Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 29, Fanaku and Kachalu, Musandam - April 30 Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1038-1040

April 30 we decided to dive at Freestyle Divers.  Terry, the gregarious founder, had just lost his battle to cancer.  "Diver down", read one comment on the Facebook memorial page.  All who knew Terry knew him as a community spirit as well as an entrepreneur.  He used to tell me I was “mad” when I’d turn up at his shop at sunrise and swim alone or with a buddy, if I could recruit one, out to what used to be my favorite reef in all the world.  An early morning swim was invariably rewarded by encounters with turtles and views of sharks cruising over the raspberry colored coral. There were schools of barracuda and sometimes devil rays as well. It took half an hour to swim out, an hour on the reef, and half an hour back.  If I started at 7:00 a.m. I could be back ashore in time to return to Dibba Rock by boat, first dive of the day, at 9 or 9:30.

These were the days when we could dive Dibba on Friday and sit on the lanai with Terry and his merry band of employees and camp followers who would clean their gear and troop down to the off-license, another much patronized concession, like Freestyle, on the premises of the Royal Beach Hotel. Bobbi and I had a rule.  Only one can of product from that shop while our gear was drying, THEN put the gear away safely in the car, THEN enjoy the cool breezes and warm company and more such cans on the lanai.  Sometimes Terry would start the barbecue.  Sometimes he’d produce a huge fish and cook it and offer it around. He often made known there was more in the fridge for anyone not wanting to walk right then over to the off-license shop.  

Then came the cyclone Gonu, picking up huge chunks of the reef, crushing it to rubble, and dropping much of that on the beach outside Terry’s shop.  The reef didn’t give up, tried to bounce back, but then came the red tide, months of it, robbing the coral of light, leaving the rocks where the raspberry polyps had been the color of the brown algae that decimated it, and leaving skeletons where morays once poked out of the rocks.  The jaw fish moved away.  Rays became scarce, sharks not as prevalent as before.

When we dived it today it was not remarkable.  I found a big bull ray in the aquarium at the start of the dive, an unusual place for a ray to be.  I had Nicki’s camera and took its picture.

Nicki send me the pic of Raymond, please :-)
Thank you :-)

But the rest of the dive was not so interesting.  Like Love in the Time of Colera, the trees have all been cut along the riverbank, the water itself is drying up, and the epidemic has reached the riverfront town.  The two lovers are clinging to one another in their wrinkled old age.  Everything is changing and we are clinging to vestiges of what once was.  Terry is gone now, global warming is heating up the planet and with it the oceans past the 30 degrees over which coral starts to die, and that encourages the blossoming of algae that delivers the coup de grace. Untrammeled development is silting up the diving scene all around the Emirates, except for Musandam, which remains pristine, secure in its rugged isolation.

It was with hopes of seeing some of that that we left for Dibba as soon as we could get off work on Thursday, Nicki and Bobbi and I.  We pulled up at Nomad Ocean Adventure in time to pop a cool one before dinner, a savory beef casserole.  We fell in bed and slept till the a/c went off at 7:45 next morning, power off to all of Nomad, not sure about the rest of the town.  In an hour it was restored and Bobbi and I went back to bed.  The dive we had thought would be at 8 a.m. had been rescheduled for 10:30.

Chris is also experiencing changes but is still maintaining a reasonable routine.  His center wasn’t crowded, plenty of beds were unslept in, and maybe the manageable numbers, people mellowed by the ambience of his place, helped him get us all under way and take a lucky dozen past our usual dive sites at Lima Rock and Ras Morovi, past Octopus Rock, even past Khor Hablain and Mother of Mouse, Ras Sarkan on the left, and White Rock where we’d come last time we’d taken a liveaboard dhow this far up Musandam, and even past Musandam Island to the two islands off the tip in the straights of Hormuz, Fanaku and the tiny Kachalu.

Chris doesn’t know these sites that well.  Usually he’s been back at the office when others have taken his customers this far north.  But now he has fewer hands on deck and has an opportunity to come dive the area himself, which he definitely enjoys. Like me he’s not sure what the currents are doing, so as we approached Fanaku, and I had already put on my wetsuit, he asked me to jump in and test the water.  I did as requested and right below me saw a pair of devil rays cruising.  We had just seen dolphin as we passed Musandam Island.  This seemed to be a great place!

Unfortunately the diving itself was not that nice today.   We dived Fanaku at first and Kachalu second.   The visibility was poor in both places.  In both spots we went down to 35 meters looking for some clarity.  Someone said they found it at 40 but we didn’t push ourselves.  Rather on both dives we angled up keeping out of deco and at least finding the vis improved with more daylight.

On Fanaku the area was covered by a rust colored organism that gave the rocks an orange hue, mixed with another that presented red splotches in between.  There were big fish on both dives but nothing exciting like sharks or rays.  On Fanaku we found several rather large nudibranchs, interesting.

