Saturday, June 25, 2011

Certified Steve and Anna in beginning open water, and Roger as advanced open water, June 24-25, 2011 in Musandam

My logged dives #1053-1056

Another great weekend, what else to do when temperatures are in the 40’s in the UAE.  Water temperatures in Musandam can be only slightly less, in the warm 30’s near the surface, or a bracing 20’s, depending on which thermoclines you pass through.  Visibility varied in the thermoclines as well.  Sometimes the cold water brought clarity; other times the cold water was green-brownish with algae.

A whale shark was spotted on Friday off the east end of Lima Rock while we were there but not by us.  On Friday there were slightly rough seas. When we came up to Lima Rock on the south the swell was not pleasant for my novice divers Steve and Anna, on their o/w course on the eLearning package.  We had Dusty and Michelle with us, and Nicki to dive with Bobbi, plus Roger completing his advanced course with Peak Buoyancy diving.  Also we had three pleasant and experienced Arab divers who were agreeable to whatever we wanted or needed to do. 

I got in the water to test the current, not bad, but vis was poor, so I suggested we move to the north side where there would be shelter.  All other dive boats had reached the same conclusion so there were dozens of divers in the water when we went down there, including some BSAC people with mechanical scooters.  The scooters were annoying but effective.  It was they who spotted the whaleshark, and they said they found a pod of dolphins to boot.  I guess the scooters are just the thing for the currents at either end of Lima Rock, which I usually try to avoid with my students.

I was doing dive #2 with Steve and Anna which has a set of the basic skills in it.  When we got through those I led along the rocks and Anna discovered a huge honeycomb moray.  There were a lot of swim-throughs for Roger to practice his peak buoyancy skills in, and more morays and I can’t recall what else. It wasn’t a great dive, but a pleasant one, in decent vis.  When Steve and Roger ran low on air and we surfaced together at over 50 min into the dive, Bobbi, Nicki, Dusty, and Michelle were not yet on the boat. Anna and I still had 70 bar so we decided to go back down for another 15 min, extending our dive shallow, very pleasant and cooling.

For the second dive I suggested Ras Morovi, a good place for open water skills.  Steve and Anna had done a discover scuba course with me on June 11 (2 dives) and had completed modules 2 and 3 in the pool the night before and that morning, so according to PADI standards they were “qualified” to do just one more dive on their course that day, and the first dive on Lima Rock was technically their 2nd PADI O/W course dive.  Thanks to the flexible skills system we could continue diving a second dive that day and record the skills they did against dive #2, although this was their 4th dive in their logbooks.

We had lunch while being buzzed by wasps, sitting ducks for them on an open boat in the small bay in Ras Morovi.  It was nice to escape them by getting in the water for surface work.  We worked on compass headings, cramp removal, and snorkel regulator exchanges and then found a rope attached to a fish pot on the bottom in 8 meters of water that I thought would do nicely for a controlled emergency swimming ascent.  With those skills out of the way we went over to the wall and headed down to the sand.  We found a nice outcrop and Anna led us west from there and then returned us to the east to approximately the right spot, given there was a some current pushing us south.

We proceeded on a very pleasant fun dive.  I know the site quite well. If you follow the wall you come to a flat spot where you can go left and come up the tongue on the other side or keep going and circumnavigate a submerged hill.  I had briefed everyone to check their compasses to understand where they were headed, since if you keep the reef on your left, you don’t notice otherwise when you are rounding the hill or coming up the other side, going from a southerly to northerly heading. In our case when we reached the saddle we had a current preventing our further movement south so I led us over the saddle and down the other side.

Here we came onto brilliantly dancing squids and their counterpart cuttlefish. We also saw morays during the dive, and I can’t remember what else. Maybe Steve or Anna can leave a comment here if I’m leaving anything out.  We surfaced in the channel, the boat collected us, and whisked us back to port.

Anna and Steve and I refreshed in the pool that evening, finishing our last two confined water dives in plenty of time for communal dinner. Over beverages afterwards, Ivor pulled out a guitar and showed us more of his talents.   I’ll need to practice for the next time if we’re going to start that nonsense.  Steve played a mean Red Hot Chili Peppers song that used to be covered by Voodoo Hedgehogs.  Nicki produced a platter full of smelly cheeses but many of us avoided that because we had sampled the night before and we all had awakened groggy with headaches, presumably from the cheese.

