Saturday, December 25, 2010

Seasons Greetings 2010 with Diving in Musandam

My logged dives #1027-1030
This looks to be my Merry Happy Card this year.  This is what I was doing on Christmas day, and today, the day after, my birthday, I'm heading into work.

Bobbi would have joined us but she is in Houston with her mom.  Dusty went to see his grandmother, and they'll both be back in Abu Dhabi in early January.  Glenn and his wife and daughter Gulya and Gwen were with us a week ago, and we all celebrated our family gathering together then.  So this Christmas I was home alone and spent the day diving with friends.

Friday, December 24, 2010
 The night before the chef at Nomad Ocean Adventure had prepared the most succulent turkey I have ever tasted.  Normally we bake ours and it comes out dry.  This one was cooked like a chicken, and the result was mouth watering.  But the real treat was that we had the dive center all to ourselves.  We were the only ones to feast there, sleep there, and we commandeered the boat for the following day and dived where we felt like it.

We had planned a group of 5 for Friday, but Hasan didn't make the trip across, and Ian's daughter Eva rolled up sick with a fever and a cough and didn't start her advanced course as planned, so it was just us in our group, Ian, Nicki, and I (pictured).  On Friday we were joined by Delia and Ahmed who were being escorted by the dive pro Hussain.  We started with the obvious dive for that region, Lima Rock.  It was unusual for me to diving strictly for pleasure and with people who were serious enough about their diving to be able to go where I did.  So after picking a spot mid-island to avoid the current we headed down the wall and out over the sand to some further coral strewn rocks I rarely visit 30 meters down.  We spent about 15 minutes there before heading back to the wall and then heading up it looking for animals in the rocks.  We found a honeycomb moray, several gray and green morays, and a torpedo ray.  It was a very relaxed dive. Ian left us at 43 minutes but Nicki and I stayed down more than an hour before ending on a zen note.

There was green algae in the water around Ras Morovi so for the next dive Hussain decided to try and escape it by moving further north to Octopus Rock.  This dive is known for its current and today was one of the most extreme ones I have experienced there.  We went down on the southwest corner.  On a mild day we can usually proceed southeast to look for seahorses in the green whip corals and wheel around to the various submerged outcrops at 20-28 meters, but today that would have exposed us to a freight train current, so we hugged the rock and finned into it.  It was challenging for my buddies but when we came over a ledge about 20 meters distant we found some shelter and rested to catch our breath.  The current made the vis really good and also attracted animals.  We found a school of barracuda just off that point, and a big king fish was cruising back and forth (not sure, long, silver, solitary, single fins top and bottom, Ian thought at first it was a shark).  Being very careful not to get swept away I led us into the current and finned to the east of the island where we had some outcroppings.  I started moving east west there, always returning to the rock to keep oriented, and also to see that Hussain had taken his group into the lee on the south side and was conducting his whole dive there.  There are huge batfish on this rock, always a pleasure to see, getting cleaned by wrasse at the numerous stations there.  But we were low on air at just 38 minutes and ascended up the lee side of the rock to 5 meters, eventually to pop to the surface.  Hussain was soon to follow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010
Next day, Eva came on the boat but was still not well enough to dive.  Hussain had developed a tooth problem and decided to oversee from the boat.  So it was just us, an opportunity to push further north than our usual spots, so we set out for Mother of Mouse.  However, in a phone call to the coast guard we were denied permission to go further than Octopus Rock, so I said fine, why not go there.  I was expecting milder currents from the day before, and it had been a great dive. But skies above were overcast and as we approached Lima sea conditions were becoming rough.  As we motored toward Octopus they became ominous and brooding, we decided to head for the shelter of Ras Morovi instead.

But there was a place just north of where I usually dive that Hussain said was nice so we decided to try that. That's where Nicki produced the surprises she had been concealing in the bag she had brought on her sleigh, so we had our fancy dress dive :-)

It was a picturesque spot with the reef ending in sand at 17 meters.  We continued down to almost 30 just to see if there were any rays but found none. So we headed back up the reef and meandered, finding at one point a rare kind of eel that Nicki likes to photograph.  There were many eels and the usual fishes but nothing I recall saliently on that dive.  It was just another pleasant underwater experience in an environment that is unfortunately vanishing worldwide and that too few people get to see and appreciate.  We prolonged our experience to over an hour again.

We motored into the middle of a deep bay south of Ras Morovi where the water was calm and had our sandwiches.  We had decided to do our second dive on Pearl Island just to the south across the bay but we ended up doing it there instead.  Nicki's dive computer decided to go for a dive without its owner and she watched it disappear with shall we say, misgivings (understatement).  However she was determined to retrieve and punish the recalcitrant computer so we decided to suit up and search for it.  We had to act quickly.  We were not at anchor.  Hussain noticed the direction of drift and I took a bearing on it, 120 degrees.  We had no idea how deep the water was there.  The three of us plunged over the side, Ian perhaps unwisely since he would be heading down without reference to an indeterminate depth.  In any event, his ears prevented him from completing the journey so it was just Nicki and I to keep together and pass through meter after meter with no idea where it would end until we finally saw the silt bottom at 30 meters.

I had brought a weight from the boat intending to tie off my marker buoy on it but I knew if I tied it off there at 30 meters it would be hard to come back for later, so I dropped the weight in the sand and did squares around it.  We stirred a sand cloud in the silt and Nicki and I lost contact but rejoined and I decided we should head on that 120 degree course.  I counted out about 20 kick cycles in that direction, but still no computer and the time at 30 meters was ticking down.  I thought Nicki and I should spread out and try the reciprocal heading so I indicated she should move in the opposite direction from me and she headed that way but at the edge of vis kept going.  I moved after her and in so doing lost the line I could follow back to the weight.  She had disappeared and I didn't want to go too far or risk complete disorientation, so after a minute I decided to return on my reciprocal 300, look in the sand on the way back, and surface there.  I was just starting on this maneuver when Nicki reappeared.  She had decided to go at the right angle 30 degrees from where we were 20 kicks and had just returned on 210 to where she had left me.  And amazingly she was holding her computer.

The only disappointment was that in getting off the original line we lost the weight I had placed in the sand below the boat.  Returning to the surface with both weight AND computer, we would have been hailed as heroes.  At least Nicki retrieved her computer and I guess it could be said that despite loss of our original reference point, we were either incredibly competent or incredibly lucky divers, or both.

We started off the bottom at 10 minutes, came up entirely on instruments on my computer, because Nicki's was still narced from the 31 minutes it had spent at 20 meters, and did a safety stop at 5 meters 12 min into the dive, surfacing with 15 min on my computer.  Since we had conducted a serious dive I decided to stay out of the water at least another hour, so it was 2 pm before just Nicki and I descended on Pearl Island.  Ian had nackered his ears on the previous attempt and decided to sit the last one out. Vis at this spot was awful actually.  We hoped the algae would not be deep but it dogged us the entire dive and spoiled my ability to spot the usual references.  This was to round the point and keep to the sand at 16 meters, then follow the fishing pots out taking a bearing just left of them to the first of the submerged islands.  Problem was I couldn't remember if that bearing was north or east.  In previous visits it was obviously one or the other because the fish pots were lined up just to the right of where we needed to go.  This time we were in green haze as I followed one pot, came on another, kept heading that way (east) but found no more pots and no island in the amount of time I though it should have taken.  The dark shadows ahead seemed to be just open water.  I found a line that connected pots and followed that back in an attempt to retrace to our starting point.  In my second attempt we fared no better really.  The only boon was that we came on a large cow tail ray in the sand and watched him move to escape us.  I was chasing shadows now.  At one point we came across a large barracuda, only one, but usually they hung out around the islands.  When I saw a school of fish I headed that way, thinking they might be hanging off the coral.  This turned out to be a good guess and 20 min into the dive we bumped almost blindly into a submerged reef.  By now I was pretty much out of breath so I tried to lead at a depth where we could see the bottom but still stay high on the reef.  This was between 2 and 3 atmospheres and my air was going embarrassingly fast.  We were fighting current too but we managed to criss cross the rocks and find lots more eels end enjoy the last of the dive.  Somehow we stretched it into 45 minutes though I had to drop down to 7 meters at the end of it because Nicki had found two of her rare morays in the same hole (turns out they weren't all that rare) and was busy photographing them, oblivious to my vanishing air supply (and to her deco time, since she had no functional computer). No matter, we were near the surface, and reached it safely, and there was still enough air left in my tank to dry my dust cap.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day out at Freestyle Divers, Dibba - Diving with Eric and Delilah, certified Paula

My logged dives #1025-1026

Friday, December 10, 2010

Paula was making great progress in the pool, getting through her exercises with developing skill and confidence, and she wanted to get certified before traveling to Australia in two weeks time.  No one in my family wanted to drive all that way just for the day but I hopped in the car and met Paula and Eric and Delilah, whom I'd certified the weekend before, for two dives off Dibba Rock.

Dibba Rock can be one of the most hopping dive spots in the UAE.  Last week we saw lots of sharks and devil rays there.  This week it was relatively tame from our perspective, though we were told that the same animals were being spotted by other divers.  Visibility was poor, cloudy with even some algae, which is possibly why we were not able to spot the animals that could easily have been nearby, a meter beyond what we could see in the hazy water conditions.

We still enjoyed the diving.  I felt like I was diving with an experienced crew, none of my novices posed the slightest problem that would compromise the dives, which for Paula and I lasted one hour and 50 minutes, respectively.  Our first dive was in the reef on the south side between the island and the shore, just 8 meters or so, and for the second we visited the back side and got down to 50 feet, about 14 meters.