Kachalu is a small island in the straits known for its washing machine currents.  We had done Fanaku on the slack and again on Kachelu I was asked to test the current.  I was not swept past the island so we decided to give it a shot.  As at Fanaku we tested the waters down to 36 meters but decided to have a long dive rather than exhaust air and deco on this one part of the dive.  As we ascended and rounded the rock we found ourselves beat back by an oncoming current so I reversed our direction, and we swam to the other end of the island till we felt the current hitting us again from that direction, and so we wandered back the way we’d come, and in the end pulled ourselves into the wash and hung on, then let go, and allowed ourselves to be swept off the island on ascent.

Bobbi and Nicki want me to mention the starfish and the angel fish and the beautiful colors (hundreds of tufts of yellow soft coral on Kachalu).  Nicki says she could see Iran.  I’m not sure if she meant underwater or above.  Also, I had to go back to her pictures to figure out that this was the starfish she wanted me to mention.

That night, dinner at Nomad was shrimp in glass noodle salad, and shrimp and rice, delicious. We relaxed afterwards and consumed our contraband, and next morning crossed the border back into UAE without any smuggled goods. We drove on down the coast as far as Freestyle and remembered Terry.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bobbi and I just fun diving at Dibba Rock, April 16, 2011

My logged dive #1037

I had a presentation in Ras Al Khaimah on Saturday morning.  The weather had been kind of windy and unsettled lately, and the car had been covered with dusty rain splatters the past several days despite my having it washed each day. We were thinking to go diving on Friday and then overnight in RAK for the conference, but thinking the weather might improve if we delayed, Bobbi and I ended getting up at 5 a.m. Saturday and driving up to RAK that morning to do the presentation, and dropping down to Dibba when the conference ended at noon to make the 3 pm dive with Freestyle on Dibba Rock.

It was just Bobbi and I on the dive, literally.  We had stopped by Lulu hypermarket to pick up a couple of their tasty mini-pizzas (less than $1 each piled generously with cheese and tandoori chicken chunks) and fresh fruit juice, and we were consuming those on the lanai at Freestyle and watching two crowded dive boats motor across the water full of divers just completed their noon dive, but some were in training, so when 3 pm came and they still weren’t ready for their second dive, Colin put Bobbi and I on a dive boat all by ourselves for the short excursion out to DIbba Rock.  So for most of our dive, we had the site pretty much to ourselves.

The most interesting thing about this dive is usually sharks crossing right across your bow as low down on the reef as you are.  We didn’t see any of those on this dive, but we came on several turtles, and at the southern tip of the V shaped reef, we encountered schools of devil rays, 4, 5, and 10 at a time, cruising just ahead of us in the water.  There were barracuda there as well, and large jacks, and we even found a couple of moray eels, which we rarely see in the coral on the shallow south or ‘near’ side of the island.  Also the purple raspberry coral that used to be there in abundance is coming back toward the east end of the L.  I think it makes more sense to call it an L shaped reef to show the compass headings.  When you look at it from shore, north is a little to the left, so from there it appears as a V.

Anyway it was a really nice dive.  We surfaced after 55 minutes (we were asked to keep it to 50) with 100 bar in our tanks.  I was tempted to ask if we could just go back to shore on a south heading on the bottom, we had the air for it, but I figured the boatman would, or should, not agree to that, so I didn’t suggest it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bobbi and I just FUN divinig in Musandam April 2, 2011, my logged dives #1035-1036

For anyone who thinks that sharks are anywhere near the most dangerous thing about diving, check out the scene on the road, we figure about 10 minutes after we passed the very spot in dense fog trying to make our 10 a.m. meet-up time 3 hours away in Dibba, Oman. Fog is not at all unusual on the coastal road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the early morning, drivers here blast through it at 140 km per  hour, and this kind of dozens-of-cars pileup has happened twice in the last couple of years on the same highway.

But we made it to the coast safely where we got in the boat with Nomad Ocean Adventure and ran up Musandam where we dove Ras Morovi and Pearl Island.  We had two very nice dives, no students (bless em :-).  On the first one we got to go all the way around Ras Morovi down to 30 meters at the far end.  Lots of Moray eels, a huge crayfish well exposed between two rocks, and in the cave I always check in, behind the veil of fish fry that are also always there, a ray hiding with his tail sticking out so I would know he was there.

The second dive on Pearl Island was another pleasurable one.  I like this site.  I always do it the Michael Diver way, north around the point and then east across the sand to pick up the far island. It was full of big fish all aswirl.  We were first in off the boat both times and seemingly had the ocean to ourselves except where we encountered others toward the end of each dive coming the other way.

Very relaxing and enjoyable for just Bobbi and I for a change :-)