With the pool work out of the way we had a relaxed start on Saturday morning.  I got Steve and Anna to do their swim tests, but that was all there was to do before heading down to the boat.  We were booked with Ivor the divor today.  Sea conditions were flat, finally, for a change, it would be a good day for the near side of Lima Rock.

The dive started on an excellent note.  We put in to clear water and were just easing over the edge when we found ourselves confronted by two large eagle rays coming right at us.  The lead one looked almost like a manta as he curled his wings on approach, then noticed us, and warped in muscular contraction to turn suddenly and speed to open water.  I watched their shadows circle in the distant water and disappear.

Unfortunately there was a dhow anchored there at just that moment discharging at least 30 divers aboard, and they caught up with us in the direction we were about to go, so I didn’t go to the east as I’d thought but went back to the west toward the middle of the island. I hoped to avoid currents as well.  We saw lots of fish here, particularly bat fish, and fusiliers, snappers, parrotfish, angelfish, damsels, jacks in midwater and morays in the rocks.  Nicky and Bobbi had moved on so it was only Roger and I and Steve and Anna. Suddenly I saw another eagle ray cross just ahead of us and head to sea.  I noticed rocks there we could hover over so we went there and all my group hovered comfortably, not seeing the ray again, but surrounded by biomassive schools of fish.

As we neared the west end of the island the current picked up and I decided to try and avoid that so I reversed our direction and to conserve air led higher up the rocks, 9 meters or so.  I was hoping to return to calm water but perhaps there had been a current all along, unnoticed, and now we seemed to be swimming incessantly into it.  This was wasting breath and tiring us, so I changed my mind again and decided to take them with the current on around the island.

Using hand signals I tried to get the three of them into position for the quickening current.  I couldn’t tell them in words, but I wanted us all together, low down where I was, and next to the reef.  Venturing into open water would be anathema here.  They did well. They weren’t sure what was coming, but when we were caught in the current they followed me well.  We started getting knocked about a bit as we came to the edge of the island and the critical moment was to turn a sharp right and get into shelter out of the current and start heading up the back side of the island.  My divers were right behind me.

We found a last honeycomb moray back there, and a large crayfish, but we surfaced on the opposite side of the island where the boat would be looking for us.  Nearby there was the crack in the rock with a keyhole passage to the other side that I’ve often seen but never really visited.  It had surge in it but it was gentler than it looked and wouldn’t really smash us on its ceiling.  I entered and the guys followed.  We passed through this beguilingly aquamarine passage and on the other side encountered the swirling current we’d just left, ready to sweep us clear of the island. Anna was not with us so I pointed the three of us back into the gap and we reentered and swam through to where Anna was waiting for us, hesitant because of the surge. Later we found that Bobbi and Nicky had used this passage to scuba to the north side and thereby avoid the worst of the current at the end of the island.

The boat eventually picked us up on the north side and once we’d recovered Bobbi and Nicki, we headed for the shelter of Ras Lima for a calm-water lunch.  The wasps were not so bad here. Steve and Anna were but one dive away from completion of their o/w course.  This dive would be at Lulu Island, which is interesting because we always put in from the shelter of the first island off the mainland and then swim underwater to the EAST to arrive at the second island.  Steve and Anna had tank and weight belt removal and replacement at the surface, tired diver tows, and then Steve could demo his compass skills by leading us to the east to the underwater island.

All worked like a charm and we arrived at the island after the easterly heading right at the sweet spot.  I led us to the north along the wall and on around the island from there to come south on its far side. We saw lots of morays here, sometimes surrounded by lion fish. It was interesting but the vis was murky with algae and the thermoclines here were the coldest yet.  As we turned into the current I hoped for barracuda but there were none.  Heading back west now it was time to bail to the other side of the island but the current was against us for getting over there.  I tested it, made headway against it, and figured I could get us where it would dissipate.  This worked well, my divers followed again despite conditions marginally poor for beginners.  However when I finally found shelter from the current on the west side I was surprised to see we had arrived back at the sweet spot we had reached by going east from where we descended.

So we rounded the island again, slightly higher this time to avoid the chilliest of the water. We continued to the point where we again confronted the current and basically got boxed in there and surfaced. 

Congratulations to the newly certified divers Steve and Anna, and to Roger for completing his advanced open water.