Though we didn't see the really big game on our dives today, we found interesting things to observe in nature.  On our first dive we found a turtle that tolerated our coming quite close.  He was at the southernmost part of the V of the reef.  We went back up the left side to the northwest top of the V and finned east to the rock where the porite coral and schools of reef fish were.  There's always lots to see there, hovering puffers, and jacks swimming by our shoulders away from the reef.  When we returned down the V the turtle was still there.  Paula and I stayed in his vicinity hoping other animals would pay us a visit.  Eric and Delilah had succumbed to end-of-dive need-more-weight by then, and had surfaced and drifted some ways to the east.  They learned fast and would trim for the next one.

For the second dive we started in the same spot, just west of what's left of the raspberry coral.  Paula saw a turtle swim by as we were descending.  We went back down the V again but saw little apart from the attractive schools of snappers and other reef fish as we returned to the top and over to the aquarium.  I led us north for the trip down to the sand at the back of the rock.  I looked over at Paula and saw right next to her a barracuda almost a meter long.  She was looking at me but followed my finger as I pointed.  By then it had moved away to join its mates, not so impressively close.

We went to 14 meters out over the sand but saw little of interest there.  On the way back to the rock, still over the sand, Paula spotted a huge Spanish mackerel swim between us and the boulders, the biggest fish we would see that day.

I led us up into the daylit gap indicating we had rounded the rock and we ended our dive in the shallows there.  A coronet fish swam past, unfamiliar to Paula.  I was hoping to lead us into the shallows south of Dibba Rock where sharks had been spotted earlier that day, but we were fighting the current and we surfaced at 50 min into the dive, making no headway against it.

It was nice diving again with Eric and Delilah, back for more after our intensive weekend previous, and it's always great to certify another open water diver.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

UAE National Day diving at Freestyle and Nomad, Dibba Rock and Musandam, 4 divers completed their PADI course dives

My logged dives #1023-1024

Thursday, December 2, 2010
Thursday, Dec 2, was UAE National Day, so I arranged to take advantage of the long weekend by promising to finalize and conduct diving courses during 3 of the 4 days we had for the long weekend.  Hasan came with us to Dibba Rock and finished the diving portions of his course Friday Dec 3, while Ian Nisse finished his on the Thu and managed to complete the advanced course diving on Friday and Saturday.  Eric and Delilah drove down to Nomad Ocean Adventure on Thu but due to a wrong turn we will say no more about didn't start their course until Friday, but still they managed to complete it on surfacing from the last dive Saturday.  Congratulations for great work on the part of all concerned, and a quite memorable weekend!

We started at noon at Freestyle Divers. Dibba Rock showed us the best diving of the weekend, remarkably so. For the noon dive, Bobbi and I were met there by Ian and Godelieve and her kids Ianthe and Rosanna, who are getting tall and mature in their diving. Freestyle seems so warm and friendly, especially in great weather. The water is getting a bit cool though, 26 degrees, needs a full wetsuit. We got in the boat impeccably piloted by Iva the Diva. He dropped us on one of the eastern moorings so we had a long easterly swim to what used to be raspberry coral where the vis was decent for a change, the better to see the sharks. Once we were on the coral, they appeaed over the reef with great regularity. I saw at least a dozen. Others saw fewer but I think everyone saw something, except possibly Godelieve, because she was with Rosanna, who has developed a keen ability to discover things in rocks and sand that I miss while hunting larger game. We all at least saw the turtles, and Ian completed the skills for his 3rd open water course dive.

Hasan joined us for the second dive at 3, which was even better. This time we were dropped at a mooring east of the coral patch, where it was just a quick hop to where the sharks were. Our plan was to go north over the reef, pass by the aquarium corals to the east, then go north and east again around the island. However, divers in our group had some delays in getting down and moving on their way, and Mohammed had a group of beginners which due to these delays cut across our bow heading north, so I decided to move us down the reef to the south so we wouldn't be behind Mohamed's group with all the wildlife scared away. It was a good move because being in the lead like that I was able to spot a black tip right away and keep him in my sites long enough for everyone, I think, to see it.

We went to the end of the reef where I am sometimes no longer able to find the way west, and due to that I turned us around back to the north. There were turtles there, and in the distance I saw what I was sure was the eye spots and triangle shape of a devil ray, but it passed before anyone else saw it. We continued over the reef and picked up the school of barracudas we had seen on the previous dive, getting close enough for me to count 12. At the end of the reef I was lining up my compass on the sand patch for the trip to the aquarium corals to the east when suddenly a school of devil rays appeared between the two coral patches. We moved in close before they shied away. Bobbi said she counted 30, they were quite a sight.

We passed alongside the aquarium where there are always beautiful fishes, huge puffers amid a wall of snappers, parrots and fan tailed rainbow wrasse, but there was little else as interesting as what we had seen already. Hasan was low on air so I put up a marker buoy and attached it to Bobbi's bcd. I surfaced with Hasan and got Iva to pick him up and then went back down on the marker buoy. Bobbi was leading shallow in the rocks at the back of island, so when I reached her I took over the marker and headed down into the sand. We might have looked for rays and jaw fish there but only Ianthe was with us at depth (12 meters). The others were strung up the line between the bottom and the marker. So 45 min into the dive, we ended. Hasan had missed nothing after he left, but the first 30 min of the dive was excellent!

It was dark when we moved over the border into Oman. Due to national day in UAE the streets were festive with lights and cars decked out in flags and pictures of the country's leaders, kids standing with heads out of sun roofs, created a massive traffic jam. That afternoon there had been a regatta of gayly decorated boats, dozens of them, which motored across our shallow dive site, and it appeared they were about to do the same on the return leg as we were heading out in boats at 3. But the coast guard boat overseeing the event did a good job of nudging them away from the rock, so they were much more picturesque than dangerous. The cars on the road cruising Dibba and the roads into and out were less picturesque and a bit more dangerous.

But the worst thing to happen was that Eric and Delilah, heading up the 311, missed the turn for Dibba and continued instead toward RAK and over the border on the road to Kassab. They were almost there when they finally reached us and we turned them around and headed them back to where we were. I had agreed to give them a diving course this weekend and the plan was to go in the pool that evening at Nomad. However, they didn't arrive until almost dinner time, and they ended by taking the quiz that evening and picking out their dive gear, but not entering the pool for their first module due to the delicious fragrances eminating from Sophien's Brazilian BBQ. So we agreed to meet in the pool next morning at 6 a.m.

My logged dives #1025-1026

Friday, December 3, 2010

I was up then and about to knock on Eric and Delilah's door when it opened as they were just emerging wearing wetsuits, pretty keen for 6 a.m. in the morning. The trouble was the sun was hardly up by then, only an orange glow from over the ocean, and it was cold outside and especially in the pool! Freezing. Still we managed to get modules 1, 2, AND three done by about ten. For one of them Hassan joined us for his module 4, and when Eric and Delilah finished, I managed to get Hasan through his module 5 by 11:00. So in 5 hours that morning, I taught all the PADI modules, 1 through 5.

To complicate things only slightly, Ian was starting his advanced course as well, so I was organizing 3 open water dive students at different stages in the course and Ian's open water diving.  Nomad was busy on Friday so we were on Chris's new boat and had other divers with us, but I was relieved of having to organize that as Mark, another instructor, was doing the honors.

We actually got away in good order, well before noon, and by shortly after 1:00 we had our first time divers in the water and diving for the first time in their lives.  This created some awkward moments, as happens, and the first part of my dive was at 5 meters while I tried to keep people with ear and buoyancy problems moving in a safe space along the reef.  Meanwhile the other divers in our group moved below us.  When we got to the wall where the coral gardens end and the easterly currents begin I turned everyone around.  Meanwhile my divers were getting their act together and we were moving among the fishes at 12-14 meters.  I remember a lovely tableau of half a dozen lion fish hovering in midwater, but not much else about the dive itself, except that vis was good, it was quite pleasant, and everyone stayed down about 50 minutes.

We did our next dive at Wonder Wall, called locally Ras Sanut.  Ian was managing his own advanced course, having done a boat dive the first dive and planning to do multilevel the next.  He was buddying with Bobbi and he worked out a profile that would allow him to go to 18 meters for half an hour and spend the remainder of the dive at 12 meters or higher. Godelieve and her brood moved off on their own and I took my o/w students and got Hasan through his last exercises for the last dive and Eric and Delilah through their presentations.  We then moved off through the brooding underwater island landscape of Ras Sanut and came up in the current that is often present off the point.  I had warned Godelieve about it and told her if caught in it to just enjoy it and that is what she did.  We were on the same ride as we saw them at the end of the dive.  Everyone emerged from it happily being swept gently to the east.

My logged dives #1027-1029

Saturday, December 4, 2010
That evening Hasan left as did Godelieve and family, leaving Bobbi and I with Ian and Eric and Delilah.  Next day dawned with all staying in bed until the sun was coming up over the horizon, when I met Eric and Delilah in the pool at the ever so slightly warmer hour of 8 a.m.  They got through their last two pool modules in good order.  Ian proposed doing 3 dives that day so that he could complete his advanced course, but the request was denied because there were others joining us in our boat. But then the others got delayed in Dhaid and couldn't make it on time, so at 11 we were given the go-ahead to dive as a unit, just us on the boat, which had on board 4 extra tanks for the missing divers, so Ian got his wish.

