Saturday, June 23, 2018

Turtles, Rays, Batfish, and Honeycomb Morays at the Aquarium, Daymaniyat Islands, Oman

Logged dives #1589-1590

Diving was cancelled Friday due to bad weather, but had cleared enough by Saturday June 23 to make for a pleasant day out from Global Scuba in Al Azeiba, just behind the airport at Seeb near Muscat where I shot these videos mostly on the Aquarium reef in the protected Daymaniyat Island chain.


This might have been my last chance to dive the Daymaniyats, something I have done often before. When we pulled up to the Aquarium anchorage, the boatman pointed to the water nearby and said there was a whale shark there. On most boats I've been on the boat would have gone over there and let us all snorkel with it, but our guide proceeded with anchoring the boat on the site. I figured we'd see the whale shark once we were in the water, but our guide made a fundamental error. He entered the water to check the current, and reported back that it was "small". However, when I entered the water, I found it was big, and I had to make a deliberate effort to fin myself to the anchor line and hang on. 

When I am in charge, I often enter the water without scuba, just as our guide did, to check the current, and when I detect one, I make a point to tell all the divers to go directly to the anchor line and hang on there, in order to prevent what happened next. My buddy entered the water after me, found himself in current, and tried to descend in it. However he was under-weighted and being unable to descend, was getting swept astern from us. The boatman should have thrown him a tag line, or been standing by to assist divers with any weight problems, but the boatman had entered the water with the mother of one of the divers, who had paid for a snorkel trip, so there was no one on the boat. I ascended back up the anchor line and got my buddy's attention and got him to swim to me at the surface and take my extended hand. I pulled his to the anchor line where he was then able to pull himself to the bottom, but by then all the exertion had cost him a lot of air, and buoyancy issues took a lot of what remained

There were three of us in our group. The third was a young lady beginning diver and the guide was essentially monitoring her (her mother had joined as the snorkeler). The Aquarium is a shallow reef about 6 or 7 meters at its top with walls to the north and sloping coral to the south. In order to manage this group, our guide opted to take us to the shallow side of the reef away from the wall where whale sharks like to hang out. As you can see in the video we enjoyed a lot of fish life as we rounded the reef and came up the other side. At one point I saw a marble ray at about 20 meters and popped down to it, but from there we spiraled back up to the top where at 35 minutes into the dive we had to send my buddy up the anchor line. The guide then led us back down the shallow part of the reef but returned us to the anchor line at 45 minutes because the young lady was low on air. I showed him my gauge with 110 bar remaining. He signaled me to swim around the top of the reef, so I stayed down.

I understood that the guide would accompany the young lady on her safety stop on the line, and I expected he would come back to join me, but after some time I realized he was not returning. I had been wandering around the reef top enjoying the mesmerizing schools of batfish with mackerel circling overhead, the huge honeycomb morays, and turtles, and when I eventually left the reef top I found cuttlefish, sting rays, and a scorpion fish in the plateau below. Being alone I didn't want to push out to the walls and risk not being able to return to the boat in the current, but having a chance to thoroughly explore the top of the reef as the only diver on the site was a rare opportunity, and a unique way to dive the Aquarium, as you can see in the videos.

Map credit, Teresa Zubi (2013): https://www.starfish.ch/dive/Oman.html

Our second dive was at Guno's Trace, but visibility was poor there, compared to the clarity of the Aquarium. We found more turtles, rays, and honeycomb morays, and I included some of those videos in the one I posted to YouTube. I didn't take all that many. My camera battery was barely holding out, and I was using it abstemiously in case we came across a zebra shark (which we didn't). Still it was a lovely day out diving.

Cat saga

Bobbi and I had an unusual reason for going to Muscat that weekend. We are leaving UAE, and we have been able to find no one where we live in Al AIn to offer a happy home to our gentle cat. The fact that most people we know are leaving soon for their summer holidays makes it inconvenient for them to take on a pet when they are anticipating being away for a month's vacation. However our son Dusty and his wife Michelle offered to come and get the cat and take him back to Doha with them. 

Since Donald Trump's visit to KSA a little over a year ago, followed closely by the Saudi and other GCC countries announcing a blockade of Qatar, there has been no direct contact between UAE and Doha, making it difficult and expensive for us to see our children and grandchildren there. Oman has profited from this state of affairs in the year since the blockade was imposed since anything going from UAE to Qatar has to include a detour through a neutral country such as Oman, Kuwait, or Ethiopia (take your pick). Qurum Vet Clinic in Muscat has been able to capitalize on this by expediting shipment of pets between the two countries. It's expensive, but Dusty and Michelle offered to pick up the tab from their end and in response to such a gesture of concern and affection for our cat Lars (a.k.a. Lardy Bardy or simply Puddy Tat) we reciprocated by having the cat vaccinated, taken by a vet in Al Ain to the UAE border and back for paperwork and health check prior to our driving him ourselves to over the same border after work on Thursday and into Oman, where we had to import him (2.5 hours at the border and 400 dirhams in fees) and then drive him to Muscat where Dusty and Michelle had taken an apartment and were waiting for us with our grandson Kai, whom we hadn't seen since last Christmas. We used used to see both our sons and both grandchildren often when Doha was just a 45 minute flight away from UAE airports.