Photos from Steve Elwood's Facebook photostream

Sunday, June 12, 2011

PADI advanced and rescue courses, plus Discover Scuba Diving, in Musandam June 10-11, 2011

My logged dives #1049-1052

I had a lot going on this weekend. I had a guy who wanted to do an o/w course on the elearning program and Graeme and Rachel wanted to work on their rescue course so I tried to book them in at Nomad Ocean Adventure. Nomad was fully booked and couldn't actually accommodate everyone so the elearner decided to postpone. Graeme and Rachel still wanted to dive and our mutual friends Steve and Anna decided to join us snorkeling, so I offered to give them a discover scuba course just to sweeten the appeal and they accepted. And then Roger whom we had given our Blazer to decided to join as well and start on his advanced course, so in the end we had an interesting mix of agendas that made for some fun diving and plenty to keep an instructor fully entertained and busy.

Logistically we started out with Roger's deep dive as dive #1 on Lima Rock, north side. He rode up with us in the car that morning so I was able to explain the dives he'd be doing in the car on the way up. We worked out a nice 24 meter 24 minute multilevel profile with a second level at 16 meters for 16 minutes, followed by 12 meters for as much as 35 minutes, which is to say, until the air runs out. The profile was so mnemonic I don't know why I hadn't hit on it before, and next day I proposed he use it to conduct a multilevel dive for his 3rd advanced course dive.

The deep dive itself was pleasant but not exciting. Vis was excellent for a change. Sea conditions were rough, with wind, and whitecaps foaming off the south of Lima Rock, which was why we went for the back or north side. It was fairly calm there. This time last year we had seen whale sharks here (on the front or south side), but there were none today. Roger and I went straight to depth and did his exercises in the sand, leaving the others behind, but then we returned to the rocks and found the others. We continued until at about 40 min into the dive, our first divers needed to surface. I remember a huge barracuda swimming amongst us at about that time, a large one with a tuna shaped head, a lone wolf, unschooled as it were (get it? alone, unschooled?). Rachel and Bobbi and I ended up completing the dive, coming up after 65 minutes. No one was limiting us, it seemed, very comfortable. We saw a large honeycomb moray with a blue wrasse cleaning its teeth toward the end of that dive, pleasant and relaxing.

We went over to Ras Lima to get out of the wind and swell and had lunch. We found a calm bay ideal for Roger's u/w navigation. Nice spot, about the right depth, with corals on the floor to give us something to look at and navigate on. I started by deploying my submersible marker buoy and tying it off to give us a reference and then leading us out from there 30 meters in a direction that Roger should be able to retrace. Roger calibrated his fin kicks on my estimate of 30 meters and then led us back to the SMB on dead reckoning. Then I had him take us 30 meters to the north and left a weight belt at that spot before we returned on a south heading to the marker. The weight belt would become a lost buddy for Graeme and Rachel who were kitting up to come in and rescue it. But I needed it for Roger's excercises just now. From the SMB I had Roger do a square pattern starting on a westerly heading followed by a turn to the north, so that on the third leg to the east we came out right on the weight belt. Perfect.

I had Roger wait with the weights while I ascended and called out to the boat that I had lost my buddy at that spot. Bobbi on board the boat was making note of the coordinates and would direct Graeme and Rachel to the spot where they would descend and conduct a square search pattern, 5 kicks one way, 5 at right angle, 10 at the next right angle, 10 at the next, 15 and 15, 20 and 20 and so on until the object was found. Meanwhile, Roger and I moved off the spot to the south and found my SMB, completing the square and his tasks for the u/w navigation dive.

I left the SMB in place in case we needed a reference to retrieve the weights, in case they weren't found by the rescue divers. I took Roger along the wall and we ascended to find Graeme and Rachel in possession of the weights and returning them to the boat. So all divers had accomplished their goals for this dive and it was time to have some fun.

The first day, Steve and Anna were snorkeling so they were not a part of the diving, but they saw 8 devil rays from the surface and another diver mentioned a 'massive' sting ray 5 feet across (almost 2 meters). We didn't see much that I recall. It was pretty diving but nothing to write home about (or to recall for a blog entry). Graham had an ear problem and ascended early on with his buddy Rachel. Bobbi and I ran Roger low on air and just after he ascended Rachel appeared with us having tracked our bubbles from the surface. We finally came up the three of us after 70 minutes on my computer, the entire dive spent above 18 meters.

