Saturday, March 20, 2010

Whaleshark off Lima Rock Saturday March 19, and PADI Course at Dibba Rock on the 20th

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March 19, 2010, Lima Rock, Musandam, diving with Discover Nomad, my logged dives #945-946

We opted this weekend to start with Chris's Nomad Divers in Musandam.  All my divers were keen to go there.  Chris had posted on Facebook that the whalesharks were back.  One had been spotted the weekend before.  We could get lucky.

Bobbi and I met Daniel in the parking lot outside All Prints at 6 in the morning.  I had certified Daniel only the month before.  January, another of my students from the Philippines, texted that she and Keith were on their way.  We found Rebecca, a teacher I had certified some years ago, in the ADNOC station in Dibba, and we all met up at the Discover Nomad hostel for equipment rental. We popped from there to the nearby port, where at 11:00 we departed from Oman Dibba harbor on a speedboat Chris had assigned just to us for the trip with Waleed, sea captain, up the coast on a cool sunny day, calm seas, destination Lima Rock.

We arrived in the rock in ideal conditions, stopping right in the spot on the near south side where whale sharks, if they're around, are usually spotted.  Lima can have bad currents and my students were beginning open water so I jumped overboard to find a very slight seaward current.  Scrambling back aboard I had Waleed take me nearer to the west end and tested the water current again there.  Here it was fairly non-existent, a good place to start our dive.

It took a while to get everyone kitted up, though I allowed divers who were kitted and heating up in wetsuits on the boat to buddy check and enter the cool water.  Waleed had a bit of rope aboard and I strung this out as a trailer and made sure my divers in the water either held it or stayed near it.  Daniel was first in the water, followed by January, still in training.  There was no current, the divers enjoyed the view through mask and snorkel, and stayed near the rope.  Daniel noticed a problem with his regulator, air escaping out the high pressure hose, going from 200 bar to 180 in ten minutes, but I always bring a spare so I was able to get his tank back on board and change it over.  Bobbi helped Rebecca in the water, I helped Keith.  Then it was just me to get myself wet, Bobbi teasing from where she was keeping our group together that it was always me keeping everyone waiting ;-)  Finally I entered and as I was about to signal us down I told everyone to keep an eye out for anything large and covered with white spots.  I joked if it had a long tail it would probably be an eagle ray.  I called out the time on descent, 12:33.

All divers descended just fine.  Vis was good, I dropped down to 15 or 16 meters but kept everyone at about that level for all the dive, or shallower.  We meandered between 12 and 17, enjoying the purple soft corals, the clown fish in the anenomes, the numerous trigger fish, and especially the many really big batfish around. We found morays in the crevices, and a big honeycomb wrapped up in himself in an alcove.  I pointed out where one bat fish was getting worked on by a pair of cleaner wrasse.

Eventually, as we worked our way east, we picked up a bit of current.  It was half an hour into the dive and I turned us around and had the group fin into it the direction we had come until we returned with some effort to calm water.  I also had us rise in the water to shallower depth, as some were getting low on air. We were back in the calm water and heading at a low angle along the reef aiming in the direction of the surface when I looked up and saw the unmistakable sillouette of a whale shark about to pass overhead. It was a small one, just 6 or 7 meters, and I beckoned my divers to follow it with me.  I chased after it till it turned and came back towards us, gaping mouth scarfing up plankton.  In moments it was alongside me, so I swam alongside it, its eye on its stalk taking me in. I swam right next to it for a several seconds but then had a look around for other divers. Keith and January had almost surfaced but were coming back down.  Bobbi and Rebecca were near me.  I saw Daniel at the surface but I saw the shadow of a boat near.  I knew him to be too low on air to come back down so I figured he was ok where he was. The rest of us continued our dive near the surface, starting a safety stop 43 minutes into it.  I was buddied with January, my only trainee on this dive, and she and I ascended through a school of batfish.  Meetiing up on the surface, I asked my divers if I had mentioned the whale shark in my briefing.  All were chuffed / stoked after such a great dive.

I had the boatman take us over to Ras Morovi where we entered the cove and had our lunch.  January was keen to do her module 4 and 5 confined water skills so she could make the next dive her third for the course,  Since it was just us on the boat, and the boatman was cooperative, I had him motor to some shallow water where January and I did the no-mask swim, hovered, and ascended on buddy breathing.  We passed our tanks up onto the boat and practiced duck diving.  By now it was just past three and a group of fishermen had arrived and were arguing with the crew of the dive boats there. They wanted to lay nets across the cove.  The dive captains relented and we moved around the headland to inside the channel.  January and I rekitted and did our module 5 skills on a shallow sand ledge there.