The rest of the family were unable to make it on Saturday when I was finally able to go diving. Michelle was returning that afternoon to Doha with Kai and needed to be at the airport before my boat would return to base. Dusty would not have been able to do more than one dive since he was flying later that night, and he needed to help Michelle organize last minute documents for the cat and take here to the airport, and Bobbi opted to maximize her Bibi-time with Kai. So it was only me to pitch up at Global Scuba for the trip to the Aquarium and Guno's Trace, where I took the above videos.

Facebook comment


My reply: 

Vance Stevens It's a problem everywhere. We've been diving in this area for 30 years. Oman and UAE used to have truly remarkable corals last century, but construction on the coastlines and encroachment of fishermen even in protected areas, their decimation of shark populations, impact from shipping (bilge flotsam turns up on beaches) plus the impact of major storms and red tide (which in turn is a global warming issue) have all caused significant deterioration in what divers can still enjoy here.






































Saturday, June 2, 2018

Diving Dibba Rock and Musandam with Freestyle Divers based in Dibba, Fujairah

Logged dives #1586-1588

It's been a year now since our good buddy Chris Chellapermal closed up Nomad Ocean Adventure just north of the border between UAE and Oman and sold his operations there and in Dibba, Fujairah, to Darryl and Marine Owen, who restored the name Freestyle to the dive center originally established at the Royal Beach Hotel by our good dive-buddies Terry and Andrew Moore, and later sold to Chris, who changed the name to Nomad. Meanwhile, Bobbi and I learned in February that we would be leaving the UAE and in preparation for that have not been diving so much as before, but Darryl and Marine were interested in buying some of my equipment, and offered Bobbi and I free diving for a day if we'd drive it all over there. So on June 1, just a month out from our permanent departure from our home the last 21 years, we loaded our car up with 500 kg of dive stuff, and at long last dived once more with Freestyle Divers.

We drove up on Friday morning and made a dive on Dibba Rock that afternoon, just the two of us, Bobbi and I in the boat, plus the boatman, of course. Diving was decent and refreshing. We didn't see rays or turtles but we found the common reef and bottom dwellers amid schools of snappers, and if you're watching the video, did you see the two sharks? The last one was right at the end of the video.




We took a room at the Royal Beach hotel with a lanai view of Dibba Rock popping up out of the ocean, and dived the next day on a boat provided by Freestyle heading for Musandam from the Omani port of Dibba just over the border. There was just one other diver on the boat, Valerie Hickey from Ireland. Darryl had intended to join us but had to drop out at the last minute so I got to lead the trip, and direct the boatman to take us to dive wherever I thought would be appropriate, which is one of my favorite things to do in UAE and Oman.

Our first thought was Octopus Rock, but when we arrived there, I tested the water, and found a stiff surface current that pushed hard to the north, so I decided it might not be wise to dive there with so many other choices available.

We had Virage, the boatman, take us to Ras Morovi and put in at the bay there. It was a much easier entry, and a lovely dive. We saw the usual suspects, schools of blue triggers, jacks, a conch clinging to a rock, a batfish, a zebra shark egg case, a cuttlefish, a couple of rays, and finally, near the sea-chest rock cutout on the north side of Ras Marovi, a resting zebra shark. That was the highlight of the day, though I saw a zebra shark, what I thought at the time was a leopard shark, in almost the same spot a few years back in 2013 (though I didn't carry cameras back then)
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.com/2013/04/certified-anand-padi-open-water-sting.html



Above is the video from the Ras Morovi dive. Our second dive on Saturday was at Lima Rock. We put in just west of the middle of the north side. Current was fairly benign, so we went all the way to the east point and rounded to the other side. In the video (below), we descend onto a fish trap with a trio of lionfish, then pan to the seabed where we found a feathertail ray, except the Rollei didn't engage to capture it. We return to the reef where we follow a free swimming moray that Bobbi pointed out to us, indicating with her tank banger. From there we move to the infamous point, now at slack current, where we encounter schools of jacks. We hang out there for a bit then cross from north to south where we are rewarded with more fish life and mesmerizing schools of jacks. These go swirling on for a long time in the video.



