around, and my camera captured an interesting orange star. 

On these last dives, Bobbi and I were diving with Sandie, Roman Kvasnyj, and Tvrtko. Tvrtko enjoyed his dives so much that he offered to host us and show us his favorite dive sites in Croatia. We'll have to take him up on that one day.

GoPro videography by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Guiding dive boats for Nomad and fun diving with Greg Raglow, Musandam, Oman

My logged dives #1536-1539
April 28-29, 2017

Guiding dives again at Nomad Oman Adventures, Musandam

It's official, what we have known for some time, that Chris Chellapermal is closing down Nomad Ocean Adventures effective end of May. He has let staff go and this is why he has asked me to act as dive guide the past few weekends. Of course I am trying to make myself free as much as possible in order to help out, and to enjoy the unique atmosphere at Nomad Ocean Adventure for as long as Chris can sustain his business. But he seems happy with his decision to move on to projects that will allow him to spend his time close to his family in Dubai.

First dive Friday, Lima Rock north

Guiding boats means that I can choose the dive sites, but it also means I have to choose the sites responsibly, since I need to make sure that everyone is comfortable in the water. My choice of first dive was Lima Rock but when I entered the water to check the current just after arriving at the south side, I found myself being swept to the east. This was not going to be a good day to dive that side, so I had the boatman take us to the north side and put us in at a more sheltered spot where the current was not so bad. When I give briefings for Lima Rock I always explain about the current and how it can sneak up on you and take you on a one-way ride, not only in the direction of Iran, but also down deeper if you don't watch your depth. Some divers seemed uncomfortable and wanted to dive with Greg and I; e.g. wanted to be guided on the dive. For this reason I took it conservatively. When we entered the water I led to the east, but when I felt the current pick up I turned the dive and moved us up the rock faces back the way we had come. We ended the dive in the same sheltered cove where we had started.

One of the divers on the other Nomad boat, Stewart, went with the current to the point and said afterwards he had never seen so many barracuda. This is the nice thing about Lima Rock in a current. Current attracts big stuff, including whale sharks that like to fin facing into it while filtering plankton in over their gill rakers.

Video here on YouTube:

This dive was a rather tame one. In the video, we start with a banner fish making a meal of one of the jellyfishes that were stinging some of the divers when they surfaced from their dive. Next an electric torpedo ray is found, and alongside it a pair of nudibranchs that not all our divers notice despite my trying to point them out. Next up, we enjoy a lion fish ballet. Then, a gopie guards a hole where a shrimp is excavating. The shrimp tries to move a load beyond his capabilities, I edge closer to get a better look, the gopie retreats suddenly, and the house of card collapses. A yellow mouthed moray appears amid pretty pink and blue soft corals in a garden terrain. Around a corner a bat fish is enjoying being administered to by cleaner wrasse, and a green moray peeks out from blue soft coral. Pinks and blues adorn these rocks as we move our way shallow, into the natural light. We encounter needle fish, chase yellow snappers into swim-throughs, and toy with clown fish in anemones waving in the current.

Second dive, Lu'lu Island

Video here on YouTube:

We entered the water behind Lu'lu Island to find a fishnet on the reef and a live lobster trapped inside. We tried to free it but decided it wasn't worth the time - a snorkeler who wanted it for dinner probably rescued it after we left. We rounded the rock and kept on an easterly heading over the sand to arrive at more islands a couple hundred meters distant. I brief this part of the dive by telling people there are clown fish there so bored that they rush up from anemones on the bottom to meet approaching divers, which is what you see in the video. We looked for rays in the sand but found only flounders. On the far rocks we found morays and pretty corals tableaux, and Greg and I ended amid schools of reef fish on the south end of the island chain. Unfortunately algae in the water compromised visibility there.

Diving  Saturday April 29, Octopus Rock and Lima Rock

Video here on YouTube:

Our first dive was on Octopus Rock. I was keeping an eye on Dr. Bob, who was working through some buoyancy issues following recent surgery. As dive guide it was my responsibility to look after him, but Chris had sorted him out nicely the day before, and he was fine while diving with us. We stuck close to Pascal, a.k.a. PQ de Nomad, because he was taking care of open water students and would not go deep, which seemed an appropriate pairing for us. I buddied with Greg Raglow. We filmed moray eels, pretty swim-throughs with schools of blue triggers, a scorpion fish, banner fish, bat fish, cray fish, jacks, and schools near the top of the reef where there was a dead parrot fish caught in a ghost net. Due to uncertainties with this group of divers I didn't follow my normal route, got confounded by the terrain, and ended up mistaking a shallow reef for Octopus Rock, so we ended the dive stranded to the west of the preferred end point.

Stewart wanted to return to Lima Rock to see if he could revisit the barracuda he had seen the day before, but on this day, current was not so pronounced. As we began our dive, a pair of high tech divers passed us with their scooters. Moving more slowly, we found lion fish, a puffer, and arrived at the ropes at the point with Greg and I still had a good hundred bar, half a tank. We decided to explore, and filmed an angel fish on our way down to 24 meters, where circling the rock, we found barracudas off the point. We returned to the ropes and followed them up before letting ourselves go with the current to our safety stop. At 5 meters we drifted through the school of barracudas you can see in my video.

Back on the boat all were accounted for except the divers with the scooters. We found them on the far side of the rock, blabbering about a mola mola they had seen just past where Greg and I had ascended from 24 meters after swimming with the barracudas. I guess you miss the small stuff with your scooters, but you can catch the big game.