Saturday, May 9, 2009

Diving May 8 and 9th 2009 - Return to Dibba Rock after Red Tide, with Freestyle Divers

Diving May 8, 2009
Dibba Rock, Freestyle

Bobbi and Glenn and I drove over to Dibba for the day but ended up spending two. Jay Fortin followed us in his car. Jay was about to do his first open water dives after two weeks of steady progress with DVD, knowledge reviews, two academic sessions at my house, and two pool sessions at Al Jazira Pool in Abu Dhabi. He had been having slight ear problems in a three meter pool and wasn't sure what to expect in the ocean. We offered Dibba Rock the first day and a trip to Musandam the second with Discover Nomad. Jay didn't want to commit to a second day diving. He wanted to see how it went the first, so we planned actually to just drive over for the day and return that night.

In brief, things went rather well. We left at 7 a.m. Friday and arrived before 11:00, plenty of time to kit up leisurely for a noon dive that actually didn't depart until 12:30. It was a lovely day, not too hot, sea conditions calm, and viz was back to normal on the Rock though we were told there had been red tide algae the past couple of days.

Vance's logged Dive #871

In such ideal conditions it felt great to be back on the water. Terry moored a bit east of the reef, the most convenient mooring just off the raspberry to the west having disappeared. This new spot leaves an option of dropping over the wall to the back side of the island, or swimming west over to the coral. When currents are present, this westerly swim is not ideal for beginning divers, and can consume 50 bar upcurrent.

Jay's first dive was a no-skills fun dive. Still it's awkward at first for beginning divers. After a short course in entering the water with a backward roll, we weight-checked and then descended holding on to the stable mooring line. Jay worked his way down the line into 4 meters of coral and sand at the bottom and once he was there and neutrally buoyant I headed out west by northwest past a few coral boulders to try and find my favorite reef from this new mooring position.

Finning over the sand and spots of coral we saw a few fish but not yet the schools that used to be here. The reef clacked audibly as we approached it. Skimming over its edge it sloped downward to 6 or 7 meters in a carpet of what we used to call raspberry coral, now brown, but still teeming with invertebrate organisms and tropical fish. We meandered over its surface looking for larger game and it wasn't long before I saw a first shark moving past in the gloom. Later in the dive I saw a second and followed him more closely, though only for a few seconds. Typically for beginners, not knowing what to look for, slightly too far behind to see what the dive leader sees, Jay didn't see any sharks, but Bobbi and Glenn saw the last one. These sharks are on the move, not resting, you have to be looking for them, and know what you’re looking for.

We also saw a number of cuttlefish and lots of barracudas. The reef was rebounding with many more fishes and in sum it was a satisfying dive. There were some patches of red tide around, clouds of red looking like a tornado storm caught in an event horizon. These were isolated and we just swam around them.

Vance's logged Dive #872

We returned to shore feeling pretty good about the dive. Jay did well and it was obviously going to get easier for him as we went. During the surface interval we did the module 4 confined water duck diving exercise in the clear water near the boat harbor moorings, followed by the no-mask swim and hovering for module 4. Then on the second boat dive Jay had some exercises to get though at the bottom of the mooring line we had gone down earlier, on the first dive. After that we finned over to the reef, keeping more westerly this time, and arriving on the reef earlier than in the previous dive. This dive was similar to the first except we saw no sharks, but we saw a dozen turtles.

Back at Freestyle with sun setting over the mountains we decided to finish off the last of the confined water dives, module 5 in the shallow water off the Royal Beach shore line. This was the weight and BCD removal at the surface and again under water. It was late in the day and not all went smoothly, in part because my near-empty tank was floating light and I had trouble reaching it as it was behind me and perpendicular to my body, so my demos were flawed, but illustrative of weight difference in a full and near-empty tank. But we got through it somehow, and with completion of academic and confined water components of the course, Jay was thinking it would be nice if he could just stay overnight in Dibba and complete the course next day. The problem was we hadn't properly planned to do that.

We had been in touch with Discover Nomad about going on their boat to Musandam next day, on the package that includes dinner and breakfast and accommodation at the hostel, but we had never locked it in. I had called in the morning on my way to Dibba and found that the speedboat to Musandam was full for Saturday, though not all the 30 beds at the hostel were taken, so there was space there. I knew from Freestyle that they had space for us diving next day on Dibba Rock (if we got stuck, they said), so we were thinking to go to Nomad just to spend the night but it turned out that because Jay's car wasn't insured for Oman, he had not brought his passport, and it was unlikely that he'd be let across the border to sleep in the hostel.

In the end we decided if Seaview had any rooms we would take one and spend the night in Dibba proper in order to finish Jay's last two dives the next day. This was not optimally convenient for any of the Stevens brood since Glenn had told his wife he was coming back Friday, and since I was due to attend the conference in Second Life on Saturday (I had already informed the organizers I would miss Friday but had said I would be there Saturday). I thought it was a safe bet I'd be home Friday night since accommodation on the East Coast on weekends, especially in these Indian summer days of May, was normally in short supply. However, Seaside had not just one room but at least two available, so they gave us a choice of prices and amenities. Clearly it was a case of First Life interfering with Second LIfe, but sometimes that happens. The choice between the two was a hard call, but we opted to continue our relaxing weekend for a second day and set the virtual world aside for a while. Jay made the choice easier by agreeing to pay for half the room and treat us to dinner at the Lebanese Restaurant in town. Plus he contributed generously to the supply of beer we would put in the fridge at the Seaside, from the hole in the wall off-license a short walk from Freestyle Divers (one of the charms of that dive center).

