Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Shorediving Dibba July 25-26, 2011: Pinnacles (3 Rocks) and Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1059-1060

On Monday morning July 25, 2011, Bobbi and I and our son Dusty, and daughter-in-law Gulya, and her daughter, our granddaughter Gwen, our 3-year old Malinki Princess, all got up early and headed for Dubai airport. Gwen and Gulya were flying to Uzbekistan to see her other grandmother. When I hugged Gwen goodbye she gave this knowing shrug and said “but I'm only going to Doha.” That's where she was living when she boarded the plane, and she thinks her father went back there. But her dad went to Brazil for his holiday and now she's gone to Samarkand and another set of family dramas there. Eventually she'll wind up back in Doha but she'll never see her bobo and bibi again in their apartment across from the park on the Abu Dhabi corniche. No telling where we'll be when we meet again.

But as long as we had driven to Dubai Bobbi and Dusty and I thought we might as well go on to Dibba and go for a dive. And as long as we were there we thought we might as well spend the night and dive Dibba Rock the following morning. I called our favorite dive shop there, the one where the owner Terry died and his good son Andy took over, but Andy went on holiday to Thailand leaving James to look after the business.on that day.  James said he was doing a rescue course on Monday, from shore, and wouldn't be taking a boat out, but we could boat dive there on Tuesday any time, so we booked that. Bobbi went online and found that the Holiday Beach Motel's rooms just two beaches over from Freestyle were only 300 dirhams with breakfast when booked the night before check-in, so we booked that as well.

Bobbi had also tried booking diving anywhere on the East Coast for Monday, but everyone we could find was ridiculously expensive. At JAL, now the Radison (3 beaches over from Freestyle) the cost of just a 10 min boat ride to Dibba Rock was 165 per person (using our tanks and equipment), almost $50. the price of a prolonged meal at an all you can eat and drink in the all you can eat and drink restaurants in Abu Dhabi, almost twice what it costs from Freestyle. There were some other possibilities at the other dive shops further down the coast. We could dive Inchcape I with Divers Down for 165 each or the Pinnacles (3 Rocks) for the same price. We hadn't dived Pinnacles in some time but, that boat ride would have been again 10 min, using our tanks and gear, and it's possible to shore dive it. Also, Bobbi found at the last minute that the dive shop at Holiday Beach Motel would take us to Dibba Rock in their dingies for 100 dirhams each, reasonable, so we were considering that, and according to them we could go at 3 or at 5 pm.

We arrived at HBM at around 12:30 on a scorching hot UAE summer afternoon and we figured we should check out what shore diving might be like at the Pinnacles and then try to dive with HBM out to Dibba Rock at 3 or 5. After checking in at the Motel, lovely rooms if you're not paying normal prices, we all got in the car and drove down the coast to the stretch of highway just opposite the Pinnacles. These days you never know what you'll find on this once-pristine coastline, and there are a lot of hotels a-building over by Sandy Beach Hotel a stone's throw away, but this spot opposite Pinnacles was as yet still undeveloped and we could drive off road and park where we always did, just like old times.

And just like old times, it was a very rocky entry, tricky getting us all into the water for the swim out. The swim out was difficult as well with a stiff current pushing to the north. Dusty and I made it to the rocks in about 45 min but Bobbi was having some difficulties and let herself get swept to the north where we watched her pretty much barely holding her position as she tried to join us against the current. Eventually Dusty swam over and got her and brought her over to us using the fins on shoulders tired diver tow I always teach as being just the tow for difficult conditions. I had meanwhile found the place at the south of the rocks where the current seemed to be broken by the rock to the north, and when Bobbi got there and recovered her breath, we went down on that spot. It was by then 3 pm, a whole hour after we had set out on our swim for the rock.

Once under water we had a pleasant dive there. We didn't see anything hugely unusual, no sharks or rays or turtles or cuttlefish, but we found strange flounders, puffers and lion fish and eels and shoals of reef fish. As long as we kept moving east and west and avoiding the current as it picked up at either end of the rock we could move at will, but eventually I decided to lead us through a gap in the rocks to the north side of the collection of islands, and here again the current was fine, protected now directly by the rock. We had been diving now 45 minutes and we all had well over 100 bar left in our tanks.