Ian and I kitted up and buddy checked prior to arrival at Lima Rock, and we jumped down to 25 meters for his deep dive, did the exercises required, and then explored down to 30 meters looking for the leopard shark that had been there the day before, but couldn't find it, so we returned to do a safety stop right at 20 min into the dive before returning to the surface. There Eric and Delilah were ready to go under the guidance of dive mistress Bobbi and we popped in for their dive #3, and Ian's peak buoyancy.  On this dive everyone was comfortable and we had time to look around at 16 meters.  We found several torpedo (electric) rays and many grey moray eels. We surfaced after 45 minutes.

From there we went to Ras Morovi for our last dive, Ian's navigation.  On the surface I put Eric and Delilah through all the flexible skills, with Ian and Bobbi joining in the water just as we finished.  I had devised a cunning plan whereby we would drop down and put up a marker buoy for reference.  Then Eric led us to the south for 12 kick cycles while Ian continued for 27 with Bobbi, and we all turned 180 degrees and met back at the marker buoy.

So far so good, and this time Ian started his square to the west, with Delilah following just 12 kick cycles and taking us back to the marker buoy.  While Ian and Bobbi completed the square I took Eric and Delilah 27 kick cycles to the south to try and find the cup that Ian was supposed to have left at that point. We looked for it there but couldn't find it, but meanwhile Ian and Bobbi appeared right on cue, having completed their square to that point.  We all proceeded back to the marker buoy, which I retrieved and stowed as we completed our dive out on the reef at Ras Morovi, doubling back to the north to make our way through the cabbage coral on the far side of  the reef.  We didn't see much in the way of animals but it was a well executed dive, a great end to an advanced course and two open water ones.

Friday, November 26, 2010

PADI Open Water dives 1 and 2 for Paula Gerber and #2 for Hasan Khaled, Abu Dhabi Breakwater Nov 26. 2010

My logged dives #1021-1022

Friday Nov 26, 2010

It's starting to get cool for Abu Dhabi diving but the weather was still pleasant for an outing with Al Mahara Divers, Laura and Mits presiding over the diving on Alistair and Kathleen's boat.  I thought I had to work on Saturday (though the Open House was called off in an email to staff on the Thu, two days before the planned event :-{ so I had planned to take my two dive students on their PADI o/w dives Friday from Abu Dhabi.

As happens this time of year, sea conditions were not ideal, and so diving was planned for the Abu Dhabi Breakwater.  Even outside the Breakwater, a slight chop was making two of the ladies ill, so for the second dive we moved to inside the Breakwater.

The Breakwater can be a nice spot with rays in the sand, batfish around the Bateen Box, and bigger stuff like barracudas passing nearby, when visibility allows any of this to be seen.  Today the water appeared through our masks like diluted milk. It was not an ideal environment for beginning divers with their inevitable anxieties.

So we simply conducted the dives.  We entered the water at greater distance on either side of  the breakwater from where I usually anchor (the boat captain had a healthy concern for submerged rocks, though those who know the site are aware that there are none).  This meant beginning with a compass heading to the wall, all divers staying in almost physical contact with one another, then arriving suddenly at the wall, and not seeing many fish there, though the sea urchins were obvious enough to my beginners.

Hasan was actually making his second dive for his course since he'd dived the previous week at Dibba Rock, where I'd shown him some sharks.  So he was more comfortable than Paula diving for her first time.  Still both divers accomplished their objective of completing the course through the second o/w dive, and I always personally enjoy myself on these outings.

Our dive times were 40 minutes the first dive, to about 6 meters, but only 15 min for the second (similar depth), due to the conditions making my team uncomfortable, and necessitating a surface swim to the boat against a significant current, which we managed nevertheless.  Good chance to do tired diver tows :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Diving in Oman: Bandar Khayran Nov 17, 2010, and travelogue for 5 days camping, Eid al Fitr break

My logged dives #1019-1020

Wed Nov 17, 2010

Our last day in Oman was the most typical of all. We had planned an ambitious walk, one I had made many times and under many different conditions. It was one of my first walks in Oman, the place where I got stuck out overnight with John Turvey just above the town of Wakan, he and I cuddled against the cold under his space blanket, a thin strip of foil that was supposed to retard heat loss. I'm not sure how well it did; it was cold. That had been a prodigious walk. John had been checking out the area and thought he knew a way up to Saiq. So we had driven in John's Pajero to Wakan and headed up the mountain. I remember that John did a good job of scoping out the way up from Wakan and through the gap but it was a hard slog to Menahir for a day hike.

Menahir at the time was a large town of hovels of goat herders. The military lockdown on the Saiq plateau was still firm at the time. We walked up the graded road from there, now paved, and made it out to the graded track that we figured led to Saiq (also since paved), but we didn't know which way to go. We guessed wrong when we got a ride with a military vehicle heading the way down the mountain, though at that spot on the plateau it didn't go down for a while yet. In any event, I know now we got a lift going the wrong way from Saiq.

It was forbidden for anyone without a permit to the Saiq plateau to pass the checkpoint going up the road there, but apparently there were no rules about dealing with people who walked up, so the soldiers were happy to help us out. In any event we rode some distance with them and I guess got a lift back; I don't remember, but we somehow got back to the track back down to Menahir and walked into that town back down the dirt road and then walked among the villagers traversing the terraces back to the wadi leading to the gap above Wakan. And then we headed down, sun already down below the mountains behind us, John fairly loping downhill, me favoring my weak knees and slowing up the show, with a result that, knowing what I now know about this place, we got caught out at dusk in one of those places where the world seems to drop away into space and we were watching darkness fall over Wakan. With no apparent way to get down in the dark, and no provisions or contingency for an overnight hike, we were stuck there in the cold night chill.

Now there is a painted trail showing the proper way up that cliff face and Joan and Dusty and Bobbi and I drove up to Wakan to walk it. Bobbi and I did it recently, and now it's a piece of cake to follow the marks to the trail improbably traversing the cliff face that I never found the many times I did this walk before, either as a day out or in combination with walking to Menahir and sometimes down Wadi Halfain to the main Nizwa road. In those days we always used to drop from the falaj in Wakan to the wadi below and climb back out again and then it was a crap shoot getting to the right ridge that would carry you up to the next one. If you missed one of those ridges you'd find your way ahead to be a steep climb and scramble, which I did many times, sometimes having to abandon others who rather abandoned me and turned back.

But now the trail is painted and you can easily follow it as it traverses the cliff face and takes you to exactly the right ridge to gain the next one, and on up to the top, up the steps there, a rewarding walk with great views down over the Ghubra Bowl and the mountain villages at the back of Wadi Mistal.

But today, after driving into the wadi, way to the back, we came to the fork marked Hijar and I pulled up to a man standing there and asked him the way to Wakan. He pointed it out us and mentioned that he lived there and needed a ride. Joan and Dusty were kind enough to squeeze aside and make room for him in the back seat.

He guided us up the road and at one bend he cautioned me to be careful and slow down. We were speaking in Arabic and I thought he was warning me about oncoming traffic but he wasn't. I was to find out during the course of the day that this was a spot where rains just a couple of days ago had washed some boulders into the road and I was the second car that week to get caught by them to where the car lacked power to continue up the road. I let myself roll back but by now I had been caught by the boulders in the road and trying to extract myself from those on loose gravel with a steep slope, I quickly destroyed my right two tires, or maybe they had been destroyed on first encounter, and now the car had two flat tires and was wedged in the boulders on a steep slope. The other car earlier that week had done the same thing, lost two tires just like that, at the same spot in the mountain road, and stuck in the boulders.

It looked pretty hopeless at first but the man we were helping got on his mobile and called for help from the town we could see perched prettily at the end of the road. Meanwhile, Omani shebab appeared from down the road in their cars heading up, and since we were blocking the way, they were forced to stop. They probably would have anyway.

Our day of hiking was shot now, we were clearly going to have to resolve this problem, but the Omanis turned it into a cultural experience. The shebab quickly pitched in to move the boulders as best they could until someone appeared from the town with a crowbar, and then the rocks got moved from around our wheels. The next thing was to maneuver the car down hill to where it was a little flatter. This took coordination with much coaching on which way to move and which way to cut the wheel. After half an hour the car had moved forward on two shredded tires and then managed to roll back to a place with less of a slope. And the willing Omani young men grabbed tire tools and spanner and went to work removing one tire and helping extract the spare and getting that into place. But the process was slightly different from on flat tarmac. Here the jack was used to elevate the wheel. As the jack showed warp from the sloping vector forces, the tire was removed and placed under the carriage in case the jack gave way. Then someone appeared with another jack which was put under the springs. I thought this a poor idea because the springs would not support load, but this was just to push the wheel up so the spare tire could be replaced, which they did, and now we had a crowd of helpful people around us but two destroyed tires, one still on the car.

The guys helped us think how we could get back to civilization to get new tires. They asked if I wanted to get someone to drive us there. This would cost money of course. It was a 90 km round trip down the mountain and out the dirt road and through the winding gap to the pavement to Nakhal and Barka. I agreed to this and the guys got on their mobiles and summoned a car. They helped me think through removing the second tire and taking both, leaving my car on a jack, a little precarious, but they helped me roll further downhill to an even flatter place where the slope was more likely to support a jack. They helped remove the tire and put it in the back of the car that showed up. They invited Bobbi and Joan up to Wakan to drink coffee and have a look around, while I negotiated a price for the trip into town and back, 25 rials, 250 dirhams, or about $70, not bad for getting someone to break his Eid plans, drive me the hour it took to get to Nakhal, help me buy tires and haggle the price, wait while the tires were replaced and balanced (bad news, one rim was damaged ouch$!), run me back uphill the next hour, and even help me replace the tire and put the wheel with the bad rim into the spare area.

