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.