This time I led us toward the west and we followed this out until the boulders got smaller and smaller, but always there was something to see. I knew we were out of the protection of the rocks but at depth the northerly current effect was only slight. My course was west north west but by angling on a westerly heading we could fin that way and be pushed gently to the north. It worked perfectly. 15 min later we were in the shallows and by 4 p.m. we were exiting the ocean right where we had parked the car.  Bobbi was relieved she didn't have to swim back on the surface.

We were back on the road by 4:30 and we tried calling the dive center at HBM to see if we could get on the last 5 pm dive to Dibba Rock. We called their mobile and then tried through the hotel but they didn't answer either mobile or land line, so we stopped in at Royal Beach Hotel, where Freestyle Divers is, to pick up supplies at the off license bottle shop there and have a cold one on the lanai with the view of the beach and sun dropping over the mountains. While we were there we washed our gear in the showers and left our empty tanks to be filled. We confirmed with James that we could come at any time next day so we said we'd call when ready and James said he'd fill the tanks and be ready for us and just call ahead and he'd be there from 9 o'clock on.

We then went to our hotel and had a very relaxing swim in the pool and walk on the beach, and had them bring us dinner on our front porch, which was delicious, comprising shrimp and curries and tasty sweet coconut nan, and we were by then tired and sedated so we went to sleep and slept soundly until Dusty received a text msg next morning which woke us all up. But that was a good thing since it was by then a quarter to 9 and we needed to get up and get to breakfast.

I tried calling Freestyle from our breakfast table but there was no answer, odd but maybe as we'd set no time and we were the only customers, it was ok if James was a little late. Then at 9:20 he txted to say he'd be delayed, he had to work out something with the Dept of Water and Electricity, the bill had been paid but they were threatening to shut off utilities anyway. So we txted back we were at breakfast, what time would we be diving? He txt'd back it would be around 11.

It was only mildly inconvenient to have to wait, but the clincher came at around 10:30 when James txted again to say sorry, he wasn't going to be able to make it down there that day at all. I txt'd back, “What about my tanks!?” but also if he'd let us know at 9:00 we could have possibly booked something else that morning, but at 10:30 our choices at that point would be pretty much what they were the day before. Except that the Holiday Beach Motel dive shop with its 100 dirham boat rides to Dibba Rock wasn't operating that day. as I discovered when I walked over there only to find out that they always took Tuesdays off.

Dusty and I were keen to shore dive Dibba Rock anyway, and James had txted back that he would send his worker to open the equipment room for me. Bobbi didn't want to join us after her experience the day before so she stayed behind to keep the room cool for us and Dusty and I went over to Freestyle where I txted James that we'd be shore diving there and we'd be there for at least two hours. He txted back “No worries” but that was the last we heard from him, and the worker never turned up that afternoon, nor after our dive, and when we were checking out of our hotel I was unable to reach James, so we were forced to return to Abu Dhabi, 3.5 hours by car, without our three tanks.  I'm not sure now how or when I'll be able to get back there and collect them, not happy about that :-( well, someone took them eventually to Freestyle's office in Dubai and left them there, and my son Dusty eventually made a trip there and picked them up, so the tanks are back with us now :-)

Meanwhile, fortunately we'd brought 6 tanks down, so Dusty and I had a nice dive on Dibba Rock. The weather was hot in the low 40s but bearable in the water. Sea conditions were calm and there was hardly any current, and we made the swim to the reef in about half an hour. We found the clacking coral and dropped down on a free swimming eel. Like the day before we didn't see much else of note but we made a nice tour of the rock and its undersea wonders. In most dives we do there, we are asked to limit our bottom time to 50 min and we usually come up after an hour, but today we could stay as long as we liked. Dusty ran down to 30 bar 90 min into the dive; I still had 70 – our no deco time remained at 99 min throughout the dive.

