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.