Friday, August 21, 2015

Fun diving on Dibba Rock with Nomad Fujairah - and some sharks

My logged dive #1377

Bobbi and I hadn't been diving in a while. We avoided diving during our summer holiday, passing some time in Spain where I presented at a conference, and even though we spent some time in Malaysia, in Penang, for our son, Dusty's wedding to Michelle on Batu Farrenghi. It was the wrong time of year for diving on Lankawi just to the north of there, and we had reason to fly to Hong Kong, so we went there instead, and found we enjoyed it quite a bit. We were back in UAE in time for  our 40th wedding anniversary celebration, which we celebrated starting Thursday in Abu Dhabi and carried on non-stop through our actual anniversary Saturday, Aug 15, enjoying our favorite hotels and haunts in Abu Dhabi.

The next weekend I had planned to finish up a dive course for a couple of students at Nomad Ocean Adventure who cancelled, but Bobbi and I went ahead, driving over Thu Aug 20, and finding Lauren and Brad at Nomad had prepared a 40th anniversary (cup) cake for us, as well as treating us to a night on Nomad in one of the "chalets" there, a treat to be savored after a long first week back at work. Morning however dawned with news of high winds and whitecaps in the Lima area, and after calling up to Lima and checking and re-checking conditions several times, the diving in Musandam was cancelled.

But Nomad have just started a business south of the border at Royal Beach in Fujairah, where Freestyle divers used to be, so we decided to drive over there, though crossing the border back to UAE would be a 1-way trip due to the overly-complex permit system that stipulates single entry only on the day specified in the permit. When we arrived at Nomad at 11 am, about half an hour by car, the boat had just left for the Inchcape wreck, not that we wanted to go there, and it gave us time to have lunch at the Royal Beach restaurant before kitting up for a dive at 1300.

For best viewing, toggle your YouTube settings to HD. See how using this screen shot

Since diving was cancelled on the Musandam side, all the divers had left there, but few followed us over to Dibba, just a student who could complete her open water course on Dibba Rock with AB, her instructor, and Jean-Luc Fadou, a friendly French diver who had often been with us on boat trips to Musandam. Following our old habits, Bobbi and I had got on the boat before everyone else and were sitting there all kitted up when the dive pro came aboard to let us know we were missing our briefing back on shore. But he seemed prepared to let it go, and just informed us that our dive time would be 40 minutes. Dibba Rock is a very shallow site and when I expressed suprise, he said, no problem, how long would you like to dive? I said, an hour, the pro agreed to so inform the boatman, and when we passed that information on to Jean-Luc, he asked if he could join us as a threesome. So we wouldn't inconvenience the others, we made sure we were first in the water.

That's not all that had changed at Dibba Rock. The old 8 meter mooring was no longer there and the new one on that side was just near the rock in the shallows off the east side of the island. According I changed my plan. I had planned to go deep to 8 meters and then out in the sand to look for rays, then double back to the shallow side of the rock and look for sharks that often like to cruise in the very shallow water there, just one or two meters. Since we were dropped in the shallows I decided to make the near side of the rock our first destination, possibly circumvent the rock, and come up on the rays at the end of the dive.

So in the video above you see us swimming very shallow keeping an eye out for sharks, but then finding them, several of them, in deeper water to the northwest of the rock. They were a pleasant surprise. If you wish to see them clearly in the video, toggle your YouTube settings to HD. See how to do this using this screen shot

We carried on around the back side of the island but didn't find much apart from a couple of coy cuttlefish. We avoided going deep due to the chill below the thermocline (I was wearing only lycra and rash vest, it was 30 degrees toward the surface). I found a gap into the shallows leading to where we had dropped in at the start of the dive but again due to the chill I tried to follow the ridge around on the inside where it was shallow and warm. It seemed the ridge did not cooperate, it never turned south so I went that way on my compass over sand. I began to suspect I had overshot the ridge and turned west to come out on some reefs that turned out to be not the ones I was looking for. I was confused and it was near the end of the dive, but heading the way I was leading we came out on some attractive coral and surfaced right at 60 minutes on my computer.