We went first on the east-west leg of the L shaped reef, where the raspberry coral is coming back, but still we haven't seen any turtles or big fish on that part of the reef in a long time, though there used to be lots of turtles and sharks there. It's hard to connect the different parts of the reef these days if you're not properly oriented on it, and so I had trouble finding the northward leg. On the northerly heading from the east-west part of the L, trying to find the north-south part, so just east of it and inside the right angle of the L, Dusty and I came on a mooring we hadn't seen before with slabs of rock oddly placed around it, Dusty thinks it was writing in Arabic, but he's thinking of the rainbow sheikh's writing his name Hamad in such a way that it could be read on Google Earth (and it can be, check it out: http://news.discovery.com/space/big-pic-hamad-abu-dhabi-space-graffiti-110721.html).

Eventually we came on the clicking and clacking reef and followed it without seeing sharks till we had to turn east to avoid running off the reef, from where we made our way to the aquarium. The aquarium is always nice, full of fish with a backdrop of rust-colored coral. We each had over 100 bar so 50 min into the dive I led to the back side of the island. Here we found batfish in cool thermoclines in 12 meters of water and sand where we looked for rays but found nothing but pipefish. We meandered over the sand and then back to the rocks on the back side where we had a choice. Circumnavigate the island and come up where the coral is sparce and head south for home from there or backtrack along the way we came with some chance of seeing sharks. I chose the latter, back along the boulders at the back side and up the shoulder to the aquarium, then east toward the clacking coral and south along the reef on a hunt for sharks, but there were none today. Still a 90 min dive was nice and relaxing, worth staying over the extra day (for Dusty and I ;-)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Diving with Freestyle Divers July 9, 2011 - Family outing on Dibba Rock

My logged dives #1057-1058

On July 9, 2011 Bobbi and I and my two boys Glenn and Dusty awoke at a reasonable hour in the morning and by 8 a.m. we were on the road for Dibba where we turned up well before noon in time for a dive on Dibba Rock which eventually got under way at 1:00.  We did two dives there, both from the mooring on the northwest corner of the island.  They both went about the same way.  The mooring is right off the aquarium so on both dives we started there.  On the first we were in the lee of a strong westerly current which we only discovered as we were fairly carried to the reef to the west and then had to struggle to stay on it as we continued along it south.  By the time we had come to the end of the L and were turning to the east, we found we simply could not, the current was too strong against us.  So we went back to north and then back east, in the shadow of the island, to the aquarium, and then penetrated a little to the back side until we hit the thermocline there. By then we had consumed an hour and varying amounts of air, so we surfaced.

We didn't see much on that dive, and the thermocline had been uncomfortable because we were not wearing wetsuits, so I put on my 3 mm for the second dive.  This got delayed a bit due to a fuel shortage on one of the boats that had gone away for a looooong day trip.  But we didn't mind kicking back on the restful lanai at Freestyle, turtles broaching the shorebreak just off the sands of Royal Beach Hotel, and eventually we were back in the water for our second dive. This followed the same route as the first one, except we were by now at high tide, with some relief from the current, and we saw more animals.  We were just leaving the aquarium for the reef when the schooling fish overhead did an abrupt about face.  I looked around for the cause, though only Bobbi saw it and signaled shark with her hand at her forehead.  We continued on the reef to the south without seeing much, but this time we were able to turn to the east and make it as far as where the coral is coming back.  By then we were at half a tank to 150 bar so we turned and drifted back along the coral, where we saw the cuttlefish and eels that Glenn videoed.

Meanwhile I was leading back to the north and it was my good fortune to come right on top of a beefy blacktip reef shark.  He scampered alongside and ahead of me, Bobbi was a little behind and the boys behind her, so I was the only one to see it.  We continued north on the reef and then east back to the aquarium, and then went on into the sand at the back of the island without seeing anything much of note apart from big eyed puffer fish and lion fish, and the usual schooling tropicals.

Back on shore we had an off license beverage with Andy and reminisced about old times, very relaxing as the sun went down over the misty mountains and turned the sky over the blue-green sea from balmy blue to shades of orange and grey.