Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fun holiday diving in Raja Ampat Indonesia April 5-9, 2015

My logged dives #1343-1352



I'm writing this on the restaurant veranda at Raja Ampat Dive Resort on an afternoon of pouring rain. Fortunately it was sunny and bright this morning for the most awesome day of diving we've done in a long time, and we even managed to get our dive gear in out of the sun as the first drops fell. But we didn't expect an hours-long deluge. My 1 GB data roaming package just ran out while we were stuck here, and we have to get our gear from where we parked it up to our room so we can pack, pay up, sleep, and be off in the morning for the long haul back to Abu Dhabi. That seems to be our biggest concern while the world is dripping water outside, but hopefully the rain will pass.



We'd been looking forward to this holiday for a long time. Bobbi has become a good travel agent in her retirement. She spends weeks prior to my holidays finding the most appropriate dive locations for us and booking us into them, and this time it was Raja Ampat, just off west Iryan Jaya, a place from where many of our friends have been sending back glowing reports.

It was hard to book a place because it's Easter holidays in many parts of the world, many are traveling at this time, and in Raja Ampat most resorts expect you to stay with them for a week and don't want to talk to you if you can't meet their once-weekly pickup date. Of the few who are cheaper and more flexible, RADR http://rajaampatdiveresort.com/ boasted 24 hour electricity and flexibility on dates, and turned out to be friendly and accommodating. Their accommodation was basic (wooden cabins, no locks on doors, fan-cooled) but comfortable (beds to melt in, quiet apart from jungle noises). Food was great, and diving was as-you-like-it. They had a modem with blinking lights but no Internet the whole time we were there, but I managed to use my cell phone as a data hub for as long as my 1 GB pre-paid roaming lasted.

Unfortunately my body clock had wound down by the time we got to Raja Ampat. I was in Toronto the last week in March, freezing temperatures, 4 presentations, and flew home soon after the last one, arriving home in Al Ain after midnight, purposely overslept work but got there as soon as I woke up, dealt with end of semester reports in addition to covering other people's classes through to end of week, came home exhausted, packed dive gear, etc, and got 4 hours sleep before having to get up to drive 1.5 hours to the airport in Abu Dhabi.

With so little time to recover from jet lag, my body protested in earnest the morning of packing the car at 5 a.m and I started to feel feverish, so I grabbed a thermometer, discovered I had a slight fever, and brought it with me to monitor my body for the rest of the trip. We drove to Abu Dhabi, parked at a sister college, took a taxi to the airport, and then caught a flight to Jakarta, delayed due to the previous day's severe dust storms in UAE. We reached Jakarta around midnight but had to get our bags through customs and sit with them in a coffee shop for some hours before boarding domestic at 5 a.m. So we missed the night's sleep and by now my fever was over 38.

It didn't help that we had to change planes in Makassar before catching one to our destination airport Sarong. That was tedious, but went ok, and RADR had sent a meet and greet to collect us on landing, but it was only to pack us in a car for a drive to the harbor, because we still had a 2-hour trip by boat to Waisai, the port on the island where the resort was. The resort was actually full the day we arrived so it had been arranged for us to be taken to a hotel in town to sleep and await pick up for diving in the morning. The hotel was basic and almost empty, but comfortable enough for a tired traveler, and sleeping there was really all I wanted to do, so worn out from the trip and feverish. However, we couldn't help but notice it was next to what looked to be a main mosque and we knew what that meant. That is we thought we knew what that meant. We thought it meant that although we were too tired to stay awake till sunset, we might be disturbed in our sleep. But our heads had no sooner hit the pillow and had succumbed to the stress of the trip when at 6:05 the prayer call began on highest volume. We try to be understanding about these things and we know we are in another country, another culture, and we must be tolerant visitors, but this lasted for 1 hour 30 minutes, and we just lay through it, too weary to do anything else, even go out for food. It's probably a good thing we didn't because when it stopped we shut down as well and slept. We slept for 9 hours when at 4:30 the call resumed for morning prayer. This one lasted 45 min, by which time we needed to get up because our ride was coming at 7:00.



By now my fever was 38.5 and I knew I was not really fit for diving, but we had booked three dives for that day and I had found a web site to say that there was no need to seek medical help until a fever reached 103 F or 39.4 C. So we soldiered on despite a continuation of errors. We were greeted at the resort, moved into our cabin, handed forms to fill out, and shown onto a boat. The odd thing was we never saw any other divers there until the day we left, we had the dive shop and resort to ourselves. The only other divers were the manager and his visiting daughter. However, the people in the accommodation the day before had gone on a trip that morning and taken all the weight. That was the first thing we noticed, we had to go to another resort to get more weight. When they got the boat started, two 40 hp motors they tried one after another but the boatman knew his equipment and finally managed to squeeze enough gas and oil into the right places with the lid off both engines to get one puttering and we were off to pick up weight and rev out to the dive site.

We did the two morning dives at places called Mioskun and Friwen Bonda, good ones, with our first ever glimpse of wobbegong sharks. When I saw my first one under a rock, our dive guide Rocky reached in to grab its curly-queue tail and pull it out where I could get better pictures. I got a great shot of him doing that but another thing going wrong that day was the SD card in my camera was failing and my computer later refused to read it, nor could the GoPro recognize it after that, so all our shots were lost on our first dive. We have two Go-Pros though, each with an SD card and we usually use one the first dive, and then the next one the second. So we have the shots from our second dive, second GoPro. And after that we just kept switching the cards over so we had a camera working and fresh batteries every dive.

But my body batteries were in serious discharge. When we returned to port for lunch, I managed to get my equipment washed but it was all I could do to get back up to the room, find my fever was now 39.3, just a notch off critical, and take the decision to call off diving till further notice and go to bed. Forget the third, dive, I didn't even have lunch. Nor dinner. Nor breakfast next morning. Someone brought bananas, I didn't eat those. I only drank the cokes Bobbi brought me and I stayed in bed for 24 hours, monitoring my fever which hovered in the 38 range through the morning. Finally next afternoon, the fever broke in a sweat. I went to dinner. The manager Andy suggested we join him and his daughter for a three dive trip the next day. It would be an all-day outing, not sure if I was up for it yet, but manager's choice of dive sites sounded tempting, so we agreed.