Late that night I was going over the dive in my sleep. I awoke to realize that we were too shallow when I had turned west to try to find the reef from that direction.  I should have turned east and then I would have found the deeper water and perhaps the rays. I'll know next time :-)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Completed the PADI Open Water Course in Musandam, dives 3 & 4 for Jihaine Alibi and Roula Rbeiz

My logged dives #1375-1376
Divers certified #225-226

Bobbi and I flew in from Barcelona on a red-eye from Berlin, arriving in Abu Dhabi Thursday morning at 6 a.m. There was no one at immigration hardly and our bags came up quickly on the carousel. We grabbed one of those expensive airport limousines outside, the only option now at AUH, but only took it a few kilometers to Khalifa City Women's College, the HCT branch where we had arranged to leave our car. An hour and a half later, about a quarter after 8 a.m., we were home in Al Ain. We dropped into bed and slept until 3 pm.

We caught up on household matters that night and next morning drove the three hours over to Dibba to meet Jihaine Alibi and Roula Rbeiz with intent to finish their pool work that day at Nomad Ocean Adventure, and dive the next. All worked out well, and we were bathed before dusk and ready to enjoy an enjoyable social evening with our many friends there, especially Steven Board showing us the ebook he was creating containing his underwater still photos, remarkable. We slipped away early though and had another great sleep.

Next morning, we were on the boat in mid-summer 43 degree heat, chugging down water, and cooling off only when the boat got under way. But seas were smooth out to the dive site. We had chosen Ras Morovi as the first destination because it is so benignly shallow, yet interesting for divers of all levels. We had also agreed to set up a CESA buoy at our first lunch stop so that we could conduct our last dive at Lima Rock.

We started with skills in the sand in the back of the bay at Ras Morovi. The ladies are both superstars at hovering and got though that skill just fine. There was some anxiety over mask clearing but this too was performed to perfection by both students, and we started our dive. Buoyancy was good and under control and the visibilty was excellent. Ras Morovi begins with a lovely reef teeming with fishes and turns a corner shallow to where large crayfish can sometimes be found in the crevices of a cave there, as can be seen on the video. The video shows another diver videoing a pipefish and ignoring a blue trigger fish that appears to be guarding an egg nest, as it's quite agitated.  Next up, a school of squids practicing underwater ballet, and a moray flexing his jaws as we were about to enter our safety stop and submersible marker buoy deployment.

Bobbi had an accident climbing the ladder after the dive. She slipped and gashed her shin, but first aid was brought to bear and she was patched up well, but would have to sit out the next dive. After dealing with that we rounded the headland to the bay at Ras Morovi where lunch was served and I set about finding a fish trap in exactly 6 meters of water with a rope trailing off it to the surface, ideal for CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent. 

When the ladies had completed their CESA we motored over to Lima Rock North for our last dive. We began ours with about half an hour of surface work that no one else on the dive boat complained about later (I guess they must have waited for us for half an hour after their dives since we were down 52 minutes once we started diving, tolerant of them not to say anything). We took our time descending to work out ear problems but reached the sand bottom finally and started exploring. Visibility was almost like a pool and I pulled out my camera to record some fish life, but it wouldn't switch on. I had just recharged it but I think what I did was switch it on afterwards to check that the SD card was there and probably forgot to turn it off. I didn't check it before diving (wish I had). I also wish I had taken my other camera, but the last time I went diving with two cameras I grabbed the wrong one as an eagle ray flew by and missed the shot because that camera was switched off, so I deliberately left the one with some remaining charge behind. Live and learn.

Anyway this dive was spent descending, finding more crayfish, and then me remembering last time we were here the sand just got deeper and deeper as we went with the reef on our right, so I reversed us to about where we had put in and started having the ladies do compass work. We finished that right as one diver hit 50 bar so we ascended slowly and came out on a turtle nestled into a rock ledge right at 5 meters, a lovely place to do a safety stop. The turtle stayed where he was the whole time. I wish my camera had been working as it was shallow, with great vis, and would have made a colorful shot, green turtle, purple coral.

Bobbi saw two turtles from the boat she said later. We were surprised on surfacing to see that the seas had increased (actually, as predicted by the UAE weather authorities) and we rode home in salt spray. Bobbi and I had been considering staying the next day for more diving but we had to get her to an emergency room to clean her wound properly. It wasn't really an emergency so we drove back to Al Ain for it (though we did stop at the Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital just off the 311 highway at the end of the truck road - it had big red emergency signs but when we followed them we found the ER was closed - I think they meant it had not yet opened, as this is a brand new hospital).  Anyway we ended up at Ain Al Khaleej Hospital around the corner from our house in Al Ain where the staff there glued  (yes, glued!) Bobbi's wound back together, after congratulating us on having properly treated it at the site of the accident.