You might think that this was an awful way to spend a holiday, but I'd made this walk many times. Wakan is a town that people drive to from Muscat just to see, so Dusty and Joan and Bobbi enjoyed themselves while they waited on me to finish the business. We had had the accident at around 10:30, before noon I was heading downhill toward town and Bobbi, and Dusty and Joan were piled into the back of a station wagon going uphill as invited guests till I got back, by 3:00 we were replacing the tire on the car and lowering the jack, and by 4 I was down in Nakhal getting the air pressure in all my tires checked. In other words, the Omanis had in their engaging way pitched in to help strangers, seen that all was taken care of, and turned an impossible situation of getting a car with two shredded tires wedged between boulders on an uphill slope extracted and its tires repaired in the nearest town, and saw that we were on our way in the improbable time of just 5 hours. We missed our walk but our house guests caught an uplifting glimpse of Omani culture and enjoyed their visit to Wakan, and our already favorable impression of Omanis was once more reinforced positively.

It's difficult to form an accurate impression of Omanis sometimes. On a previous visit Bobbi and I had lucked into the Suwaiq Motel. At the time we had been a bit shocked, expecting to find a quiet place to sleep, to find this little night spot tucked away on a back road from Suwaiq to Rustaq, but now with our visitors in tow, we headed there on purpose, after our day of diving in the Muscat area. It was further along toward Sohar than we expected, and we didn't arrive until 9 at night. Even then we went out looking for a camping spot, GPS'd it, and noted the km distances back to the Motel so we could find it later after a few beers.

The Suwaiq motel is a place with a Hindi and an Arabic night club. You pay a rial entry and a rial per tall can of beer. The people are friendly and surprised to see foreigners. We were there midweek so it wasn't very crowded as on the weekend, but there was still an old man who'd overdone it passed out cold on the floor next to the ticket booth, all the security and cashier personnel simply ignoring him. Inside the bar the organ grinder put on a plausible show of Arabic big band music with all kinds of electronic gimmicks, replete with programmed tambour, and violin passages, while he played the main theme and a male singer sang, quite well. The dancing girls were there, plump with huge breasts emphasized by crassly fetching but not too revealing costumes. They moved minimally more or less in time with the music as if bored by it all, mouths chewing gum out of synch throughout. There were cross dressers there as well. One man wore his headscarf, not wrapped on his head, but draped down his shoulders in the style of a woman, while others appeared less subtly in black female attire with black lipstick and heavy makeup, a surprising site here in this devoutly Muslim yet sometimes tolerant country. When the music indoors became too loud we moved outside to tables in an open air courtyard, and there we received an invitation from one of the men to visit him at his house next day, an invitation repeated the more insistently the more we refused it.

This was our fourth night camping in Oman. On Saturday Nov 13 we had with an all day effort finished our emails and loaded the car and barely managed to get away from Abu Dhabi at 6, in hopes of driving up Jebel Al Akhdar and camping on the Saiq plateau, but we didn't manage all of that. We stopped for an excellent Lebanese meal in Al Ain before hitting the border at 10 and not crossing into Oman till 11 that night. We drove a ways toward Ibri and pulled off into the desert to sleep rough, our last chance to enjoy cold beers from our cool box.

The next day we continued up to the Saiq plateau and wound up at the town of Rus at around 1 p.m. for the short but rough walk to Aquabat Talhat. Dusty and Joan, not sure of what to expect, were relieved at how easy the walk was, just 3 hours. It was cold but we managed a huge fire and enjoyed sausages washed down with two bottles of wine, the first of which I'd overtly placed in Bobbi's pack for portage to the campsite, but the second of which I'd kept in reserve in my pack, pleasantly surprising everyone when I produced it.

Next day we returned to the car with lighter packs and by lunchtime we were in Nizwa, where we visited the souq and fort. I was keeping an eye on the time because I wanted to get us up to Jebel Shems so we could do the balcony walk the next day. My goal for leaving Nizwa was 3 pm and by that time we had gassed the car near Falaj Daris and were sitting down to roadside chicken and fish biriani.

Hunger staved off for a while (though we were some days overdue for showers) we headed past Tanoof for the Hooti Cave turnoff to Al Hamra. All these places bring back memories, as does the road to Jebel Shems, our destination on this particular journey. Amazingly to me, the road is now tarmac most of the way. I recall when living in Oman before 1995 what a change just the power lines had been. Now the road wends down Wadi Ghul in a ribbon of tarmac, passing the well marked entrance to Wadi Nakhar, which you can now drive down.

Back in the days, Mike Douglas and I used to hike up Wadi Nakhar, entering the weaving village at the end in the only way then possible, on foot, and spending time with the residents there. Mike had them weave him a carpet once, which they did in an all-night event, and in the morning, voila, carpet! These distinctive carpets have been familiar to visitors to Jebel Shems since our time in Oman, when the villagers in Nakhar used to portage them up the mountain to sell them at the rim. Whenever I accompanied Mike to Nakhar, I took photos of the people in the village and brought in prints on my next visit and handed them out. The villagers were very appreciative, and once when Mike and I spent the night there, I brought my guitar, and after a meal of inedible goat (too stringy) we tried our hand at fusion, rocking the rock wadi walls with my rifs and their ulations. We used to bring them things like powdered Tang, which they really weren't sure what to do with. I have fond memories of the village there, of the old man, Rashid, who did the prayer calls, whom we heard died, and of the ladies who used to breast feed there unabashedly and paint their faces with yellow streaks, and the kids and their donkeys, and the wasps whose hives the people used for honey, and they had lemons from their orchards, and they would show us where they stored them to dry, so they could sell them when the market was ripe. It was a tough existence, sleeping there was tough, noises from crying babies at night, falling rocks, braying donkeys, the old man calling prayers at dawn. We might wake up on one of the roofs where we slept at 8 after the last prayer call had ended and somehow we managed to sleep exhaustedly at dawn though the villagers had all gone off on their daily chores. Those chores included climbing up to the Saiq plateau to interact with the people living there and haul their carpets up. Mike and I were invited along though I for one never made the trip.

But now that this is a different world, I understand it a little better because I can now drive to the top of Jebel Shems, find a quiet camping spot (though they're starting to get trashed everywhere now, a lot of litter sadly), and I can do the popular balcony walk, which at one point passes over Nakhar, where I can look down and see the dam and pool with the orchards alongside surrounding the peaceful vllage. Only now life has brought a car track to Nakhar, where there were boulders impassible to cars before, and Dusty has grown and brought his girlfriend, and we're all walking the balcony trail together above this strikingly remarkable canyon, with its abandoned village and grotto at the end with stalactites and stalagmites in the making.

Such a beautiful walk, we had lunch in the grotto, then returned the two hours back to our car and headed back down to Muscat where we made it off the mountain at around 3 and drove into Muttrah and the capital, so well laid out with parks against the opheolite outcrops on one side and beautiful seascapes on the other. Muttrah was aglow with national day lights, and we took the picturesque corniche road to prim and proper Muscat, and continued on down the coast past Horomel where we used to hire boats to take us over to Cemetery Bay for diving. Our destination was the Yacht Club where we were hoping against hope this busy Eid weekend to find a place to camp. Amazingly, at a time when accommodation was rumored to be sparse in Muscat due to the large number of Eid al Adha visitors, the Yacht Club had only two tents on the beach and welcomed ours, or more specifically our money, 5 rials each, for camping. But that was more like a club entry fee, which gave us access not only to camping space on the beach but to to the beach restaurant and bar at sundown with lovely views of Cat Island. We put off showering (men's and women's bath houses on the beach) to relax al fresco on the veranda over food and beverages, a welcome respite after hours of hiking and driving. Then after showers we offloaded our bedrolls in the tent which accommodated us well, 4 people, with the sound of the waves thumping on the beach to lull us asleep, and later in the night once we became aware of them, to keep us awake, as the waves ripped across the beach and thumped the sand in quick succession, annoyingly, no longer relaxing.

So we might have all been lying awake in the morning when the kids in the next tent woke up and started in on their mommies, and that sound got us out of bed early enough to have packed the car by 7:30, wondering if we should go somewhere for breakfast.

We had diving planned. We had unfortunately double booked ourselves as we were leaving Abu Dhabi with everyone telling us they were full but would try and squeeze us in, but then we were out of mobile and email contact for several days, so we didn't know for sure where we could dive. We made bookings at three places, two of which had not really confirmed. Only the ODC (Oman Dive Center) had said that they could likely accommodate us, but they were short of equipment. Accordingly we had brought everything but BCDs (a little bulky for our maxed out Honda). The OCD wanted us there at 8 but we had also booked at Blue Zone for 8:30. We had the number for Blue Zone but not for ODC so as we had time we decided to go to the ODC first. If there was a problem we could make it back to BZ but on arrival we saw our names listed on the ODC manifests so we decided to go with them. We gave BZ a call to cancel but was told they had turned customers away, so our double booking had in fact caused them a loss, which I'll have to make good on.