At the end of the dive Bobbi helped me deploy my SMB by sending a flood of bubbles into it from her alternate air source. This should have worked well except that the clip holding the SMB to the reel had closed outside of the plastic, so when the SMB headed it up, the force pulled the clip apart and the SMB went up independent of its reel. We had not been diving deep so I motioned the ladies to carry on and went up, slowly and safely, to retrieve the marker bouy, which had drifted with the current a little back toward the point. Virage saw me and came with the boat, and relieved me of my weights and gear, but I retained my mask, fins, and snorkel and swam off to the east to retrieve the marker buoy. Meanwhile the ladies surfaced further west and Virage went to retrieve them. I collected my SMB and was forced to drift with the current past the point while Valerie and Bobbi took their time getting back on the boat. The only down side was that my camera was with my gear on the boat, so when the school of a couple dozen huge barracuda that live out there came up underneath me to check me out, I had no way to photograph them, but that was a cool way to end the dive. Back on the boat I attached my SMB clip to the string on the reel in such a way that it would not come off again. Live and learn.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Diving from Khasab with Musandam Discovery, March 3, 2108

Logged dives #1584-1585



Bobbi and I have had excellent dives in northern Musandam, either going from Dibba on long boat trips to Fanaku, what Chris at Nomad Ocean Adventures used to call the far north. We had also had good luck with Extra Divers, whose shop and guest house occupied the promontory overlooking the camping beach just around the corner from the port, near town center, at Khasab. In the old days when we used to go there before all this was built we used to camp on that promontory to avoid the crowds on the beach. We could have it pretty much to ourselves, the only noise being the 'putt putt' of boats passing by in the morning, which we could watch overlooking the vast expanse of water while sipping coffee heated from embers revived from our dinner campfire. The promontory is visible, and just a short walk, from the luxurious Adana Khasab Hotel which has since been built on the spot where Extra Divers once stood. 

Greg and Joyce Raglow were walking near our camping spot and waved to us from there when we pulled up to the hotel after the 4-hour drive from Al Ain, plus the double-border crossing less than an hour from Ras Al Khaima. Greg is one of my ex-dive students, open water and advanced. He's also an accomplished guitar player, and he and I have passed the guitar back and forth at many an open air evening outside at Nomad Ocean Adventure while sipping icy beverages churned out by Chris's infamous slurpie machine.

We can still enter Oman for 5 riyals visa fees paid at the border, special price for GCC residents who fit certain job categories, teacher being one of them. The inexpensive transit visa has been canceled though and now tourists are charged 20 riyals for the month long visa even though they might want to stay only a day or two. This creates a considerable hardship for parents traveling with children, so the hotels offer special Groupon rates to attract customers. The Adana Khasab Hotel had one for 35 riyals (about $100 a night) for a delux room for two with full buffet breakfast and all the expresso we could drink, so we took advantage of a three day weekend to book Friday and Sat nights at the hotel and we booked diving for Sat and Sunday.

I can’t say we were impressed that much with the dive shops. There were three I could find online. One of them, https://www.scubashade.com/khasab-diving, gives a Dubai phone number but their website didn’t have enough information for us to actually make a booking in Khasab. We reached someone at Ras Musandam by phone, https://www.rasmusandamdiver.com/, who said he would pick us up at the Adana Khasab Hotel on Friday, but he didn’t take our name nor ask what kind of divers we were, and when I emailed with that information there was no reply. My last email was to say that the days of our three day weekend had changed and we would not be there Friday after all, but would dive starting Saturday. Again, no reply.

Meanwhile, Rommel at Musandam Discovery, http://musandam-discovery-diving.com/, emailed us back straight away with answers to whatever query we had, and even whatsapped us weather updates to help us go forward with our trip. There was a storm system hanging out over the area especially impacting the Dubai, RAK, Abu Dhabi coastline with rough shamal whipped seas, but impacting less the Khasab side of the peninsula. When Rommel assured us they would be diving Fri/Sat/Sun we confirmed our hotel bookings and made plans to dive with Musandam Discovery.

In the end sea conditions were rough and the boat trips were awash with cold wind-driven waves strafing the boat, soaking everything and everyone. The boat had to hide in coves out of the wind for dives, and the dive profiles were not that ambitious. On the first dive the divemaster started us in the very protected and shallow end of the cove and told us we would work our way to the not so distant point and then turn around and come back. Mishaps happened with some divers in the cold water, one had to surface due to ear problems, but Bobbi and Greg and I went on as instructed, reef on our left, and INTO the current, which took a bit of our air at the beginning of the dive. We were down to a hundred bar when we got toward the point where the diving was starting to get interesting with deeper rocks down to 25 meters or more, better vis, more scope for play, and no current. At that point the guide signaled we should go back, so most of the dive was in effect in the uninteresting shallows. I have not been expected to dive from a boat at anchor and return to the boat since diving with BSAC last century; most boats follow divers on one-way trips in Musandam. So this dive was unexpectedly disappointing.

This was followed by snack of paratha bread spread with cheese and jelly and washed down with water. There were also bananas on board. It’s good to have something to eat between dives, but this was again beneath expectations when in a competitive business people want to attract you back for a return trip.

