|Mark and Jon and me in the middle, at Ras Morovi|
I certified two divers this weekend, Jon Nichols and Mark Kennitz. Mark is Keith’s brother. He and January did both their o/w and advanced courses with me, and Jon works with Keith, so Keith and January are happy campers sending some good people my way and giving Bobbi and I more excuses to go diving. Ex students Rebecca Woll and Ian Nisse joined as well, and Ian brought Nicki along in the car with him. Nicki roped in our acquaintance Erhardt into the trip, and Erhardt buddied with a guy named Sergei who was visiting from Ukraine, the only one on the boat not in our group. To make it more like old friends, Brian Ruigrok was our dive leader for the trip. We’ve dived with him a lot at Freestyle Divers, and then he married Tatiana, whom we met at 7 Seas and then she started working at the Beach Hotel where I used to train divers, and my! how the connections develop in small town UAE.
Our boat Friday was packed out with the 11 above plus Jon’s wife Maree, who is interested herself in learning to dive, her mom Carol visiting from New Zealand, and their two kids, all tagging along as snorkelers.
Jon and Mark had to come up Thursday night to get started on their academics and pool work, but they misjudged the time and arrived at dinner time, too late (and too cold!) by then to get in the pool, so I gave Jon a couple of quizzes. Mark had done PADI elearning and needed only to take a quiz to ascertain that he was the person who had taken the quizzes online. Then I had them collect their gear to get it ready for pool work, and we agreed to get started at 6 a.m. the next morning.
It’s winter in the UAE. The air is cold at night, in the morning, and even chilled all through the day. I was wearing a jacket at our briefing over coffee, and the sun was just beginning to light up the overcasts skies. The pool was a frigid 12 degrees, according to its thermometer, and we were planning 3 pool modules to prepare for the first two dives of the course.
We were saved by the consignment of 5mm wetsuits recently received at Nomad. I was surprised at how bearable that 12 degree water was, and after diving two days in the pool and ocean with the 5 mm suit, I decided I was in love with what kept me warm and protected, my 5 mm wetsuit. I’ve got to get my very own.
Anyway, Jon and Mark turned out to be quick studies, and like Delilah and Erik who had to begin their course at 6 a.m. Friday on a cold morning a month back because they had made a wrong turn and missed their Thursday night pool sessions, they progressed through the steps on schedule, starting with 6 a.m. briefing, and 7 a.m. in the pool for module 1. They took a little over an hour for Module 1, but module 2 went quickly and by 9 we were drinking coffee our wives brought us in preparation for module 3. One more splash in the icewater and we were done by ten. The other divers in our group had arrived by then, and we were at the harbor by 11:00 ready to enjoy our day of diving.
We had received permission to go all the way to Ras Sarkan, a place we rarely visit, but that overcast sky grew dark and foreboding, and the sea doused our enthusiasm with frequent drenching, and after an hour, still short of Lima, and finding slow and uncomfortable going, we decided to divert to Ras Sanut and begin at the Wonder Wall, where we had intended to do our second dive that day (on request from Sergei, as relayed to us by Michael Diver).
We had motored through algae on the way to the headland, but when we reached the ras itself we found we could see the bottom through clear water, a good sign. I took Jon and Mark on their first dive ever and we began through a picturesque cloud of fusilier fish hovering on the coral bed and down to the sand where we looked for rays, and hoped for eels in the boulders specked with purple coral. But we saw none. Buoyancy problems normally encountered by novice divers were aggravated by bubble expansion in the brand new 5 mm wetsuits, and my divers were up and down as they gamely worked out how to achieve buoyancy control through trial and error. Still the dive lasted 45 minutes and ranged down to 14 meters. It was a pretty dive, and ‘awsome’ to my students, but kind of ordinary to me and to all the others we talked with back on the boat. Out of the water it was cold and blustery in the rocking boat, not a great day out for Jon’s family, except that the kids at least braved the water to try their hand at snorkeling.
We ate our chicken wraps and decided to retreat back to port and dive what I call Fishhead along the way. Brian calls the site “the Caves”. Locals bring paying customers here in their boats and take them into one of the alcoves there. Brian gave a briefing for the site where he suggested that divers enter that alcove and find a hole 8 meters deep. I like to dive it from the bottom. I have the boatman drop us by a rock and then I go along the bottom to a dark entrance at 14 meters which you can penetrate from there to the surface. I’m pretty sure it’s the same hole, though I have never popped to the surface to see what it was like up top. Because of that exit I feel it’s safe for beginners who are at ease in the environment, but inside is what appears to be a labyrinth of swim throughs. On this day, vis was marginal, and my light was getting reflected back at me as I searched for that continuation beyond the entry alcove, so I didn’t find it, but it was just as well, since I was the only one with a torch.
Again there was not much to see in the way of unusual animals on this dive, but my divers liked the cave dive, and the boulder swim throughs in that area form an appealing topography. Dive time was 42 minutes and maximum depth about 14 plus meters (16 on the tables ;-).