They were great spots, starting with Manta Sandy, where there was a manta on hand to entertain the swarm of divers who were positioned behind a line of rocks in the sand. It was wonderfully entertaining, and at the end the manta came right at and over us, granting us the Facebook shot of the day. Back on the boat, we stopped for coffee at a shelter under construction or under dilapidation, hard to tell, on an otherwise empty beach. The idea in such stops was to not only consume coffee, but to vent nitrogen for at least an hour to have safe levels of absorbed gas in our tissues in preparation for the next dive, which at that moment was on West Monswar, not far from Kri Island. I don't remember much about that dive, will have to check the videos, but it was Bobbi's favorite of the day because it was so full of fish. Lunch was passed on a ridiculously white sand bar with blue-green water all around, our launching point for Kri reef. Kri was reputed to be one of the most colorful reefs around, probably superb as a morning dive, but afternoon vis and light took its toll, I was coughing during the dive, and for my first day after serious illness it was one dive too many.

Rocky, our first-day guide, proposed another three dive day for a us next day, but I was concerned about having another 3 dive all day outing. So again we accepted when the manager invited us to accompany him and his daughter on a trip to the passage next day. The Passage ... We envisaged a channel between islands full of pelagic fish drawn to the current on the thriving reefs there. What we found instead was a landscape of mushroom islands funneling into something like a river that separated two separate land masses which, if you didn't know that, could have been two banks to a fast-running stream. There was current, but silt as well, in a flow largely devoid of fish. There were nudibranchs and flatworms and small creatures that our guides delighted in pointing out to us, on each of the two dives we did there. And both dives started in caves, which were easily silted and not all that interesting. It was muck diving and possibly worth seeing if you were getting bored with the sharks and mantas on the truly remarkable reefs in the wider ocean there. Bobbi and I were so disappointed with it that we agreed to a third dive after all that day just so we could see some fish. For this we were taken just 5 or 10 min from the dive resort to the 5 Rocks marking the harbor on the island opposite. Vis was not so good but we saw some sharks and rays and at the top of the reef there were beautiful colorful soft coral swim-throughs that I got on film.

Again that third dive knackered me. Bobbi and I didn't even bother with Internet. We had dinner and went to bed around 9 and slept solidly till 7. Sleep as always was fantastic at RADR.



And that brings us to today, the most remarkable dives of the week. Blue Magic and Sardines. At Blue Magic we dropped in on a black tip, a good sign, found schools of barracuda, tunas running among them. White tips lounged on the sand bottom. Wobbegongs rested where they wanted or scurried here and there. Jacks frolicked. Tiny crabs inched across anenomes. On Sardines, our dive ended in barracudas and esp. bump headed parrot fish gnoshing as much coral as they could. Relentless robot destroyers of coral, they move like a herd of hump-headed bulls circumnavigating reefs and lagoons taking days or however long they need to get from one end to the the other and start over, somehow justifying it through being one with the ecosystem.



Saturday, February 28, 2015

Discover Scuba Diving for Lynne Kennetz, Kevin Knapp, and Debby Jang, Pearl Island, Feb 27, 2015

My logged dive #1342

Crazy weekend, February isn't the most stable time to go diving in UAE or Musandam. Bobbi and I had made plans to go to Nomad Ocean Adventure for this weekend in particular because it would be the last for Antonio and Rosien, who were ending a year at Nomad Ocean Adventure and about to take off on a bycycle tour starting in Iran and ending up in Spain in the coming many months or however long it takes, so this would be their last weekend at NOA. They were planning a zombie party for the occasion, and despite our doubts about the necessity of that, Bobbi and I like them and wanted to see them off, so we booked into our favorite Vance Special room 301. The Windguru report seemed promising, though it noted a touch of precipitation for Friday. Winds were to be light, about the same Saturday, not at all like the previous weekend, when diving was cancelled. We pitched up at Nomad expecting smooth sailing next two days, and some rare fun diving for Bobbi and I.
2015-02-20_1601windguru.png



First surprise was to see Keith and Mark Kennetz at Nomad, students I had taught in a previous winter weekend in January, 2011, long ago
http://vancesdiveblogs.blogspot.ae/2011/01/certified-two-new-ow-divers-jon-nichols.html
. They had visiting relatives in tow, Mark's tall Korean girlfriend Debby and their sister Lynne, and her husband Kevin. Lynne was interested in maybe doing a discover scuba course. Bobbi encouraged this nonsense so I checked out the possibilities. Antonio had maneuvered us onto his boat with all advanced divers and was planning to go to Octopus Rock, but I found I could do the discover course if we changed to the Kennetz's boat, which was cateriing to people doing a variety of courses for the weekend at shallow dive sites. I went back to inform Lynne and next thing I knew the three of them wanted to do it. Actually it was fine with me because I think it's a privilege to teach diving, and I like introducing people to the sport. So we started on the paperwork right away, got their gear together and left it by the pool, and regrouped there at 7 a.m. next morning.


I'm not accustomed to teaching DSD but Brad contributed his advice, and all I had to do was get them to read something overnight, explain it to them in the morning, kit their gear for them, and then get wet and lead them gradually from snorkeling to snorkeling with scuba gear, and then those first tentative breaths underwater. They were soon swimming into the deep end with relative ease and then accomplishing the DSD skill set. A little more buoyancy practice and we were out of the pool and on our way to the harbor.


Kevin had noted earlier a nasty wall of cumulus over the mountain but no one else seemed concerned, the boat ride out was fairly dry, a little choppy, and soon we were pulling up behind Pearl Island. We kitted slowly, letting the discovery students take their time, and were the last in the water. The first ones in had gone in on smooth seas, but by the time my group was overboard, a gale was whipping the boat along the island and the boatman Hassan was having to motor to regain position. All in the water, I had my group shelter where they wouldn't be swept by the wind, but the wind was churning waves and surge and I thought it best to get down as quickly as possible.





This was tricky. Due to the 24 degree water we were all in 5 mm, the DSD's for the first time ever in any kind of wetsuit. They had all taken 6 kg in the pool and I had given them 8 for the ocean, but all were having trouble getting that under water. The boatman had sped off once he had delivered his payload, due to the sudden change in weather, and now there was no way to get more weight, as is normally the case in good weather when the boat stays put. I figured we could do it, we just had to get the newbies down a few meters. It was like pushing yo-yos down and making them stay. I was coming up behind them and dumping air from over their shoulders, pushing down on their tanks, and blowing bubbles for all I was worth. Fortunately we had a smooth rock bottom with hardly any coral to damage and not many urchins, and once down there, their buoyancy was about right. A rope trailing up from a fish pot provided a line I could get them to grab to sort out ear problems without returning to the surface. Bobbi was useful in corralling upward-bound divers while I stayed down with the two who were holding position. Eventually we got them onto the reef where we could watch that they didn't rise too high in the water and keep them at about 8 to ten meters, enough to keep their 5 mm neoprene compressed.