The next dive was a little better. We had schools of batfish and juvenile barracudas, and a sting ray that played for the GoPro. But one diver signaled out of air at 35 minutes leaving Bobbi and I to go off on our own another 15 but not very ambitiously, so we didn’t see much. Then it was back up the narrow steep ladder onto Suleiman’s boat with the seats too low for divers laden with kit to effectively stand up, and the worst part was the trip back in the cold wind and waves, wetsuits being our only protection, clothing not really an option unless it were a sou’wester.

All in all the experience plus the fact that a repeat the next day would cost us over $100 each caused us to cancel our diving plans and get an early start from the hotel after breakfast to arrive home in time to go for a  jog before sundown in the oasis back home in Al Ain. We enjoyed the trip but were not thrilled with the diving, and we’re not sure where to book next time we go, having found no one there yet to replace the quality of a really well-run dive center the likes of Extra Divers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daytrip diving Daymaniyat Islands Al Ain to Mussanah, Nov 10, 2017

Logged dives #1582-1583

As I said on Facebook,




Bobbi and I were drying out at the gills. It had been a month since our last dive. Fortunately some of the best diving in the region is within three hours driving of where we live in Al Ain. We have to cross the border into Oman and drive hectically down the coast from Sohar after dark down a 4-lane highway with aggressive drivers, annoying road construction, and poor lighting. But given a quick border crossing, we can get to a place to sleep in just three hours.

It's getting cool this time of year and we decided to take bedding in case we needed to sleep in the car. We've done that often in the past. It's fairly safe and quiet to just find a remote spot a short drive off the road and sleep in the back of the car. But our plan was to drive to the Suwaiq motel about 2.5 hours from our home and try and get a room there. Normally few sleep there, the action is in the night club area of the property. We like to stay there - the beer is cheap, local patrons colorful, even comical, rooms are well insulated from noise, and rooms are 20 riyals, around $60.

But then Bobbi noticed that for members of the Millennium club (she always joins these clubs at hotels where we stay, airlines we fly) there was a dive package for room, dinner, breakfast, and a day of diving that cost just $100 more than the diving would normally cost us (45 riyals each for one day, two dives). That was almost the cost of the rack price of the sumptuous buffet dinner provided at the luxury hotel, 14 riyals per person. So for an extra $40 over what we were planning to pay for just a room in Suwaiq and the diving that was the impetus of the trip, we could sleep in comfort at the hotel adjacent to the Sea Oman dive center, and eat like kings and queens on the lanai overlooking the boat harbor.




Our first dive was on Doc's Wall Nov 10, 2017, far west Daymaniyats: Antonia pointed out a lobster in a crack in the wall, so I had to photograph it. Then I pulled her fin because she passed right over a torpedo ray. Next we were mesmerized by a fishball ballet. We saw a nudibranch, several honeycomb morays, a scorpion fish that's hard to spot, banners and snappers, a passing sea snake, a yellowmouth moray, and a lion fish hiding out with a shy puffer, all photogenic.




The second dive was on Sira island. Almost the same drop for Doc's Wall, different direction. Here we see scorpion fish, morays, what happens when Antonia liberates a bag of bait fish tossed by someone overboard and then she points out a leopard shark. Further on, we find a small turtle, puffers, coronet fish, a sting ray, butterflies on the shallow reef top, and a trio of cautious cuttlefish right at the safety stop.

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


Diving with my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fun diving Dibba Rock and 3-Rocks Fujairah UAE with favorite dive buddy Bobbi

Logged dives #1580-1581

Almost immediately after Bobbi and I returned to UAE from Egypt, I had to surrender my passport for my annual UAE visa renewal. This meant I would not be able to travel to Oman or Musandam and cross borders or checkpoints for the next few weeks, so my diving would be restricted to UAE for the time being.

The weekend after landing on a Saturday night flight from Cairo we felt like resting, so the following weekend we were thinking to go diving because Sunday was supposed to be a day off work, but later in the week we found out we had to work that day anyway, but the NEXT Thursday was slated to be off in lieu, so we planned to go diving that following weekend. As it turned out, that day-off was canceled as well, but we were beginning to dry out around the gills so on Friday, October 6, after working as usual on Thursday, we at least got to sleep a bit longer on Friday. We were up by 7, had the car packed by 8:30, and a little after that we were on the road, driving across the desert and through the east coast mountain range, to arrive at the Miramar Hotel right about 11:30, just in time to get ready to dive with Divers Down at 12:30. We had booked two dives, that one and again at 3:30.

We had been looking forward to renewing acquaintance with Paul, the colorful owner we had last dived with when I trained Mohammed Chowdhury there in May the year before. We found the center to be under new management but many of the friendly and helpful Filipino staff were still there, among other old friends.


