Friday, September 14, 2018

Diving from Salang, Tioman, Malaysia with Scuba Guru Grahame Massicks

Logged dives #1591-1595 September 10-11

Bobbi and I have just arrived in Malaysia and set up residence in Penang. We had a hankering to get wet so as soon as the opportunity presented itself we arranged a trip to Tioman. We googled diving there and found Scuba Guru Grahame Massicks, and as we often do, chose to dive with him because his blog at http://tioman-scuba.com/ showed a depth knowledge of the area, and basically because he answered his emails and kept us updated daily on various aspects of our getting there and diving with him. He asked if he could team us on boat dives with his advanced open water students, but it was really no big deal to us, and I don't know what our alternatives would have been with most of the diving on Tioman being focused on training, but we enjoyed our five dives with Scuba Guru over the three days we were there.


Bobbi checking out the swing at the end of the jetty on arrival in Salang, Tioman

We arrived on the island at around lunchtime Sunday September 9, 2018. It happened to be an eid weekend and the boats to Tioman the day before had been full, so we had spent an extra night in Malacca, taken a bus to Mersing on Saturday, where the harbor is, and made our way to the harbor after breakfast Sunday to catch the 10:30 a.m. Bluewater ferry, which made several stops on Tioman, Salang being the furthest north and the last stop. Grahame had emailed that he would meet us at the Salang Dreams restaurant right at the end of the jetty, where he suggested we take some lunch on the breezy veranda. Wherever we decided to eat in Salang, all options were at tables under shady roofs open on all sides to the pleasant weather.

Grahame had arranged our accommodation. The first night we stayed in an air-con room at the Mutiara Resort, through it was more like, and was in fact, a last resort. The Mutiara was almost as far out the paved surface as you could walk from the jetty, but still only about 5 or 10 minutes. There were campers on the beach just outside our room, and immediately opposite there was a table with fixed benches and a shade overhead, where local lads liked to congregate and play hip hop at high volume on their cell phones. The cottages shared walls with the neighbors, so we heard them as well, but at night the place was quiet, and the air con could be set at 24 degrees and it would keep the room at exactly that without blowing all over us, so it was ok for sleeping at least. But the facilities were poorly maintained, the toilet spewed water all over the floor when flushed (clean water, but still ... ) and the hairballs covering the drains and on the floor of the bathroom could easily have been removed before new guests checked in. The Mutiara also had the distinction on Trip Advisor of having no 'excellent' or 'good' ratings. All their ratings when we checked them out before we got there were 'average', 'poor', or 'terrible.'




But Grahame said it was the only room left in Salang that night in that price range, 130 ringgit because it was air con. And it was right next to Ella's place, the farthest place up the paved walk, where he had booked us into a fan cooled room for 80 rm a night the next two days. It was near the cottage where Grahame stayed, and also just steps from the dive center. Ella's was a much more pleasant and quieter place, with stand alone cottages providing some privacy from the neighbors (who happened to be Oscar and Frances, the advanced students whom we dived with Monday and Tuesday). Ella's Place took us back to our hippy travel days with colorful sunsets from our porch which we enjoyed over beer that Grahame kept cool for us in his fridge in his cottage, and banana pancakes in the morning from the rustic restaurant about ten paces from our room (no music or late nights there, thankfully, and any noise in the morning got drowned out by the whir of the fan).



Posted on Facebook September 11: Sunset from our bungalow and breakfast views from Ella's Place, where we shifted after a night at Mutiara (last) resort. Note the archetypical banana pancakes and fruit platter, throwbacks to a simpler era of travel. One more day of diving then we ferry back to the mainland and grab whatever buses will get us back to Penang via KL BTS.




So once we were settled in at the Mutiara our first day there, we walked with Grahame down to the dive center where he proposed a choice of shore dives, one off the jetty (a lot of boat traffic there, didn't appeal) and another about 100 meters due west from the dive center, where a confiscated boat had been sunk in the sand. It had mostly decomposed, but it had attracted a lot of fish, including a school of young barracudas. Grahame describes the site on his blog, calling it the Salang Bay Wreck dive, http://tioman-scuba.com/salang-bay-wreck-2/. As this was my first dive since last June, I didn't really care where we went as long as it was wet, and we ended up enjoying the dive and getting to know Grahame and his methods. And of course, he was checking us out as well.