We headed north along the reef which got better as the bottom got deeper. We came on a pipe fish, a cluster of nudibranchs, lion fish, a number of morays, sea stars crawling through mid-water, and a crayfish poking feelers out of a rock. Toward the end of the dive we came on swarms of blue trigger fish, angel fish, bannerfish, schools of fusiliers, even a school of impish squid right at the end of the dive. When the first diver went low on air after 42 min. we surfaced in surge we found a rainstorm had set in, and the sea was raging all around us The wind was sweeping us past waves cresting over us and crashing on the rocks of the island. But I could see the wind was blowing us clear of this and into a relatively calm patch further back from the point. I shouted out that everything was fine and encouraged my team to aim for the gap. Soon we were ushered through, and gestures from the boat on the horizon told us to keep heading that way. We got the pickup in very rough seas and were soon back aboard. There we were told that the boat had been revving its engines trying to recall us, but not in a place we could hear them.


Rose and Abbie had decided to abort further diving and head straight back to Dibba, but that was not to be. Waves crashing over the gunwales were foundering the boat before being drained from the scuppers. Hassan the captain decided to beat for the nearest shelter, Lima harbor, just off our starboard. We almost surfed there, being careful to pull back before the waves washed over us.Eventually we made it in, not the first dive boat to do so. We tied up to a dhow full of divers who had also come here for shelter.


Our plan, as far as it was possible to make one, was to wait out the passing storm and resume our journey home. But the rain intensified and went on for much of an hour, and we could see spray crashing the other side of the protective seawall, and large waves being dissipated at the harbor entrance. A cold wind blew without letup. We had on our wetsuits from diving but these were not good insulation from chill air. Meanwhile we found that our dive bags and anything in them, dry clothes for example (not to mention my mobile phone and mp3 player) had been submerged with the boat filled with water and almost washed overboard. It soon came time for me to decide, stay dry in a wetsuit that was rapidly losing heat to an incessant wind, or put on wet clothes and put up with chill shock for a while until the wind and last beams of sunlight could dry them.


By the time I had made that decision, it was growing obvious that the seas would not abate in time for us to have a daylight margin of safety in case we couldn't make it back to Dibba. Meanwhile reports were coming in by phone from other boats that it was not possible to enter Dibba Harbor. We learned later that one boat did make it there but that another beat back to Zighy bay and sheltered there, then tried to return to the sea but were turned back by a police boat. Its passengers spent the night at Zighy bay, a possible treat for them since it's home to an exclusive resort that doesn't allow visitors and charges a fortune for simple things, but it would have had tosuccor people washed up there under circumstances not of their own accord.


Meanwhile, in Lima, one of the dive boats tried to leave the harbor but turned back and rejoined us with that disheartening news. The waves remained daunting, and reports of sea conditions south were not encouraging, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to spend the night in the remote village of Lima.


The NOA passengers left the boat and grouped on the dock. Abbie agreed to stay with the boats and Rose and Antonio would see what they could arrange in Lima using their cellphones connected to home base in Dibba, and home base was connected through a network of personal and business connections to people in Lima. At first the situation seemed quite unpleasant. This was a remote fishing village. There were no hotels here. There were dozens of passengers stranded here. Some had inadequate clothing, I had clothes but all were wet. Lacking much better to do, people started walking into town. The cold winter wind whipped in off the beach, chilling to the bone through wet clothes. This was unpleasant enough, the prospect of spending a night here without shelter less so.

It was Friday in a small town, but I was surprised by the number of cars. We couldn't imagine where they had come from, since we weren't aware of roads in and out of here, ferries maybe? The town looked Omani in character, schools, police station, shops, nice cinder block houses being built. We found a small shop open, and just down from the shop was a small restaurant. It was warm inside with plenty of tables.Food there seemed plentiful and turned out to be surprisingly good, spicy sub-continental, with heaping plates of rice and hot chapati.


Rose and Antonio had also taken charge of hospitality. They ordered the food and kept it coming, bank-rolled by one of the passengers who had brought money (and who was reimbursed next day at the dive center). Checking with the home office they got permission to buy blankets from the supermarket, where we all ended up to pick up dry clothes and toothpaste. I bought some dry socks, all the more I would need. Meanwhile, they were arranging to house us. It seems that someone in the town knew someone building a house near completion. It had half a dozen rooms done up iin outlandish wall paper, working toilets, and sand on the floor. We bought brooms to deal with that. I'm not sure if money changed hands for it or if the people there were just generous. One lady from our boat showed us her shoes. She had been walking in town barefoot because she had been stranded without any. One of the townspeople insisted she take his but they were way too large, so he called his wife and had her remove the shoes she was wearing, which she did unthinkingly. This was traditional Arab hospitality.


The blankets were good quality and made the bare floor just comfortable enough for sleeping. My clothes had almost dried on my body by then. We slept well apart from occasional bouts of snoring people sharing our room who were more exhausted than we were, or at least fell asleep first. The perpetrators shall remain nameless.


Probably the most amazing thing about the weekend was the attitude of those who shared it. No one complained. Rose and Antonio missed their zombie party but somehow this experience and particularly the way they managed it created a great memory of them. Everyone was content when the dawn broke to great views of the cliffs surrounding Lima in one direction, an orange sunrise over seascape the other. We filed out of our mansion at 6:30 and were soon picked up by locals who made sure everyone got back to the harbor 4 km distant from where we had slept. There Hassan was called, soon appeared sleepily, and soon had us back on the open sea, the drenching spray less a nuisance as the skies got brighter. We were back at Nomad by about 9:00 but no one seemed in a hurry to leave. The sun was shining on the tables in the courtyard where beverages unconsumed the night before appeared and the cheerful clients talked about the diving they did and we filled out paperwork on the DSD's, signed logbooks, and gave them their first dive center stamp. Sylviane was busy in the kitchen and the South African staff were manning the brai,and soon a filling lunch appeared. For something that could easily have been a disaster (rumors of dhows capsized and some missing at sea were trickling in, totally uncorroborated at this point) this weekend ended in happy camaraderie and the bonus of an early return home, another great weekend enjoyed at Nomad Ocean Adventure.




Here's Bobbi's take on what happened:

We went to Nomad's for a farewell party for Rosie and Antonio, two of our favorite dive masters there. It was supposed to be a Zombie theme. We arrived Thursday night, were going to dive Friday and Saturday and the party was to be Friday night.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Keith Kennetz came with his brother, his brother's girlfriend, his sister and her husband. Keith and his brother already knew how to dive as they are former students of Vance's so the three others (who were going to snorkel) decided to take a Discover Scuba course with Vance. So they went in the pool on Friday morning and we then got in the boat to dive. Rosien was guiding our boat.