We found out next day when Bobbi emailed Nomad to tell them everything had turned out well with her wound that the boats had put out next morning but had been forced back after just one dive due to worsening seas, so we were not that disappointed that we couldn't stay. 

Meanwhile enjoy the video, and congratulations to Jihaine and Roula, whom I hope to see again soon on an advanced course.

You can find the logs of the first two dives of Roula and Jihaine's course here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fun diving Musandam with Bobbi, Molly Carter, Dan Miles, Bruce Ora, and David Muirhead

My logged dives #1371-1374

I had an open water course planned June 19-20 at Nomad Ocean Adventures Musandam for 5 students who postponed, so ended up diving with these guys

  1. Bruce Ora, PADI Instructor
  2. Vance Stevens, PADI instructor
  3. David Muirhead, PADI divemaster
  4. Dan Miles, PADI divemaster
  5. Bobbi Stevens, PADI rescue
  6. Molly Alice, o/w

Here’s the video:

Bobbi and Vance joined David Muirhead, Bruce Ora, Molly Alice Carter, and Dan Miles for a weekend of beating the June summer heat in UAE with the wet and wild of the waters off Musandam Oman. This video compilation exerpts dives on Lima Rock, Ras Morovi and Ras Sanut (Wonderwall). 

Missing from the video is an eagle ray that shot overhead and into the blue off Lima Rock. I was carrying two cameras and picked up the wrong one that was switched off (and those things are fast!). Another game you can play with the video is spot the blue snorkel (hint, it WAS hiding under a turtle; it is now in my possession by right of salvage :-). Enjoy

Some of the buddies posted on Facebook

Saturday, June 6, 2015

PADI Open Water Course in Musandam: Dives 1 & 2 for Alfredo, Jihaine, Rodrigo, and Roula

My logged dives #1369-1370

We got a call from AB at Nomad Ocean Adventure as we were leaving the house on Thursday to head down early and meet some dive students. He wanted to inform us of the developing weather situation. The north of Musandam was experiencing rough seas and boats were not putting out from Dibba harbor that day. Local weather sources were reporting as much but the usually trusty Windguru raised no alarms, as in this view from earlier that morning:


We were looking forward to the weekend, meeting 4 students there that night, and if worse came to worse we could do pool modules all day Friday. Nomad said the storm was due to diminish by mid-day and perhaps we could take a boat out then. I sent email to my divers and Bobbi and I hit the road for Dibba. We took the way from Shuweib to Madan to Dhaid, and except for wind blowing sand across the highway, blocking one lane for a long stretch and reducing visibility, we missed the traffic on the 311 Sharjah and reached Dibba through the scenic mountain pass from Masafi in 2:45 minutes from Al Ain, a comfortable drive.

Our students had rental car insurance hassles and didn't arrive till 10 pm. By then most divers had cancelled including all the fun divers in our party, except Daniel Sobrado who was coming with his Spanish friends Alfredo and Rodrigo, to whom he'd referred me as a dive instructor, along with Roula from Lebanon and Jihaine from Tunisia. These all worked together at the same bank and would be my students for the weekend. It didn't look like diving would happen next morning (Brad was going down at 5 a.m. to check with the coast guard, and when he got there he called the group from Dubai and told them to forget it). 

So our group met at 7:30 for breakfast and briefing. We would try to get three modules in by noon and see if we could go out in a boat then. That turned out to be impossible since the weather was still rough in the north by then, so we made a long day of it in the pool. We were finally in the water around 9:00. There was no rush, and with 4 divers at different ability levels, delays can be expected. With the extra time, we made sure everyone had plenty of space to accomplish the skills successfully. We finished module 2 in time for lunch, and what happens after lunch? Siesta :-) We were in no hurry. We knocked off module three that afternoon. The group was willing to continue but it was getting dark, and frankly, we were all tired. We decided to relax over dinner.