Our first boat dive the following day was on the Sipidan Wreck, deliberately decommissioned and sunk recently to create an artificial reef as a substrate for the propagation of fish life. Here is Grahame's write-up of this dive site: http://tioman-scuba.com/km-sipidan-wreck-2/ and here is the link to our video, 
https://youtu.be/h1WHKFajghA

On this dive, Grahame was guiding his PADI advanced o/w students Oscar and Francis on their deep dive down to 30 meters. Grahame brought his students up after 20 minutes but he told us we could stay as long as we liked on the wreck as long as we avoided deco. It was similar to the Inchcape wrecks in the UAE, and we basically descended and looked around it. It's a pretty typical wreck, with a fish ball of jack fish off its bow and more jacks at the stern. The video is herehttps://youtu.be/jnx4ZSEoj28



Our second dive of the day was at Rengis Island. The video is here, https://youtu.be/3mVfKD7_mTw, and here is Grahame's write-up of the site: http://tioman-scuba.com/rengis-island-2/



This video shows me, Vance, diving as usual with my favorite dive buddy Bobbi and with Grahame's PADI advanced o/w students Oscar and Francis. On this dive, Grahame points out a small critter in the sand, not sure exactly what it is. This is followed by a remora looking in vain for a host. Then suddenly a blacktip shark makes a surprise appearance and vanishes. Then I film a puffer enjoying a wrasse cleaning station, and pan to an unusually curious cuttlefish who seems to be fascinated with the camera. At the end of our dive we spend our safety stop in a long visit with a turtle

Videos from our next day diving on Tiger Reef and nearby Labas Island are posted on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/eRiou839JNI

Grahame's write-up on Tiger Reef is here: http://tioman-scuba.com/golden-reef-and-tiger-reef/, and for Labas Island, with its swim-throughs: http://tioman-scuba.com/labas/Mine follows:

On Tuesday September 11, 2018, the five of us dived together on Tiger Reef and Labas Island. Visibility was limited on both dives, but the first site, Tiger Reef, had a stiff current, which proved challenging for the just-certified in open water advanced students. The dive was short but nice and featured juvenile barracudas, morays, and blue spotted rays. The site is approximately mid-way between Sepoi and Labas Islands, which explains the current in the channel.

Back on board the boat, we motored over to the shelter of Labas Island, and after a brief surface interval we dived from where the boat was, which I presume was not just any place, but a place where Grahame knew we would find numerous swim-throughs. For the next hour he led us in a world of pretty blue anemones and a variety of soft and hard corals.  Here you can see for yourself:





Getting there

Bobbi and I spent all day before our trip booking bus tickets to Malacca, accommodation there for two nights, and the onward bus from Malacca Sentral to Mersing, and accommodation in Mersing. Then we had to figure out the Tioman ferry schedule (changes daily according to tide, or sometimes cancelled or delayed due to weather) and book the trip out, confusing if you haven't done it before.

There are several options leaving Penang. We live between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi so in order of distance we would have to travel to catch the bus, we could go to the Georgetown jetty on a public bus or Grab and get the boat to Butterworth where there should be many buses to KL or all the way to Malacca. Timing on this trip would be difficult to gauge, since we'd have to catch a ferry, frequent, but hard to book the bus in advance. Or we could try to get a bus in Komtar, the business district on the far side of Georgetown from the Jeti but not that much further from where we live, and go to Meleka or KL / Meleka from there, or we could go to the main bus station in Sungai Nibong in the south of Penang Island, where there were numerous buses to Meleka or KL. That would be the most distant ride from our house.

We decided to book a bus all the way to Malacca from Komtar. We woke up early and packed and got down to the gate to our compound in plenty of time we thought, but it took almost half an hour to get a Grab driver to come up there. We still made it to Komtar with time to spare but there was construction on the roads in the area that had consumed the address we had for the bus station. We ended by going to a street with bus ticketing agents to see if they could help us find our bus. It turned out the bus would stop right there, so we were relieved, and even had time to run over to a food court and pick up some nasi lemak, rice packs in banana leaves, and some other snacks we could try out on the bus to Malacca, unfamiliar to us but delicious. After all you can hardly go wrong on Penang street food.




We had booked a homestay place in Malacca, a bit of a risk, but this one turned out to be a jewel. It's called The Paradise on Booking.com, at $35 for two nights. It was a short walk to the Jonker Street heritage area but was in a quiet residential part of town with many restaurants nearby. Our room had a bath and was air-conditioned, one of just three or four bedrooms in the house. We could use the kitchen and relax in the common living area. The manager was friendly and helpful when he was there, but most of the time there was no one there but us.




We spent two nights there so we had a full day in the town. We walked as far as the floating mosque a few km away but mainly spent time along the river. 




One little Thai restaurant with tables on the river bank had a promotion on pints of beer, only 8 ringgit each, which is just a ringgit or two more than it costs in the supermarket. It was very tempting to relax there watching the bateaux mouches go up and down the river carrying tourists who thought taking a boat ride might be a good idea. That didn't appeal to us but there was much about Malacca that was appealing. 