In poor visibility on Dibba Rock, Fujairah, UAE, we nevertheless see schools of fish, lion fish, nudibranchs, flounders, batfish, rainbow wrasse, a puffer, and pipefish :-)

The diving wasn't great this weekend. There was a steady breeze from the sea causing small waves to wash on shore and some chop on the boat ride to Dibba Rock, our first dive site. Dibba Rock is normally one of our favorite sites in that area, but today the vis was soupy. We started the dive looking for rays in the sand around the deep anchor. We finned south against the current and then let it carry us back over the sand, always within site of the blurred shapes of rocks looming off the outcrops. We saw nothing but when we caught up with Rex and his group he asked in diver sign language if we had seen the ray that had apparently just taken flight from there. That was about it for excitement on that dive.

In this video from our Sharm (Three Rocks) dive, we focus on a couple of box fish, a banner fish ballet, a moray in orange soft coral, a trio of batfish, and schools of jacks, snappers and fusiliers

The next dive was at Sharm Rock, what Divers Down are now calling Three Rocks, as in the past, and before that, when I started diving in UAE, they used to call it the Pinnacles. In fact, in the old days we used to pull off the road just south of Sandy Beach and snorkel out to it on a compass heading dead east from shore, especially at night for advanced course night dives. There used to be resident school of barracuda there, lots of morays, and decent vis before they started building breakwaters from all the small harbors on the coast there, extending their ports, and building luxury villas on the coast with dedicated yacht harbors. There have been many impacts on the marine ecosystem in that stretch of coastline in the past 20 years, some of them natural, such as Cyclone Gonu and the red tide that one year persisted for 6 months, devastating the coral and many of the creatures who had lived on it. It's been bouncing back, but it's not like before. It used to be a pristine dive area, with lots of great sites with generally good visibility teeming with life and color.

Today the color was in shades of greens and browns, and even red as we went toward the south end of the rock. A thick red algae bloom had colored the water rust, and shades of orange where the sun was trying to shine through. It was disorienting because we couldn't tell if the darker patches were rock or just algae. I tried to aim us north toward where we'd put in but came upon a wall forcing us to head west for a seemingly long time, so finally I decided there was no rock there to the right, just algae, and headed through it to the north. Bobbi came away with itching from the mild toxin produced by the algae. At least the fish were plentiful. Though hard to see due to poor vis, there were often present swooping schools of jacks, snappers, and fusiliers.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Red Sea liveaboard diving: Simply over-hyped?

Logged dives #1564-1579

Bobbi and I joined our good friend Nicki Blower on a dive trip she has repeated often in the Red Sea. The trip is billed as "Simply the Best" and has been recommended to us by other friends as well as something we should do at least once in our lives. It covers stops at Brothers, Daedalus, and Elphinstone reefs in Egypt's Red Sea, sites noted for pelagic sharks and particularly hammerheads. Our experience was more sanguine. We saw a couple of thresher sharks, three or four grey or perhaps white-tip oceanic reef sharks, and a few more easily identifyable and in-your-face longimanus oceanic white tip sharks. Some people from our boat sighted hammerheads on two or three of the dives, though only one or two at a time, and not nearby. Nicki said she saw one at a distance. She also saw this "Carcharhinus Longimanus rushing over at a vast rate of knots! "



It doesn't matter that our expectations of seeing schools of hammerhead sharks were not met. This happened with us also on Lyang Lyang where we had gone to see hammerheads, but that trip was remarkable for what we saw besides on the reefs of the atoll, teeming with other kinds of sharks and memorable fish-life, so despite the scarcity of hammerheads at that time of year, we were in no way disappointed with the trip as a whole, blogged here: 
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.ae/2016/04/my-logged-dives-1418-1429-sun-friday.html

I've dived in the Red Sea many times since the 1970s and I've always found the reef fish life to be extraordinary. 
From the videos at my post on Layang Layang you can see what we were expecting the Red Sea to be like. If you compare with those below you could say that Layang Layang would be a strong competitor for "Simply the Best."


But others might find a much different experience. This blog post is meant to simply record what Bobbi and I found when we went there.


First day out, Sunday Sept 3, Ras Toromi




We arrived in Port Galeib on Saturday Sept 2, 2017, in time to board the Okeanos Xplorer and settle in for the night. The boat departed early a.m. and took us to Ras Toromi where we did two check-out dives anchored at the same spot on a shallow reef on our way to the two Brothers islands another 6 hours distant. As often happens in Egypt, even with shore-based diving, several boats will anchor at about the same spot on the part of the reef most sheltered from weather and seas. Diving is done either by jumping from the boat or from zodiacs (each boat carries two on deck).