We met again at 7:30 next morning to see if we could do module 4 but only managed the underwater part, no time for the surface work before we had to get ready and go diving at 9:30. In the event we got off to an only slightly late start and cruised in fairly smooth seas all the way to Ras Morovi. There though we found plankton and green, murky water, so AB recommended we move down to Lulu Island for our first open water dive of the course. This is sometimes a challenge for many students. The water was colder than expected, and ear and buoyancy problems kept us in the shallows for the first ten minutes, while poor visibility split our group temporarily (but AB is an instructor, so they were with him, and he returned them safe and sound). We eventually got our dive in, all of us underdressed, me in lycra and rash vest, and the two guys in shorties, so it was cold, visibility poor, but there were moray eels, and fusiliers and jacks as we rounded the island south to north, and the group stayed together and ascended well.

I didn't take any videos on that dive and I changed into 5 mm for the next one, which we did after a surface interval that included a 30-min siesta on the boat in the sheltered waters off Lima headland north. Everyone found a place to stretch out it seemed until AB barged forward and brought us out of our dreams. He offered us our choice of spots, so I selected Lima Rock north, so AB would have a chance to see the big fish with the initials WS, and Daniel could dive with him and maybe see it too. I checked the current on snorkel before agreeing to the spot, but the depth here was not ideal for our group of beginners, as sand there begins at 11 meters, and we would have to go there to do our skills. All divers had made it that deep on the first dive, but ear problems forced one to stay shallower than that on the second one, so in the end I took the three to the sand who could make it there and will plan a shallower dive for the other next time.

We didn't see the big fish with the initials WS but we found better visibility and more life on Lima Rock. I found a crawfish in a cave as we were descending, and Bobbi found a couple of cuttlefish that didn't mind us coming close and filming. There were lion fish and moray eels, and while doing skills with one of the students, I saw a disc move into view just at the edge of my vis and settle on the sand, looked like a ray of some kind. I finned to check it out and found a torpedo ray (these are electric and will jolt you if touched). He moved about and rippled around for me and this rounded out our videos.

It's only the second time I've not been able to complete a course at Nomad due to weather in many years of working with them, but I'm looking forward to having this group back in a couple of weeks, and signing them off as open water divers.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fun diving with Whalesharks and other impressive creatures in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventures

I've been doing a lot of diving lately but I've been working on an article for TESL-EJ which I just finished and this has put me behind  in my dive blogging. Meanwhile I've got videos still backlogged from the previous week's dive trip in May. Oon Friday / Saturday May 15 / 16 I conducted an advanced course on Dibba Rock at Blue Planet Diving.  I'm hoping to get these posts and videos up shortly, but for the record, these would be:

My logged dives #1365-1368

But this past weekend the diving was quite special, and with that article out of the way, I'm posting

May 15-16, 2015, my logged dives #1364-1367

This weekend I had long planned to conduct an open water course but one of the students had an ear problem that the doctor would not sign him off on, so both students postponed their course to June.

I went ahead to Dibba and crossed the border to the humble yet dynamic compound of Nomad Ocean Adventure. Happily and coincidentally, I chanced to meet some good friends there from Al Ain, divemaster David Muirhead, and experienced instructors Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire, and I was invited onto their boat. We departed next day for Lima Rock, which we dived on both Friday and Saturday. There had been whalesharks spotted in the vicinity the past few weeks and when the whalesharks are around, there's always the chance we will see one. The visibility was as good as I've seen it for a long time. Check out this video:

This video is a compilation of a stunning dive conducted on Friday, when we swam with a whaleshark, and one on Saturday where we saw an eagle ray but no whale sharks (though there was one seen that day nearer shore on the headland opposite Lima Rock, off Ras Hamra).  