Our actual diving here began at around 3:30 down onto a carpet of brown corals in relatively flat terrain going out to sand at 12 meters.  There we found a fish pot and January did her compass heading and return on the reciprocal.  We headed north over the coral and eventually found boulders with lots of fish and sand that ran deeper.  I decided to take us out over the sand and we were soon rewarded with brown rays scurrying to get out of our way.  One came low and inside over the sand just beneath us flying fast to join up with his mates.  This was the memorable part of that dive, down to 18 meters at that point.

I turned us around and headed us back to the rocks and up to where I was running low on air.  Ascent for me was at 59 minutes (56 not counting the last 3 minutes at 5 meters). I had promised January a controlled emergency swimming ascent so we re-descended and I used my reel and SMB sausage to make a line we could ascend on from ten meters. She tried it a couple of times until she got comfortable with the technique. 

The ride back was cool and we arrived at almost dusk. The rest of the evening was good food and grog amongst fine company.  Tanja and Richard and their kids Euan and Hana showed up in time to taste Silviennes' excellent creole shrimps.  Bobbi and I sat up till the last person left the area and we slept well till morning when Bobbi's alarms started going off, so I got up and wrote this.

March 20, 2010, Dibba Rock, diving with Freestyle Divers, my logged dives #947-948

Saturday's dives were planned with Freestyle.  Rebecca had to get back to Abu Dhabi but after breakfast Keith and January and Tanja and Euen (with her husband Richard and their daughter Hana) and with Daniel riding with us, Bobbi and I drove across the border and down the coast to Dibba.  It was a nice day, sunny with relatively cool temperatures, and calm seas, ideal for diving.

Except that the vis on Dibba Rock was not particularly good, very hazy.  Tanja and Euen were diving for the first time.  Euen is ten years old.  He's determined and fearless but has lots of issues with masks and other equipment that doesn't quite fit him, so he sometimes had to surface during the dive.  At the outset it was difficult for me to monitor my three students.  Despite this January did her module 4 mask removal, and hovered as we were about to ascend later.  The mooring had changed and so when we finned off after descent I couldn't find the reef.  There was a stiff current and as divers surfaced it became hard to orient once we re-descended. We were wandering over boulders and coral rubble for some time but the good news was that we were eventually swept onto the reef.  We saw a huge barracuda there but when one student ran low on air I had to bring all three of my students up with me, after only 40 minutes diving and ten or twelve on the reef itself.  Bright notes were that January managed to get certified as a result of it, and Euen and Tanja had a successful first dive in that they settled into the drill and acclimatized to the unusual environment, which would make their next dive much smoother.  But for me it was not my best dive on Dibba Rock.

The next was not much better unfortunately.  Daniel had so enjoyed the sting rays in the sand off Ras Morovi the day before that he was keen to do the back side, so we took him there.  But again the mooring was positioned a bit far from the lip so we had to work ten minutes to get down onto the sand at depth (12 meters).  Here we found some bat fish and schools of snappers but colorless ambience and not much else. Nor was there anything in the sand but, well, sand.  We returned to the wall and my 2 students and I managed to lose Daniel and Bobbi, so we continued around the rock, me keeping an eye on Euen's pressure guage.  He was also cold so when he reached 50 bar I had him and his mom ascend on alternate air source breathing.  We were almost at the aquarium at that point and I intended to take Tanja on with me to see the fish there and then proceed onto the reef for the last ten minutes of our dive.  But as it turned out while waiting for the boat we drifted off the spot and when we finally got Euen safely out of the water and Tanja and I resumed, I was again not able to find the reef from this new and arbitrary location, and that dive turned out to be yet another disappointment for me, and perhaps for Tanja.

But not for Bobbi and Daniel.  When we reunited with them they told of how they had left us on the back side to go see a cuttlefish.  Then they had rounded the rock as we had but they carried on to the acquarium, where vis improved and they saw many fish species.  But instead of cutting over to the reef as I would have done, they were following their own rule: Keep the rock on the left.  This took them into the shallows where I hardly ever go, but here they found even clearer water and 4 sharks all together that were swimming to and fro and playing with them in vis as clear as a swimming pool. Bobbi talked about that at length on the drive home and on into the evening and I'm sure it's on her Facebook somewhere. So SOME people enjoyed the dive (and glad to hear it ;-)

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