Meanwhile we went with the flow of diving where we had ended up. ODC has installed a 100 meter jetty of interlocking plastic, making a long walk out to their big boat, which we were disappointed to see had 30 divers booked on it. That seemed a bit much, but the staff at the ODC put the best face possible on it, and it turned out the diving was somehow excellent. The choice of dive sites was good. Our first stop was the big ship Al-Munassir, sunk in Bandar Khayran back in 2003, so it had not been there when we left in 1995. There is a picture of it on my website here: Despite the fact that 30 divers all arrived en masse, we staggered our descent it, and because the ship was so big, we rarely saw any of the other divers. It was a deep wreck, 18 meters at the top we were told and 30 at the bottom. It turned out the top was at more like 13 meters, though the 4 of us collected ourselves on the deck a few meters lower than that and then went off to explore. It's a great wreck for diving. The ship is upright, which helps with orientation, and has open passageways running the length of the ship. There are portholes, open holds, and dark passages to peer into. At the bottom under the hull we found a small ray. Up at the top there was a large honeycomb moray, always fun to observe on wrecks. There were other morays and the usual panoply of fish that gives wrecks that uncanny juxtaposition of robust ocean going trade vitality with the ghostly finality of Davey Jones's locker.

The dive boat then took all 30 of us around the corner from the wreck at a site called Novice Bay. These were all familiar dive sites from when we lived for 10 years in Oman and used to have friends with boats who took us often to Bandar Khayran. It was nice diving again in these old haunts and seeing a few turtles. At least I think I remember seeing turtles.

Maybe someone else who was on these dives with us will remember more about them and leave a comment below (hint, hint ;-).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Diving Friday Oct 29 at Freestyle, DIbba Rock, and on Saturday Oct 30 in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventures

My logged dives #1015-1018

Friday Oct 29, 2010, Dibba Rock with Freestyle Divers

On Friday, a bunch of us met at Freestyle Divers before noon.  We tried a new extension to 611 built to the new airport in Dubai and it saved us 30 min drive time, so we arrived at the new Lulu in Dibba around 10:30 and even with the ladies buying everything  they thought looked tasty (for a half dozen breakfasts and lunches more than we needed, bless ‘em) we arrived at Freestyle an hour before we were due to be diving.  We met Jim and Mira Bakey and their tall son Michael there, Nicki had ridden up with Ian and his daughter Eva, and Joan and Dusty were with Bobbi and I for a group of 10.

Ian was taking my open water course but by now he had located his missing dive card, his daughter had brought it from UK, and he was finally able to show it to me, so he still wanted to complete my o/w course but now that he’d verified his prior training, he is actually good to dive independently.  His daughter Eva had just certified in February with Greg Heinrich’s but had not dived since, so on our way out to the boat from the Freestyle beach,  I took her underwater  and ran her through the skill set of mask clearing, alternate air source breathing, and reg recovery and replacement, and she did fine.  But as we descended on that dive, I kept an eye on her and made sure she was weighted properly. Joan had got a weight off me right at the start, and Mira too had trouble getting down and needed a kilo.  But Eva didn’t need my 3rd weight till the very end, and throughout the dive she kept herself right at my shoulder.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the best day for Dibba Rock.  The front side was quite crowded, there were a couple of Al Boom boats there.  Too many divers keeps the animals away, and the sun overhead reflected off the suspended matter and made the haze more pronounced.  I didn’t realize that the mooring we went down was right on the reef so I swam west a little and found the coral sparse, so then continued west to find the aquarium, nice fishes there, pretty diving and relatively relaxed and clear.  From there I could orient on the reef proper by swimming due east, but we hit some back current and found it rough going when trying to turn east at the tip of the V.  So I led us back the way we had come, just trying to keep the divers together and stay on the coral patch. 

It was when I came out on the mooring we had started on that I realized that mooring was on the reef.  That was good to know because Hasan had come down for the 3 pm dive and was waiting for us on shore when the boat came back.  It was his first dive ever, but he’d done well in the pool and I had encouraged him to make the trip after completing only just one module. We had plenty of time to prepare.  I would be his buddy.

I convinced Nicki to join us on the 3 pm dive by promising her a back-of-the-island dive.  Eva decided not to make the trip so it was just the 3 Bakeys and Joan and Dusty, Bobbi and Nicki, and Ian and Hasan and I.  When the boatman pulled to the backside drop off, I insisted on mooring because Hasan wasn’t ready for a free descent, but the boatman was unable to due to the exposed rocks there.  Nicki wanted to dive there regardless so I asked Bobbi to join her.  The Bakeys decided to go in there as well, and then Ian said he’d like to start there too. Ian was fun diving and not in student mode that day since he still had the last two pool modules to do before he could do the last two dives of his course, so sure, he could join in if he wanted.  Bobbi could at this point have opted to come with Hasan and I since Nicki had plenty of company, but she decided to leave the boring front side of the island to Hasan and I.

So Hasan and I were dropped in on the mooring we had visited at noon, which I now knew to be right on the reef we wanted to be on, and this dive was not boring.  For one thing, the angle of the afternoon sun and slight overcast removed the sunbeams from the water, so we could see better than at noon.  And apart from Iva and a few divers he was training in peak buoyancy (they tend to stay in one spot), we were the only ones there. It was not long before we found a shark, and I swam after it and made sure Hasan saw it well and up close.  We meandered the reef looking for more and ended up in the aquarium where there were schools of fusiliers and snappers and the schools of fish with gaping mouths that all snap shut in unison.  We saw pufferfish there and tangs and parrots and actually I could name almost all the fish in the handbook.  Then we headed west to the reef and saw our second shark there, might have been the same one.  We wheeled over the reef taking it easy now.  Hasan was on his first dive and has a lot to learn about weighting and buoyancy control.  At this point he was awkward in the water, expending a lot of energy in hand motions, and half an hour into the dive he was down to the red, so I suggested we just stay where we were for a bit.  A couple of minutes later a large 2 meter Spanish mackerel passed nearby.  We ascended from there, pretty satisfied with ourselves after that one.

Hasan had to get back to Dubai and work the next morning, so he left after the one dive (one of the best of the weekend for me!)  The rest of us cleaned up our kit and headed over the border to the Mauritian hospitality of Chris and his family at Nomad Ocean Adventure.  Beverages were in evidence when Ian and I headed for the pool to complete module 4 there.  We had to delay drinks gratification until forced to stop and come to dinner, grilled kingfish and pasta with shrimps, plenty of salad, a variety of quiches, et quelquechose rouge.  After a very convivial meal ensemble, people headed for bed early, and Bobbi and I slept more than 8 hours, when I got up at 8 to meet Ian in the pool and complete module 5 there.

Saturday Oct 30, 2010, Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventures

Unfortunately Ian had an issue at work come up and couldn’t join us for the dive.  There had been a storm in Oman the day before and communications both phone and internet were not working on the Oman side of the border.  Ian was having to cross into the UAE to keep in touch with his office and as we were loading the boat he informed us that he and Eva would have to head out.  This left us down to 11 divers on our boat, as we’d had two added, Richard the French instructor who sometimes uses a rebreather, and his lady friend Allison who doesn’t, so when Richard dives with her he uses conventional equipment. 

However the lack of communications led to our herding people onto our boat before they were comfortably ready only to wait there for a captain who didn’t come, no one could call him.  After we had assembled our tanks for the first dive and sat for a quarter hour with no one around to help, I returned to the dive center and got Chris on the case, and eventually Sultan appeared, in his finest white pressed dishdash, since he’d been called away from a Saturday family affair.  Unfortunately Richard and Allison had left by then, not wishing to wait, but on the upside we’d been joined by Jonathan who had arranged to come down from Dubai but was a little late, so we had gone ahead, since he couldn’t reach us by phone, so we had no idea if he had got waylaid or what, but he managed to find us the way we always accomplished these hookups before mobiles became ubiquitous, somehow.

Sultan has captained out boat before, he’s a nice guy, always helps us with our gear and takes us where we want to go, even when we change our minds, so we were all back on even keel as we sped up to Lima Rock in the bright sunlight, the mountains of Musandam rising from the very sea in limestone formations speckled with under water alcoves and strewn with boulder swim-throughs.

By 1 pm we were descending for our first dive on the south side of Lima.  I had gone in and checked so I knew there was a current, one that pulled east toward Iran at that end of the island (take that one you might need a visa) and west toward Lima headland at the other end. We had gone to the north side of the island but found dhows and dozens of divers sheltering in the relative calm there, so we’d moved to the south side where we prefer to dive and decided to start midisland and put ourselves in the west current.

I briefed everyone about rounding the island, though not everyone got that far.  The dive itself wasn’t that interesting, poor vis, a few morays and crayfish, and lots of batfish being cleaned by wrasse, interesting to watch, the batfish seem to really enjoy it.  Nicki said she saw a huge Spanish mackerel resting on the bottom but I was tending to the divers.  Jim and Mira Bakey were first to show me low air and head up so I took charge of their son.  But he was at about 70 bar and everyone else I could still see had over a hundred.  So I led us up to 12 meters.  We caught the current and I led higher.  As we reached the end of the island we popped over some algae encrusted rocks at just 5 meters, and  sent Michael, by then below 50, up to the surface we could see rippling right overhead. Joan and Dusty and my buddy Bobbi followed me back down to 15 meters. And we continued in pleasant temperatures through the schools of fish on the north side of the island until we agreed to come up to safety stop depth, and when my computer reached 60 minutes I pointed this out to Nicki, who showed me 56, because her buddy had had a delay at the surface at the start of the dive, so I signaled Bobbi to join her, and I took Joan and Dusty up, as we were all getting low on air and I had admonished everyone not to dive overtime, or we’d assume they were missing and mount a rescue.