Our first dive on Friday May 14 was on Ras Sanut, what we also call Wonderwall. On this day the visibility was remarkably good. The video starts with Gerry McGuire easing through the water with no wetsuit, and me in my 5 mm !!!, followed by his buddy Bruce Ora and then by my buddy, David Muirhead, who joined me in a selfie at the start of the dive. From there the diving was full of marine life, as can be seen from the video:

Below is the video from our dive on Octopus Rock May 15. Visibility was excellent and current benign. David Muirhead and I followed Bruce Ora and Gerry McGuire to the east of the rock down to where the seahorses were (or as we observed, the seahorse was). David and I worked our way back up to where Abdullah was taking photos of flatworms and nudibranchs (he'd found several in a 10 meter square area). We found lots of moray eels, and batfish being cleaned by their blue wrasse friends. The dominant fish here are the blue "red-tooth" triggers, but there are jacks schooling in shallow water near the top of the rock, and I ended my dive amidst a large school of beguiling batfish. See for yourself:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

PADI Open Water Advanced Dive Course for Jo Meads at Blue Planet Diving, DIbba

My logged dives #1359-1364

On Friday May 8 I met Jo Meads and Roger Norkie at Blue Planet Diving, Dibba, for two days of PADI Advanced Open Water dive training for Jo. Blue Planet Diving is a friendly and easy place to run courses from. It's right on a beach protected by a seawall so for open water courses we can usually use the relatively confined water for pool skills there. The owners run three dives a day and are well equipped for accessing equipment and walking it down to boats that pull up close to the beach. Most dive trips are to Dibba Rock just a 5 min boat ride, and the equipment cleaning tanks are clean and at the end of the boat ramp. Prices are reasonable and the owners are flexible with instructors running courses.

Having the option of doing three dives a day is good for an advanced open water course, since the course comprises 5 dives. On our first day we did all our diving on Dibba Rock, which also has varied options for dive planning. The island is just a couple hundred meters in length, lying roughly west to east as you look out to sea toward the north, which we call the "back side" as viewed from the beach. Dive boats can tie up to buoys moored at either end, west and east. The west end is my favorite as it drops to just 6 meters of water and puts you at a part of the reef I call the aquarium, which is shallow with coral bommies swarming with schools of fish usually seen in good light. On the east side, the mooring there drops to 8 meters, and if you start there you can go further to the east and look for rays. You never know what you will see here; we dropped in on sharks here and found more along the wall toward the back side on a recent PADI Open Water course for Molly Alice,

On our first dive, on the 8 meter mooring, we found one of the rays had come to us, and stayed put as we explored the vicinity of the mooring line anchor. On this dive, which I conducted as a PADI advanced boat dive, we looked around for more rays but then did the dive around the back side of the rock to find pipefish, moray eels, schools of fish to stick our Go Pros into, playful cuttlefish, and even a turtle toward the end of the dive. 

Back on shore snorkelers and divers were reporting that black tip reef sharks were active in the very shallow water on the "front" or south face of the rock. We dropped again at the 8 meter spot. Imad had given us a good description of where the rays like to hang out so I led us east over sand but had to push into the current to get back to the rock. On this leg I lost Roger and Jo so I looked around for a minute and surfaced to find they had done the same. We regrouped and Roger reported that they had seen a huge ray ripple past them in the water (the reason they had lingered and lost me) but at that point Roger found also there was no SD card in his GoPro. Since we were doing a third dive that day, I was using the same GoPro I had had on the first dive, which can be a stretch on its battery.  So we re-descended and moved to the south side of the rock and conducted  our navigation exercises there. When done we pushed to the north east to get as close to the rock as possible and indeed we saw several sharks quite clearly in great overhead sunlight in water only a meter or two deep. However, my GoPro chose that moment to lose its charge, and with Roger's having no SD card, these sightings are recorded only in text here.

We tried again to find sharks on our last dive of the day, but this one was at 3 or 4 in the afternoon when the light coming in at that angle reflects more off particulate matter in the water, so conditions were not as good for spotting them, and I don't remember so much from that dive apart from a large barracuda lurking off the south face of the rock. We also got a unique shot of a nudibrach edging determinedly toward a pipefish, who moved out of the way just in time to avoid the coup de grace. Check it out in the video.

Next morning we joined Blue Planet Diving for their morning dive on the 30 meter wreck Inchcape 1, Jo's PADI advanced deep dive (more information on this wreck here:

The wreck was interesting as always, swarming with fish, a honeycomb moray hiding in the tires at the bottom, lion fish performing in interesting tableax on deck, and a scorpion fish lurking nearby, trying to blend into the encrustation. It's a short dive, just 20 minutes, and one that is choreographed as a set piece for PADI advanced open water and deep or wreck specialty divers.