The weather forecast predicted unsettled weather, but mostly in the afternoon. When we rolled off the boat, the wind picked up a bit. But it seemed o.k. so we all went down. When we got up from the dive, the sea had turned into huge swells, and the sky was dark. The boat driver managed to find us all through the swells and after we got aboard it started to pour down rain. We heard that our boat had filled with water while we were diving and all our belongings were soaked including Vance's new phone (which works, even so).  By this time, the seas were really rough. The captain managed to turn the boat into the port of the fishing town of Lima. It has roads but they lead to nowhere.  We tied up next to a dhow which had done the same thing. Then Antonio, who was guiding another boat pulled in for shelter too.

We kept waiting for the storm to subside so we could get back to Dibba but it didn't. It became apparent that it we were not going to make it back that night. We also had Rosie and Antonio, the stars of the Zombie party with us. We had eaten all the food for lunch so we decided to go into town to see if there was any food available. We knew there would be no hotels but were hoping for at least a little shop.

Luckily we found a little restaurant, probably the only one in town. Rosie bought all their appetizers on display, i.e. onion pakoras, etc. and the waiters started to bring out dish after dish of curries, plates of breads and rice, and warm tea. This meal warmed our bodies and it only cost 187 dirhams to feed 23 divers.

We then found the only store in town and bought some dry clothes. About the only suitable things we could find were these gray pajamas and blue socks. We looked like convicts in them. But the dry clothes felt great as we were soaked from the wind and rain. Rosie started to buy blankets for all of us as we had been invited to either sleep on the dhow in the open air or the girls were invited to sleep at a house. In the meantime, Antonio had met a local who had a friend who had a house that was under construction, almost completed with electricity, toilets and running water, but no furniture or carpets. He said that we could all stay there for the night.  Even a couple of locals picked us up and drove us to the house and transported our blankets. So we each got blankets and slept on the floor. Everyone was tired most people slept even though we had 6 to 8 people per room.

Next morning, we got up very early to race the weather. We managed to get back to Dibba and Nomad's. Sylviane told me that two dhows had capsized and 35 people were missing but I suspect that might be a rumor because there is nothing in the paper about it. The paper mentions that the coast guard rescued people off of two dhows, but nothing about them capsizing or people missing. I read that a fisherman has gone missing though.


In any case, we had a Zombie brunch which consisted of a barbecue and nice spread, jello shots, etc. and all is well that ends well. We only got 1 dive when we expecting to do 4, but at least we are all safe and sound. And we had a nice meal, got to be warm and dry and again, amazed at Omani hospitality.

Coda

This impacted our decision not to dive the following weekend ... 

March 5-7 - Was planning to teach an advanced dive course at Nomad Ocean Adventure
Weather has since got to looking iffy though, having second thoughts

At this site there were two bulletins that swayed our decision to cancel Wed Mar4 - http://www.ncms.ae/en/
  • forecast bulletin http://www.ncms.ae/en/download.html?t=bulletin&f=weather
    After tomorrow, Friday -Partly cloudy / dusty weather over some areas, cloud amount will increase over Island & coastal areas at times. Northwesterly winds will continue to prevail over the country, with moderate to fresh breeze, strong at times over the sea, causing some blowing dust/haze over the open land areas & another fall of temperatures. Sea will be rough to very rough in the Arabian gulf, and moderate to rough over Oman Sea.
  • marine bulletin http://www.ncms.ae/en/download.html?t=bulletin&f=marine
    offshore waves in Oman sea 4 – 6/7 FT indicated for Friday, less inshore

This was the view on Wed which is when we finally cancelled.
2015-03-05_1543viewfromWed.png

Thu view, after the dive students cancelled their participation. It looks diminished slightly but the fact that it changes frequently suggests instability.
2015-03-05_1556Thuview.png

And the view on the day, much the same
2015-03-06_0949mar06.pngSee more below …

2015-03-06_1104bulletin6mar.png

2015-03-06_1101forecast7mar.png

2015-03-06_1056ncms.png

And this is how it came out in the end

2015-03-07_1830woops.png

March 12-14 - Vance attended TESOL Arabia conference in Dubai, no diving :-(

March 13, 2015 - I presented at TESOL Arabia: on Developing online listening exercises for natural English about how to listen to natural English samples, speak them back into Dictanote Chrome plugin to quickly produce accurate transcriptions, use those and media embed script to make Hot Potatoes multimedia exercises, then make those available to students via web or Blackboard with gradebook tracking, PC or iPad

March 19-21 - Preparing for next week’s conference presentations, including an online presentation March 21

March 26-28 - Vance attended TESOL International Conference in Toronto
http://learning2gether.net/2015/03/28/learning2gether-with-call-is-webcasting-from-the-2015-tesol-convention-in-toronto/

And finally ...

April 2-4 and April 9-11 Holiday at last, went to Raja Ampat



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Conducted PADI O/W dive course for Ray and Karen Handy, Musandam Oman, Jan 30-31, 2015

My logged dives #1338 - 1341




It was Bobbi's turn for visa renewal so she was unable to accompany me when I traveled across the UAE to emerge at the Oman border with Musandam at Dibba and travel the few blocks to stay at Nomad Ocean Adventure for a few days. As normally happens when I teach diving, my students were either referred to me or found me online, communicated with me in email while I talked them through their eLearning and filling out the forms they would need, and we met for the first time at the dive center.

We wasted little time getting in the pool Thursday evening and working  through the first two pool modules, the goal being to finish the 3rd module in the morning so as to be able to do two ocean dives on Friday that would count for the course. This is the toughest part of the course, requiring late hour pool sessions, dinner and sleep, and then early rising in the cold dawn to get 2/3 of the way through the pool training before we could do two dives as per PADI standards. But once we'd finished Module 3 and were heading down to the harbor, we knew the rest of the weekend was going to be mostly fun.



Our video shows us coming up the coast of Musandam and approaching LIma Rock. Our dive leaders had announced the first dive for  "Lima South" which I had assumed was Lima Rock south, one of my favorite dive sites in that area, but they actually meant the south side of the headland, which was also beautiful. However the current was running north to south and that side of the headland was not well protected, so my beginning divers were exposed to some stiff current their first time diving in salt water, plus a vertical drop of about 6 meters to reach the shallowest sand, which not both of them could do due to ear issues, so we had to be careful and couldn't join the bat fish schooling in the overhangs right away. We found a line leading to a fish pot and were able to follow that down by hanging on the line, working through beginner's ear and buoyancy problems aggravated by bubbly 5 mm neoprene. At the bottom we were able to shelter in the lee of a coral encrusted bommie and eventually come off that to grab a fishnet downstream and orient there. Then we worked our way along the bottom to where we could shelter in shallower water nearer the reef. By then my students were managing their buoyancy nicely, but I was careful to keep an eye on them and not vary depth much to prevent their neoprene bubbles expanding more than they might predict. It was a pretty dive and the Handy's were mightily impressed by the colorful coral and so many species of fish, but I was too busy with keeping things safe to take any photos.

Our second dive we started well into Ras Sanut, which has a south face protected from the current. Since we had calm water we started with controlled emergency swimming ascents which I conducted with just Karen in the water and then did Ray when he joined from the boat, with Karen following us down. When Ray ascended, we snorkeled to shallow water and descended in much calmer and more gently sloping conditions than on our first dive, so things went well on this one.

We began by dropping in over the coral fields in that part of the bay, did our exercises, found a pipe fish in the sand where I led to look for rays, then swam along the reef to find a honeycomb moray in the rocks. Later on, our video shows us following a turtle around. This was a nice dive, and Ray and Karen were quite confident by the end of it, buoyancy improving by the minute.

We motored back to Nomad and knocked out the last two pool modules by about the time dinner was prepared for us. We went to bed early and I got a great night's sleep.

Next day we started out in the bay at Ras Morovi, which is also well protected from current, so I decided to do some of our surface work there. Doing tired diver tows, we found a lion fish hovering in the water not far below. Then as we began our dive we came on several crayfish, including one in a lair where I often find them. In that area there were morays along the reef, where puffer fish led us over the edge to angelfish lazing back and forth amid the blue trigger fish.  We headed over the saddle and headed north over the cabbage coral, where we came onto a family of cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are always fun to watch and film. I took mamma and baby from various angles and had switched the GoPro off when momma responded to daddy's approach by going all white and spreading her tentacles invitingly (I suppose). By then I had got the GoPro back in gear but momma decided not to continue with so little privacy and as daddy backed off toward the rock he had sidled upfrom, momma settled down, and we didn't get any salacious video after all. But just around the corner was my favorite grotto, a pretty spot with soft corals where I've had some interesting ray and turtle encounters. I was just emerging from the cave at the end, disappointed, no rays today, but then banged the top of Ray's tank with my flashlight and pointed to a devil ray passing overhead. What a treat, it's easy to miss things like that by looking down most of the dive. My students were by now low on air so we went around the corner and ended the dive in the company of a turtle moving shallow over more red and orange soft coral.

Our final dive at Lulu Island was interesting not only for successfully completing the course, but for a turtle and a pair of scorpion fish. After we finished our final skills exercises we let ourselves go with the current and were carried around the outside of the wall curving off to the north. We encountered stiff current here but more interestingly, eagle rays, at least 4 of them. VIsibility was not the best and it takes a moment for me to fumble for and switch on my camera. Eagle rays are exceedingly graceful creatures if you catch them unawares, but once they see you they turn on full power and take off in a flash of muscle. You can barely make them out in the shots at the end of the video compilation, but in real life they were much more obvious and brought us quick seconds of thrill as we admired them slowly coming at us and then bolting impressively away.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fun diving in Musandam on Octopus Rock and Pearl Island with Nomad Ocean Adventure

My logged dives #1336 - 1337

It's been a while since Bobbi and I have had a chance to dive together and both with valid visas to cross the border so we decided to head up to Musandam for a day out with our good friends at Nomad Ocean Adventure.

Our dive spots were Octopus Rock and Lu'lu or Pearl Island. It was a great day for Octopus. Fine weather for those of us who had jackets on the ride out, and 24-25 degrees in the water not a problem for 5 mm of wetsuit. Ok, let's go, here's the video from the first dive :-)



Our first dive began with a slip down the rock face to about 12 meters, passing some crustaceans that live in the rocks there. Next we come upon a pair of nudibranchs rudely disturbed in whatever it is nudibranchs do down there. Our dive guide Rosien helpfully pointed out a large sea horse in not too deep water. This rock is full of blue trigger fish milling all about and is home to batfish which enjoy the cleaning stations here. They are a little skittish about divers coming up on them while they are being cleaned but at a certain distance you can observer them enjoying the administrations of the little blue wrasse that eat the parasites off them. The lion fish here are very photogenic, especially when they hover mid-water. We saw also several moray eels and I filmed a huge school of jacks swirling about, surely targets of local fishermen.

Our next dive was on Lu'lu or Pearl Island. It wasn't a great dive but there are only two kinds of dives, good ones and great one. On this dive we saw a few moray eels and some wandering sea feathers, as you'll see in the video. Enjoy :-)




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fun with Blue Planet Diving on Dibba Rock while conducting PADI re-activate diving for Alexandre Mevel

My logged dives #1332 - 1335

I was referred to a someone in Al Ain who wants to help his kids with their diving. A long-time diver himself, Jean-Yves has dived a lot with his son Alexandre, who certified when he was 12. Now he is 15 and Jean-Yves asked me to refresh his skills and help with securing his adult card. PADI has recently introduced a 're-activate' program which will soon replace the Scuba Review and refresher concepts, so I agreed to meet Alexandre at the pool and go through the 25 steps of confined-water scuba review with him using the re-activate protocol which will show the date of Alexandre's most recent work with a PADI instructor on his adult card replacement.

The process can include an optional dive, and this is what gave us the excuse to yesterday drive to Dibba and roll up at Blue Planet Diving at 11:30 in the morning (8 a.m. departure from Al Ain for us). BPD are quite flexible with their schedule and ideal for basing yourself on the beach and diving on short boat rides, in case you have a family along for a beach outing. That was the plan though in the end no one from our families joined us so it was just Jean-Yves and Alexandre and I.




I did three dives on Dibba Rock and the Mevels did two. Visibility is usually best earlier in the day and I was quite excited when on the first dive we found schools of colorful fish while exploring the aquarium at the 5 meter mooring line and then found barracudas schooling off the north face of the rock. I was following some large barracuda around at close quarters when I noticed my GoPro wasn't blinking in video mode. In fact it was reporting no SD card. I almost knocked my face mask loose slapping my forehead, thinking I'd left the SD card in my computer back home, but after the dive I found it was just improperly inserted. Still with no working camera I was not totally disappointed when we didn't find the 20 sharks Alla had seen in the shallows the day before, nor that I again was unable to find the rays in the sand where Slava and Emad know where to go but I don't. It was a little tedious working across the shallows to deep water near the east mooring, but we enjoyed the dive, we saw a flounder, cuttlefish, morays, lionfish, and more barracudas, and my buddies did very well on getting back in the water. 