The boat ride was pretty rough going back, and on arrival it was Steve and Anna's turn to start on their DSD course with an evening dip in the pool and then going over the flip chart poolside. After an hour of that we got their equipment together and went in the pool for those exciting first moments on Scuba. They were no trouble to train, and two hours later we had cleaned the gear and Bobbi and I were sitting down to an excellent meal of rice and meaty stew, with quiche, salad, and a mystery desert, all tasty and suitably filling after a long hot day of diving. We slept fine that night.

I wasn't sure what time we would start next day. There was a couch surfer among us who unfortunately arrived after Steve and Anna had finished but wanted to get in on the DSD course. I said if he was keen he should knock on our door at 7 next morning. Bobbi and I were safe though because he'd be coming from UAE Dibba where everyone else was staying, and he'd have to come by cab, so that didn't happen at 7 and Bobbi and I were still in bed at 8.

But we got up about then because we were expecting Steve and Anna to come try on wetsuits and take them in the pool with weights, and I was going to co-opt one of them to be victims for Graeme and Rachel, whom I could show rescue techniques for saving unconscious divers at the surface. But taxis in UAE dibba were scarce apparently (two many staying over there to fit into Steve and Anna's car) so they didn't arrive until almost ten.

So Bobbi became the victim and Rachel and Graeme rescued her a couple of times from the pool (poor Bobbi, sometimes married to a dive instructor, she really does become a victim :-). Meanwhile Steve and Anna had appeared and I had them try on wetsuits and then swim with them in the pool, and more importantly be sure they could sink there. I then had them add 4 kg each to compensate for salt water and air used on the dive, and if anything they were overweighted for their try dive (preferable to being underweighted).

We had a sunny day but rough seas again so we ended up on the north side of Lima Rock same as the day before. But this time I had first time divers on a discover scuba course and they were very brave to get their kit together on a pitching boat and enter the water with a backward roll first time ever, then wait in the surge where I had spotted some u/w boulders I thought we could use as reference on descent. I had already checked for current on arrival at Lima Rock so at least we didn't have drift to contend with.

Vis at that spot was as clear as a swimming pool. I had them come in to the rocks and descend on a beautiful patch of orange coral. They did well to come down gradually and I think they were so beguiled by the batfish there and the blue tangs (surgeon fish) and the parrots and rainbow wrasses that they soon forgot their trepidations, and next thing we knew we were all doing swim throughs and enjoying ourselves comfortably in the cool water.

Again we didn't see much apart from a huge variety of beautiful fish. Roger was paired with Bobbi and he conducted his advanced multilevel dive on the same profile as the day before. Graeme and Rachel had no skills lined up since I had needed Bobbi to team with Roger, but when Graeme and Rachel appeared suddenly I pretended to go catatonic so they could come over and recognize and handle a distressed diver situation.

My DSD divers ran low on air early and we were back on the surface after 40 min, having been mostly at around 12 meters but having touched around 17/18 meters. We then headed over to Ras Lima again, where we accepted to go because reports were that it was choppy at Ras Morovi, and also we were taken to a bay with a small beach, which I decided we could use in training. So after lunch I had Bobbi kit up again and go 'diving' alone, and of course she ended up on the surface face down in the water. Fortunately Graeme and Rachel and I had anticipated this and were already kitted up, so we entered the water and went to work on Bobbi, removing her gear in turns, and eventually getting her to the beach where we practiced carrying her onto it by practising a couple of dead lifts and carries.

The boat had drifted distant by then and I thought we could rescue one of us to the boat. Bobbi had been a victim too much today so Rachel volunteered, and said later that she learned a lot from being a victim. Graeme ventilated her every 5 seconds and removed her BCD while Bobbi and I waved and called the boat to come in a hurry. It came over to cut short Graeme's work and then we thrust Rachel's arms overhead and Sami pulled her onto the boat. We made sure he administered two more breaths before 30 seconds had passed, and we'll complete the scenario with CPR next time.

Now it was time for a last dive, an u/w naturalist one for Roger, and Graeme and Rachel could practice bringing a diver up from the bottom. I took a much more confident Anna and Steve on their second DSD dive of the day. The vis was not as good here and I didn't see much, just a moray, and one of those interesting helmeted crustaceans. Everyone else saw string rays. Bobbi saw one swim right over Anna and I, and Anna saw some in the sand where she was starting to get a bit deep, I thought, so I was staying higher up to get her to rise and so I didn't see them. Darn.