For our last dive of the weekend we returned to shark hunting at Dibba Rock. We put in at the deep mooring and I spent most of the dive trying to find the shallows where the sharks were. A combination of currents and having to approach it from a spot other than the aquarium confounded my navigation, but when we were shallow I could pop my head above water and reconnoiter. In any event I got a shot of a gopie protecting a hole which his partner pistol shrimp was excavating (it's quick in the video, look closely). We found a flounder, or moses sole scooting along the bottom, a puffer in the shallows, and a turtle emerging just around the corner from a school of silvery jacks. And at the very end, I spotted a shark and you can just make it out as it moves off camera if you replay that part of the video several times (at the end of the Dibba Rock sequence, before the Inchcape shots).

It was a very enjoyable weekend. Nice to see that Dibba Rock continues to bounce back from the ravages of cyclone Gonu and red tide 8 years ago, and congratulations to Joanne Meads on certifying as a PADI Advanced Open Water diver.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fun diving Dibba Rock and Inchcape 2 with friends Jay and Robin Fortin

My logged dives #1357-1358

On May 2, 2015, I joined my friends Jay and Robin Fortin for a day of diving with Divers Down. Jay and Robin were staying at the Miramar Hotel on Al Aqah Beach, UAE, and that's where the dive shop was. We did two dives, one on Dibba Rock, and the other on Inchcape 2. These are my GoPro videos of the two  dives.

I went down on Friday and met Jay and Robin for dinner at the Miramar and then drove over to a nearby beach where I had scoped out the parking / sleeping possibilities on the way down. Nights were reasonably cool and I had the back of my 4x4 made into a bed so I could just park and crawl in it. But I had to move from my first spot because people were driving up and down there all night, even though I was parked a few hundred meters off the beach. So I moved to the beach right next to the Miramar, parked down a track leading to the beach, and slept fine there until in the morning I was awakened by the sound of car engines. This turned out to be fishermen who were using wenches on the front of those cars to haul in their nets. The net they were hauling in surrounded me on both sides of my car, I guess I was parked in their favorite fishing spot. In any event when I made ready to move they let one rope slack so I could drive over it.

I was the first customer at the Miramar for their buffet breakfast where I was joined eventually by Jay and Robin. We passed time at breakfast till time to go diving. Divers Down were making trips out and back at 9:00, noon, and 3:00, and we went on the first two trips. Visibility had been good at Dibba Rock the day before so this was their first destination. It's a place I have dived often over the years, in good times and bad, but life is bouncing back there now and it's one of the best sites again on that coastline (which really speaks to the deterioration of the other sites in the area, compared to what they used to be). Still the dive shops are packed with people wanting to go diving.

Here is my video from the Dibba Rock dive -

We returned to Divers Down base at the Miramar Hotel and switched tanks for our second dive, this one planned for the Inchcape 2. I had explained to Robin and Jay that I planned to dive this one in an unorthodox manner. We would spend about 20 minutes on the wreck, which would give us time to peruse the deck for whatever critters might be hiding there. The encrustations are home to scorpion fish, nudibranchs, seahorses, and lots of small things good at camouflage.  But after 20 minutes you'll find most of the crocodile fish and rays in the sand that are lurking there, and you'll have covered the deck from bow to stern, time to head for the coastline.

Before we went in the dive guide conducted the boat briefing which was to spend the entire time on the wreck. As people were kitting up I told him we would finish up in the bay. What I really like about diving in UAE is that you are not guided if you don't want to be. The dive guide said fine, thanks for telling him.

The wreck is slightly deeper than Robin's open water depth max so we spent little time at the bottom, but to head for shore on a s/w heading we had to stay a bit off the sand until the bottom came up to meet us. After 5 min on compass I looked around for jawfish and caught a glimpse of one just popping back in his hole because one of the other divers didn't see him in time and they are quite shy of people overhead. They are incredible creatures, live in holes, have long eel-like bodies, but the most most people see of them is their heads, which are like, as David Muirhead says, whack-a-moles. They will turn side to side checking out divers surrounding their holes. They have great mouths swarming with cleaner shrimp. When divers get to close, they go way down in their holes.

We continued into the bay finding the ubiquitous moray eels. At the back of the bay, in shallow water brilliant with light, there are some lovely table corals. It's a pretty dive, here's the video: