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.
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.