We got back to port by 5 pm with daylight to spare to get me started on a jog to the Golden Tulip and back, a modest 7 or 8 km. Back at Nomad I found our group enjoying happy hours with a variety of beverages all brought over the border from home. Dinner was served at nine, and somewhere in there, Jon finished his Module 5 knowledge review and took the module 5 test. In anticipation of a 7 a.m. start to more pool work in the morning, Bobbi and I went to bed early, but we were awakened at 3:30 by revelers returning from a birthday party around the pool out back. From the looks of what they left on the table for us to find in the cold light of dawn, it was quite a party, with at least a dozen empty bottles, and as many glasses left half full, revealing that the party-goers had mostly had quite enough when they finally decided to call it a night.
Jon and Mark and I hammered home the last two modules in the bracing waters of the icy pool, rendered pleasantly tolerable by those 5 mm neoprene suits. We wrapped up well before ten and made our plan for doing two dives and all the flexible skills in the surface interval between them. At 10:30 we were told we could head for the harbor, and we were heading again for Lima by 11, over seas that had calmed considerable but were not quite flat. Rebecca and Erhardt were no longer with us, and Jon’s family had returned home, understandably. The birthday girl and her friends had joined us, as well as a polite young Emirati named Rashad. We also had another Mark aboard, a BSAC diver who eschewed the wraps for lunch for a thermos of soup, and kidney pie with English mustard on top. In his cool box he had packed a single Castle for the trip back. All were pleasant company.
The diving again Saturday was not special. We at least made it to Lima Rock where we dived the “back” or north side, because it was sheltered from the seas, which had whitecaps on the southern side, and as it developed, divers were getting spat out into the current visibly churning off the east of the island, the one that offers free passage eventually to Iran. No problem, nothing to bump into out there except schools of huge barracuda, and maybe the bottom, at about 50 meters.
We went in as a group of six: Bobbi and I buddied and monitored my two students, and January and Keith joined us on this one. We put in at the west end of the island and I had my divers go to a sheltered spot between two rocks and wait for the others. As everyone was entering the ocean, the boat drifted a bit to the east, but we had that fixed location to swim to so we were able to meet up before descent. But on descent we found we had a stiff current eastward. I got my students into the sand for their exercises and we tried a compass heading north, just ten fin kicks. Coming back it was more like 20 into the current so I moved us off the sand and up and close to the reef. We had to be careful that no beginning divers let themselves rise mid-water where the current would take them. This required fine tuning buoyancy control on their part, but we all managed it well and stayed together throughout the dive. My students went low on air first so we went into the shallows where we found a batfish letting itself be cleaned by wrasse, and trigger fish hiding in the rocks with their blue tails sticking out.
The others followed us to the surface where we saw other divers about to be carried away in the rapids toward which we were slowly drifting. It’s no big deal if that happens at the surface, the boat can easily retrieve divers. In any event we had drifted past the end of the island and into the current by the time we had all been recovered to the boat. There were two other groups of divers caught in the stream carrying them far away from land. We recovered them too, no problem, just not much to see out there. Our dive was around 40 minutes at 16 meters maximum depth.
We went to Ras Morovi for shelter and lunch. This is a good place for beginners especially in the marginal sea conditions we were experiencing. My students had the whole gamut of surface skills to complete but due to weather we put in on the north side of the ras for lunch but moved to the south side for diving and exercises. Brian took his group in for their dive as I was setting up a CESA line for mine. In the course of the next 45 minutes I had the guys run through all the flexible skills. At one point I found us caught in a current and I had us move to the shelter of the bay on snorkel. We finished off there with an alternate air source ascent, by which time Keith had joined us for the actual dive (all the others in our group were giving it a miss due to grievances ranging from the cold to the excesses of the night before).
We snorkeled again to the point where the reef begins. I was glad to have a group of young guys who could keep up with me, through all that moving around on the surface, but these guys were excellent buddies and we all settled down on the sand where I suggested an underwater compass heading to look for rays. On return from that we all removed our face masks and twirled them around our fingers before continuing on the dive. Students are surprised at how you can keep your eyes open in the water and see out them, a little blurry, but there is no sting in that saline solution.
That out of the way we continued on along the reef. It’s a pretty spot. Vis wasn’t great but not terrible either, so the colored corals were evident. We didn’t see unusual animals apart from a couple of morays, different varieties. Air was getting low when we rounded the corner and passed over the cabbage coral where turtles like to hang out, and dropped to the cave and ledge where I sometimes find rays, but no turtles or rays today.
Back on the boat after the dive Jon and Mark had to strip to their bathing suits and head out into the cold open water on their 200 meter swims tests and ten minute survival floats. I think it was the worst part of the course for them, but they gamely succeeded.
Fun diving though and congratulations to the two newly certified divers!