Everyone seemed to enjoy that dive and we were heading to Wonder Wall in the direction of home when I noticed Pearl Island about to go out of sight behind Ras Lima and I thought, and then actually said, why not there? The only time we’d dived it Bobbi and I had been led by Michael Diver (Facebook moniker, different Michael from the one we had with us) and we had met fierce currents.  It had been a difficult dive.  We’d had current at 1:00 but possibly it would have slacked by 3:00, and I thought I could recall the route (though not the direction which I thought was north, but I figured out during the dive that it was actually east).  All the divers still with us seemed up to the challenge.

The boatman pulled us behind the island where the new instructor Philip in another Nomad boat was just then taking down a group of open water students; likely he’d not be going where we were headed. We finished our sandwiches and kitted up and entered the water.  Vis was not great, maybe 7 meters or so.  Fortunately there was hardly any current to impact us as we headed north into the channel and then rounded the island to the east.  I wasn’t sure where I was but it looked familiar.  There were lots of grey morays in the rocks but I was looking for the fishpots that would lead us to the submerged islands to the (I now realized) east. At 16 meters I found them and followed their ropes over the sand.  About 20-30 meters out I saw a submerged outcrop looming to the south, so the heading was a little south of those ropes.

The sunken islands were fun and foreboding, teeming with fish life.  Going from one to another Michael noticed three rays on top of one and tried to get my attention but neither I nor the others saw them (and Dusty surmised they were actually batfish).  We picked up a current coming to the third one but got some relief from it as we rounded on the south and took the channel to the north down to 18 meters.  Here we found the hulking barracuda we had seen the time before.

The barracuda like current so it was a stiff fin into it to head back to the west the way we had come.  We lost Jim and Mira on this maneuver but again we had Michael with us, and Joan and Dusty, and Bobbi and I.  Nicky and Jonathan had not been seen since we headed east toward the sunken islands.  I presumed that any missing buddy pairs were enjoying themselves and caring for one another.

In the last part of the dive we passed one area where barracudas were visible at depth and schools of snappers were pouring off the rocks above. We finished up following a shoulder that rose to 5 meters, a good place for a safety stop.  There was lots of cabbage coral here, a favorite haunt of turtles though we didn’t see any.  It was really a beautiful dive, nice to get to know a new spot.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Whalesharks Two by Two

Nicki has sent me a most remarkable photo.  It's a picture of me neutrally buoyantly enjoying one of our recent whaleshark encounters at Lima Rock.

Hang on a minute!  She noticed something in this photo.  In the upper part of the pic just to the left of the bubbles.  See it? ...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diving in Musandam October 15 and Dibba October 16, 2010

My logged dives #1011-1014

Friday Oct 15, 2010

Dusty and Joan are visiting so we planned a weekend for them to do their first dive of their visit with us.  We intended to stay in Oman at (Discover) Nomad Ocean Adventure on Friday and move to Freestyle on Saturday, but NOA was fully booked for accommodation, though there was plenty of space for diving.  So we rented two apartments at Seaside in Dibba and filled them with Dusty, Joan, Bobbi, and I in one, and Rami and Nicole, fellow hashers and friends with Nicki at SKMC in the other, along with Nicki herself, and Ian, who was a certified diver back in 1985, though neither PADI UK nor PADI California could find a record of it.  He had been referred by Jay to do a refresher with me but was happy to convert to a full fledged open water course at the last minute due to the certification limbo. The problem was that at the last minute, the best we could do to get him in the water was for him to swing by our place at 5:45 a.m., me to ride up with him and administer his first three exams in the car, and then get him in the pool at 9:30 for module 1 confined water, which we finished just in time to await technical instructor Glenn from and his double-tank divers to join us on the boat for an 11:00 a.m. departure for Lima Rock.

It was a glorious day.  Air temperatures in the UAE are approaching benign, seas were mild, and the mountains rising straight up along the coast in Musandam glistened in the sunlight.  Water temperatures were ideal too.  I wore a 3 mm suit with holes in the back covered by a rash vest on top, and I was perfectly comfortable.  Michael was conducting the operation and leading the dives, so I didn’t have to select sites or take responsibility for anyone but my student, all the other divers in our group being advanced or rescue.

Ian hadn’t been diving in the past 25 years, so Lima might have been a little challenging for a first dive after so long.  Michael was trying to accommodate the tech divers who were looking for 42 meters, as well as my group wanting to stay shallow, so he chose what I would have, Lima south side, and started the dive in the shelter of a cove where it was easy for everyone to assemble on the surface out of the current. However, the current was pulling to the west, as was reported by the tech divers when they went in first, so I would possibly have moved my group to the north side of the island.  But Michael made the best call under the circumstances and all started well.  

It was a nice dive, comfortable water conditions, mild current to the west, but picking up as we started to get caught in it.  Ian was staying a little high in the water and I kept calling him down, and the first couple of times he responded.  So I thought he was weighted correctly if he was able to get back down, so I didn’t offer him any of the extra three kilos I was wearing.  But then a combination of factors caused Ian to abort his dive 22 minutes into it.  He was getting very high up in the water as the current swept us along when Michael led the group in a right turn fight against the current and headed around the island to find gentler conditions on the north side to the east.  At that time Ian was going into a slow rise to the surface, too far off the rock and susceptible to the westerly current, quite powerful at either end of the island. With some concern I tried to call him back, but saw him reach the surface. At least he was safe there, but he was now in the current that carries divers way to the west of the rock.

I had been trying to get him to rejoin me at about 16 meters.  I wanted him to come to me because for me to have gone up with him would have meant the end of both our dives, but now I had to do that, so I headed up slowly, minding the admonitions on my computer to take it easy, and finning to stay as close as possible to the rock, though I too was being swept off it.  After a couple of minutes I reached the surface and looked around.  I didn’t see Ian right away, but I saw our boat halfway between there and Lima Headland, a few hundred meters from where I was, and Ian was by the boat, being recovered.  He waved to me, I waved back.  I knew that instructor Glenn was there and Ian was being looked after.

So could I continue my dive? It was a long shot and I was being swept by a westerly current, but I finned back into it for all I was worth.  Here’s where weekly ten km runs pays off. With some duress I was able to make progress against it.  I was being pushed to the north by its northwesterly torque but as I came even with the island I got some relief and then I was able to approach the island and find bubbles.  I snorkeled along with the bubbles for a minute catching my breath, and when I recovered my respiration I descended and joined the divers.

So we completed a nice dive.  We saw several big honeycomb morays on that one, and Michael pointed out two pairs of nudibranchs, well spotted.  Nicky called us over to look at a spot of sand.  When we got there wondering what she was on about she waved her hand over it and uncovered a torpedo electric ray (had she covered it with sand before calling us? We’ll never know …). 

At 40 min into the dive, with Michael still leading at 18 meters, I had gone up to 15, where Nicole indicated she had 50 bar and wanted to surface. I showed her I had 50 as well (I had just a 12 liter tank).  I led Nicole and Rami steadily up the rock face and found some coral with placid schools of fish to hang out near at 5 meters for a three minute safety stop, surfacing at 48 minutes.

People in our group wanted to go to Ras Morovi for a second dive but Michael wanted to take us to Ras Lima.  Others in the boat objected to that choice as well so Michael agreed to Wonder Wall, which is usually a nice dive.  We started on the wall but Ian and I headed out over the sand to find rays (none there). We found big submerged boulders instead, inviting us to look for whatever else these subaqua features might have attracted.  We got down to 18 meters on our dive and spent it cruising among the boulders.  I don't remember so much from a wildlife standpoint on that dive, but it was pleasant and lasted about 45 minutes.  I ended mine in a required safety stop.

We returned to Dibba and Ian and I went into the pool to do confined modules 1 and 2.  Due to Ian's past diving experience we got through it quickly.  The others had gone on ahead into Dibba UAE to heat the chili Nicki had brought on the Seaside Apartments hotplate.  We passed by the hole in the wall on our way and returned to the Seaside for a grand communal meal in the cramped living room of our apartment.  The bedrooms were spacious though and we managed a decent rest before having to get under way at 8 a.m. for our next day diving.

Saturday Oct 16, 2010

Rami and Nicole had to get back to Abu Dhabi so it was just Nicki, Joan, Dusty, Bobbi, and Ian and I who turned up at Freestyle for the 9 a.m. dive on a gorgeous Saturday morning.

On this day, Ian was able to do one dive toward his course having completed through module 3 in confined water, and we did it on our first dive on the reef at Dibba Rock.  He and I dived together.  The others went to the back side of the rock and rounded to the other side, but Ian and I began in the aquarium exploring the rust colored porite coral, cruising shallow 3 to 5 meters.  We found a turtle to the south of the island that didn't seem to mind if we hovered nearby and then we went west toward the raspberry coral (now more accurately a patch of brown coral rubble). Still life is bouncing back there.  We found barracuda there and, always on the lookout for sharks here, I saw two.  The first one came right up to me before noticing me and swimming away to my left.  Ian was unfortunately just far enough behind at that moment to not be able to see it.  I saw the second as I was making my way back to the east to end in the aquarium.  Finning hard to chase after him I pointed its direction for tens of seconds, but Ian didn't know what to look for in the haze at the edge of the visibility there, so he missed that one too.

