Sunday, May 31, 2009

Freestyle Diving in Dibba May 29-30, 2009

3 divers certified this weekend: Congratulations to Jay and Sophiane and Laura, all Advanced PADI o/w divers.

Diving May 29, 2009

Dibba Rock, Freestyle

I had a few folks this weekend who wanted to spend it doing their advanced PADI dive courses. One couple were Laura and Sophiane, a couple I’d met through some hash runners I’d trained, and Jay wanted to continue his training from his open water course he’d completed two weeks before. Jay was pretty pleased at the personal attention since we were mostly one on one. Also another student of mine Rebecca had not dived in some time and wanted to dive with us as a refresher. So Bobbi and I had 4 trainees to look after, plus Nicky rode down with us to Dibba and Freestyle divers, which we reached shortly after 11 on Friday May 29.

I had dived with Laura once before and recalled that she was rusty but proficient. That had been when training Graeme and Rachael, they were all friends, but it had been some time previously. I had given them the scuba tuneup to do in the car on the way down, where they also filled out the other required forms. Our first dive would be a PADI advanced o/w “boat” dive, an easy way to start an advanced course, getting familiar with all the divers and getting them familiar with the water again.

Vance’s logged dive #879 May 29, 2009

The old moorings had disappeared in the storms and red tides and I was never sure with the new ones in what part of the reef I would end up in. Devan the new dive guide, personable young newcomer on the Freestyle staff, decided not to moor but at my request ran an anchor over the side. Though the anchor ended in mid water it would at least serve as a reference line for my divers, and in case of ear problems, something to hold on to. No one needed it, a good sign. It turned out we were pretty much right on the reef we wanted to be on, so after a little fiddling with buoyancy in rocky sand just off the reef, people got comfortable and we headed in over the raspberry patch. It wasn’t long before I saw a black tip reef shark. Vis wasn’t good but this one passed right in front of me and was in no great hurry so I was able to follow him where I could barely see him ahead for another 20 seconds or so, though I knew that people behind me wouldn’t have seen it - but Bobbi, not that far behind did, and like me, she knew what she was looking for.

We didn’t see any more sharks that day though there were a lot of cuttlefish on the reef and barracuda overhead. Following along the coral patch very relaxedly we started encountering turtles. Eventually we ended in a large swath of sea grass and here we found a dozen or more turtles grazing. We floated among them disturbing their lunch I’m afraid, but nice for the newbie divers to see. Everyone’s air was holding well as we turned to return to the reef. I think we surfaced after maybe 55 minutes, having reached just 6 or 7 meters.

Vance’s logged dive #880 May 29, 2009

The next dive would be a navigation exercise, ideally done in the shallows. But Terry took us to the mooring at the east of the island where we’d have to go west some distance to hit the raspberry coral. In his boat briefing he mentioned that there had been rays seen last dive on the back side of dibba rock, and I thought the sandy area there would make a nice ray spotting exercise while the students swam through their compass work. The trouble was it was a bit deep, the sand being from 12 to 16 meters. My divers all wanted to go there though, so I decided to have them conduct the exercises as a team. Once we reached the sand, we came upon a mooring line with a new white rope attached and this would make a great base. It was also a stroke of luck because Rebecca was having mask problems and Bobbi was near having to abort her own dive by taking Rebecca to the surface, but with the line there and the certainty that we’d be operating in its vicinity, Bobbi understood that she could take Rebecca up the line and leave her at the top and rejoin us if need be. In the event we carried on with our work, and Bobbi and Rebecca reappeared ten minutes later, Bobbi having successfully helped Rebecca resolve a minor mask strap problem that has been flooding Rebecca’s mask.

By then we had traveled out and back to measure fin kicks, and out and back again on a compass heading, and we were about to start our square. We were seeing no rays on these legs and nothing much more that drab sand in cloudy vis, but the work of navigation is its own reward. Poor vis gives the impression of flying on instruments. We traveled in parallel, each counting a certain number of kicks one direction, then turning 90 degrees and going the same number of kicks on the new heading, getting down to 16-17 meters depth. After the third turn like that we arrived spot on at the mooring line, a feeling of accomplishment shared by all.

Sophiane showed me 70 bar now and I decided to take us back up the way we had come rather than proceed around the island as I sometimes do. This took us into an area of boulders with pretty fish on the east side of the island. I rarely see much here apart from picturesque coral tableaux, though Bobbi and I saw a pair of sharks here once during more exciting times at Dibba, chasing each other around a coral encrusted rock. I led us in the direction I thought the reef should be, but it was taking some time, and on the way we had to send up Jay and Sophiane to the surface, low on air at 45 minutes, a respectable time considering the earlier depth. Bobbi and Rebecca and Laura and I continued for another 15 min. over the raspberry coral which we had by then found. I think we found at least one more turtle there, and some cuttlefish, some morays concealed in the crags, and after surfacing after an hour of diving, we went back down to see a female cuttlefish displaying her tentacles between a pair of smaller mails who were moving in and occasionally snapping at her. As this is a family diveBlog I shall describe no further.

Vance’s logged dive #881 May 29, 2009

Our last dive on May 29 was a night dive, conducted on the inside of Dibba Rock. We were dropped at the usual mooring but as often happens at night, without my usual visual references it is easy to go off the reef, and I spent the dive moving on headings I thought would put us back on it. We found lots of morays and dozens of small red chunky crabs. There was a lobster half out of his hole, and a few turtles hiding in theirs. At junctures we conducted compass headings out and back from predetermined locations, and toward the end of the dive I had everyone switch off their torches and stir up phosphorescence. I had declared a 40 min dive but we surfaced after 53 including the safety stop. In fact much of the dive was a safety stop, as we were often in just 3 meters of water. I think we got down to 5 or 6 at the most.