On our first dive, first day, we did the easiest possible entry, jumping from the boat, and guided by the divemaster we'd be with the rest of the trip, we went down current (too easy) but then had to beat our way back against it, plus pass the test we had been given for the end of the dive -- EVERYone had to deploy their surface marker buoy, also known as SMB or simply the sausage. These are tricky to deploy in the best of circumstances. I sent mine up and then helped Bobbi with hers. We were trying to hold our place against the stiff current and also to keep our lines from getting tangled. When we surfaced we found ourselves in a spider web of mooring lines from numerous boats with both our SMBs needing delicate management to avoid entanglement with the ropes let alone from each other (normally we'd just put one up per buddy pair; this was an unusual complication). We managed to keep our lines free and make some progress against the current (our boat was the last one down, wouldn't you know), but my snorkel snagged when I tried to duck under a mooring line and got turned down into the water, causing me to suck salt. I tried to free it with one hand while grasping my reel and lines with the other but the mouthpiece came away from the tube and disappeared. I felt a bit clumsy, and  meanwhile a zodiac appeared to collect us. Bobbi handed up her tank and was hauled aboard, and I put my sausage on the dinghy, and freed of that, it was easier for me to just fin myself to the back of our boat and climb the ladder. Not the most auspicious of starts, though.


The next dive was done from the zodiac. The main idea was to get people accustomed to that means of entry in relatively benign conditions. I don't remember much from the dive, and the videos of what I thought noteworthy from both are captured in the video above.



Second day out, Monday Sept 4, Little Brother



The video shows
A parade of distant oceanic reef sharks and several barracuda, seen over the course of three dives on Little Brother, September 4, 2017

We spent the first part of some of our dives on the Brothers islands and Daedalus swimming into the blue in hopes of seeing hammerheads. On one or two of our three dives on Little Brother reef we saw white tip or gray reef sharks swimming in the blue which nevertheless made digital impressions visible to my GoPro. Apart from that I didn't find much of note to take pictures of, except for the barracuda that hovered high up off the reef. They didn't appear in schools here, just a few at a time. At some point a lion fish on the coral wall caught my eye and I photographed that.


Third day out, Tuesday Sept 5, Big Brother




On our first dive of the day we went out in zodiacs and put in just short enough of the wreck we expected to visit at 30 meters that we had to fin hard against an opposing current to reach it. This was seriously hard work and I lost 50 bar doing that, and once we turned and went with the current, there was not much to see on the way going back to the boat at anchor. After that I decided to pay 30 Euros for use of a 15 liter cylinder for the rest of the trip, money well-spent as it kept me on even par with Bobbi’s air consumption, given her smaller lungs.

We conducted our second dive from the boat, which remained at anchor in the same spot during our three dives on Little Brother that day.  This was one of the better dives of the trip for sharks. A longimanus oceanic white tip swam up to the boat as we were descending from it, as you can see in the video taken from below. We were heading into the current again, the same direction we had finning to the wreck earlier that morning, but we were closer in to the reef so it was more doable, but still it was a slog to reach the point where the thresher sharks were. I saw one quite clearly and got a shot of it, though it is more difficult to distinguish against the coral it was swimming against as it reached blue water and the limits of visibility.  As we had to work up current to get there, and we were now at 30 meters, we couldn't stay long, so we drifted back to boat where we found a humphead wrasse and another longimanus that swam amongst us as we were approaching the boat near the surface.

For the third dive we were given two options. The dive leader suggested we take the zodiacs to the point opposite the one where the threshers were, drop in on another smaller wreck at 30 meters, and swim (again upcurrent) back to the boat. When I asked why we were always having to work into the current I was told the currents were mild and it wouldn’t be a problem, despite what we had experienced on the two dives earlier that day. Others wanted to repeat the first dive, which meant they would jump from the boat, and go again against the current.

A third option would have been to drop on the farthest upcurrent point where we had seen threshers earlier and easy swim back to the boat with the current, and work our way back up to the surface there with chance of seeing longimanus, but this option was not on the table.

In the end our group decided to go to the wreck and swim up a new part of the reef. The current was perhaps diminished, but it was enough to keep us pumping the whole way back to the boat. We didn’t go onto the wreck because of our deco situation third dive of the day and as we moved along the reef, we saw little of interest until I notice a thresher shark moving about 20 meters down and dropped in on it. Again I saw it clearly and thought I got a nice video up close as it passed beneath me but the fish eye GoPro makes it look further. That was pretty much it for that dive. I managed to pump my way back to the boats just as I got down to 50 bar, Bobbi right behind, but complaining about having to keep up with me, while the others in our group were strewn behind.


Fourth day out, Wednesday Sept 6, Daedalus





After diving on Daedalus some from our boat visited the lighthouse where they encountered divers from other boats. From this we had reports from one of the other boats that technical divers using tri-mix (and one who told our informant he had used air) found a school of a dozen hammerheads at below 70 meters off Deadalus. It makes sense that they were present, but at depth, because hammerheads stay below the thermocline and avoid the warm shallower water. Temperatures at the depths we were diving were no less than 26 (degrees centigrade) at Brothers and 28 at Daedalus (where the hammerheads were seen at 70 meters).