When we walked out from the first dive, Alla told us the next one was in 15 minutes and said if we were going, get ready. I said let's go, but then I was the only one with a full 5 mm wetsuit. Jean Yves was cold from 23 degree water and needed a lunch break, and his son is a growing lad easily swayed by the prospect of something to eat. So I quickly changed my tank and joined the boat and was asked to show a nice Finnish couple around. They were no trouble, all they had to do was follow me, and me to check back on them now and then, and the barracudas were still there and the vis still reasonably clear, and most of the video is from this dive.

Again back on shore I quickly switched tanks for a third dive, which the Mevel boys were now ready for. But it was 4:15 when went in down the east mooring so we descended into water that was now in the shadow of the rock with light diffused from the angle of the sun. Jean-Yves had informed me that he and Alexandre were going to practice sharing air with the secondary 2nd stage on the low pressure inflater of his BCD, but just as they were starting a turtle came up at me and I operated my GoPro with one hand while digging my reef hook out of my bcd pocket so could make some noise, which you can hear in the video. The turtle led me to some barracuda and after that it was a barracuda dive again.

I had a lot of fun on these three dives. Congrats to Alexandre on his adult re-activated card, and thanks to him and Jean-Yves for getting me off my derrière, and Alla and Slava at BPD for the great day out as usual.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

PADI Open Water dive course for Joe and Zach Wolfer at Blue Planet Diving, Dibba

My logged dives #1328 and 1331

Bobbi and I returned from Koh Lanta, Thailand on a flight at 3 pm on Dec 16 and 9 hours later, at about that time in the morning local time Dec 17, we were grabbing our baggage off the carousel at Abu Dhabi airport. We got a cab into town where we had left our car in one of the new Mawaqaf garages and drove it home to Al Ain where we arrived at 6:30 a.m. and slept for a few hours. When we awoke we organized things there for arrival of Glenn and his wife Gulya and their daughter Gwenny (the 3 G's we call them) in Dubai late that night, where they caught a cab to our place. Bobbi had fixed Glenn's favorite burritos so we had an after-midnight dinner and all got to bed around 4 a.m. By morning Dec 18. I had developed a throbbing toothache and went to the dentist to have it sorted, but made it home in time with enough pain killers for us to get the family on the road by 2 pm for the drive to Dibba to meet Joe and Zach Wolfer at Blue Planet Diving. We had chosen to go there for the Wolfer's open water dive course because of the G's having day-long access to the beach and everyone being able to dive whenever they chose to. BPD were diving on Dibba Rock at 9:30 a.m. each morning, then sending the boat to Inchcape at 11:30, and doing an afternoon dive once the boat returned.

I sometimes meet my dive students for the first time when we arrive at the dive center and that was the case with the Wolfers when we met them at BPD Thursday evening. They turned out to be a fit and active father-son team, and I could tell as they engaged with equipment assembly and buddy check that they had prepared the academics well. The idea was to get them familiar enough with the gear that evening that they would be able to put it on quickly and get in the water first thing at 8:00 a.m. next day. We would attempt to get through module 1 confined water, which I briefed thoroughly in a dry-run dress rehearsal, so we could perhaps make the 9:30 dive on Dibba Rock. I find the old version of the PADI o/w course to be most convenient for training divers when timing is a factor. There is as yet no solid implementation date for the new course, but I try to integrate skills from the new course into the old one as much as I can, but keep to the old standards as we go.

Day 1, Dec 19, 2014




Our plan worked, we were in the "confined" shallow water off the beach by 8:30, out by 9:15, and we were on the boat at 9:30 for a first dive on Dibba Rock. We dropped into the Aquarium down the 5 meter mooring line on the west shoulder of the rock and found vis to be fair despite lots of particulate matter in the water. The Aquarium was aswirl with the usual fishes, including the school of banner fish that lead off my video, and a scorpion fish hanging out on a nearby rock, hoping to go un-noticed. Pushing down toward the back side we found hulking barracuda, and in the shallows I got to see the turtle I had missed earlier on the wall. On our first dive Zach was first to go low on air so we ascended and got him onto the boat ok, and Joe and I returned to see if we could find any sharks. We went as far as the 8 meter line on the east side of the rock and then turned back to the check out the wall. It was pleasant diving with lots of fish life to entertain us, but we didn't see any sharks.

Back ashore I worked with Joe and Zach on confined water #2. By the time we needed to do module #3 the tide had gone out and brown water was washing in from the sea, so we did that module in the pool, which was not too cold for me in a 5 mm wetsuit, and the Wolfers seemed fine in their 3-4-5's from BPD (5 mm at the core and 3 and 4 on the arms and legs).

Emad, leading another group on the morning dive, had told us he had found some huge sting rays in the sand beyond that 8 meter mooring line, so we decided to look there on our next dive, which was down the 8 meter line so we could go west with the current on the incoming tide. We looked in the sand where we did our o/w dive #2 skills and up the reef but found nothing big there, nothing noteworthy apart from some pipe fish. As my students consumed their air we rose on the reef and eventually tried to push into the shallows against some stiff back-surge. We paused there and came up on alternate air source (a required skill for the old version o/w dive #2).

Bobbi and Glenn on the Inchcape wreck

Meanwhile Bobbi and Glenn had gone out at 11:30 to the Inchcape.



Here's Glenn's video of the same dive




Day 2, Saturday Dec 20

Our second glorious weekend day started as had the day before, with the Wolfers and me at the dive center before the owners arrived to get into the water as quickly as possible and do confined water modules 4 and 5 in the calm clear waters off the BPD facility, protected by the jetty there. Emad was back on Saturday with his dual side-mounts (I never asked him why he packed those two six shooters on dives to just 15 meters, though I assume it was for balance or fine-tuning his kit). At the briefing I asked where the sting rays were exactly, and as Bobbi and Glenn were joining on this 9:30 a.m. dive, we all decided to follow Emad (who amiably agreed to lead us to the sand where the rays were). We started the dive in the Aquarium on the west mooring but quickly pushed on past the barracuda to the deep side of the rock. Emad was leading at a fast clip in order to reach the sand at the far east end of the dive site. At 12-13 meters we found the layer of murky brown water, and the sharks were right there today. I saw the first one pop out from underneath the haze but he popped back before I could get him on my GoPro. But Zach was alerted and he and I saw the next two who were darting along just beneath the brown haze layer. Again I couldn't capture them on video so we continued to follow Emad who was focused on showing his student critters on the reef and whom I don't believe saw the sharks (Zach and I were the only lucky ones on this trip out). Nearing the sand patch where we would look for rays Emad stopped to do some skills with his student and I had mine deflate their BCDs, do mask clears, and then orally inflate to re-establish neutral buoyancy. But we had been pushing hard to reach that point, we were at 13 meters depth, and my students' air was running low, so we left Emad there (who did not find rays this trip in any event) and followed the reef up. Air got critical and we had to ascended off the reef to 5 meters where we practiced hovering for 3 minutes in the green without visual reference, a tricky skill which the Wolfer's did well on, for beginners, until it was time to surface.