But next dive with Ian (fun diving), Bobbi and Joan and Dusty and Nicki and I found more turtles and half a dozen sharks.  This time Ian saw the sharks.  It seemed they were coming out of everywhere.  I did a decent navigation on the reef as well.  It's getting harder to find now that it's shrunk and shriveled due to cyclone and red tide.  We started in the aquarium and repeated our dive to the west to find the reef, and then moved south where we found the first few sharks.  I managed the turn to the east and led the divers to the end of the reef there.  They seemed to want to continue on but I corralled them and got them moving back west the way we had come.  50 min into the dive Nicki wanted to be a good customer and surface, but we had been one of the first groups in and I figured we could stay down a little longer, so she agreed to 5 more minutes.  That was a good thing because Ian and I found our one last shark who came at us from the sand and wheeled around us in such a way as to attract the attention of Bobbi who pointed down to show the others who were sort of heading for the surface by then.  Lovely dive that one, plenty of sharks for all to see, and a great way to end a weekend.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Certified Advanced o/w diver Vince Cording in Musandam October 1 and Dibba October 2, 2010

My logged dives #1006-1010

Diving with: Bobbi of course, Vince (advanced o/w training), Channin (whom I recently certified as o/w), Keith and January (whom I recently certified as Advanced o/w), and our mutual friend Joe (PADI advanced). Jay (whom I recently certified as Advanced o/w) came down on Saturday to dive with us at Freestyle.

One of my recently certified open water diving students Vince decided to carry on as soon as possible with his advanced course and he engaged me to put together a program that had us start the weekend Friday Oct 1 at Nomad Ocean Adventures with two dives in Musandam. NOA are now running night dives in Musandam, so we planned one as a third dive on Friday, followed on Saturday by a deep dive on the Inchcape wreck from Freestyle divers, and then a navigation dive on Dibba Rock.

Having set it all up as requested and recruited the others aboard, we pulled out from All Prints at 6:30 sharp on Friday morning but due to some mis-turns we arrived a little late at Nomad. Channin rode with us and Vince followed in his car. January and Keith and Joe Broeker were on their way in a third car.

We were assigned to Michael’s boat, first time I’ve dived with him. He’s a nice guy and a competent leader, so we didn’t mind so much when he changed the dives sites as we entered the Lima area. He had said we were going first to Ras Morovi and then to Pearl Island. I didn’t know Pearl Island but he said it would be a good place for navigation, so on the trip out I briefed Vince on deep and navigation dives for that day.

But on the approach to Lima Michael signaled the boat to stop short at Wonder Wall and announced we’d do our first dive there. We like Wonder Wall but it has a sloping bottom and wouldn’t be quite the same as a deep dive where there’s a drop, so Michael suggested we get the boatman to take us off the point where we could drop to 28 meters there. But the current in that case would take us quickly past the end of the dive and we’d have to just come up after the bounce, so Vince and I decided to go with the group on the shallower dive and leave the advanced deep dive for the next morning.

It was a nice dive. Vince was impressed with the live corals and abundant sea life, different from the dying reef at Dibba. At one point we found an electric torpedo ray in the sand, and there were lots of morays, some swimming around the coral dollops. Toward the end of the dive we let ourselves get swept along the wall toward the point. The first diver was low on air at 40 minutes so I found a shelter from the current and led everyone up to a safety stop at 5 meters. Vince and I had got down to 20 meters at the start of that dive.

Michael announced the second dive for Lima Rock, which I didn’t think would be good for navigation, so Vince and I decided to make these two dives boat and underwater naturalist. Michael headed the boat for Lima and rounded it, but then headed the boat for Pearl Island, which got me thinking about navigation again. Pearl Island is the point with a small island off it between Ras Lima and Ras Morovi. I’d never dived it before and Michael’s surface interval description of the dive made Vince and I want to do it with Michael leading.

When we all entered the water we found we’d have to fight our way north against a stiff current, good thing we weren’t planning navigation, impossible here in those conditions.In the water we found another torpedo ray (Vince had missed the first one and was glad to see this one). We found scorpion fish and a moray wriggling toward us along the sand. The dive plan was to round the island at the north, hence the struggle up-current, and on the north easterly heading we were looking for 4 fish pots. At this point if vis had been good we would have seen a submerged ‘island’ and beyond that another. As it was, we followed Michael, who led us where the fish life became interesting. Vince and I found a big crayfish lobster trying to back into a rock ledge. Most interesting was a school of a few dozen barracudas hanging in the current where it wheeled to the north and prevented us from rounding the island to the south. I found a rope and pulled myself into the current alongside the barracudas. That was cool but we could not proceed against the current so we headed back the way we had come. People’s air was getting low by then. Vince and I surfaced after 40 minutes, having got down to 16 meters or so.

We headed back to port talking about where we would do the night dive. Christophe had said we could go to Pearl Island though it was distant from Dibba, because there was red tide at the caves, the nearest option. But Pearl Island would not be good at night with current blasting the way it was. I thought perhaps the cove at Ras Morovi, but it was further still than Pearl Island. On the boat ride back I thought we should give Fishhead Rock a look. As we slowed down we could see there was red tide there. But I thought maybe it was clear at depth, so I went in with mask, fins, and snorkel and found that the algae was only a meter deep. I pronounced it fit for a night dive, and after returning to port and relaxing an hour over coffee at the dive center, we found our way back there after night had fallen.

There were four of us, Vince and I and Piotr, a student on a protracted course with NOA for whom this would be his last advanced dive so I was asked if I wanted to certify him. There was also a new instructor at NOA whom they wanted to send on the trip, so the four of us boarded the boat and headed out on the half hour trip north at dusk with skies afire over the fijords and mountains to Fishhead Rock.

It would be an interesting dive. I had the boatman search for the rock jutting out of the water that I wanted us to go down on, just as Vince and I had done a couple of weeks previously with Fares and Veronique. We got everyone briefed and in the water and with the help of our lights, over to the rock, not easy to find in the dark. Once there we used the rock for orientation to slip beneath the waves into the algae murk. Thankfully, the water cleared only a couple meters down and we settled onto the bottom where we found a rock to have Piotr do his compass heading back and forth from. It turned out to be like a lot of rocks in that area and I got confused, but Piotr felt he’d found his way just fine.  Vince followed that with his own compass work..

We found the overhang that looks like a cave but that we know has ways out overhead and we went in there. It’s spacious and interesting at night, lots of crevices to poke lights into. There were no rays but it made a fun maze. We went from the entry at 12 meters up to 5 looking for the exits but when I realized I couldn’t see them at night I reversed direction and retraced the way we had come.

On the outside we found squids dancing in our light beams, then switched those off to thrash our arms in the dark to make them sparkle with phosphorescence. Then I led us up into the bottom reaches of the algae for a 5 meter safety stop, taking us up to our specified dive time of 40 minutes.

Piotr said he thought the dive was “very interesting.” Vince felt that his first night dive, in comparison with those we’d been doing by day, was “Exactly the same, but totally different.” Well put!

Back at Nomad we enjoyed bbq tuna and chicken a la Mauritius cooked by Sylviane, who is back in charge of the kitchen, yum yum. We relaxed over smuggled beverages and slept exhaustedly.

In the morning we moved across the border to Freestyle Divers for another great day of diving. Temperatures were hot in the sun but comfortable in the shade where we kitted for our deep Inchcape wreck dive. January, Keith, and Joe were doing their first 30 meter dive, as was Vince, so I made sure everyone got a thorough briefing. Fortune smiled on us as we entered the water and found no current at all, so it was an easy swim to the mooring line. With some initial clumsiness on initial descent being overcome in good order by my good diving friends and buddies, we all arrived at the bottom safely.

Vince and I got there first, and we had a look around the boat, found an electric torpedo ray at the bottom near the bow, and explored the other side, finding eventually the two resident honeycomb moray resident eels. I put Vince through the paces with the cognitive test and comparison of depth gauges. Eventually we hooked up with the others. At 17 minutes into the dive, I was getting half tank signals, and all agreed to the thumbs up and slow ascent up the mooring line, greeted at all stages by batfish.

Meanwhile Bobbi had opted to dive Dibba Rock in a boat with only three people, and in the only boat on the rock that early in the morning. She and Channin, and Jay who had driven down for the day, had a great dive in the aquarium. The three of them each had a shark to play with. Bobbi says the sharks came pretty much right up to them, right in their faces, and stayed with them till they got bored with them (Bobbi says). They saw turtles as well.

That sounded like a neat dive, but when we returned to the spot at 1 pm there were too many people in the water by then and no sharks to be found. Vince and I ran up a submersible marker buoy and went through the advanced dive ritual, calibrating fin kicks and time for 30 meters, all based at the buoy. We did a compass heading to the west and left a plastic cup there, then returned on reciprocal heading to base at the SMB. Next we did a square pattern that took us en route to where we could collect the plastic cup and return one last time to the buoy, which we collected.

We finished our navigation in the nick of time because by then the current was picking up. We let it carry us over the reef but eventually beat our way back up current to come out at the aquarium. There the current was less evident, but no sharks were evident either. Vince and I looked around and when he got down to 50 bar we let ourselves be carried back over the raspberry coral patch (doesn’t look like raspberry anymore ).

We spotted a grand two-meter Spanish mackerel on that last pass, but no sharks. It was a relaxing dive, great compass work by Vince, leading to his certification as an advanced o/w diver.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Certified o/w divers Vince, Fares, and Véronique in Musandam Sept 11 and Dibba Rock Sept 12, 2010

My logged dives #1002-1005

For Bobbi and I, this was our first chance to go diving after summer vacation, done during the Eid al Fitr following Ramadhan 2010.  I'd been working with 3 dive students since returning from summer holidays: Vince the army vet with some prior diving experience, and Fares and Véronique, Syrian / French couple, also nice people and comfortable in water. We managed to finish their pool and academic work before the Eid holiday, but the only night that Discover Nomad could accommodate us was Saturday Sept 11 so we scheduled our open water diving for that day and the one after.  Following the most convenient boat departure schedules, we chose to sleep till 5 on Saturday morning and drive up to Dibba to arrive before 10 a.m for one of Discover Nomad's late departures for Musandam, finish off the pool work in the Discover Nomad pool before dinner that night, sleep comfortably in the luxury hostel accommodation, and then dive with Freestyle next day at 9 with the final dive of the course at noon, so we could be collecting gear left off for servicing in Dubai at about the time the Discover Nomad boat would be returning that evening to the harbor in Dibba, Oman.