We went looking for hammerheads the first of our three dives there, but not much was happening for us diving to 40 on Daedalus reef, September 6, 2017. We saw only a few barracudas in the course of three dives on the reef, all to or from, or from and to, the boat at anchor. 


Our last dive on Deadalus was oddly planned and executed. It was a jump from the boat and planned as a swim from the boat at anchor to Anenome City. The dive leader said in the briefing that many people start from zodiacs on Anenome City and work their way back to the boats, but he preferred we go from the boat at anchor and arrive at the destination where the zodiac would pick us up. He mentioned that it should take us 55 minutes to reach Anenome city, and that is exactly what it took Bobbi and I.


We were the only ones in our group who made it that far, and on the way we encountered many groups of divers coming the other way, having been dropped at Anenome City by zodiac, and hoping to end up back at or near the boats at anchor.


When I say that Bobbi and I reached Anenome City, I mean we reached the approximate location, but did not know what we were looking for, so we did not round the corner where we would have found it. This is because the dive leader had mispronounced the destination during the briefing, saying it was an-en-ohm, making us think he was saying animal city. We didn't find out till later our destination was anenomes (an-en-ohm-eeez). He also did not brief us on one other important clue, which is that Anenome City was just around the corner of the wall we had been on for 55 minutes of the dive.


I discovered this when I mentioned it to the dive leader back on the boat after the dive, and he said, oh, you were there! Had we known what to look for in advance we would have rounded that corner, but at the part of the dive where we saw the wall end we were right at the time we should start our ascent, so thinking we were looking for an animal city, and we might have passed it for all we knew, we commenced our safety stop. We were no longer with our guide, he had been surfacing the other divers for the past 20 minutes, and they were all on the zodiac when it came to collect us, an hour after we'd started our dive.


It was a little disappointing to have been so near and yet so far, and I feel that the experience would have been much improved if we had been dropped at the destination. However, I've since been on YouTube and found other people's videos of Anenome City. It appears to be a beautiful spot but anenomes and the clown and other reef fishes they attract are something you can see on many reefs in the world. Still I think we all would have appreciated better attention to customer experience in how this dive was carried out.


Other divers' views of Anenome City, Daedalus:


Fifth day out, morning of Thursday Sept 7, 35 minutes at Elphinstone





We had been very much looking forward to finally reaching Elphinstone reef after three days of swimming at depth hunting hammerheads on the two Brothers and Daedalus. Elphinstone is reputed to be productive for sharks and mantas. Divezone has this description of it, from
“Elphinstone Reef is also famous for being one of the few places on Earth where you can dive with the Oceanic Whitetip Shark as well as Harmmerhead Sharks. The best chances to spot an Oceanic Whitetip Shark (also called longimanus) are from October to December. Manta Rays (mainly from May to August), Dolphins and Tiger Sharks can also sometimes be spotted. In addition to these giants, there are also plenty of pelagic fishes like trevallies, Barracudas and Tunas. The reef life is teeming with myriads of fishes all around Elphinstone.”


The next paragraph mentions that
“The best place to dive Elphinstone Reef is from Marsa Alam on a day trip. Many liveaboards also go there”


This is good advice. We saw speedboats full of divers coming from shore-based operations, making their way through the welter of liveaboards at anchor. One surprise on waking up on a liveaboard at Elphinstone is that you can see the shore clearly, an easy boat distance away. Speedboats can be flexible, drop in on any favorable location on the reef, and not be constrained to getting divers on and off pitching platforms in rough seas via zodiacs.


This was the problem this morning at Elphinstone. The wind was up, the boat had been rolling all night, and now we found ourselves in a welter of 9 other big boats, which meant, with ours, 20 zodiacs buzzing about in the water, complicating the logistics of getting divers in and out safely.


This led to disappointing diving due to controls designed to prevent any incident in waves. We were admonished to stay in our groups and with the guide, and we were in the group with the heavy breather who had to start his safety stop after only half an hour in the water. We barely had time to photograph a turtle surrounded by other divers photographing each other photographing the turtle on top of the plateau, and that was at 30 meters so when our guide signalled we should go deeper where the sharks were, Bobbi and I were down to our last minute of no-deco time and had to ascend, as the rest in our group were already doing. A big fish appeared suddenly as we were coming up, but we couldn’t investigate since our group was going to the safety stop. Nicki and I at least found the Elphinstone memorial before having to come up, see it close up here, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elphinstone_Reef_memorial.jpg.

And it’s in the video.

But that 30 minute dive comprised our Elphinstone reef experience on this cruise. Our boat pulled anchor and retreated to the shelter of Abu Dabab where the cooks could at least work in the kitchen without spilling boiling water, and although we didn’t find the high powered diving we were expecting, there was much to entertain us in the calmer water there.