Final CERTIFICATION dive for Joe and Zach Wolfer, newly qualified PADI o/w divers




We got to relax while waiting for our final dive, and then it was just Joe, Zach, and me on the boat along with one Russian-speaking snorkeler. We started again, due to current, at the 8 meter line, though current was almost nil, not always the case on Dibba Rock. I took Joe down the line first and ascended on a controlled emergency swimming ascent (CESA). This is a difficult maneuver for students, many of whom need to do it twice to (slap forehead) get it right. Zach joined us at the surface and did his and then I aimed us into the sand over a pair of sideways-oriented batfish. Visibility was very poor, so we did mask removal/replacement and a compass heading out west and back to the east to regain our sand patch. Both divers had over 100 bar so I decided to take us into the sand at 13 meters to look for the rays, but it was a shot in the dark for us, vis was so poor, and we were on compass the whole way. Even back on the reef vis was not much better, though it improved the higher up we ascended. With my divers down to 50 bar I led us to the shallows where we encountered large schools of barracuda. These entertained us as we finished out our air, and they were a great way to polish off an open water dive course.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bobbi and I on holiday fun diving on Koh Lanta Thailand, Dec 10 through 14, 2014

My dives #1318-1327
Here's a map of the area thanks to Ocean Divers http://www.oceandivers.asia/koh-lanta-dive-sites showing the areas we were taken to during our stay on Koh Lanta

Our dive logs ...
  • Wed 10-Dec-14 - first 2 Ko Lanta dives with Dive and Relax on Koh Haa. My dives #1318-9
  • Thu 11-Dec-14 -two dives with Dive and Relax on Koh Bida Nok, my dives #1320-21
  • Fri 12-Dec-14 2 dives with Dive and Relax on long trip to Hin Muang and Hin Daeng, my dives #1322-23
  • Sat 13-Dec-14 2 dives with Dive and Relax on the new wreck the Klet Kaew and Koh Bida Noi, my dives #1324-25
  • Sun 14-Dec-14 we went with Palm Divers to Hin Daeng and Ko Haa, my dives #1326-27
Details and impressions ...

We start with our Sat 13-Dec-14 dive on the new wreck the Klet Kaew


(waiting for it to register on YouTube)

More videos will be posted as we edit them

Koh Lanta has been on our bucket list – from its own websites and reports of other divers it seems superb. Our FB friends even were posting videos from their recent encounters with mantas on Hin Muong. For us, as sometimes happens but sometimes not (we do get very, very lucky sometimes :-) we were not lucky this time.

Koh Lanta is in that circle of great diving starting from Havelock Island in the Andamans going southeast to the Similan Islands, further SE to Phuket, east to Kho Phi Phi and nearby Koh Lanta, south to Lankawi in Malaysia, and on around back west to Pulau Wei on the north coast of Aceh, Indonesia.


As in Pulau Wei earlier, I would rate KL diving very good but not excellent. For the price, I would say that PW was the better bargain (unless you see mantas on KL, and then it's worth whatever you pay). But if you don't see mantas, or in retrospect didn't see them, then KL is quite expensive by comparison for similar diving. A day of diving can cost 4000 bhat, or 5000 for the distant dive sites (with park fees and fuel surchages). In PW it's much less.

But after hours, those long overnight surface intervals, things are much more interesting in KL than in PW. KL is a laid back place, not crazy like KPP (though we've never been there, but Leonardo di Capio apparently oversold that one). There is plenty to do and eat and drink on Long Beach at KL, sunset happy hours being almost dangerous. We certainly enjoyed ourselves on KL, enjoyed the diving as well, relaxed very well in our beach bungalows (once we got ourselves in a room away from the reggae bar). There were no such activities on PW except at the dive center. It's very quiet, very peaceful on PW, with the option of excellent shore diving where you can just take a tank, wade into the water, and guide yourself.

From North Beach at KL you can see the Phi Phi islands, and the dive shops on KL go there, though our diving tended to focus on just three areas, the Bida Islands, the scenic rock pedestals of Kho Haa to the west, and the deep reefs of Hin Muong and Hin Daeng less than an hour past Kho Haa, assuming good weather.

We were not there in good weather. There was a storm (Ruby) hammering the Philippines when we were there and on our last day, our last boat ride from Hin Daeng to Ko Haa, just that stretch between the two dive sites, normally half an hour apart, took almost three hours beating slowly against the waves, Blue Planet catamaran unable to plane.

On our earlier days in the area, the beach weather was great, plenty of sunshine and balmy breezes, but these translated to winds and waves at sea that we were hardly aware of, but those who knew local conditions could somehow sense, so that the second promised dive sites almost never materialized, and we were forced to shelter in the same spots we had dived the first dive, but to avoid repetition we would go left instead of right this time. The diving was always good mind you, but other dive boats seemed under the same constraints, so the sites were crowded, and even first in from our boat usually dropped down on a reef spewing bubbles from divers passing underneath.

As we often do, we chose our dive center based on those who answered emails. For KL the best correspondent was far and away Cameron at http://diveandRelax.com. His outfit was professional and friendly and his dive guides very competent. Unfortunately, they only did Hin Muong trips twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. HM was where the mantas were, but they hadn't seen any there in a couple of weeks anyway, so for us it probably didn't matter that we could only go there with them on the Friday. Still, we would like to have dived there our first day, Tuesday. We landed in Krabi on a Monday afternoon and had read it was possible to reach KL that evening, and we saw kiosks at the airport offering to take us there, but Cameron required a significant deposit in order to book space on the dive next day. He said we would have to be at the dive center by 5 or latest 6 pm that evening to check in for the dive next morning, and tailbacks at the ferry landings made that an iffy proposition, which meant if we couldn't get to DiveandRelax within three hours of our plane landing at Krabi, we might lose our deposit, which made gambling on the Hin Muong trip on Tuesday a risk.  When we eventually met Cameron we had the impression he might be flexible on deposits in case you couldn't make your dive due to ferry hassles, but we had no way of telling by email.

So we opted to relax on arrival and overnight in Krabi instead of rushing to Koh Lanta that evening. Bobbi had booked a room on Ao Nang beach, one of the most popular in Krabi, but far from the airport. Once we reached there we were happy with the ambiance and sunset happy hour from the beach, but after dark and next morning we realized we could have been on Kuta Beach or Waikiki, so we were happier still to get away from there next morning and move on to Koh Lanta.