The riverside restaurant with the beer promotion was just down to the left from this building in Malacca

Other things worth noting in Malacca were the street art and the ridiculously decorated hello kitty pedicabs (another kind of street art),





At dinner time we noticed that one of the best hotels in town had a buffet of Thai and nyonya food for about $25, but half price for seniors over 60. That's not bad for an all you can eat buffet, see http://www.casadelrio-melaka.com/special/riverside-bbq-buffet (and you can also get half price if your birthday falls within the month you eat there), so that's where we ate, and just a short walk back to our homestay.

There were only two buses a day to Mersing from Malacca, one early morning, and the other at 12:45 pm. We had booked the latter so we had a leisurely start to our day with Malaysian coffee, bags dropped into cups of water heated in our kitchen, and then we caught a Grab to the bus station where we had time to have lunch in the food court. We had no trouble catching the bus, it wasn't full, and we arrived in Mersing well before dark. We walked out to the ferry terminal a km away from the station because someone told us there was an extra ferry sheduled that night, so we should be able to get our tickets for the next day. It was worth going there and showing them our voucher which we had to have printed (according to their web site, one of the many anxieties we expected to have to deal with to catch the boat). We found the man at "counter 21" actually an office, who helped us with an explanation of what to do next day. We should be there an hour early for a 10:30 ferry he told, us and assured us he would be there to help us on the morrow.

The only problem was that we had taken a hotel, the Merlin Mersing, a couple of km north of the jetty complex. Tripadvisor feedback suggested it was quiet due to its isolation. In fact it was too far out of town for having to get back there next morning to get a ferry. Fortunately, the Merlin provided transport in the morning after telling us initially there was no one available to take us, relenting only when we showed them where they advertised on their web site transfers to the ferry terminal. It wasn't that quiet either probably because of the eid weekend. The hotel was crowded and families congregated at the balconies outside our room. Still after a nice meal and a couple of beers we slept well, and had a buffet breakfast before having to set off in the morning.

Next time we do this it will be easier. But once at the jetty we had to meet the man at counter 21 who guided us to the place where we would get our ticket and another window where we had to pay a marine reserve fee. Outside there were a lot of people waiting around but no obvious signage on where to catch the ferry. We asked at an agent's in the terminal building and she said we had to go to the next building over. Eventually we worked out that this was what we had just done, but someone showed us the departure terminal where a line was forming, so we got in it. This line was to exchange a ticket for a boarding pass, but the agent when it was our turn merely tore our ticket a certain way that only agents know how to do, and pointed us to gate 4, where the ferry was waiting outside. 

Once on the ferry the whole process seemed simple and efficient. Next time we'll know how to do it and what to expect. Anyway, we had got that far, and next stop would be Salang on Tioman.

Getting away

To get back home, we got up at 4:30 a.m. to be sure and catch the boat leaving from this jetty to Mersing. We were told it would leave at 7 but in fact it left at 6:30, so good thing we were on hand for its departure. 

From the jetty in Mersing we got a taxi to the bas steson, good thing there as well because we were able to get a 10 am bus to KL we would have missed had we walked the km to the steson. 


Bobbi on the bus from Mersing to Kuala Lumpur

We arrived in KL at 4:15 pm. We bought a ticket for a bus to Penang leaving in 10 min, but KL TBS terminal is amazingly efficient. Buses less so because we didn't reach Penang, Butterworth actually, till 10 pm, then sat on a stationary shuttle bus for 30 min, to take us to the ferry leaving at 11:10 pm for the Georgetown jetty, That gets you to the Georgetown Jeti bas steson just in time to miss your last bus going wherever it is you're headed, because we weren't the only ones caught out by the unexpectedly long delay crossing the channel. 

Fortunately Grab provided a driver to take us way out to Tanjung Bunga and home for just $3.25. The whole trip home cost $10 each per bus or ferry ticket (except the shuttle in Butterworth was free and the Butterworth/Penang ferry is about half a dollar for two). Frankly, beats plane travel. There's no airport on Tioman anyway.


Coda

The videography here is by Vance Stevens, PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181
For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube

Incidentally, I'm using a Rollei camera on these dives, a handheld camera similar to GoPro but different in some respects. First, it was a lot cheaper than a GoPro, and has markedly better battery life, but it is not as reliable and seamless to handle as is GoPro. If it's not monitored during the dive, it can switch off and possibly loose videos. When it switches off pressing the record button switches it on, and if your subject has appeared suddenly you might not notice that it's not yet recording. To use it effectively I've got to keep its display on throughout the dive. That means I need to check for display frequently and if I notice the display has gone off, I have to press record to wake it up. Only in that mode is it ready for quick deployment, but if you don't wake it up in time then it powers down and you have to essentially restart it, and functionality becomes unpredictable.

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.