Another consideration was that Freestyle had recently had a bureacratic conundrum when their boats were deemed improperly licensed by the UAE authorities and ordered to stay in harbor. They'd sorted out the boat licenses by then but only Terry, the Freestyle owner, was properly licensed to drive the boats. Hence only one boat could travel at a time, and the 9 a.m. Saturday dive was going to the Inchcape at 30 meters. Therefore the only way we could accommodate Jay on his 3rd o/w dive at 9 a.m. was to shoredive Dibba Rock. Fortunately, Jay runs every day and is fit, so it seemed doable. Glenn decided to join us as well. Bobbi opted to sit it out and use the wireless at Freestyle, then join us for our noon dive.

Diving May 9, 2009
Dibba Rock, Freestyle

Vance's logged Dive #873

We calculated that we needed to reach Freestyle at 8 a.m. in order to get our gear together and be finning for the rock at 9 and dive it from 10 to 11, in order to get back to Freestyle for the noon (ish) dive, Jay's last of the course. Since the swim to Dibba Rock is actually about half an hour this schedule had some flexibility, but since Jay was doing only his third dive in his life, I thought flexibility would be appropriate. Plus if there are currents there can be complications on the swim out, including exhaustion, separation and someone having to abort. As it turned out, the sea was like a lake that day. We were in the water heading north by nine, and though we had a few hiccups on the trip out, sea conditions were forgiving, and we still reached the coral patch by about 9:30.

Finning on snorkel with head down is not without its rewards. I caught a glimpse of a lovely eagle ray, 2.5 meters across, being trailed by a remorah. Since I was snorkeling he didn't bolt but swooped in a couple of loops, coming right beneath me a couple of times. Glenn and Jay were just far enough behind me to miss the show, or even when right next to me had heads down and couldn't see me motioning. Then when we reached the reef, Glenn saw a shark that none of us saw, in my case because I was following a turtle. Spotting animals like this is usually how I know we have reached the reef.

So we descended there. Jay had just a couple of exercises to get out of the way. He orally inflated his BCD and then cleared a flooded mask, all in short order. From then on we had only to enjoy the reef.

We saw no more sharks, though a dive on that section of reef is always full of anticipation of them. We passed over a number of turtles and swam close to iridescent cuttlefish. There were hulking barracudas, and at one point a big Spanish mackerel swam by. Mainly it was just a relaxing dive, finning slowly among the schooling fishes, and coming out on the end of the reef at the aquarium to the northwest of the island, where the jacks and most colorful fishies flit among the large coral boulders of orange and red hue. Here we reversed direction and headed south until both my buddies showed me 50 bar at about the same time, and we began swimming high off the reef, finally surfacing after 54 minutes.

I saw a sting ray on the way back, but apart from that things were uneventful around Freestyle Divers for the next hour or so while Terry got the boat ready for the noon(ish) dive. I had time to drink two cups of coffee and eventually we kitted and waded to the boat. Glenn had decided not to dive anymore, so it was just Bobbi, Jay, and I.

Vance's logged Dive #874

Terry took us to the mid-island mooring just south from the island, and we all descended 4 meters on the mooring line, Bobbi to wait below while Jay and I bounced the controlled emergency swimming ascent. Then back down under Jay removed and replaced his mask and we were good to go to the back side of the island on an 80 degree heading to find the gap in the wall and pop over. On the way there, I was startled by a scimitar-tailed ray who appeared on a collision course but swerved 90 degrees at the last minute and scuttled away across the top of the reef.

We descended to the depths, thermoclining from 29 degree water at the surface to 26 below, chilly enough to notice. As we descended to the sand we came onto an old collapsed fish pot and I had Jay lead us east over the sand and return on a westerly heading. He did this fine but we didn't go far enough to see rays so I led a little ways along the wall and then set us on an adventure on a northeast heading. This time we saw grey rays scurrying out of the way including one I was able to follow which reverted to plan B and tried to hide by pretending to be one with the sand. This allowed us to pass over him close enough to see his eye stalks. Having seen the rays and mindful of Jay's air at 16 meters I led back to the wall. Bobbi and I looked for jawfish in the sand before we reached there but found none. Then we went along the wall where I saw a crab trying to hide but not much else. There was a lot of rubble as if a lot of what was living there had been choked off from its light and left a lava-like residue, and there were no morays. There were some big fish still poking around, schools of those, and I followed the wall around and came up in the shallows as Jay was approaching 50 bar.

I tried to find the strawberry coral where it usually was, suspecting I needed to push to the south and west since it's possible to come up inside the coral plateau once you round the island. The fish life around the coral boulders was a panoply in the clear water, and though I heard the reef clacking I could never find the raspberry patch in the directions I was expecting to find it. Eventually Jay showed me a needle below 50 and we had been diving 55 minutes, so we ascended. I was surprised to discover then that we had NOT rounded the island as I thought. We had apparently gone over the reef to the sand at 16 meters further west than we usually do and then found our way east and up the gap we normally come through at the end of our dives from the other direction. So we were still on the opposite side of the island to where I thought we were and had spent our entire dive there.

It was confusing, but still, a pretty dive. Jay was feeling pretty well trained by then, I think, and on removing and replacing weights and BCD at the surface while waiting on Terry to collect his other divers and bring the boat, he completed all training components for confined and open water. Well done Jay!

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