For those who need to know, which is anyone who lands in Krabi with little sense of how to get about, there are at this writing two ways to get to KL. You can take a large ferry which leaves Krabi somewhere and arrives at Sela Dan on KL. The only catch is it goes on a set schedule each day which you have to get up for. I don't know more about it than that because we opted for the mini-bus each way. These pick you up at your hotel, with pickups hourly or half-hourly, and they take you where you have booked. In our case some passengers were going to Phuket etc. We couldn't figure out how that was going to work until we saw they took us to a station where they had passengers transfer to other destinations. We were put on a KL van leaving right away that took us to another transfer point just by the harbor in the center of Krabi town. Again we changed vans but this one took us south a half hour or so to the first ferry landing. Here we waited until one of the two ferries plying back and forth here arrived at our pier and had space to take on our van. We didn't have to wait long.

On the other side we drove on a few km and repeated the process at another ferry landing taking us to Sela Dan, the port town on Ko Lanta. We noticed they were building a bridge here so one day soon this second ferry crossing will be eliminated, and eventually most likely the first one as well.

In Sela Dan just after the ferry landing the van stopped and we were again ordered out. We tried to claim that we had booked transport to our hotel but in fact we didn't know what we had booked, so the van driver prevailed. Fortunately there was a tuk tuk there whose driver offered to take us to Palm Beach Resort just a few km up the one main road on that part of the island, and then up a side street to Long Beach, where our hotel was.

Our first night there we were so sleepy that we had no trouble falling into a trance after discovering the happy hour sunset place (Sen's) and enjoying a few Changs over Thai food at a nearby street restaurant. But the following night we were more moderate in what we imbibed and not so sleepy, and we were kept awake by a steady base beat that went on and off till three a.m. We suspected a nearby rave party on the beach, but when the same repeated the following night, and us having to get up at 6 a.m. for our Hin Muong trip Friday morning, we investigated and discovered our local bar was to blame. We met another person diving with the same company who also stayed at our place and she told us she had be given the room behind the bar and had moved after one night. So the hotel owners, as sweet as they were, knew about the problem, and they found a place a few bungalows further away for us, and we slept like babies after that, ten hours a night some nights, but that's the business, where you move people into rooms others have not been able to sleep in, and see what happens. In the end we were very happy with the Palm Beach Resort bungalows, but not when waking up in the middle of our first nights there.

We were there to dive, and we were also happy with Dive-and-relax, but again the industry has come a far cry from what it used to be. Dive operators these days will get complaints from people like me who think they should have pushed a little closer to the edge to dive places that might have been more interesting or that I might have dived differently if left to my own devices, but then again we'll never know if that would have made any difference. And they also have to cater to those who might get seasick or whose skill levels might put them in difficulty if they encounter currents or anything verging on challenging conditions. The result is an experience that the majority of customers seem to embrace, since they may have been only a few days ago on a dive course, or haven't been diving for a couple of years, and I can understand that it's best to be conservative and cater to the majority and dive safely every dive day, minimizing risk of incident let alone accident. This also means being sure that every diver is closely monitored at all times and again, I can't blame operators for doing that.

Problems will inevitably arise when divers are left on their own. Bobbi and I were allowed to go free in the Maldives once, and we came to a current we couldn't go back on, so we decided to go with it, and it took us clear across a channel to another island. Fortunately, we were carrying an SMB, and the dive boat figured out what happened and came looking for us. Opportunities to deal with such situations make the most interesting  diving for advanced divers, but as more people get into the sport, I can understand that dive operators prefer that everything is controlled to plan. It's the way it has to be, and we are lucky that in UAE where we usually dive, that the community of divers is such that the regular divers normally dive freely and monitor conditions according to their skill level. Somehow this results in safe diving as well, and is the norm we are used to in the context of UAE diving.

Our first day in Koh Lanta, the Tuesday, we visited the dive shop after arrival that afternoon, and left our gear there. The next morning, Wednesday, we were picked up promptly at 8:10 and taken to Castaway resort for a routine which included a quick cup of coffee, a thorough and friendly briefing each morning (a good touch), a chance to use the bathroom, assembly on the beach, and then walk along the beach to the boat pickup point, where we got aboard and found our equipment assembled (beforehand by our dive guide) and in the place we had been told it would be, so we would sit opposite it.

Our first day the trip was to Koh Haa, a picturesque collection of islands about half hour or 45 min. boat ride from the beach where the dive center was. We were going to dive one of the islands at KH and do the second dive on another, but on arrival we found that sea conditions were such that the dive plan had to be changed from something other than we had been briefed, since the wind was stronger than expected and the ocean more wavy. As was often the case other boats diving there that day were reacting to the same conditions and so the boats clustered in the lee of the island and everyone in the area did both dives from the same spot, one to the right to visit the caves, and the other to the left to see the reef in that direction. No complaints really, both dives were superb, reasonably clear, lots of interesting things to see in the water, and Chris the dive guide was excellent and personable. There was only one problem, which was that we had been teamed with a diver whose air consumption was twice ours. In our videos we can see him kicking constantly to control his buoyancy, something we do with lung volume. At 45 min into the dive he was at 50 bar, we had to turn around, and all go shallow, while Bobbi and I were still over 100 bar. We felt this compromised our diving but now that we have been back there we realize it probably didn't make all that much difference. Still we mentioned it to Cameron who explained that of course they didn't know who would be compatible first day, fair enough.

Next day Cameron provided the two of us our own guide, named Kla, who was an experienced and beatifically polite local instructor. We went to Bida islands that second day, a pair of islands next over from Koh Haa. Another boat was going to Bida and another site just north of there in the Phi Phi chain. We had requested to be on that one but agreed in advance to accept wherever they decided we should go since they knew the sites, we didn't. The plan was to do the first dive on Bida Nok, or north, and the second on Bida Nai, or south. But again when we arrived we were told wind and waves would not allow us to execute that plan and so we would dive from a sheltered spot in the lee of Bida Nok, start with wall on our left, and turn to return to the boat. For our second dive we would move a little further north and dive wall on the left down to the initial drop in. The plan was not what we had hoped but again the dives did not disappoint. For our introduction to diving Koh Lanta we were having reasonable vis, mild to nil current, and turtles, scorpion fish, lion fish, nudibrachs, and schools of snappers, beautiful, relaxed diving.

The following day was Friday, time for the dive we were looking forward to. On this day Diveandrelax was going further afield to HM and HD.