After moving the boat, afternoon of Thursday Sept 7,  2 hour-long dives on Abu Dabab


First the pinnacles




In lieu of Elphinstone, we move to Abu Dabab, where we see blue spotted rays feeding in the sand, a turtle, titan triggers and reef other fish amid some lovely shallow underwater pinnacles


Then the Wreck




Afternoon dive on Abu Dabab at the wreck, where we see a crocodile fish, a school of barracudas, green morays, batfish, and a cameleon scorpion fish at the end of the dive.

Sixth day out, Friday Sept 8
Thursday Night dive on Abu Sail, a day dive there the next morning, and snorkeling at Marsa Shouna




The last video above is a compilation of two dives on Abu Sail and of a snorkel experience at Marsa Shouna. We cruised to Abu Sail in the afternoon after wrapping up operations at Abu Dabab. It was a short trip, and we arrived before nightfall and anchored near the rock sticking up above the gentle shore break near the newly developed resort. The rock was spelled Abu Sail on the dive site charts that the crew produced, and pronounced Abu Sayeel. The dive would normally be done as a shore dive.

Nicki and I dived it that evening. We found some small creatures but not as much as we sometimes see on night dives, except that there was a turtle we could follow around in the dark.

After dinner on the boat and a good night's sleep, we rose early to dive it again in the morning. There were no sharks or adrenaline inducing creatures, but we found a turtle and some large green moray eels. Bobbi, Nicki, and I were accompanied on the dive by one of the French divers from our boat. Different approaches to photography are evident in the videos. Finding a turtle in a crevice, I ease myself over the rocks and use my reef hook to carefully support myself against my own momentum on a rock, avoiding the living coral. I use breathing to adjust my buoyancy to ease down on the turtle, get a good closeup picture, and then breathe in to rise away from it, leaving it undisturbed. Then the French diver, whom we dubbed Pierre de la lumiere, comes along with his bright lights which immediately cause the turtle to turn. He grasps the coral with his hands to get his apparatus into the crevice where the turtle was resting and lights it up like fire. He lays his body on the coral to wedge himself into position to film the turtle as it takes fright and makes its escape. Later, as I pass over a bommie to get a glimpse of a green moray there for my GoPro, the French diver again grasps the coral with his hand to better position himself for a bright-light shot of the moray at whatever cost to the ecosystem.

Bobbi and I ended our diving with a parting shot of a blue spotted ray and an ascent to the Okeanos Xplorer anchored peacefully opposite Abu Sail. Our diving was over because we would be flying next morning from Hurghada to Cairo and on to Abu Dhabi. The boat would be going next to Marsa Shouna where there was a patch of sea grass and a chance we might see a dugong, we were told.

Marsa Shouna was a huge bay with green water. Some of the dozens of boats anchored there were serving as platforms for diving schools. It was shallow and not inviting for diving from the boat. The dive leader gamely led a dive anyway for those not flying the next morning. The rest of us donned snorkels and puttered about the rocks and tried to find the patch of sea grass. There were no dugongs but we did find a turtle which I freedived down to and took pictures of similarly to if I'd been diving.

In retrospect


So, what was different about this Red Sea trip? Relatively sparse fish life for one thing, coral perhaps damaged by increasing water temperatures in the Red Sea? Is this true?


This July 16, 2010 report from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found:

"In a pioneering use of computed tomography (CT) scans, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have discovered that carbon dioxide (CO2)-induced global warming is in the process of killing off a major coral species in the Red Sea."
and a KAUST study published in 2011 reveals
"The Red Sea has experienced a sharp warming in its waters since the mid-1990s faster than the global averages, according to a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters."
On the other hand recent studies suggest that northern Red Sea corals have been shown in a 6-week lab experiment to not only survive but thrive in water temperatures 2 degrees warmer than found at present
There are many other factors to affect what you will see on your dives in the Red Sea. Bobbi and I are in our late 60s and despite our frequent dive activities, as can be seen from this blog, we tend to be grouped with the weaker and less experienced divers. As mentioned earlier, one of those divers was not able to monitor and regulate his air consumption and often hung above us where the dive guide would have to go to him and deploy his marker buoy, effectively cutting short the diving for the rest of us. The stronger divers will group around the more experienced dive guide and will be better positioned to get to the animals first and stay down longer, and it is axiomatic with animal viewing that success correlates with time spent where the animals are. Weather as we saw was not conducive to diving on Elphinstone, at least in the judgement of our boat crew. We were between seasons for many of the animals we had come to see. Global warming might be disputed by some, but anyone with a thermometer can detect an increase in water temperatures in oceans throughout the world, driving the pelagic fish to find cooler water deeper, and causing coral to decline with consequences to the health of the reef as a whole.

So whereas we enjoyed our trip, as we always do diving, our expectations ran ahead of what we experienced, and you can consider this when planning your trip, but also consider the factors involved and whether you can do something about them to improve your chances.