Terry came back late that evening from a Musandam trip and was in no mood to repeat the same on Saturday. The bad news was that there had been oil that day at the Inchcape and it was looking like we might have no options for a deep dive to complete our dive courses if Inchcape and Musandam were both off the table. We visited the hole in the wall off license and retired to our quarters to think about it, passing first by the Lebanese restaurant to order food. Nicky had brought wine and it was after midnight by the time we were able to get through the two bottles. Jay stayed for a last beer and sleep came easily, though birds making a raucus outside our window at 5 a.m. were most unwelcome.

May 30, 2009

Vance’s logged dive #882

We made it to the dive center to find that the Inchcape trip was on, so while Terry took the boat to be filled I briefed my students on cognitive exercises they could do at depth. I usuallyhave them work out a minimum surface interval problem, but Jay couldn’t see the tables that well, so I had him tie a bowline and convert centigrade to Fahrenheit by doubling it, subtracting 10%, and adding 32. Both sets of tasks took my students 45 seconds at the surface.

The inchcape dive is a set piece affair. It’s just over 30 meters, and my students were careful to avoid going all the way to the sand, so as to dive it for 20 min on tables. It’s reached by going down a mooring line, all the way from surface to depth. The first time someone makes this deep journey, it can leave an impression of leaving comfort and certainty for a world intuitively life threatening, where every meter deeper puts that much more water between the diver and safety. From an instructor’s point of view, it’s a set piece. It’s deep but there’s not much that can go wrong. It’s 30 meters, 20 minutes, in ok vis easy to keep people together. Easy to brief. Dives there rarely depart from plan.

What makes the wreck interesting is how things do depart from plan. First off, Bobbi’s dive computer had packed in the day before and I had forgot mine. I didn’t mention it to anyone, except to Bobbi in the car on the way home. Anyone else who finds out will read it here. It didn’t concern me. I dived 30 years without one. I had a watch and a depth gauge, it was a straightforward dive, just go down, spend 20 min, come back up, and stay below the slowest bubbles. I knew the pace quite well. In the event, Laura and Sophiane both had computers and they kept me well informed when it was time to go up.

Descent went well. Sophiane had a regulator problem on the way down but Laura assisted competently and they resolved it. Someone’s tank came loose and had to be clamped in, minor problem. On the minimum surface interval problem I wrote 26 meters at 18 min for the first dive and one of them changed that to 25, so they both calculated correctly a first dive at 25 meters. But I had meant for them to use 26, which meant they’d have to consider it a 30 meter dive. Having selected the option of changing the problem rather than considering the more difficult but correct answer might have been indicative of a narcotic effect of increased nitrogen consumption. I know I’m forever noticing small impairments in myself at depth, and the purpose of the exercise is to create a situation where these are more noticeable.

The dive was nice. A new honeycomb moray Fred Jr. now inhabits the spot where Fred and Frieda succumbed to the red tide. Fred Jr. is not as used to stroking as Fred was. Still, glad the Honeycomb family carries on and condolences to Fred Jr’s parents.

As one of the practice problems in recalling how to do a minimum surface interval I had had the students work out the minimum surface interval for a 30 meter dive at 20 minutes followed by a 16 meter dive at 50 min, and this was about what we eventually decided to do. We had descended on the Inchcape at about 10:46 and were ascending less than 20 min later (Bobbi made it 17 min), so our surface interval started at around 11:05. I don’t remember when we started our last dive exactly but it was after 1:30 before the divers were on the boat and probably 2:00 by the time we were all in the water, so our SI was a good three hours.

Vance’s logged dive #883 May 30, 2009

The last dive would be for Peak Performance Buoyancy, so we did buoyancy checks in stiff current at the surface, not easy, but all divers managed themselves well, and descended into 7 meters of water for fin pivots. Once all had achieved a modicum of neutral buoyancy and could maintain it, we swam toward the back side of the island. We headed out into the sand on an easterly heading looking for rays but saw none and returned to the reef in a westerly direction looking for jawfish, but again saw none, but got down again to 16-17 meters.

The current was pumping and we were being carried along with it. My main concern was navigation, but others in our group were pointing out the cuttlefish and morays. I was leading more westerly than I thought I should and trying to find that gap to the south, not the one that would take me to the wrong side of the island as I did last time I was here. We twice encountered divers coming the other way and I figured they would have been dropped to the west of the island so if I went where they had come from I would find the gap to the west and south I was looking for.

We finned mainly against the current now and Sophiane went low on air at 43 minutes so I conducted him to the surface near where Divers Down had moored their big boat. I spotted ours and called it over and made sure they saw Sophiane before descending to rejoin the others who had understood to wait for me. We were now in the ‘aquarium’ on the west side of the island just in the shallows atop the wall, a place rich in fish life, not a bad place to hang out. I knew that the raspberry coral was just a bit to the south and I managed to lead us there. We looked about for sharks but saw none and about 48 minutes into the dive Laura signaled that she was tired, and Jay, getting low on air himself, offered to buddy her to the surface, so it was just Bobbi and I. We crisscrossed the coral looking for our favorite animals but found nothing worth writing home about except that we ended in the patch of sea grass where the turtles were and again disturbed quite a lot of them as we ascended having exceeded one hour of dive time. Still we had a ten minute wait at the surface while Terry collected other divers and we were looking for the last pair when Terry noticed a dark patch in the water. It looked huge as he pulled alongside and uttered the words to all prepared, “get in there”. Nicky and Christian and I all still had our gear on and all went in the water but all three found ourselves without fins, good for a laugh. Bobbi took her time and managed to get down with her fins and find that it was a fish ball of sardines. I was passed by a huge black tip in search of food but surfaced without seeing more. Bobbi described being in the midst of the ball and observing what she called a feeding frenzy. Good on her!

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