Saturday saw a number of inauspicious occurances.  We were a little late leaving the house and compounded that by hitting dense fog where the new Yas Island road meets the Dubai highway. Blinded, we took a wrong turn before regaining our way, losing time.  Then at the border with Musandam Oman I was almost denied exit from UAE because my visa had expired; I had to beg to be let out (no Oman border post to challenge my entry).  When we reached Discover Nomad, before 10 as expected, we discovered we were waiting on people yet to arrive from Dubai.  The timing turned out ok because my students could take their time choosing their gear, and I used the last part of the wait to brief them over coffee and tea.  Still it was 11 before we were able to leave for the harbor and 11:30 before the boatman appeared on board our loaded boat.  Finally on our way, but still within site of Dibba harbor, the engines started acting up, and the boatmen killed the engines to check it out..

I tried speaking to the boatmen about the problem and Fares eventually intervened, but there were dialectical differences making it difficult for us to understand in Arabic. When the boatmen turned back for the harbor, we weren't sure whether we were returning to get another boat or aborting the trip.  Our impression was that they were aborting the trip so we asked to be taken at slow speed further up the coast, and as long as it wasn't all the way to Lima Rock, they agreed to the compromise.  We were within site of the caves when we resumed our journey, but on just one 115 hp engine it took us a tedious half hour to get just even with the caves, normally 15 min out of Dibba, and another half hour at least to reach what I call Fishhead Rock, the most salient Ras about halfway to Lima.  From Fishhead Rock, on a clear day, which this was, you can see Lima low on the horizon, half an hour distant in a fully functioning boat, but over an hour away on the one we were stuck on now.

I had asked to be taken to Fishhead Rock because I had dived there long ago with BSAC divers and I remember it had swim-throughs which the BSAC divers sometimes went out of their way to dive.  But it had been some time so I was guessing on where exactly we should begin our dive.  At the rock, I went in to check current and found a drift to the north.  Also as we were kitting up the boat was moved to the north, but sometimes that's a wind effect. So when we started diving I was mildly annoyed to find the bottom current to be to the south, but we had told the boatman we were going North, so we stuck to that.

With first time divers I like to give them clear reference for their first descent, but this was going to be a wall dive and could present a disorienting drop, so I asked the boatman to take us to a rock that was poking out of the water thinking that might provide reference on that crucial first ascent.  It was steeper than I'd hoped but I'd already had my newbies check their weights by entering the water wearing weights and wetsuits, just climbing down the ladder before kitting up, so we were sure they had enough weight to at least pull down the wetsuits.  I was carrying extra kilos and I dispensed these as needed on the dive, so we got everyone correctly weighted and avoided over-buoyancy issues.

This was all very important so as to minimize risk of surprises on this first entry. So much can happen to beginning divers. Ear problems preventing timely descent is common for example, and a diver with ear problems being pulled down by too much weight and lack of reference is the worst that can happen, so it's vitally important to control for these eventualities, but difficult when the choice of dive sight is dictated by where you end up due to engine failure.  In any event, all went well. Fares even refused weight the first time I offered it, preferring to work out his buoyancy problem with lung volume, a very good sign.

The swim-throughs were numerous; one seemed almost like a cave, but with light and vertical access easily reachable. I shined my light in the dark corners and found a medium size cow tail ray hiding and resting in the darkness there.  He squirmed at the intrusion so we left him to finish his nap and moved on through the labyrinth.  I was pleased at the buoyancy control of my trainees, who were able to navigate where I led them.

As happens on a first dive, my students' air ran out in 40 minutes, at which point Bobbi was pointing at a turtle swimming in midwater.  The turtle circled the ascending divers, finned for the surface for a gulp of air, and then plunged to escape our further notice. The dive had lasted from 2 pm to 2:40, and I don't think anyone went below 14 meters.

Our boat limped into the nearest khor where a dhow had already disgorged its boatload of Eid frolickers, but there was plenty of room for all there.  The Dubai crowd swam while I put my students through surface skills, out on a compass heading, snorkel reg exchange (exhausting, so ;-) cramp removal and tired diver tows back to the boat.  I organized the Dubai people and our boatmen for a 4 pm departure.  Our second dive would be at the caves, a half hour south on the single engine.

We were diving there by 5 p.m.  We had worked out our allowable time on tables to be 45 min at 18 meters or 59 at 16, and we didn't come close to either depth.  As this was o/w dive #2 we had skills to perform.  My plan was to look for the cave (more like a tunnel) and if we found it and went through it (there would be light visible the other side at all times) we would do our skills on the far side.  As with January and Keith the last time I had come here, we had no better luck finding the cave entrance, but we found the crawfish in the rocks just outside.  We did our skills there and then moved to the back side of the cave where I hoped to find the exit.  But that plan didn't work either and we had kind of a plain vanilla dive with surge and me on a mission to find that ellusive cave, which I've dived many times with others and was never aware it was hidden till last two times trying to find it on my own.  Véronique was not feeling well from the boating, and opted to leave the water early with Bobbi.  After supervising their exit, Fares and Vince and I redescended to do compass work at depth and ascend with alternate air source (Véronique had to do hers later).  I think my diving lasted about 45 min, to maybe 14 meters.

With the boat moving so slowly it took almost an hour to return to harbor and it was dusk when we arrived.  This put us back at the dive center late, so it was 8 when we started work on our last two confined water modules.  We missed dinner but the Discover Nomad staff had kindly kept aside a good portion of fish so we were able to relax with good food and beverage afterwards.

Next morning we moved over to our good friends at Freestyle on the UAE side of Dibba (the officer at the border said no problem when I pointed out that I realized I was trying to reentre the country on an expired visa).  It was a fine day for diving Dibba, not too hot, and lovely in the water it turned out, viz not all that bad.  I started Vince on his CESA first thing and then collected the others for oral inflation at the bottom of the mooring followed by mask flooding / clearing.

Then the fun dive began with the looming, clacking reef.  I was at an unfamiliar mooring (again) and found myself at the edge of the real reef but not sure due to the way it has mostly turned to rubble.  To our left was sand and coral outcrops that looked like they led to the aquarium, so I took that way.  The aquarium is what I call the rust colored porite coral where the water is usually clear and the fish abound.  Near some jagged ourcrops I decided this would be a good place to do compass work so I sent Véronique to the north and had her return south, and Fares followed suit.  Then we moved along the aquarium and admired the schools of jacks and fusiliers.  We found ourselves heading toward the back side, moving with the current, and heading to depth, so when Véronique signalled 100 bar, I decided to commit to it.  So I led north over sand bottom looking for rays, found none, returned south, looked for jawfish, found none.  Bobbi said she found a moray on the dive, Véronique saw a scorpion fish, and Angelika from Munich said later there were lots of lion fish there, but I'm finding the back side of Dibba more a wasteland compared to what life used to thrive there.  I hope it's coming back.  We ended our dive at about 40 min, having reached 16 meters in the sand.

Now we were down to the completion of a long weekend course with only two CESAs to do, mask removal and replacement, and hovering.  Hovering would be easy on the front side reef, since hovering is the way to observe what's going on there, and my divers requested the mask flood last, so after the CESAs we just started diving from the mooring nearest the aquarium.  The site was as beautiful as before, though we were finning into the current now, which would dog us throughout the dive.  The aquarium turned awsome for Bobbi and I when a meter plus blacktip came at us from the left and crossed right in front of us, then disappeared in the rocks to our right.  We pointed madly and spiked our foreheads but I don't think my students saw it.

I led us west onto the reef, finding it by the audible clacking that greets us when we approach it.  It's aways interesing to come onto the reef, especially having just seen a shark, because anything can appear on this reef.  However, the reef has fallen on bad times after cyclone Gonu, and particularly after the cloak of red tide that afflicted it for half a year recenly.  It used to be pinkish raspberry coral but now it's a grey-brown mass of rubble with fish covering it nonetheless, but almost always cloaked in haze, and less often do we see interesting creatures here. Today was such a day, though right at the end of the dive, with Fares low on air (from having to go up and down with his and Véronique's CESAs at the beginning of the dive) and preparing his mask removal exercise, we drifted over a turtle.  We settled in a rubble patch to do that exercise, and then rejoined the turtle and found a dozen more of his friends resting nearby.

Fares and Véronique left the water at that point.  I accompanied them to the surface and saw the boat was near and that they were drifting that direction.  I was drifting too, so I descended quickly while I could still relocate Vince and Bobbi.  We revisited the coral patch where the turtles were hanging out, and then let ourselves be carried along the coral, where Bobbi and I again saw a shark cruising the sand, a 2 meter one this time, through he had moseyed off by the time Vince came over to see what we were pointing at.

That last dive was almost an hour for me, but we didn't reach ten meters. Though Dibba Rock reef is disappointing now compared with past glory, this was a nice dive, and it's always a pleasure to be diving with fun people and revisiting our favorite dive centers and seeing the kind faces of the young staff members there again.